Because It’s Real
We have spent the last ten days on the humid and tropical island of Mauritius, a small (but not too small) African island in the middle of the Indian Ocean. Mauritius is a land of moist, cool, and green mountains, beaches (of black volcanic rock or white sand littered with bits of shell and coral) mingling with warm aquamarine water. The local brown Mauritian people speak Creole and eat spicy hot food. We drive on the left – or in the middle to avoid the many frequently stopping busses, motor scooters, bicyclers (often with baskets hanging from the handlebars or a child perched on the bar), stray dogs, and pedestrians. The flora is vibrant. The national ubiquitous symbol of Mauritius is the dodo bird.
Ascending up the snaking mountain road, there are many sites we see over multiple trips toward and beyond Chamarel. There are rushing waterfalls that photos will do no justice to. It either sprinkles or downright rains every time we venture up. We buy a soft scarf made of llama’s wool to keep me warm and a small dodo bird carved from moonstone for our souvenir shelves at home. We tour a rum factory that produces delicious rum made from sugar cane (we taste tiny sips of many rums – double distilled, classic, vanilla flavored, spiced, coffee liqueur and more). We visit the underwhelming, but still interesting Seven Colored Earth where volcanic rock has cooled and been affected by the sand and weather creating color striations. We drive through the Black River Gorges National Park, stop for a panoramic view and come across some young Indian men driving through the rain on their motorcycles – one has a selfie stick and we oblige him by joining the group photo. We find a gigantic Shiva standing outside holding his trident in front of the largest Hindu temple on the island in Grand Bassin. There are many Indian villages, brightly painted (often pink) temples, different sized statues of Hindi gods, women dressed in colorful Indian garb with bindis, and red Om prayer flags.
What would an island vacation be without a couple of visits to the local markets? We went to The Port Louis daily Central Market with an only 4 star trip advisor recommendation and would have given it five. The colors and smells abound here! Piles of inexpensive produce I have never seen before – even in Wegmans! – as far as the eye can see. Old men carving the tough spots out of small juicy dark yellow pineapple in a spiral shape, orange papaya with its strange seeds, middle-aged men carrying fruit in boxes on top of their heads, baskets filled with ginger root, fresh lettuces and herbs, tomatoes, lemons, limes displayed in conical piles, young men selling chunks of pure white mildly tasting coconut – and that’s only the stuff I can identify….Bargaining for souvenirs on the floors above the food, we found all types of pashmina and other bright textiles, carved wooden dodo birds, fridge magnets, spices and, jewelry made of abalone, pearls, semi-precious stones. We drank freshly pressed juice, ate at a small Indian “stall” where people were lined up for the quickly prepared chick pea wraps with…..something delicious…inside, and then later fried noodles (sooooo tasty!) from the Asian stir fry spot. Yes, we walked away a few rupees lighter 🙂
Of course, there are also sea adventures….We dusted off our diving gear after being certified three years ago and descended into the ocean for four beautiful dives, every time feeling increasingly confident. Each experience under water is different. For me, it starts with a mixture of excitement and jitteriness. After attaching the tank and BCD, getting the masks and fins on, then dropping backwards into the water – my nerves change into peaceful awe and respect for the colors, fish, reef, and ocean life. I feel the symbiosis in this natural setting, of the aquatic life, and also my Honeybuns who is my scuba buddy – there must be trust.
With two days remaining on Mauritius, we spontaneously decide to book a small boat to go interact with the dolphins. At 5:30 am on our final full day we meet Skipper Fred who is tan and pretty buff (do NOT picture the skipper from Gulligan’s Island) J. He motors us through the light rain out of the Tamarin Bay scanning the water all around. It takes about an hour – a scenic hour where we see the mist rising out of the mountains on land, a brilliant rainbow, and some fabulous flying fish (fascinating!). We come into a pod of bottlenose dolphins along with a few other boats; we slip in and out of the water with our fins and masks to experience these amazing and, I think, gentle creatures Of course we do not touch them – I hope we are keeping a respectful distance – but we are close enough to get a good look and it is exhilarating!
As you can tell, we are having a fabulous adventure….I am happy to share the Facebook version of our trip – the polished up – so-everyone-can-see-how-amazing-our-life-is version. The one where there are no telephone wires, double chins, closed eyes, ugly graffiti in the photos. Yes, you know what I mean. I will tell you a little of the flip side of the last ten days on this island that is truly full of exotic flowers, juicy tropical fruit, colorful souvenirs, and smiling people – not because it was unpleasant or negative, but because it is real. There are many streetwise, scavenging, stray dogs on the island. They created no problem for us as guests, but they are there – looking for food, a safe place to have and feed their litter of puppies. Our host Rudi told me that the locals don’t believe in neutering the animals because “it is not natural…”. The other thing that is not unique to this island is the disparity between the money spent on and by the tourists – and the conditions under which many of the local people live. En route to our holiday ventures, buzzing through in our air-conditioned car, we pass by small communities of corrugated metal “structures” where people reside. When Chris drives slowly enough I can peek in a little. I see lots of rubbish, dogs lying about, kids playing near the street –some on cell phones, mothers minding their children. I am not judging, but merely observing some differences.
We have had a fantastic journey so far – and will be in touch from Kenya soon.