The Beautiful Island of Mauritius, Part 5
May 7, 2013

 

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The food of Mauritius is varied, as there are so many different people of ethnic decadency from varied places around the world, with several distinctive styles of cooking. Most typically Mauritian is Creole cuisine. Boiled rice forms the basis of most Creole dishes, to this is added curry; meat or fish cooked with turmeric, aniseed, hot spices, onions and oil, and served with finely chopped tomatoes, hot chillies, and green mango. Another traditional savoury dish is a tasty green vegetable soup called bredes. Vegetables that are usually served with savoury dishes are patisson, or squash, boiled watercress and chou-chou, (a type of marrow.) Several restaurants on the island serve Creole food on their menu, so do give it a try.

 

Naturally, seafood is the speciality of Mauritian dishes; lobsters and shrimps top most of the menus, but also delicious is the local freshwater prawn, the camaron. I enjoy it in “sauce rouge”, which I recommend every person dining out when on the island, should eat at least once. Then there is a variety of Indian Ocean fish which are served, capitaine, gueule pave, damenerry, sacre chien, squid, urchins and tasty little oysters. From June to September venison are a speciality and some restaurants offer hare and wild boar. A delicious salad is Coeur de palmiste, (the heart of a seven-year old palm tree.) Try the beef that is brought into the island from the large island of Madagascar, the fillet in particular is tender and full of flavour. There is an abundant supply of exotic fruit, small, sweet pineapples, lychees, paw-paws, Chinese guavas, wild raspberries, mangoes, water-melons, custard-apples, bananas, and coconuts are some of the fresh fruit on offer. The bakeries sell French baguettes and brightly iced patisseries for the person with a sweet tooth. Wine from France, South Africa and many other countries can be found in a corner store, as well as the local rum. Of course there is always on offer the good old British cup of tea and delicious local coffee that is roasted in the way of the French.

 

The main recreational sport on the island is deep-sea fishing, with the main season falling in from October to March, but there is no closed season and a good catch can be had throughout the year. Fish caught are marlin, barracuda, tuna, wahoo, yellow fin and jack fish. Big game-fishing can be organised on line or at any large hotel group on the island. Full fishing gear is provided, along with an experienced crew. You can also find fishermen who helm their own pirogues, (the local fishing boats) who will take you out fishing for the day, which is what I prefer to do when visiting. For those of you who prefer not to fish, there are other things to do such as, golf, sailing, bowling, surfing, water skiing, swimming and sunbathing, and  one of the island’s other most important sports, skin diving. Skin diving was first started by the Sino-Mauritians in the 1940’s and now there is a very popular scuba-club which was founded by Australian, English and Mauritian divers. Some of the best underwater areas are Morne Brabant Reef, Black River, Whale Rock and Horseshoe Spit. As there are dozens of known wrecks around the coast dating back to 1615, it is a “must do” for anyone who enjoys this sport.

 

Don’t miss out on horse-racing at the Champ de Mars. The season is from May to October with the main meets being held at the end of May and August. Mauritius “Derby Day” is the Maiden Plate which is run in late August. Other popular sports are soccer, lawn tennis, sailing with regattas from July through to October, basketball, volleyball and athletics.

 

Nightclubs are situated all over the island, but the best are in the big-resort hotels, with cabaret, local d-j’s, dinner dancing and so forth. Unique to the Indian Ocean Island, is the sega, a dance accompanied by calypso-style singing, the musicians using drums, maracas and triangles, to accompany the dance. The sega first evolved by African slaves and is now part of Creole folk law. Performances are often organised and held at the big hotels, as is gambling which is also a huge attraction on the island. Casinos are situated in most of the large hotel groups.

 

For the shop-a-holics, the best places for souvenirs are the handicraft shops in Port Louis, but you can find them in the hotel shops at higher prices, which I try to avoid. Hire a small car or a taxi for the day and visit Rose Hill, Curepipe and the covered market in Port Louis. For a true Mauritian souvenir, consider a beautifully woven basket, applique pictures made from sugar cane leaves, woodcarvings of the do-do, finely embroidered tablecloths and napkins and an assortment of wall hangings and tapestries. Chinese tailors can be found in Port Louis and they run up beautiful shirts and suits in no time at all. Clothing shops stock a range of beach wear and chic French fashions which are reasonable in price.

 

The currency unit used on the island is the Mauritian Rupee, divided into 100 cents and most international banks can be found on the island.

 

Plaisance Airport is 27 miles from Port Louis. If staying at a hotel, they provide shuttles.

 

Hiring of vehicles can be done online or through various touring companies who have representatives on call at the airport and resorts. The roads are tarmac and good. Signs are in English.

 

Entry requirements are the usual passport and visas, (check if you need a visa online.) Visitors travelling through or from a yellow fever/cholera infected area must produce a yellow fever inoculation certificate.

 

©Susan Cook-Jahme, Freelance Writer

 

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Beautiful Island of Mauritius, Part 4
May 5, 2013

Accommodation in Mauritius ranges from large resort hotels, small family hotels, guest houses, holiday rental apartments, bungalows and backpackers. With some exceptions, most of them have beautiful white coral sand beaches at their front doorsteps, making it easy for you to get out there and “catch the sun”, or enjoy the many water-sporting activities available. It all really comes down to your preference and what you have budgeted. The larger hotels offer all the modern amenities such as dining, dancing, and gambling and so on, whereas there are others that are less formal and laid back.

The larger resort hotels, Le Morne Brabant and Le Meridien are situated next door to each other on a peninsula which juts out into the sea at the foot of the breath taking Morne Mountain. They are located on one of the island’s most beautiful beaches and share various amenities: golf, horse-riding, sailing, aqua-diving, etc.

La Pirogue is found further up the beach at Flic en Flac, and is one of my preferred places to stay because of its charm. The chalets are thatched and shaped to resemble the sails of the local fishing boats, (pirogues) and set around a three story building comprising a large sun lounge, barbecue and dance terrace, restaurant and bar facilities. All the chalets are a short walk from the beach.

Troux aux Biches has a hotel bearing the same name, set in amidst a coconut grove by a lovely lagoon, and has beach bungalows, each of which has 3 to 4 bedrooms. (Very popular with visitors.) The amenities include hairdressing salons, shops, a bank, post office, casino, golf, tennis, sailing, water-skiing and many other sporting facilities.

In Grand Baie is the Merville, a complex of a large 4 storey hotel and delightful stone cottages set in a plantation of casuarina trees by a lovely stretch of beach. Amenities on offer are: a beautiful swimming pool and sauna. Another hotel in the area is Club Mediterranee, situated in a superb position at Grand Baie and provides all the usual CM amenities.

Along the coast, just above Belle Mare is St. Geran, its cool sun-lit central building leading out to a series of terraced rooms that are laid out in an ox-bow shape around lush tropical gardens rolling down to the beach. Amenities here: a fabulous swimming pool, huge dance-floor, barbecue area and casino.

Another favourite of mine is the Touessrok Hotel on the east coast, built on an islet in the middle of a crystal clear lagoon and reached by a wooden bridge. The bungalows are set upon tiers. The Ille au Cerfs can be reached by pirogue and has a beach with dazzling white sands. Set amongst casuarina trees is a boat house and snack bar for the hotel’s guests. Amenities are: golf and various water sports.

Further south, near the Plaisance Airport is Le Chaland with terraced bungalows and apartment blocks around a thatched central building. Sugar plantations hug the one side of the hotel and a long curved beach stretches out in the front of the hotel. Amenities here: horse-riding, tennis, sailing etc.

More intimate and small are:

Hotel Constance Belle Mare situated at the Belle Mare Plage with comfy bungalows nestles on the beach, close to the sea. Amenities are: a swimming pool, tennis and boating etc.

Auberge Miko at Grand Baie. Amenities there: swimming pool and a good beach.

On the shores of Tamarin Bay is the Tamarin, set in amongst lush forest, with terraced rooms and bungalows. Amenities are: a pool and tennis court.

At Black River is the La Mivoie which has chalets by the sea and specialises in deep sea fishing.

Etoile de Mer is found at Trou aux Biches and between here and Grand Baie is Casuarina Village which has Arabian-style cottages and is a short walk from the sea.

Flic en Flac you can stay at Villas Caroline.

Informal Small family Hotels:

At Cap Malhereux on the northern tip of the island you will find Kuxville, which offers 6 bungalows, each with 4 to 8 beds, 3 apartments, each with 2 or 3 beds. There you prepare your own food and groceries are brought to your door every morning by a vendor on a motor bike. Amenities: dive-school and kite centre.

For Bungalow and Apartments one of the best Internet Booking platforms I have discovered is “Home and Away”.

©Susan Cook-Jahme, Freelance Writer

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Beautiful Mauritius, Part 3
May 4, 2013

For such a small island Mauritius has many places of interest to visit. The capital, Port Louis was founded by Mahe de Labourdonnais in 1736. It has great character and in some parts has a battered elegance. Off the main square the, “Place d’Armes” is set amidst giant palms trees. For people who are interested in the architecture of the past, there are fine French colonial buildings like Government House built in the 18th century and the Municipal Theatre built around the same time. There are two cathedrals, a Supreme Court, 18th century barracks, a Historical and Natural History museum all watched over by numerous statues of various people of importance from the past. On the fringe of the town, nestling at the foot of the mountains is the Champ de Mars which was originally laid out by the French for military parades and now serves as a race course. A must when in Port Louis is the vibrant covered market where you can see the amazing crafts, tropical fruit and veggies and many other wares sold by the vendors dressed in colourful attire. Before leaving the town, make sure you visit the Port which is the main reason for the creation of Port Louis and lies quietly in the shelter of a semi-circle of mountains, holding its secrets of the past of the Spice Traders, battles and sunken ships.

Leaving the town, you pass through its suburbs, Beau Bassin, Rose Hill, Quatres Bornes and Vacoas where you must make a stop and view the extinct crater, Trou aux Cerfs some 280ft deep and more than 200 yards wide. You can stand on the rim and look out over one of the most spectacular views of the island, (a great place to take photos).

Then drive on to Curepipe which is the island’s main urban shopping centre. Here you will find retail outlets and good restaurants where you can have a meal before heading on to Mahebourg, one of the main fishing centres, situated in the bay of Grand Port and has a historical museum which is housed in the French Colonial Mansion where, apparently, in 1810 English and French naval commanders were both wounded in the same battle, and brought to the mansion and given medical attention at the same time, (I wonder what they had to say to each other? Perhaps they were too wounded to care.) Apart from naval relics, the museum has copies of the priceless Mauritius “Post Office stamps, such as the “Blue Mauritius.”

Travel back, towards the village of Souillac and a little farther along the south coast you can see where the island’s distinguished poet, Robert-Edward Hart de Keating lived in a delightful little house called “Le Nef” which is built of coral and volcanic rock. It now serves as a museum standing on the cliffs, looking out over the sea; – no wonder Hart was such a great poet! –

In the south west of the island, close to Le Morne, are the “Coloured Earths”, an amazing geological phenomenon which is believed to have been caused by weathering of the layers of rock. Try and see this sight on a bright, sunny day as this is when the colours are seen at their best.

Do not miss out on seeing the Black River Gorges where you shall discover great picnic spots and spectacular scenery as well as heavy forests bejewelled with rain drops, where there is an abundance of birdlife.

Passing the Moka Range of mountains, Le Pouce, 2661ft, which can be climbed and is categorised as “easy”, Pieter Both, 2700ft, categorised for experienced climbers and rock-climbers. Then head back south of Port Louis and stop at Le Reduit, the French colonial residence of the Governors’ of Mauritius and walk in magnificent 325 acre gardens that roll out in front of the residence majestically.

To the north of Port Louis you will find my favourite place on the island, the Royal Botanical Gardens, Pampelmousses, an absolute haven of peace and tranquillity. Founded in 1770 as a nursery for tropical crops, it was from here that cloves were first introduced to Zanzibar. Famous for its pond where you will see the huge floating Victoria Regia lily-pads that look like large round trays proudly displaying their exquisite purple flowers that reflect into the pond’s liquid surface.

The tear-jerking French classic, “Paul et Virginie” the novel by author Bernardin de St. Pierre was written by him after his stay on the island of Mauritius and the Pampelmousses are wrapped into the saga. This is a must-read book to pack in your travel bag when you plan to visit this tropical paradise.

©Susan Cook-Jahme, Freelance Writer

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The Beautiful Island of Mauritius (Part 2)
May 3, 2013

Mauritius is the result of a powerful volcanic eruption; flowing masses of basalt solidified and formed three chains of mountains running from northeast to southwest. Other masses of lava were flung farther afield to form solitary peaks, which are now beautiful mountains dominating the landscape of the island and are thickly forested with tropical green jungles. They rise up from the surrounding flat lands planted with fields of yellow-green sugar cane, their jagged indigo peaks touching the powder blue dome of the skies.

What I enjoy the most about these peaks that guard the island silently are their descriptive names, – Les Trois Mamelles, (the three breasts) Le Pouce, (the thumb) Le Morne (the mournful) and Lion Mountain. Nestled comfortably amidst these mountains rises a central plateau to some 1900ft. lying in the west and southeast are a series of gorges that divide the plateau. The main ones comprising fast flowing rivers and spectacular waterfalls are Grand River in the northwest and the Black River in the southwest.

The coastal areas of the island reveal rocky coves and bays, some fringed with white talcum-like sandy beaches, protected by a coral reef that wraps itself protectively around the entire island and in some places rising to 40ft above sea level. Languishing between the shore and the reef is the ocean that plays colours of turquoise, indigo and royal blue, dappled by silver sun stars playing on its tranquil surface.

Some two hundred years ago, Mauritius was home to a massive variety of birds, some of which, like the dodo had lost the power of flight and were easily shot for “the pot” by early sea-farers and eventually became extinct. A small number of the surviving species live in the indigenous forests, now National Reserves.

Animals that were imported in the years of the East India Spice Traders are the Indian hare and Mina bird, the Macaque Monkey from Malaysia and the Javanese deer. There are also 4 different kinds of snake that are harmless, and fifteen different types of lizards.

Sadly in the early years of discovery the island’s natural primeval forests were plundered for their natural hardwoods, but it is still cloaked in lush vegetation that is kept green all year round with rain showers. Tall palms and casuarinas, (locally called filaos) that cling to the sea’s edge and in the hills are eucalyptus and conifers. Villages are shaded by badamier, banyan, camphor and baobab trees with roads lined with avenues of flame trees, (originally from Madagascar.) All year round one is delighted by the flowering blooms of jacaranda, cassia, oleander, bougainvillea, hibiscus and a variety of other trees and shrubs.

Sugar cane covers two-fifths of the land, earning 93% of the revenue on the island, whilst the other crops, coffee, tea, tobacco and rice provide a living for a majority of the Mauritians.

There is an estimated population of 1,286 million living on the island, of which the majority are Indians of the Hindu faith, Creoles, (people of mixed European and African blood), Chinese traders,  and the minority who are Franco and Anglo Mauritian who descend from families who have lived on the island for over 200 years. The official business language is English, but the native language of Europeans and Creoles id French, or lingua franca, a Creole patois. Educated Indians and those in the tourism business are bi-lingual in French and English, as well as their native Hindi or Urdu.

Mauritius has a maritime climate which is cooled by the southeast Trade Winds from April to October. Between December to May, (the summer) temperatures reach the upper 80’s and the humidity is high with the hottest months being December to February. In the months of July to August, (winter) temperatures reach the upper 70’s.

It rains throughout the year, the wettest months being January to March and this is known as the Season of Cyclones and one visit I made to the island was in February where I sat out a cyclone in the Touessrok Hotel close to the Ille aux Cerfs which was an awesome and frightening experience, to put it mildly! Ever since then I have been prone to visit Mauritius in the months of April to May.

©Susan Cook-Jahme, Freelance Writer

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