Around the World in 100 Days
Mauritius: Sony's Secret Island Paradise
Why So Few Visitors?
Editor's note: Videographer Sony Stark has embarked on a world tour aboard the MV Explorer to make a documentary about Semester At Sea, a program of the Institute for Shipboard Education. She has checked in with us from Venezuela, Brazil and South Africa; her latest report is from Mauritius.
Two percent of the tourists that visit Mauritius Island
are American; meaning my 3-day stop with 700 students aboard the MV Explorer just clears the yearly quota. What I can’t understand is why so few?
Creole and French are commonly used but English is the official language, so it can’t be for lingual reasons. The local rupee currency goes a long long way so it can’t be the value of the dollar.
And the island is a paradise oasis perfect for scuba diving, sunbathing and surfing. It’s located just east of Madagascar and international flights are common and coming down in price. Seriously, of all the ports so far this one I actually contemplated NOT sharing with GoNomad.
I’m in the thick of the sugar cane fields and banana plantations. The area is called La Riviere des Galets. I’m on my way to St. Felix (Tel: 230-213-4859 or email) to enjoy a day of zip-lines over steep river gorges, waterfalls and lush ravines.
Zip-lines are a growing sport or thrill ride popular in places with scenic views. One end of cable is stretched from one bank to the other while a passenger is harnessed around the waist and attached. With one huge push, the daring soul zips across the divide, legs and arms dangling over a chasm half a mile down and traveling at speeds that top 40 mph.
I can almost hear my father now…”What in God’s name would you want to do that for?”
“Because it’s fun Dad!”
And I’m not the only adventurous rider; several students, faculty and staff survive 6 out of 11 zip-lines we finish.
Read more GoNOMAD stories about ziplining.
Authentic Mauritian Meal
To settle our stomachs the company prepares us an authentic Mauritian meal of yams, chana pur (spicy dough balls) roti (lentil-flour pancakes) and the aromatic leaves of the carri poule bush.
Creole cooking includes heavy sprinklings of garlic, chili, ginger and curry and it’s absolutely delicious. Smoked marlin, pan-fried deer brain and the giant tortoise stew are delicacies too rich for my blood. For dessert we enjoy sweet local pineapples and wild guavas that taste like purple grapes.
An organized tour aptly named “Mystical and Colorful Mauritius” is booked through the Mauritius Tourism Promotion Authority. Our day begins with a stop at a dormant volcano 650 meters above sea level.
During the formation of the island, 600,000 years ago, the volcano left a fertile ground of lush vegetation and plant growth behind. Our tour guide explains the precipitous nature of the island during the months from December to March.
Cyclones with winds up to 200 mph are known to do widespread damage. Champagne Plain, a protected area of dense forest with indigenous timber is said to be the rainiest.
From there we circumnavigate a Hindu temple on Lake Grand Bassin, said to be created with water from the Ganges River. During the Mahashivaratree Festival in February, thousands of Hindus make pilgrimages here to worship Lord Shiva, the Destroyer.
A Marriage of Convenience
The Hindus insist that my camera and I join their pious chanting ceremony, but first they mark my forehead with a small red marriage dot. I’m nowhere near engaged but in a sense I’m married to my work so I guess it works.
Fire, water and sacred lotus petals are used to summon the spiritual world to bring harmony and good fortune to each of us. This is called a puja. Shoes, and especially leather, are not welcome into holy shrines so do as I say and not as I do and remember your talcum foot powder.
Don't Feed the Monkeys
Following our prayers we escape to Piton de la Petite, the highest point on the island that offers spectacular views of a 600-meter (1969 foot) waterfall. Spider monkeys bounce from tree to tree looking for a handout, but as we learned in South Africa, feeding monkeys is strictly forbidden.
Formed by the cooling of molten rock, the Chamarel Cascade or seven-colored earth is an amalgam of rich minerals - oxides and iron-ore deposits. It’s interesting to envision the rest of the island, if cleared, as having the same color phenomenon as this small plot of land.
After man arrived it only took 30 years for the Mauritian Dodo to reach extinction in the late 1600s. This plump flightless bird is now seen as an emblem in every gift shop, t-shirt mill and flag on the island. I resist buying Dodo swag and decide to invest in pools of parrot and tropical fish off the coast of Trou aux Biches.
SCUBA is more affordable here than anywhere else on my 10-country itinerary. $30 pays for my fins, snorkel, mask and a 40-minute diving excursion (geocities.com).
We scuba nearly 80 feet down, circling an abandoned shipwreck crowded with colorful barnacles on its hull. I spend several minutes mesmerized by the behavior of a beautiful big-lipped purple fish. It has its favorite guarded spot atop a rusted ventilation shaft and when I reach out it moves away and when I leave it returns exactly to the same spot.
Time to Go Up
My oxygen tank reads empty and my buddy is motioning me to surface but I’m not done interpreting my territorial friend. It’s not my decision to stay, though. Within seconds my BCD inflates and I bounce to the surface for air.
Following the dive I linger on the beach for cocktails and a stroll up and down the coastline; finally, a leisurely day away from my normal work routine.
Three days zip by in 3 minutes and before I know it I’m back aboard the M/V Explorer. In 6 days we’ll reach Chennai, India where my adventures begin in an overnight stay in a Dalit Village preceded by a day at the Bollywood film studio and wrapping up with daytrip to the “City of a Thousand Temples.” Exhaustion at its finest.
Read more GoNOMAD stories about Mauritius
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Sony Stark is a videographer, editor, and travel writer. Read her blog, Cross That Bridge