The Dry Season in Mauritius
- I've flown in from Mozambique; there's a huge contrast between Mozambique and Mauritius. Nevertheless, it’s hard to put my finger on the exact reason, there’s something a little depressing, about Mauritius. It seems to lack soul. Maybe that’s unfair. The weather has continued to be poor, even though it is supposed to be dry season. Nothing looks its best when the sky is grey and it’s not quite warm enough to sit comfortably outside.
- My hotel is one of a raft of mega luxurious establishments ensconced on Grand Baie in the north. It has tiny islands linked with little bridges, pristine beaches, excellent food and an expensive spa. (As with other accommodation in the area, there is also, incongruously, much heavy thatch in evidence.) It’s extraordinarily comfortable. It’s just very dark inside and out and it’s frustrating that I can’t use most of the facilities or snorkel in the bay.
Mauritius - Background
- Together with Réunion and the Seychelles, Mauritius used to form the Mascarene Islands. It was first settled by Arabs, then dabbled with by the Portuguese and Dutch, before eventually being colonized by the French. Admiral Wybrand Van Warwyck named the island “Mauritius” after Prince Maurice van Nassau, the ruler of the Dutch Republic. The French, in their turn, were forced to hand it over to the British in 1814.
- British planters brought in half a million indentured labourers from India to work in the sugar cane fields between 1834 and 1921. Hinduism is the religion of about half the population.
- The Mauritian government is, unsurprisingly, closely modelled on the Westminster parliamentary system. Mauritius is also ranked the most peaceful African country on the Global Peace Index.
- Mauritius has several islands, but the main land mass is still a small island - 20 miles by 40 miles - and I’ve availed myself of tours to see all the highlights. Diminutive size doesn’t preclude traffic jams and the car crawls both ways through the pinch point that is the capital, Port Louis. This city was founded on its harbour and fort and is where the bulk of the population live. Mauritius is the most densely populated country on the African continent. It has plenty of French colonial buildings and, apparently. a thriving cultural scene, with several museums.
- The Indian influence, a result of British colonialism, is pervasive, and thankfully adds some character. Mauritius is the only country in Africa where Hinduism is the most practised religion. The crater lake of Grand Bassin (or Ganga Talao), sacred to Mauritian Hindus, has the pink Shiv Mandir temple, with white icing decoration. I can just make it out in the mist. It's surrounded by statues of Shiva, Hanuman, Ganga and Ganesh suspended in the water. They're brightly dressed in primary colours, but can still only mange to look mournful in the damp. During the Shivaratri festival many pilgrims in Mauritius walk bare foot, from their homes to the lake.
- The mountains are verdant (they would be with all the rain) and most easily discernible from a boat. We zip past the sands of the famous Flic en Flac Beach (it’s empty). The dolphins (it is after all a Dolphin Safari) do make an appearance here at Tamarin Bay, but the Bob the Boat curse that prevents me taking a photograph of anything more than a fin, is still with me.
- Next, the Chamarel tourist park
- The Geological Wonder of Mauritius, the Seven Coloured Earths of Chamarel doesn’t really live up to its name, but there are some colourful yellow ochre and cinnamon sand dunes to record.
- The nearby Chamarel Falls, plummeting almost 90 metres over a cliff face, are more picturesque, although, ironically, there isn’t a great deal of water.
- There's also a pen of giant tortoises
- The Seychelles next....