This is the first part of a 2-part series about a roadtrip through Mauritius island. Click here for Part 2!
First thought in Mauritius Island: I am faster than my luggage!
My first impression of Mauritius was a trite Rabelaisian, if you can call it so.
If France and India were 2 actual people who hooked up on a drunken night, and ended up having an unsolicited love-child after a tumultuous relationship; that abandoned child would be Mauritius. (Funny coincidence: Francois Rabelais was indeed French) Born with the colour, taste buds and swashbuckling lifestyle of the average Indian, yet speaking melodic lilting French – sorry, I meant Creole – and bearing an all-encompassing love for baguette, Mauritius Island was truly the best of both the countries. The fact that these 2 cultures consummated in a passionate volcanic hotbed a few thousand kilometres off East Africa, raised the exotic-meter of the island nation even further.
I wasn’t here only because I was interested in the cultural history of Mauritius. But also because Air Asia started direct flights from Kuala Lumpur to Mauritius, making budget travel to Mauritius a reality. It’s another story that I landed in Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam International Airport much lighter than I had left Kuala Lumpur, but that is only because my check-in luggage was still in the Kuala Lumpur airport. Thanks to the frequency of Air Asia flights from KL to Mauritius, this meant that it would be another 2 days before my check-in luggage will reach Mauritius. In other words, it would be another 2 days before I would be able to even have a proper change of underwear.
The Eastern Charm of the island: Trou D’Eau Douce in Flacq District
Which is why I did not hit the water for the first 2 days. I had booked myself a cheap guesthouse at Trou D’Eau Douce: a quaint, little fishing town on the east of the island in the Flacq district (not to be confused with Flic en Flac, which is on the west side). Beautiful villas adorned the little streets, almost all of which led to a small beach adorned with beautiful white sand, and an azure stretch of water which also housed the many fishing boats. My 2 days of waiting for my check-in baggage, were spent eating tasty Farata (that’s how the Mauritians call Paratha) near the Palmar public beach, dodging tourist guides and touts, all of whom wanted to sell me one thing: a day-trip to the Île aux Cerfs.
If that is a mouthful, let it be known that Ile Aux Cerfs is called Deer island in English because there used to be a huge concentration of deers in this island – none of whom exist anymore. The island itself is perfect for a day-trip, with long stretches of white sandy beaches for snorkelling and beachstrolling. For the more rich travellers, there was even a golf course. And the day-trip going there was completely organized, and included lunch/drinks and all the jazz. Some of them even had package options, where I could also choose to take any of the water sports options like parasailing, banana boat etc, or make a side-trip to a waterfall. The cost was anywhere between 2500 to 3000 MUR (70 to 90 USD).
I thought about it, and then passed on the thought. Primarily because I did not have the luxury of spare clothes, in case I got wet. And then because I still had 2 more weeks to go in Mauritius island, so I can visit the beaches and the islands later. For now, I wanted to find out what else to do in Mauritius away from the beach. Far away.
The offer. And the acceptance.
And that’s when our guesthouse owner made us an offer. Yash was a dapper young Mauritian guy, and spoke fluent French, Creole, English and Hindi. But his parents still listened to Bhojpuri music early in the morning, giving away his origins. The audio system in his car also kept Arijit Singh on repeat mode. But we could live with that, of course. Yash offered his car for rental services to his guests. And his offer to us, involved touring us to the other side of the island.
The Black River Gorges, on the west side.
The way I wrote that last line, may give you an impression of a place full of voodoo, or exorcism, or whatever is the local occult practiced here. But it is not. Covering nearly 2% of the entire island, the Black river gorges is Mauritius’ largest national park. I had wanted to go here anyway, but we dreaded to drive the car ourselves. Primarily because there were no automatic cars for rental in Mauritius. And if you see the width of the roads in Mauritius, you would understand my worry. Secondly because, we did not know WHERE in the black river gorge we wanted to visit. It was so huge!
So, we took up Yash’s offer. The cost for a full-day trip was about 80 dollars, which could be shared between me and my 2 travelling mates. That wasn’t so bad, right? We started out with him early on a Saturday morning. Listening to Arijit Singh crooning away ‘channa mereya’, over and over again.
This would be a long day, I told myself.
From one Fishing village to another: Mahebourg
Our first stop was Mahebourg, which has a personal connection to me. I am from a little town called Mahe in the north of Kerala, which is located adjacent to a river; in this case, also called Mahe river. Although surrounded by Kerala on all sides, Mahe was formerly part of French India, and is currently a part of the Union Territory of Pondicherry. In my Mahe, it is believed (incorrectly, I have to add) that Mahe is named after a French administrator named Bertrand-François Mahé, who in actuality did give his name to a couple of other coastal places around the world. Like Mahe, the largest island of the Seychelles.
Or, in this case, Mahebourg in Mauritius.
Once a former trading centre, the place diminished in importance when the French decided to move their trade to Port Louis, which eventually also became the capital of the country. Mahebourg went on to become an ignored fishing town. The importance of this place to Mauritian trade in the past, is best understood by visiting the decrepit train station, which once connected Mahebourg directly to Port Louis until the end of World war II. Or whatever remains of the train station, that is. The train station was also the best starting point for a walk-through of Mahebourg’s waterfront. It isn’t an expansive waterfront with restaurants and wine-bars, as you might expect in Dubai or Singapore. There is one monument of a historic battle that was fought between the French and the British, some seats which were permanently occupied by little kids, a small jetty with boats going to the small islets nearby, and a beautiful view of the entire lagoon.
Oh, and there was an ice-cream truck. Nothing beats ice-cream on a hot day.
A crater high above: Trou Aux Cerfs
We continued our drive from Mahebourg. The destination was the southwest side of the Mauritius island. But before that, we had to see 2 volcano craters. 2 completely differing ones.
Trou Aux Cerfs in Curepipe is more than just a volcano crater. Yes, it was massive; clocking about 1 KM in circumference and 100 m in depth, but the only way to view and enjoy the crater is from a circular road lining the rim of the crater. A popular spot for the locals – and tourists alike – we stopped to take a little look at the crater and spend some serene time on the benches. And watched the hawkers around sell their wares – mostly tourist souvenirs and some snacks.
The crater at Trou Aux Cerfs did have some water, but it was too far away for me to to see anything clearly. I did feel a little bit of disappointment creeping through me.
But I knew that our next stop was surely going to take care of that one missing detail.
Click here for Part 2!
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