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Mauritius

Mauritius and Reunion 2018

Route: London – Chemin Grenier (Mauritius) – St Pierre (Reunion) - Trou-aux-Biches - London

semi-overcast 25 °C

July/August 2018

After a few days in the UK for a bit of socialising and medical appointments, we were off again. Our destination was the Indian Ocean and the islands of Mauritius and Reunion. The trip would consist of three parts, each of two weeks. Part one; Southern Mauritius, part two; Reunion and part three Northern Mauritius.

Part One: Mauritius South

Our base for Southern Mauritius was a self-catering apartment in the small town of Chemin Grenier. Chemin Grenier sits at the foot of Mauritius’s highest mountain range, also known of the Black River Gorge National Park, and its wild southern coast. For most part, the Indian Ocean waters in the south are too dangerous for bathing, so we concentrated mainly on land-based activities. This usually meant hikes to see the many natural wonders the southern part of the island had to offer.

Black River Gorges NP

Black River Gorges NP

Waterfall at Black River George National Park

Waterfall at Black River George National Park

Black River Gorge NP

Black River Gorge NP

Black River Gorges National Park

Black River Gorges National Park

Chamarel waterfall

Chamarel waterfall

The Seven colours of Chamarel, find them!

The Seven colours of Chamarel, find them!

Trou aux Cerfs, old volcano crater in a middle of the town of Curepipe

Trou aux Cerfs, old volcano crater in a middle of the town of Curepipe

Mauritius Beach

Mauritius Beach

Old sugarcane factory and road through sugarcane field

Old sugarcane factory and road through sugarcane field

Kite Surfing

Kite Surfing

Slave Memorial at Le Morne Brabant

Slave Memorial at Le Morne Brabant

View from le Morne

View from le Morne

Iles aux Aigrettes

Iles aux Aigrettes

Clockwise: Ornate Day Gecko, Mauritius Skink, Giant Aldabra Tortoise

Clockwise: Ornate Day Gecko, Mauritius Skink, Giant Aldabra Tortoise

Clockwise: Red whiskered Bulbul, White Tailed Tropic Bird, White Mauritius Pigeon (there is only 22 left in the world), Mauritius Fody

Clockwise: Red whiskered Bulbul, White Tailed Tropic Bird, White Mauritius Pigeon (there is only 22 left in the world), Mauritius Fody

But it wasn’t all hiking; we did take in some culture, such as the Hindu sacred lake at Grand Bassin. Legend has it, that the lake waters consist of a tear drop from the Hindu god Shiva, topped up with some Ganges River water he happened to have with him at the time. It’s a beautiful and tranquil place, with some amazing statues, together with a place of pilgrimage for many believers.

Great BIG Hindu God at Grand Bassin

Great BIG Hindu God at Grand Bassin

Long Tailed Macaque at Grand Bassin

Long Tailed Macaque at Grand Bassin

Offerings at Grand Bassin

Offerings at Grand Bassin

Hindu Gods

Hindu Gods

And we took in some history and economy as well, in the form of the Saint Aubin Estate. The Saint Aubin Estate has been growing sugarcane for nearly 150 years and now also opens its doors to visitors who can discover the many attributes of a sugar estate. Our tour showed us the production of sugar, the cultivation of vanilla, the distillation of rum (with samples to taste) and the operations of the estate house. Very enjoyable and informative, even if driving home after about ten small shots of rum may not have been so wise.

Vanilla Plantation

Vanilla Plantation

From sugar to Rum

From sugar to Rum

Crushing sugar cane into liquid sugar the old way

Crushing sugar cane into liquid sugar the old way

Picking when to do each activity became quite a challenge, because our two weeks in the south were unseasonably wet, due to anti-cyclone sitting out in the Indian Ocean not far from the Mauritian coast. Mostly we got it right, but we did get a bit of a soaking on a couple of occasions.

Part Two: La Reunion

La Reunion Itineray

La Reunion Itineray

Arriving in Reunion was a bit surreal; you would think the plane had been diverted to France instead. French is spoken everywhere, although Creole is the official regional language, the car hire was paid for in Euro’s and the motorway from the airport to our accommodation was like driving on the Paris ring road. Of course this shouldn’t come as a surprise, as Reunion is in fact Department No. 974 of France.
The following morning, and in the warm light of day, things became a little bit less France. The streets had the typical French patisseries and the brands on display were very French, but the view from our terrace was less so. To the south we could see the Indian Ocean lapping the volcanic shore and to the north, the sugarcane plantations on the hillside stretched up to the volcanic summits that dominated the sky line beyond.
Reunion’s population of 900,000 live mostly around the coast, as the central mountains are very rugged and don’t lend themselves to habitation. But what the central mountains do provide is the islands beauty and is their crowning glory. Although the island is surrounded by the Indian Ocean, with a few good beaches, it was the mountains, their foothills and the wild volcanic sea cliffs that got most of our attention.
For the duration of our stay, we based ourselves in a lovely fourth floor apartment in the west coast town of St-Pierre. The apartment was split over two floors, with the bedroom downstairs and the living area upstairs. The living area also had a large terrace, with good views of the town, the ocean and the mountains.

Bourbon beer but the local call it La Dodo

Bourbon beer but the local call it La Dodo

Saint-Pierre Street Art

Saint-Pierre Street Art

Sunset over St-Pierre

Sunset over St-Pierre

The location of St-Pierre was ideal for the areas we wanted to explore, go east and you were into the mountains, go south and you were on the wild volcanic coast.
Our exploration of the island either meant hiking through the beautiful landscape, spectacular drives around the island or visiting some of the more quirky attractions.

Our hikes were either in the mountains, with their beautiful alpine scenery, or along the rugged coast, where the crystal clear turquoise ocean crashed against the jet-black volcanic cliffs. All were amazing, as you can see from the photos, but particularly memorable were the hikes through the lava flows of past eruptions and to the crater rim of volcano “Piton de la Fournaise.
Reunion experiences some sort of volcanic activity almost every year, with the volcano blowing out a stream of lava on a regular basis. Because of this it wasn’t unusual to find ourselves hiking across old lava flows and being amazed at the power of nature as the molten rock makes its way down the side of the volcano, before being cooled and solidified by the sea. In fact this process is increasing the size of the island with every eruption.

Cap Merchant

Cap Merchant

Coastal Walk on Lava Flow from late 20th century

Coastal Walk on Lava Flow from late 20th century

Yellow Cape so called because the cliff is yellow and not black like all the rest

Yellow Cape so called because the cliff is yellow and not black like all the rest

Coastal Walk on Lava Flow from late 20th century

Coastal Walk on Lava Flow from late 20th century

Vacoas tree growing on lava flow

Vacoas tree growing on lava flow

Coastal Walk on Lava Flow from late 20th century

Coastal Walk on Lava Flow from late 20th century

Having seen where the volcanic lava had entered the sea, we thought we ought to go and see its source. To reach the volcanic crater we first had a bit of driving to do. We left St-Pierre early in the morning, drove up to the island’s central plateau then up the side of an extinct volcano before arriving at where all the action takes place. But we weren’t yet at our final destination; a very bumpy drive across the Commerson Crater (part of another extinct volcano) finally brought us there. We were now on the rim of the crater looking down into an active volcano. Beneath us was a moon like landscape, pot-marked with spatter-cones, evidence of previous eruptions (however no real sign of the latest mini eruption that only stopped a few days earlier]. We hiked along the crater rim for a few kilometres to get different views of this amazing landscape, before finishing with a short hike above the Commerson Crater. (See below for more Volcano details)

View towards Pas de Bellecombe

View towards Pas de Bellecombe

Commerson Crater

Commerson Crater

Road across Commerson Crater

Road across Commerson Crater

Volcanic Crystals

Volcanic Crystals

The big one: Piton de la Fournaise

The big one: Piton de la Fournaise

One of many craters on the active volcano of La Reunion

One of many craters on the active volcano of La Reunion

Another Crater!

Another Crater!

Volcanic Landscape at Piton de la Fournaise

Volcanic Landscape at Piton de la Fournaise

Although these two hikes were perhaps the most memorable, the others were also very enjoyable.

Cirque de Cilaos

Cirque de Cilaos

Piton des Neiges, the highest point on the island (3000m )

Piton des Neiges, the highest point on the island (3000m+)

View over Piton des Neiges on our way to Piton de la Fournaise

View over Piton des Neiges on our way to Piton de la Fournaise

Road through the lava flow

Road through the lava flow

Lava flow of 2007

Lava flow of 2007

Although a small island, it did take quite a time to get anywhere. Away from the coastal highways the roads were narrow and congested when in town. Not to mention very winding when venturing up into the mountains. But although the driving was challenging the scenery was worth it.
We explored this part of the island on two occasions, the same mountain range (an extinct volcano to be technically correct) but approached from either side of the island. Each side was very different, the dry western side showed much more bare rock with a steeper accent, while the wetter eastern side was very lush with many waterfalls tumbling of its high cliffs. We hiked on both sides and visited town’s as far up as the road would allow us, the town of Hell-Bourg was particularly nice. In the 19th and early 20th century Hell-Bourg was a retreat for the wealthy to escape the coastal heat. Many houses from that period still remain today, thanks to the local hardwood used it their construction, resistant to rot and strong enough to weather many tropical storms.

Cirque de Salazie

Cirque de Salazie

Hell-Bourg Street view

Hell-Bourg Street view

traditional Creole house in Hell-Bourg

traditional Creole house in Hell-Bourg

Hell-Bourg resident

Hell-Bourg resident

Cascade Blanche on our way to Cirque de Salazie

Cascade Blanche on our way to Cirque de Salazie

Fern Tree

Fern Tree

Traditional Creole House in Hell-Bourg

Traditional Creole House in Hell-Bourg

Although the landscape is the dominant feature of the island, mans impact was also intriguing. Such as Ste-Anne’s church, where children were asked to have an input into it design, and as a consequence is one of the most attractive Christian churches we have seen.

Sainte-Anne Church

Sainte-Anne Church

Staying on a religious theme, there was our visit to the church at Piton Ste Rose. Piton Ste Rose is very close to the lava route of the islands’ volcano. Usually, lava from the numerous eruptions follow a set path down the collapsed crater and into the ocean, but unfortunately on one occasions came in the direction of Piton Ste Rose. The lava destroyed most of the town, surrounded the church, came in its front door then stopped. The doorway has been cleared, but lava rocks still surround the church as a reminder of that fateful day. The church as since been renamed as “Notre-Dame des Laves”, or our lady of the lava in English.

Church of Piton Sainte-Rose

Church of Piton Sainte-Rose

The street market in Saint-Pierre is held every Saturday and it was supposed to be the best in Reunion. Without another market to compare it to, it was hard to say whether it is the best, but it certainly was impressive. A great variety of local fruit and vegetables, preserves, cooked food, handy craft, it had everything.

St-Pierre Market

St-Pierre Market

Part Three: Mauritius North

Mauritius North Itinerary

Mauritius North Itinerary

Aerial view of Le Morne Brabant

Aerial view of Le Morne Brabant

Mauritius scenery

Mauritius scenery

Our return visit to Mauritius was to explore the north of the island, and to do this we based ourselves in an apartment just outside the coastal town of Trou-aux-Biches.

Trou aux Biches Beach

Trou aux Biches Beach


Hindu Temple in Triolet

Hindu Temple in Triolet

Locals enjoying a day out

Locals enjoying a day out

The north of Mauritius is very different to the south, still with the sugarcane fields everywhere but without the mountains of the Black River Gorge dominating the horizon. It is also much more touristic, with posh beach resorts clustered all along the coast, claiming access to most of the best beaches. The beach situation makes you as an independent traveller feel a bit like a second-class tourist, as you only have easy access to the public beaches.

Grande Baie pile of coconuts

Grande Baie pile of coconuts

Most coastal towns have at least one big resort, together with several smaller ones; this forces the traditional fisherman of the community to ply their trade from the smaller expanse of the public beach. This situation didn’t seem to concern the locals though, probably as tourism is seen as a more lucrative industry.

Fishing Village

Fishing Village

The catch of the day at Grand Gaube

The catch of the day at Grand Gaube

Customers for the fish

Customers for the fish

Even with our restricted access we did get to enjoy the beaches on several occasions, although the water was a bit cold this time of year so swimming and snorkelling were in short sessions.
The coastal highlight however, was our submarine trip. Blue Safari Submarines are the only operator in the Indian Ocean to offer a real submarine adventure, and with them being on our door step we felt we shouldn’t miss the opportunity, albeit a bit pricey. From their office a small boat took us to a larger one just beyond the reef. From this larger boat we boarded the submarine. We were fortunate, as we got allocated the small sub, just the pilot, us and two other passengers. Entrance is through a roof hatch and down a ladder. Inside, five seats were laid out around an all glass chamber, giving great views of the local marine life. The trip lasted 45 minutes and dived to a maximum depth of 35 meters, taking in two shipwrecks and the coral reef. Despite the current windy conditions churning up the sand on the seabed, we had good sighting of a lot of reef fish. And that completed a unique, for us, and a very enjoyable experience.

Submarine excursion

Submarine excursion

Away from the coast, northern Mauritius offered a number of other interesting places to visit.
Hidden amongst the endless fields of sugarcane, is Mauritius’s own Botanical Gardens. Not Kew (London) or Kirstenbosch (Cape Town), but a very enjoyable place to spend a few hours. There weren’t much in the way of crowds on the day we visited which made the experience even more enjoyable. Created in 1767 by Pierre Poivre, the gardens have grown to cover an area of 37.5 hectares, and contain flora from all over the world, together with a good few species of the local bird life.

some tree flower at Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam Botanical Garden

some tree flower at Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam Botanical Garden

Palm Trees at Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam Botanical Garden

Palm Trees at Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam Botanical Garden

Giant Water Lily at Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam Botanical Garden

Giant Water Lily at Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam Botanical Garden

Terrapin at Giant Water Lily Pond

Terrapin at Giant Water Lily Pond

Giant Water Lily Pond at Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam Botanical Garden

Giant Water Lily Pond at Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam Botanical Garden

With all this sugarcane around us it was about time we learnt a bit more about one of Mauritius’s main exports, so we took a visit to the sugarcane museum. The museum is set in an old sugar factory, surrounded by sugarcane fields and palm tree clad lawns. And it certainly fore filled its promise, as we left with a much better knowledge of the history of sugar production in Mauritius, together with the country’s history in general. It was an enjoyable way to spend a few hours on a lazy Saturday afternoon.

L'Aventure du Sucre (sugar cane and Mauritius history museum)

L'Aventure du Sucre (sugar cane and Mauritius history museum)

L'Aventure du Sucre (sugar cane and Mauritius history museum)

L'Aventure du Sucre (sugar cane and Mauritius history museum)

Sugar cane fields

Sugar cane fields

The museum was our last activity on Mauritius, and marked the end of our Indian Ocean adventure. The following day we flew back to the UK to start a new adventure, this time much more local, as we were going to find out what England’s west country had to offer us.

Personal Observations & Interesting Facts

Mauritius Facts & Figures
Mauritius is a small island in the middle of the Indian Ocean, only 40 miles (64km) long and 28miles (45km) wide. It was uninhabited until the Dutch took a passing interest in the 17th Century, but not properly colonised until the French set up camp there in the 18th Century. For around 100 years the French cultivated sugarcane on the island, using mostly slave labour, before the British wrestled it away from them in 1810. It then remained a British colony until gaining independence in 1968. Its population is now mainly the descendants of the Indian, and to a lesser extent African, sugarcane workers plus a few Chinese and Europeans to make up a multicultural society. Unsurprisingly, the main religion is Hindu and mainly brightly coloured temples can be seen across the country.
Mauritius has a population of around 1.3million, 40% living in the capital Port Louis, and is the most densely populated country in Africa. Mauritius is a democracy and its government has been formed along the same lines as in Britain. In fact the World Bank quote it as the most democratic country in Africa. Although English is the official language, French is spoken widely and most day-to-day conversations are undertaken in Creole (a mix of all the local languages).
The flag consists of four bands; red for the bloodshed during slavery times, blue for the Indian Ocean, yellow for the independence and bright future and green for the lush vegetation of the island.

Mauritius Flag

Mauritius Flag

Driving in Mauritius
Mauritians drive on the left, the same as in the UK. Most of the roads we encountered were tarred and in reasonable condition, and outside of the towns not too busy. This time of year the sugar cane is at its full height, so your journey often fills like your driving along a corridor with the crop blocking out any view on either side. There are some unwritten rules however. You can stop your car wherever it is convenient to you, regardless of the subsequent traffic jab it may cause. Priority at a narrow bridge goes to the ageing bus approaching from the opposite direction at speed, flashing its lights and hooting it horn. Directional indications are optional and seldom used. And, manoeuvres should be unpredictable and have little consideration for other road users.

Reunion Facts & Figures
Reunion is very similar in size to Mauritius, 39 miles (63km) long and 28 miles (45km) wide. The island wasn’t inhabited until the late 17th century when the French took a liking to it, and it has been a French domain ever since. It is actually a department of France and therefore part of the European Union, with French as the official language and the currency being the Euro.
It has one of the most active volcanoes in the world, with Piton de la Fournaise erupting at least once a year. It is one of the most dangerous places in the world for Shark attacks, 21 since 2011, 9 of which were fatal. The 20 December is a public holiday and commemorates the abolition of slavery on that day in 1848. The highest mountain in the Indian Ocean is on Reunion, Piton des Neiges (Snow Peak), which rises to 3,069m above sea level. It is agued that the best pineapples come from Reunion, the Victoria Pineapple, named after Queen Victoria of Britain who said they were her favourite. 42% of the island is a National Park, which received UNESCO World Heritage status in 2010. And finally, the famous pirate “La Buse” died on Reunion, he was executed for his crimes, and his treasure is believed to be on the island somewhere but remains undiscovered.

Reunion, a volcano that is now an Island
The island of Reunion is the result of volcanic eruptions that formed its landmass. Today only one part of the island is an active volcano, an area in the southeast known as “Piton de la Fournaise”. However, the name of “Piton de la Fournaise” is a bit misleading, as it only represents the peak on the central cone in the volcano’s crater. Formed 530,000 years ago, this Shield Volcano is one of the most active in the world, erupting almost every year. But it is also known as a “kind volcano”, as the lava flow from its numerous eruptions are usually (see Piton Ste Rose above) contained within its collapsed crater, with the larger ones ending in the ocean below. There is no habitation between the crater and the ocean so the risk to life is minimal; however, the main N2 road does have to be rebuilt on a regular basis. This happy co-existence looks like continuing for some time yet, but a problem is looming. The eastern flank of the volcano is unstable and in the initial stages of failure. One day it will collapse, when is unsure, causing major destruction on the south east coast and is likely to create a mega tsunami. We are leaving next Wednesday, so should be ok.

Saint Expedit
One unique thing about Reunion is its significant folk following of Saint Expedit. Expedit was a Roman centurion who died in CE303, martyred for his conversion to Christianity. His reputation for getting thing done has made him the patron saint of speedy cases. Followers, who want things to happen quickly, pray to him in preference to any of the other saints. What is also unusual is that he is the considered go to saint for any placement of vengeful curses. As can be imagined, most of the curses don’t work, and is the reason why many shrines contain a decapitated saintly statue in revenge for his poor performance. All along the roads of Reunion you will find alters dedicated to Saint Expedit, varying in size from a box to a hut and always painted red. They generally contain a mixture of statues, flowers and candles, together with some offering if he has performed the task requested. Although Saint Expedit is a very popular saint in Reunion, the Roman Catholic faith considers it taboo to worship him, so alter visit are always done discretely.

St-Expedit Altar on the road side

St-Expedit Altar on the road side

Sitarane
Another infamous figure in Reunion is Simicoudza Simicourbe, otherwise known as Sitarane. Sitarane was born into a family of witch doctors in Mozambique. He arrived on the island in 1889 at the age of 30 to work under contract as an “Indentured Labourer”. Two years later, he left this employment and went underground. In 1906, he met two other criminals: Pierre-Elie Calendrin, the leader of the gang, who had a reputation as a witch doctor, and Emmanuel Fontaine. With these two he committed numerous acts of theft, some of which were undertaken in a mysterious and audacious way, and then three murders, where the victims' throats were cut during their sleep (it is claimed, however, that they were responsible for around a dozen murders). The trio terrorised the inhabitants of Saint Pierre until their arrest in 1909, along with around ten accomplices. The investigation also revealed that the three bandits had drunk and collected the blood of their victims as part of Calendrin's occult practices. Calendrin himself denied everything at the trial and was handed a sentence of forced labour for the rest of his life. The two others were sentenced to death and were sent to the guillotine.
Today his grave in Saint Pierre is bedecked with flowers and candles and is the focus of a genuine cult. According to the tradition of witchcraft on the island, many sorcerers call upon Sitarane's spirit when performing black magic. It is also claimed that anyone planning a crime or a hold-up, or who is planning to misappropriate inheritance or murder their mother-in-law, prays at the grave of Sitarane at night so that his evil spirit might help them in their plans. A story is still told of a man who, one night, left a butcher's knife at Sitarane's grave and then used it to murder his mistress who was watching a variety show in the square in front of the town hall with ten thousand other people. It was also the same cult that led Noël Clarel, a labourer working on archaeological digs at Pointe du Diable, to take an 11-year-old child to a ravine and then strangle him. While undertaking his own digs at night in the hope of discovering the treasure that was supposedly hidden there, Clarel believed that finding it depended on sacrificing a child.

Sitarane grave in St-Pierre Cemetery

Sitarane grave in St-Pierre Cemetery

Posted by MAd4travel 00:26 Archived in Mauritius Comments (2)

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