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The International Writers Magazine
: Hacktreks in Mauritius

Never a Dull Maument
Eugene Engelbrecht

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.
Mauritius is a tropical gem in the Indian Ocean that many travellers assume is one long beach and nothing else.

"Mauritius 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 driver’s 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.

Visitors 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 "We’ll 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 haggler’s 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 my skin.
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, you’re probably going towards the museum. Although the museum is not that impressive, it is something that few visitors ever see – plus, you can buy photo’s of Mauritius decades ago.

The Natural History Museum is a little easier to find but if you ask for directions, ask for l’Institute. 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. "It’s down there," we say, looking in one direction and pointing in another. Mauritians also tend to contradict one another’s directions. So, take it from me – if you want to find anything in Port Louis, it’s 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.

Shopping 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 ( 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 tropical island.

© Eugene Engelbrecht November 2004
ubuhlalu at

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