Road Trip to Old Mauritius

Loums’ aunt Gladys has a friend called Willy who owns a taxi, and she recommended we give him a call when we saw her on Saturday. So after our what shall now be known as our ‘fail day’, we decided to give Willy a call, he was lovely and appreciative that we really wanted to see the island and learn more about it than chill at the beach the whole time (my skin from the back of my neck to my heels now peeling like strips of wallpaper, chilling at any beach of any kind remained very much out of the question).

Christopher Biggins’ hand mould – in Mauritius.

He picked us up at 9 and told us he was going to take us to the Glass Factory in Pheonix which is where they also brewed the island’s beer of the same name. The Glass Factory was weird. When you got past the foyer there was a more-tacky, less accurate (if you believe it), version of the Hollywood Boulevard walk of fame, of ‘celebrities’ of all walks of life who had put their hands into sand and then glass mould were made of it. Some of them were pretty legit for example, Richard Branson, Michael Palin, but there were also less likely candidates, for example Christopher Biggins whose hand mould had the caption of “well recognised TV personality” which I guess is kind of true, he has personality by the shed-load, but then, travesty upon travesty, they had a picture of Dame Judi Dench with the caption “older British actress”, which again, not untrue but for goodness sake she is a dame and one of the shining lights of the entire acting profession in the 20th and 21 century! It is not right that Christopher Biggins has a kinder description than her. We also saw glass being made in the workshop, lots of  glass makers keeping to the fire, sanding, moulding etc. which was pretty interesting, also there was lots of information about how much recycling goes into the making of Mauritian glass and then a HUGE gift shop in which there were ornaments, wine glasses, Christmas decorations, jewellery, you name it, Loums and I bought matching Pheonix beer mugs and I bought a blue and white-vined dodo for my mum.

Eureka – and no, the colour of the grass has not been edited.

Willy then took us past the capital of Port Louis to an old Créole house called Eureka, we decided to get lunch there and we made our food order before we began looking around the house. I chose marlin cari (cari being a very small dish with sauce with lots of turmeric, cinnamon, cumin and stock with either meat or fish, I chose fish), the rest of the meal was all set so off we went! The house was very colonial, thick mahogany floors, high ceilings with lots of moulding, portraits, marble baths, a long oak dining table, French doors and windows, but also there was a lot of Chinese influence dotted around in the form of privacy screens for either decorative or practical use, as well as writing desks, both of which were proudly decorated with Cranes.  There was a veranda behind the house which formed a beautiful frame around it, and in the centre of it before going down the steps to the back garden were wicker chairs and sofas, you could definitely imagine 19th century inhabitants of the house reading there before taking a turn around the vast garden.

One of the best meals I have ever eaten.
One of the best meals I have ever eaten.

We started to walk around it and at the back we found uneven stone steps which we started to venture down, and down, and around, and down, before reaching the bottom where there was a cascade of waterfalls leading to a pool at the bottom and then forming a steady stream through the mountains. Nature is wonderful. After taking it all in for a long while, we were starting to get hungry to up we climbed, explored more of the green garden and then lunch was served! Rice is used mainly as an absorber so very little was served with our meal, but what accompanied it were little dishes for example, the marlin cari, pumpkin purée, mint and coconut paste, sun dried olives, tomato and pistachio purée (which was unreal) and larger lentil dish for if you have any room left. The meal ended with a small helping of vanilla ice-cream garnished with grilled coconut flakes.

 

 

Labourdonnais.
Labourdonnais.

After chatting and letting the food go down, we then met back up with Willy who then drove us to Labourdonnais! I was so so happy we were getting to do it after the disappointment of the day before. After reading about its restoration it was amazing to see how much it still looked like it belonged in 1850 Louisiana. It was just beautiful, marble verandas on both levels, embroidered walls, fountains, the works, we weren’t allowed to take pictures so I’ve only got the one form the front, but that is the most important bit! We then walked around the orchard and found giant tortoises, after looking at them for a while and doing impressions of them eating we then walked round to the distillery where they make the Labourdonnais rum. We got to talking to the woman who was running it, and we found out that she was a good friend of Gladys so bless her, she recommended that if we liked the rum we buy it in SuperU as it is much cheaper there! And like it we did. We tried the white, ambré and brun rum, we both loved the brun, I’m not really a rum drinker, probably because the only rum I’ve had before had been piss-water, and this rum was delicious, no burning sensation, warming, and sweet. So making a note of the bottle we decided to go purchase it the next day. Willy then drove us the long way back through the mountains, telling us stories about each one of them most of the way back to Trou Aux Biches, but most importantly through pineapple plantations. Get this: pineapples do NOT grow on trees. WHO KNEW?! We also discovered during the day that he used to work with Loums’ grandfather and was also a good friend of his brother. We then arrived back at home and asked to see him again on the Friday when he promised to show us the South of the island. We then had dinner, cocktails and again, tried to come to terms with the beauty of the island and how lucky we were to see it.

Mauritian mountains in the background, and pineapple in the foreground.
Mauritian mountains in the background, and pineapple in the foreground.

It was all going so well…

The Spa!

So naturally, as the place we were staying had a spa we just HAD to go and get a massage, darling. It was in this little, tranquil, mud-hut looking, wooden-covered courtyard with little round rooms dotted around with the thatched roofs on the top which looked like meringues. We had a steam for 30 minutes (it’s like steaming your head when you have a cold, only it’s for your body, and it smells like olbas oil, so it’s like telling your entire body it has a cold), I had to lie on my front because the whole of the back of my body was still very much suffering from sunburn. After that you had to go into the pool which is SO cold but so pretty because apparently it ‘has the effect on your body like a blacksmith dunking a hot horseshoe into water.’ – oh okay… Either way the best thing after that is to take a massage apparently, we both went for the ‘Anti-Stress’ massage, because I’m a reluctant Account Manager in IT Sales and he’s a Supply Chain Manager so by ghaaad we needed it. It was oh so lovely, even if we did have to wear what was effectively nappies, but all in all it was an hour of bliss, so blissful in fact that we would return two more times before the trip was up.

Then the less chilled part of the day began. We got ready to go to Chateau de Labourdonnais which, whilst doing research before the trip I found on Tripadvisor, it was an old Creole house which looked like it belonged in Louisiana and also a rum distillery where you could have a tasting and a meal after, HELLO! Anyway it all went wrong, we set off too late, missed our bus, had to wait 30 minutes in Triolet bus station for the next one, when we left the driver said she’d tell where to get off and when she did we realised we forgot the map so had no idea where to go, we asked a couple of people where it was but they had no idea, so we thought ‘oh balls, where are we?’ and after walking over a flyover twice it wasn’t looking good. We then found a very friendly and helpful fruit seller on the side of a road who told us where to go, so we started walking down a dual carriage-way (so safe), after walking for about 45 minutes we realised it was quarter to 4, it shut at 5 and we still had no idea where we were going. This was all in 30 degree heat so we gave each other a look which meant that we’d both had enough, so we carried on walking until we found a school nearby where there were taxis lined up, we asked a driver if he could take us back, he agreed as long as we wouldn’t mind having school children with us which of course we didn’t. The children arrived, were very talkative and sweet, after about an hour-long drive we were back, showered, had dinner and a couple of very large cocktails before agreeing to try again the next day.

You would stop and go back too...
You would stop and go back too…

Lazy Sizzling Sunday – Wear Suncreen.

Today was the day we decided to tackle Trou Aux Biches and its gleaming white beach. After breakfast (easing up on the papaya intake), we got our bags together and set off to find a good spot for reading and swimming.

Trou Aux Biches!
Trou Aux Biches!

We walked for about 15 minutes along the beach, passing many many sun loungers and we came across a really lovely and quiet area in between the sea and palm trees *sigh*. We swam lots, I started writing postcards and reading (I’ve started reading Sherlock Holmes from the beginning), all of which on my front and then I realised I hadn’t put any sun cream on! By which time I had been in the sun for over an hour, in Mauritius, in the middle of the day, bloody moron. After drowning my skin in factor lotion, going in the sea to cool off, applying more sun tan lotion, moving under the shade of the palm trees, more factor 30, starting a letter to Baz Luhrmann telling him he was right, Loums decided that what we really needed was food.

20140608_132043
This boat was pun-derful.

He went for a walk to seek out food and drink and returned with fresh mint and lime water and Marlin Fumé baguettes with chili. One thing I really love about Mauritian food is that lemon is used in the same way we use salt, and therefore all of their food always tastes so fresh! As the day went on, more people arrived on the beach and more vendors shouting ‘Ananas! Coco! Passion Fruit!’ or selling sarongs, bags and bracelets, would walk past. It sounds a bit too busy but it wasn’t loud or invasive, as everyone was there for the same reason and the vendors would never hassle you if no interest was shown (did you hear that, Paris?). We swam some more, the sea water is incredible, you can be up to your chest in the water and still see your toes, there were no rocks, only bits of coral here and there, and it was so warm (the only time we ever went in the pool in our hotel was to do the scuba diving training)!

Eventually and slowly, we started winding out way back to our room, stopping off at the shop to buy Biafine, a cream which Loums knows of, apparently every good French household had it and is used for first and second degree burns. I duly drowned myself in that, also started to look like Ross from ‘Friends’ in the episode where he has no clue how to fake tan and ends up looking like a one man performer of ‘Ebony and Ivory’, but in my case it was half lobster half idiot. After a small dinner as I was feeling a bit woozy, we took a walk down to the beach for a walk as there was a nice cool breeze, we wound our back to the room and watched ‘The Lego Movie’ (which is an uh-mazing film).

The moral of the story.
The moral of the story.

Mauritian Family

This was Saturday, I realise I haven’t marked the dates or days since I started writing this blog, however dates or days didn’t really exist while we were there, it was more ‘Shall we do this tomorrow?’ way of planning things with the exception of our road trips, but for the basis of making it all fit together in your mind, I shall now keep track of the days as I write.

After breakfast, Loums’ aunt and uncle Gladys and Claude picked us up at around 10am, and we drove to the local supermarket SuperU in Grand Baie, which is a French supermarket chain, to get chicken, tomatoes, mushrooms and a baguette for our lunch.

Chouchou!
Chouchou!

This was the first time that Loums had seen them for 10 years so they had a lot to talk about so while they slowly made the rounds of the aisle’s in the store, I was taking pictures of vegetables which I’d never seen before to send to my mum with the caption ‘LOOK, LOOK AT THESE, IT’S A WHITE CUCUMBER!’, I felt I needed to remind Gladys that I’d never been south of the equator before and this isn’t just what I do every time I go into a supermarket in another country, to which she pointed out other Mauritian produce  for me to take pictures of.

Afterwards they drove us to Cap Malheureux, which is so named because of either the amount of ships which ran aground there, or due to the nearby French defeat by the English, who then advanced on Port Louis (the capital).  Across the water you see the island Coin de Mire, or Gunners Coin, which looks like Pride Rock from

Coin de Mire
Coin de Mire

‘The Lion King’ and got its name after years of ship hiding their silver and gold there before docking in Port Louis. When looking back to land you see the Eglise de Cap Malhereux which has an incredibly bright pinky-red roof.

Eglise de Cap Malheureux.
Eglise de Cap Malheureux.

After walking around and being very tourist-y with our cameras, we then drove on to another one of Loums’ aunts, Lynda where there was also, the famed Grandmother Cyrus! She was the quintessential matriarch of the Cyrus family, who was like a village elder to the family, great force of nature who was also very sweet. Lynda brought us drinks and we were all sat around talking for a while, Loums bringing them up to speed with news from his mother and siblings, and the aunts doing the same for his cousins, aunts and uncles some of whom are in Nigeria, Australia and Belgium. As we were leaving to have lunch at Gladys’, Loums’ cousin Stephan came in who was on holiday from work in the Caribbean and we made plans to meet up later that day.

Loums - gatherer of coconuts!
Loums – gatherer of coconuts!

While we were getting food ready at Gladys’, Loums got 4 coconut’s down from the palm in their garden, Claude cut them open, poured the water into a jug and that’s what we ate with our lunch! From the soil in the ground to food at the table, without any extractions of ingredients or sanitisation; a luxury which you have to pay more to get unless grown yourself in England, without ‘yaaa these are like, totally organic from my garden, yaaaa’ pretentiousness about it which was very refreshing and natural. After we ate and, got to know each other better and talked about life in Mauritius, England and France. Claude went to get Loums’ cousin, Melissa from work. The three of us talked some more and when they returned, Melissa took Loums and I to Goodlands, the town where him mother lived with his grandmother and where he and his brothers often went when they were here 10 years ago. It was very busy as it was a Saturday very loud, and smelled a lot of fried Samosas. We then went to his grandmother’s house which was next to his uncle, Jean-Noel’s. We had an apperetif of rum and Pheonix beer with him and his wife Leticia and Loums brought them up to speed with tales from France, how we met etc. It was very special and so important to spend such a long amount of time with as many family members as possible and we seemed to have been stuck in a time warp, until Stephan arrived to take us back to Trou aux Biches.

Driving home with Stephan.
Driving home with Stephan.

I loved driving through Mauritius so much and have so many great memories of this drive which was about 45 minutes, of the sun setting over the sugar cane fields which lined either side of the road, the quietness of the roads, people chatting outside of the quincailleries (which Loums translated as shops ‘which stocked everything but the kitchen sink’), houses which were clumped together, some in the middle of construction some standing alone in amongst crops, all of which had the mountains of

Mauritius in the background. We stopped off at a hotel where Stephan used to work before he moved to the Caribbean where he introduced us to his old colleagues, one of whom was from Yorkshire and had lived in Mauritius for about 6 years. Then we went on to Casuarina to have dinner and then we had our favourite cocktail (mojito), and then went down to the beach to have a walk before bed.

Day of the Pamplemousses

Day 2 – First full day

 

After breakfast during which I ate lots of papaya, I’m not sure why because I don’t really like papaya I think it’s quite soapy but it’s not something you see a lot in England so my train of thought was ‘I MUST HAVE ALL THE PAPAYA IT’S SUCH A DELICACY’.

 

Triolet Bus.
Triolet Bus.

Anyway, we then walked to the bus stop bus stop to go the le Jardin de Pamplemousse in the region of Pamplemousse which is in the north of Mauritius. The buses are very circa 1950s/60s America in that they are very loud, very rickety, yet quite fun because the drivers are so speedy yet so skilled! There is a driver and a conductor on every bus which I liked because Mauritian drivers are pretty unnerving in the way in which they drive, so whilst the driver is weaving in and out of cyclists, motorcyclists, lane changers and road hogs, the conductor gets you your ticket (a single ticket each for us didn’t even amount to 80p, nice), and tells you where you need to get off and never forgets to remind you when it’s time. 

 

We arrived at the gardens which were covered in palm trees in their various forms, Baobabs, and the Giant Water lilies which I’d seen in pictures but were huuuuge in reality.

Lillypad lake.

The little roads throughout the gardens were mainly after scientists, or people who had visited the island and donated to it’s upkeep so the walkway next to the lily lake was call ‘Rue de Charles Darwin’ and others called ‘Rue de Princess Margaret’ which I found quite sweet. We also found the spice garden and a mini zoo, in which giant tortoises and deer were kept, after there were lines and lines of bamboo which made such a calming clunky sound when the wind blew. We also seemed to have come on a day where many different schools had brought classes of children on Science trips which filled the place with noises of playing and laughing. We think that the makers of Far Cry 3 lived in Mauritius for some time because, the landscape in general but mostly the species of trees which are on island in the game and Mauritius are almost exact. 

 

 

La Poule D'Or
La Poule D’Or

After we left the park, we headed to a restaurant which a woman we’d met while waiting for the bus had recommended to us called ‘La Poule D’Or’, (or ‘The Golden Chicken’). She had reason to because the food was delicious, I had my first proper samousa with green chilli paste, my first Pheonix beer (the national beer), and also my first crab, which I did not know how to tackle when given an toothpick-like utensil and a nutcracker to deal with which to break it to pieces, so I gave up and used my hands. After finishing and talking over our beers, we left to head back to Trou Aux Biches, as it was getting close to 4 by which time the sun starts setting.

 

Enterprise Cloud.
Enterprise Cloud.

When we returned we got our beach bag together, and found a really lovely spot along the beach where there was no coral in the water at all, the tide was high so we didn’t have to walk far for it to start getting deep. We swam quite a lot until the sun was fully set, and then we made our way back, in time to see a cloud which looked like the Enterprise from Star Trek.

 

We ate light, I had a black bean thing which was so so good, it said it had yams in it but I’m unsure. We then watched Sega dancing! Sega dancing is the traditional Mauritian dance where women dance in groups of four or five, and wear brightly coloured skirts of red, orange, blue with white which fan out when the hem is picked up.

Sega!
Sega!

The music they dance to is quite simple and created mainly with percussion instruments and chanting rather than singing and the women move their hips and arms whilst holding the hem and glide around the room or in various formations like water, or bats, watery bats with a twist of flamenco added in, but with less stomping (I’d just ‘youtube’ it), it’s so hypnotising! I would’ve liked it more if more people were dancing with them, as it seemed to be only a few of us who were really clapping and trying to mimic their movements, but never mind, it was a beautiful way of dancing I hadn’t seen before which is pretty rare nowadays!

 

We then retired for the evening, but not before a Ti Punch (‘little Punch’, ‘Ti’ being the abbreviation of ‘petit’) because we were sleepy but then made the mistake of started watching ‘The Lego Movie’ which is HILARIOUS so we didn’t actually sleep until about half 12, oops.

 

First Sunset of Mauritius!
First Sunset of Mauritius!

 

Touchdown!

This blog is adapted from handwritten entries I wrote in a notepad over the course of the two unforgettable weeks I spent in Mauritius. This blog has been created because the remarkable landscapes of the island, its people and its culture, really ought to be shared.

Day 1: 

Our ride.
Our ride.

I woke up in my plane seat at about half past 6 in the morning, (I’m not sure whose half past 6 it belonged to, I think France’ s because that is where we flew from), which was situated in the nose of the ginormous plane which is part of the company Corsair. The flight was very smooth, I watched the very sweet and touching ‘Philomena’, with the total babes that are Dame Judi Dench and Steve Coogan. Dinner was white fish served with green beans and cumin (yes, cumin) potatoes, bread and camembert with a tiramisu for dessert. Breakfast was apricot compote with Greek yoghurt, orange juice, black tea, and brioche. 

The plane landed at La Reunion, Mauritius’ next-door neighbour, its runway was right next to the gloriously blue sea and on the other side were a lush green mountains with houses trickling down them into towns. When the walkway was attached, about about 3/4s of the plane’s passengers left, which I was quite surprised about because I was thinking ‘um guys, sit down, we’re not there yet!’, but also quite excited, as it felt like Mauritius was a special secret no-one but the few left on the plane knew about. (Unless of course, you know, they were getting off the plane for families, jobs and stuff in which case I completely understand.)

When we were coming over Mauritius to land I looked out of the window, and all you could see for miles were sugar cane fields with hamlets dotted around them. The airport is situated on the south-east of the island, we were staying in the north-west in Trou Aux Biches, and so after we had collected our suitcases from the carousel, a car from the company ‘Summertimes’ picked us up to take us to the Hotel Casuarina where we were staying. Our driver was called Raj, and immediately he started telling us facts about the island, what everything was as we drove past it, the reason for all of the construction (and there was a lot due to mainly either tourists building holiday homes or very cheap yet safer homes for those living in areas where cyclones mainly hit), all of which was very interesting to both myself and Loums, who is half Mauritian on his mother’s side, but had not had the opportunity to visit the island for 10 years.

View from 142.
View from 142.

We finally went down a very narrow road lined with colourful houses of pinks, oranges and pastel blues, and then after a little while we arrived at Casuarina. After checking in and unpacking there was only thing to do, go to the beach! So we headed down after mooching around the grounds, which were very green and the buildings were white and winding and they reminded us a lot of a village on a Greek island. 

There were beach loungers which belonged to Casuarina, we chose one at the end and out of the way and went for a swim and water was unbelieeeeevably warm and clear! Now, this was my first holiday abroad where I had properly been to a beach, beforehand the holidays which I’ve been on have been city breaks for example Paris, Rome, Barcelona (yes there’s a beach there but the city is the reason you go!) etc. because a) Europe’s amazing with SO much history behind it and history is great, and b) It was always cheaper to go on city breaks then further afield. So, to go from never going to a place like this to then swimming in the sea next to the clean, vast, quiet and pure beaches of Trou Aux Biches in Mauritius, and to have Loums be there as well, who I think was just as in awe as I was, was pretty extraordinary. 

At around 6 we got ready for dinner which was all very traditional Mauritian food, to name a few things: Marlin (the most commonly eaten fish on the island), lentils and beans cooked in various sauces, braised aubergines, raita, saffron potatoes, pumpkin purée, white cucumbers cooked in every way you can think of; the list goes on, needless to say we had eyes bigger than our stomachs and we finished our meal with a bowl of fruit salad each and mango mousse. One thing I did notice was the service, because no sooner after setting own your knife and fork was your plate whisked away by a waiter or waitress, after a while we began to play a game that if it wasn’t taken away within 5 seconds then we’d start to worry that something was terribly wrong.

We then went down to the beach to see the moon and start (the beauty of there being virtually no pollution meant that you could see every star in the sky so clearly), after a short walk we then went to the bar for a drink, a jazz band had just started their set 
so we decided to stay there for a while, talking about our day and trying to come to terms with how truly content and happy we were in that little piece of heaven in the middle of the Indian Ocean.

Trou Aux Biches
Trou Aux Biches