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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
‘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.
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.
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.
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.