A change of plans for the better…

Morning, world.
Morning, world.

Earlier that week we made an appointment with Vijay to go to Ile Au Plat, however during our visit to Ile Aux Cerfs, the French couple we met told us that the sea is very unpredictable and their trip got cancelled at the last moment. As we had a very short amount of time left in Mauritius, we decided to not take the risk (after all, we would come back), so first thing in the morning before breakfast, I found Vijay and he was very understanding and in fact the sea was very choppy for the catamaran, so he gave us back our money because he was an utter babe.

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Loums, just taking it all in, in a white cotton dressing gown.

We went to the spa and asked to get ‘Shanti’ massages because they looked awesome and also I thought it would be good cos that’s a name of a song of Madonna’s ‘Ray of Light’ album, and that it one amazing album, luckily the word continued to sit up on its pedestal because this was 60 minutes of one very relaxing massage – I think I also dosed off at one point.

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Probably the best dumplings I have ever eaten, and I love me some dumplings.

After we slowly drifted out of dream mode, we decided we wanted to go to Grand Baie again, because it’s a lovely part of the North-West of the island, and also Loums’ mother told us about a restaurant she used to go to when she lived there called Ocean Restaurant and we were on orders to go there.  After walking around the area, we stumbled across a film crew and realised we were walking through a set, very random but also pretty cool to see it on the island. We walked down a couple of back routes and found the restaurant and I have to say, Josiane was right. Loums had mine frites and declared it probably the best version of the dish he’d ever tried and I had Beef Samuta (I’d never heard of it before and haven’t since) it was very very ginger-y and even though it was beef it was still very light, with a side of dumplings. This meal was of course drunk with Pheonix.

Samosaaaaaaaa!
Samosaaaaaaaa!

We talked for a while after we finished the meal because it was just so good, and then we went to SuperU to get wine for dinner for heading back, as Loums’ aunt and uncle Leticia and Jean-Noel (remember them?) were picking us up that evening to go to theirs in Pamplemousses for a family meal. When we were there Loums’ grandmother was also there, it was lovely to see her again. We had more Pheonix and Jean-Noel put on Sega music in the background, Melissa and Gladys then arrived and Jean-Noel turned up the music so we could dance which we did. Dinner of chicken with lots of salad was then served, we talked and listened to more music, had a bit of rum as an after-dinner cleanser and eventually we were driven home through the sugar cane fields and the crop dusters back to Trou Aux Biches.

Family home.
Family home.
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Ile-aux-Cerfs, Deer Island

Despite what the name suggests, there were no deers on Ile-aux-Cerfs, however there were many sea urchins, sarongs and views.

Bloody awesome captain
Bloody awesome captain.

We awoke early enough to meet Vijay on the beach and from there he drove us to meet the rest of our party who were 2 couples, one German and one French, we had a feeling we were paired with them because we speak both French and English and the German couple’s English was amazing.

The journey to the port (or pontoon) was about an hour long down to the south-east of the island which gave us lots of the island to marvel at as it whizzed by. When we arrived at the pontoon, we were introduced to our captain who lumbered us onto his speed boat where he started pumping out Backstreet Boys and Sean Paul, and at that moment, I knew it was going to be a great, great day.

The two halves of the island.
The two halves of the island.

We arrived at Ile-aux-Cerfs when the tide was down, walked through a couple of stalls and then onto the island. It is split into two halved with a lagoon in the middle which you can walk across at low time, the bigger half has only one house on it which takes up a small proportion of land. There is also a small obstacle course, an inflatable raft point and a small bar, but really the whole place is very quiet and you can feel very at peace and alone very quickly and it’s just perfect.

While the tide was low we walked to the smaller part of the island which was full of wildlife and palm trees, and then back onto the bigger half where we explored some more, climbing over lots of coral and rocks and tripped over tree roots a lot. After a while we vegetated towards the vast lagoon, you could walk out into the sea for about 5 minutes and still the water wouldn’t be touching your knees, and at that distance you could take in the views of the mountains on the mainland. We came back to the beach where we had a beer/cocktail and gazed at our surroundings.

View of the mountains from the lagoon.
View of the mountains from the lagoon.

We then got back onto the speedboat where he took us to the most western point of the island which we couldn’t get to by foot for our lunch. We were directed towards a table and chairs on the beach next to a barbecue built on rocks. For our meal we had marlin steak (yay!), salad, pheonix, and for desert we had banane flambée au rhum (which was strangely refreshing). It was really nice sitting down to a meal with strangers, kind of like how the Narrator talked about single-serving friends in ‘Fight Club’, we swapped stories, broke bread, the German couple were in fact on their honeymoon and booked the trip 10 days before so we definitely toasted to that, there was also another party close by and one of them had a guitar and loved the Gipsy Kings. After taking a few pictures we then got back onto 20140616_142502the boat and went round back towards a quieter part of the mainland to the Grand River South East Waterfalls which marks the end of the longest river of Mauritius where we also saw monkeys! We were pretty disappointed not to have seen any during our visit to the Shivatree Temple so seeing them scrambling over branches of trees was awesome, and they were mega cute.

MONKEYS!
MONKEYS! They’re there I promise…

It started raining so we went back in between the rocky cliffs to the pontoon where our lovely French couple from Toulouse went back to the airport, as this was the last stop on their tour of the island, and we sleepily headed back to Trou Aux Biches.

When we got back we went for a walk, had dinner and this night for some reason we were served the most amazing rich and fresh salads so we went slightly overboard, had a Mojito served by Nitesh who was our favourite barman, danced, and headed back for an episode of GOT.

 

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Going back to his roots…

After a slow morning and taking time over a light breakfast, Gladys, Claude and Melissa (Loums’ aunt, uncle and cousin, you may remember them from a few posts ago), picked us up and we drove across the sugar cane fields and through the mountains to Goodlands, where the base of the family lies at his grandmother’s home. She lives almost in the centre of Goodlands, the main street of which was a very long main road filled with grocery stores, clothes shops, mobile food stands, so the smell of the place was filled with fried breadcrumbs and nuts. One of his mother’s younger brother’s Jean-Noel and his wife Leticia, built their home adjoining to Loums’ grandmother to expand the hub of family life.

Salade de tomates
Salade de tomates

We stayed at theirs for a while, talking over a cool bottle of Pheonix and little samosas. His grandmother then entered the room to announce that it was time for lunch. She had pickled mangos and made Cari au Poulet, very similar to the one we ate at Eureka the week before, salade de tomates with rotis and rice. As grandmothers do, she insisted that we had eaten too little after we took time to pause, so we ended up eating far too much. When she saw that we were fading slightly, we chuckled and cleared our plates, had a little walk around and started to play many rounds of dominoes.

Cari au poulet with rotis.
Cari au poulet with rotis.

Her brother Lewis, who Loums was very anxious to see again arrived, he was a wonderful man who insisted that she fix the holes in her ceilings as during monsoon season it lets all the water in, to which his grandmother said that due to the heat, when the water evaporates it creates a lovely atmosphere in the house! We looked onto this debate (I tried to understand as much as possible) which ended with a big hug and kisses all round and words of “you’ll never change”. Florence, Loums’ aunt then arrived before she went to church, while she and Loums caught up, I carried on playing dominoes with Melissa and granny, who were very patient with me whilst I learnt the rules.

Gladys arrived at around to pick us up to take us on a slow drive home so we could take in all the views. It was wonderful to be welcomed into their family without hesitation, and it reminded me of how my own family are when we reunite in Cornwall. When we arrived back, we went for a walk along the beach which we definitely needed after that lunch! The walk seemed to do the trick, and along the way I found some spices and little souvenirs for my sisters.

We then had an appéro by the sea, had a light yet very tasty dinner which is very easy with Mauritian food! The moon was especially huge that evening so we went back down to the sea before going up to bed. Another end to a day full of laughter and with Loums’ family.

 

Loums' vivacious, warm and wise grandmother.
Loums’ vivacious, warm and wise grandmother with her brother Lewis.

 

Road Trip Vol. 2: Volcanoes, temples, waterfalls, and LIONS!

It was a feat of human achievement when it came to the amount we did that day, and it was all down to our faithful friend who knows the island like the back of his hand.

Trou-aux-Cerfs
Trou-aux-Cerfs

Willy had mentioned when we saw him during our road trip to Old Mauritius, that the next time he saw us, he would take us to the south-west of the island which was perfect because we were getting worried that we wouldn’t be able to go there without having to stay the night. So, our friend picked us up at 8 and we drove to Trou Aux Cerfs which is a dormant volcano and is pretty much slab-dab in the middle of the island. The road up there was so steep I wasn’t sure if the car would make it, but then I felt like an idiot because when we got the top there were about half a dozen mini-buses. The crater itself was coated in tightly-packed trees which petered off toward the bottom which looked like a very mossy lake. The air was so thick up there that there were clouds in the crater, science is cool, also, as we were so high up, we were almost directly in the middle of the mountains so it was almost a crime not take many, many, panoramic shots.

Mare-aux-Vacoas
Mare-aux-Vacoas

After we had walked around enough, regrouped to go to Grand Bassin which was by Mare Aux Vacoas, which is the largest fresh water lake in the island and nearly 2000 feet above sea level, it’s surrounded by pine trees and was very Group of Seven. After stopping to

Shiva
Shiva

take it all in, we continues to Grand Bassin where the Shivatree temple is. It’s guarded by Shiva and Ganesh (both of whom were still in construction), and they reminded us of ‘The Gates of Argonath’ on the border of Gondor in ‘The Fellowship of the Ring’, they were huge statues but much much more welcoming.

Shivatree Temple
Shivatree Temple

Following the road on still, we arrived at the temple which was on one side of the lake. We walked around the orange offering stools which ran around the perimeter of the lake which was huge and then we weren’t quite sure as to whether or not we could go into the temple, but the Pujari beckoned us in. We left our shoes outside and he told us about the temple and the grounds around it. Legend has it that Shiva took his wife Parvati on a trip to show her the most beautiful places on earth, and with him he took a vial from the river Ganges which he dropped onto Mauritius and that is how Grand Bassin came to be. He then told us about the different rituals and ceremonies which take place there and then took our head between his hands and painted a third eye in between our eyebrows and told us they would show us they would allow us to see the truth and beauty in nature, (considering where we were, this wasn’t a difficult thing to do).

Alexandra Falls
Alexandra Falls

After finding another and smaller tucked away temple, we then headed to Alexandra Falls which is a large but very trickily waterfall at one end of the Black River Gorges National Park. The whole park is completely covered in tress which made the waterfall itself look incredibly white and clear. After taking that in and listening to the sound of the water, we slowly made our way back, trying to find a monkey or two, as there were none at the temple which surprised us, as it is famous for drawing them in. Willy then drove us to the best place to see Black River Gorges, which covers a huge amount of the island, to get to this view we drove higher up still, to Black River Peak which is the highest point on the island and where you can see almost the entire park, as well as the edge of the island from almost all sides.

Cascade de Chamarel!
Cascade de Chamarel!

It was then onwards with our slightly whirlwind-y tour to Chamarel! We stopped on a side of a road to get some pineapple with chili’s to keep us going. The Cascade Chamarel is perfect, the earth under it was bright red and cavernous while the landscape around it was green from the trees with the white waterfall running through the two so we stood there gawking at it for a while… Also, you know the lock bridge in Paris? Where couples go with a padlock and key, lock it onto the bridge and throw it in to Seine? They sort of had the same thing here but with a fence which looked like it had been vandalised and stolen from somewhere else and plonked there, not quite the same thing.

The, lock gate of love?
The, lock gate of love?

We then carried onto Le Terre des Sept Couleurs, which is formed from volcanic soil and mineral oxidation and creates the earth to appear to be many different colours at one time, depending on the light and season. After walking around the natural wonder and stopping for coffee which grew there, we started our decent. Willy drove slowly in order for our heads to adjust to the change in pressure as we had spent pretty much the whole day at a very high altitude and also to give us the chance to take in the views, and after about 45 minutes of driving we arrived at Caesela.

Le terre des sept couleurs
Le terre des sept couleurs

Loums had wanted to go to Caesela from pretty much the moment we arrived in Mauritius, as it is an animal and nature reserve which is also a home to a heard of rescue lions! I was a little bit skeptical at first as I wasn’t sure about how well they were look after, but he were told that they are kept with the keepers from cubs to the age of 1 1/2, then from then to 4, they are introduced in very small doses, to little groups of people until they go into semi-retirement in the safari enclosure. We were in one of those of six, and we were introduced to Jimbo and Izza, Izza was a white lion and Jimbo was brown (we nick-named them Nala and Simba). Izza was the bigger of the two and Himbo was very sweet and playful, the keepers let them play and run around, occasionally feeding them pieces of meat, before we met them we were given wooden batons to keep with us at all times as a mark of respect. The keepers allowed

Izzy (Nala)
Izzy (Nala)

us to stroke them on the condition that each touch was firm and not light, otherwise we would risk making them feel nervous. The more we walked around with them we realised that they really are just big cats (well, duh), but you do forget it when you think of lions, but they climbed trees, play-fought with each other, played with the keepers, such an unforgettable thing to have done and I’m very glad we did it.

When our time with them came to an end, the sun was setting, we regrouped with our friend and drove back to the north into nightfall.

Le Nord!

When Loums came to Mauritius with his family 10 years before, he spent half of his time staying at his grandmother’s in Goodlands, and the second half with his mother, brothers and sisters in an apartment opposite a beach called Pereybere near Grand Baie. So when we were talking after coming back from Port Louis the night before, we wanted to go somewhere the next day which felt slightly safer so we decided that Pereybere would be the perfect place. And also we wanted to buy rum. Lots and lots of rum.

Inside a Triolet bus!
Inside a Triolet bus!

We hopped on a Triolet bus to Grand Baie which is on the swanky side of Mauritian towns, full of surfer shops and Abercrombie and Fitch’s (urgh), and eeeeven a Faith, needless to say we didn’t go to any of these as that wasn’t really why we came all that way. Pereybere was a little further along from the main part of town, and when we arrived there was only a handful of people there. The burn on my back, bum and legs was easing off slightly by this point but I still barely let it touch the sun except when getting out of the sea. The beach itself was not as big as I expected, was shaped like a lagoon and the water there was even clearer and blue (if possible), than Trou Aux Biches, I thought that it was mainly due to being that bit more enclosed and not a particularly touristy beach. Loums was reading ‘Foundation’ by Isaac Asimov, I was reading ‘A Most Unimportant Woman’ by Oscar Wilde which is such a funny and deeply insightful play! My mum had given me a Kindle as an early birthday present before going on the trip so I promptly downloaded both Oscar Wilde and Mark Twain’s collection of novels and plays, as this holiday also gave the most valuable gift of reading time, if you have the chance to read it, please do because it’s so enjoyable, witty and not very long.

Easy-to-eat pineapple!

We swam and played lots in the perfect (no misuse of the word here) sea every now and again in intervals and after each dip I applied sun tan lotion almost a bit too diligently. Loums then went to get us lunch and returned with Poisson Vindaye for me – a fish dish typical of the island, most especially the north and is a derived form of a vindaloo curry, only it’s a lot tastier and not as spicy with a lot LOT more turmeric, and he got himself – yes you guessed it – Mines Frites, we then had a pineapple each which was cut in a way which made it very easy to eat. We spent the day there because it was just so quiet. There were locals going about their business, school children coming there on their lunch break and the odd tourist here which made the beach a very calming place to be. I think Loums liked it especially as very little had changed since he was 15 and as it was still so quiet and untouched, he felt more like a Mauritian than a tourist.

Labourdonnais rum!
Labourdonnais rum!

As the afternoon wore on, we decided to head back via SuperU, the supermarket in Grand Baie to seek out Labourdonnais rum, as it was cheaper there than at the Chateau de Labourdonnais, as predicted. Delighted by the change in price we each bought 2 bottles, I also found a wooden photo frame with very think leafy paper inside ready for when we returned. We then got the bus back to Casaurina, Loums took the rum back to the room and I found Vijay and booked our trip to the unvegetated Ilot Gabriel and Ile Pate (or ‘Flat Island) which are islands directly to the north of Mauritius, which, in the 19th century, was where the British would send those sick with Malaris and other contagious diseases to stop them from spreading. There are also two very pretty lighthouses there…

We then got dressed up to the nines to celebrate our first, indescribably wonderful week in Mauritius, we ate well (my love of Marlin fish was well and truly fixed by this stage), we then had many cocktails, danced, and headed to off to the land of nod.

Pereybere
Pereybere.

A Day in the Capital

A couple of days ago we’d met a guy named Vijay who ran trips to Ile Aux Cerfs which is widely known as the cherry on top of the rich exotic cake that is Mauritius, so immediately after breakfast (I’d got myself into a nice routine by this stage which consisted of a granola-ry type thing with pineapple, pomegranate and melon with orange juice and jasmine tea, mainly because it was fresh, and secondly because all other food was annoyingly British/Continental, and you don’t fly to a different hemisphere and culture to eat croissants), I left Loums and went down to the beach to find Vijay and negotiate our trip to Ile Aux Cerfs which was incredibly simple and also to arrange a three course meal at the ‘Tree Tops Restaurant’, as after the meal we’d had at Eureka the day before, we needed another delicious Mauritian meal under our belts.

We then headed to the bus stop to go to the capital of Mauritius, Port Louis. I know I keep saying this but driving through the island is one of my favourite memories from the trip, and I always love, no matter which country it is, the journey from outside of a capital city into it, it’s like you’re going into the heart of the place which is always pretty exciting.

Port Louis
Port Louis

When we arrived in the maHOOsive bus station, we started walking around the stalls and then towards the central fruit and vegetable market which is a lot like Borough Market in London, in that the building which encompasses seems to be an old train station. Honestly my first impression of the capital wasn’t great, not due to the street sellers as that would be like complaining about insects whilst being outside, it was just that I felt very vulnerable. Being part of a minority in the capital led to stares, the fact that I was walking (not holding hands, underlined) next to a man who is Mauritian meant that I was not a-another tourist led to more stares, Loums noticed the stares as well, so we left the market to walk around the outside of it and explore a bit more, when a group of young men stopped and started to follow us, Loums whispered to me and asked if I could do up the flannel shirt over my vest top (a bit of victim blaming yes, he knew this and was aware of what he’d said, I did do up the shirt and he knew that it wasn’t my fault what was happening, but not speaking Créole we were the only people we could reason with).

Umbrellas over the road of Port Louis which are a permanent fixture there.
Umbrellas over the road of Port Louis which are a permanent fixture there.

I then asked if we could go in a different direction and quickly, so headed to the more touristy (and therefore unfortunately, safer) part of the capital which was nearer the waterfront, around which were many containers shipping goods to and from the island, an enormous post office and many eateries. We then stopped for lunch and I ate my first mines frites (the closest equivalent would be chow mein) which Loums had wanted me to eat from the moment we arrived so I finally gave in and they were sooo good, and for desert we ate banana flambéed in rum. From this restaurant you could look in at the city and see the capital surrounded by mountains, with more houses creeping up the side of the mountains, cable cars going between buildings, many of which has pegoda roofs and in the centre of them was the Mauritian National Bank building which was huge!

We then found a shop where I bought my housemate some coffee which she had requested before I left, and then we carried on exploring. We decided to go to Chinatown which took up well over a quarter of the city, and found many many little schools and silk shops and took our time to look around each one, and at around about half 4 we decided to head back to the bus station as it was about an hour’s journey back to Triolet.

When we got back we got ready for dinner, ate light as the lunch we had was very heavy, and after a walk along the beach we decided to watch ‘Game of Thrones’, Epidode 1 Season 1, uh-oh…

I loved the way the city looked and the way it worked, it really is the hub of the country and like any capital city, the best place to get goods sold. Yes, I didn’t feel incredibly safe there, but most capital cities aren’t incredibly safe and really it was nothing worse encountered at the place where I work now, the only main annoyance was that I didn’t and still don’t, know enough Créole to say anything in order to make it stop. I’m glad we went, I loved watching the ships come and go from the docks as it was great to glimpse into seeing how the country worked.

The awesome, awesome sky in the evening.
The awesome, awesome sky in the evening.

 

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…