The International Writers Magazine: Hacktreks in Mauritius
a Dull Maument
My mother burst into tears pinned
against a stone wall and attacked by a bus bellowing black, suffocating
fumes. We had been unofficially welcomed by the people of Port Louis,
Mauritius is a tropical gem in the Indian Ocean that many travellers
assume is one long beach and nothing else.
is overrated," I was told before my first trip to the island. This
is true if you lie in a deck chair all day. But if you are like me and
my partner in crime, my mother, an experience to tease and overwhelm
the senses beckons.
Port Louis is the capital of this island of coconut palms, tropical
fish, shopping, water sport, shopping, wild life, shopping, adventure,
shopping and then some. We stayed at Hotel Les Cocotiers, a cosy but
stylish and value-for-money hotel in Baie du Tombeau, a short distance
outside the capital. We reached Port Louis easily by bus. Riding on
the bus is an excursion on its own stickers of Hindu gods alongside
Christmas tinsel (in the middle of July) decorated the drivers
area. Bus drivers and conductors are the friendliest, most considerate
and most helpful I have thus far found anywhere in the world.
As the bus pulled into Port Louis, I was nervous. Was this city a dirty
rat-infested hole that so many travellers made it out to be? The northern
bus terminus did not hold much promise the appearance of chaos,
smoke and noise and busy pavements in a strange city were a little intimidating.
The feeling had passed by the second day and I could see that the Mauritian
transport services were run very efficiently. I also found that the
city was generally clean.
to Port Louis inevitably pass through the central market. The first
time can be harrowing with damp on the ground, vendors shouting
out prices of merchandise and trying to draw your attention. Do
not be fooled by remarks like "Well make a special price
for you because you are the first customer of the day". Port
Louis, and the rest of the island, is a hagglers paradise.
There are some very upmarket shops and goods but there are mostly
bargains on every street. Do not be afraid to walk around the market
and compare prices. You will usually find the exact item you want
for a lot less than you were first quoted.
Also, watch out
for the pavements! They are not flat and pieces jut upwards and downwards
everywhere. My mother and I eventually became so used to walking on
these hazardous pavements that we were temporarily unable to cope with
the level pavements we found the one day in Rosehill, a city on the
central plateau of Mauritius. The central market is great though. Do
not make the mistake of most the central market is not just one
street with a few stalls. Follow your nose to and past the stench of
slaughtered animals and make your way to the second part of the central
market. This is where most of the stalls are that would interest travellers.
Here, I had to have coconut juice, otherwise I would have wasted a whole
trip. I saw dirty glasses and dodgy-looking coconut juice in sticky
containers at a few stalls but was saved when we came across a stall
where coconuts are sliced open before your eyes and you drink the juice
directly from the fruit.
After spending two to three hours in the central market, wander up and
down the streets of Port Louis even if you think you will get lost or
walk out the city. You will find materials for dresses, shirts, pants,
curtains and sofas. I want to be a millionaire one day just so that
I can buy rich red and golden material, floral patterned exquisiteness,
thick and heavy sensual curtains and heaps of material to wrap around
Being a photographer I take holiday snaps I tried to make
my way to the Photographic Museum. I say I tried because it took me
about half an hour to get there. Only one local in an entire city had
a vague idea of where it might be. If you find yourself in an alley
that you think could harbour muggers, youre probably going towards
the museum. Although the museum is not that impressive, it is something
that few visitors ever see plus, you can buy photos of
Mauritius decades ago.
The Natural History Museum is a little easier to find but if you ask
for directions, ask for lInstitute. Inside the museum, right at
the back, far away from the entrance and hidden around a corner is a
sign saying no photographs may be taken. As I do not see around corners,
I snapped away all the time until I came face-to-face with the very
stern, reprimanding sign. I was glad I had my pictures though but bought
quite a few postcards to salve my conscience.
If you do get lost in Port Louis, there are always inaccurate maps and
locals to confuse you. My mother and I still joke and give each other
directions Mauritian style. "Its down there," we say,
looking in one direction and pointing in another. Mauritians also tend
to contradict one anothers directions. So, take it from me
if you want to find anything in Port Louis, its down there.
No visit to Port Louis would be complete without a tour of the waterfront.
I do not mean a guided tour. There are two parts to the Waterfront,
a building called Astrolabe and the waterfront proper opposite. The
Astrolabe is worth a visit and has some great souvenirs and clothing
albeit a bit pricey. You can also enjoy some freshly squeezed juice.
At the waterfront proper is a casino. I only stopped to take a photo
of the outside I was not going to waste my money on gambling;
I needed to buy souvenirs. The arts and crafts market forms a large
part of the waterfront and is far too full of capitalist temptation.
So, we went there only nine times or so during a twelve day holiday.
and having fun can really take it out of a person, so my mother
and I ate at the Keg and Marlin, le Carripoulé and a dozen
other places. If you want steak, hamburgers, fries and other heart
friendly cuisine, the Keg and Marlin is just for you. Their food
is really great and the Kegasaurus is a must try. If, like us, you
find yourself yearning for cuisine that is a little more Western,
pay these people a visit.
The atmosphere at
Carripoulé makes the restaurant worth a visit. I must admit that
the first time I ate there, I was disappointed. However, the second
time, I ate from the buffet and it was great my tastebuds are
forever grateful and the meal was dirt cheap. You should also try a
sweet lassi, a drink made with yoghurt, while in Mauritius. I found
the best lassi at the Indra Restaurant (not in Port Louis) - just go
down there and you will find it.
If you go "down there", you will also find the southern bus
terminus. Port Louis is a hub for transport on the island. Although
you can go almost anywhere on the island by bus, many bus routes pass
through the capital. So, if you want to travel by bus from Grand Baie
to Curepipe, you could catch the express bus to Port Louis and disembark
at the northern bus terminus. You would then walk along the shortest
(if you know Port Louis) route to the southern bus terminus and catch
a bus to Curepipe. Do not be afraid to ask the bus conductors and drivers.
They are really helpful and even tell you where to get off the bus so
that you can relax and take in the passing scenery.
After a day out, you might find yourself arriving again at a Port Louis
bus terminus. Shops in Mauritius sometimes close early and the only
option you have is to go back to the waterfront. I am tempted to tell
you the safest way to get from the bus terminus to the waterfront, but
then I would not be able to lie awake at night wondering wickedly if
you were as harassed as my mother and I during our first few days trying
to do something that seemed so simple. Right at the back of the waterfront
is the Blue Penny museum. If you are a philatelist, you will love it;
if you are not, you will love it too. They also sell attractive Blue
Penny T-shirts. The only thing I had against the shirt though was that
it tended to shrink the more I ate. Still, I think you should buy one.
If you follow in my footsteps religiously, you will not have seen all
Port Louis has to offer. Ask around about the Chinese Pagoda, Champs
de Mars, Freeport, the magnificent view of Port Louis from a church
on a hill and a few other surprises. I have seen most of these things
in the two trips I have made to Port Louis but I still have plenty to
see, some sights in Port Louis and some on the rest of the island.
Mauritius is never overrated and one city like Port Louis can keep you
busy for days. That is why I am going back a third time and that is
why you should do yourself a favour and visit this spectacular little
marvel with its wonderful people. There are flights on Air Mauritius
and several other airlines from various parts of the world to the island.
You could also fly to South Africa, have a bit of a holiday there, and
then catch a South African Airways (www.flysaa.com)
flight to Mauritius. For some people, Mauritius may seem far away but
it is not just another tropical island it is in my opinion, the
© Eugene Engelbrecht November 2004
ubuhlalu at yahoo.com
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