We’ve just finished a peak period, in terms of volunteers, at Lagon Bleu, having had 6 for most of the month of November. This amount of volunteers tends to max out the core team, given the amount of activities and co-ordination that needs to happen. The volunteers follow a programme which is a mixture of duties, such as helping out with fish monitoring and beach patrols, as well as organised activities which enable them to see a bit of Mauritius and experience the local culture.
We had one such trip the other week, hosted by a local business called Otentic and we interns were invited along to take part in the action as a reward for all of our hard work. Otentic runs an Eco tent experience and we would certainly recommend it to anyone
visiting Mauritius, assuming you’re happy to escape the cocooned 5-star environment. It’s a kind of “glamping” set-up, with a number of eco-tents situated on a plot of land just outside a village known as Deux Freres. A few miles further south there’s a village called Quatre Soeurs; the story is that once upon a time the land around here belonged to a rich man who divided it among his sons and daughters, leading to these somewhat unusually named villages. (We haven’t been able to check out the authenticity of this tale yet.)
The Otentic campsite slopes down to the banks of a river, known imaginatively as Grande Riviere Sud-Est, the longest river in Mauritius, at the point where it flows into the lagoon. At the bottom of the slope, just above the river, is the common area, situated around an honesty bar, a small swimming pool, an open air restaurant and a variety of rest “stations”, hammocks, etc. Otentic also have a number of Kayaks, sets of snorkelling gear and a lagoon-going boat big enough for about 12 – 15 passengers. Just upstream from the
campsite is the last waterfall on the river which is accessible by all the tourist boats from the nearby resorts and so it becomes quite an attraction in the day-time. (It’s OK as waterfalls go but I have to say that it’s not a patch on the falls on the River Braan at the Hermitage near Dunkeld in Perthshire!) In the other direction you’re out into the lagoon where you can travel for quite some distance on the relatively calm waters behind the reef.
We were all collected from our respective appartments in Blue Bay bright and early by minibus and then the trip up to Otentic took around an hour, following the rather beautiful coast road to the north of Mahebourg. Our first excursion, upon arrival with barely enough time for a coffee from the honesty bar, was a kayak trip up river to the waterfall. At that time in the morning the tourists were still having breakfast in their resorts so the river traffic was limited to a few local fisherman and we were able to safely paddle upstream without worrying about the wash from the twin-outboard speedboats that would arrive a bit later. Just downstream of the waterfall we pulled the kayaks up on the bank then climbed up around it and spent a glorious half hour swimming in the pools above. (Trying all the time not to wonder about how much and what stuff may have been jettisoned further upstream, given that it’s the longest river in Mauritius!). Then it was out of there just as the speedboats were beginning to arrive and before the traffic jams built-up.
Back at camp it was straight onto the boat for a trip far out into the lagoon for a lengthy (1-hour) snorkelling session across some amazing coral formations. Fortunately we were
fortified on the way by some improvised rum punch which ensured we had the energy to keep going! At the snorkelling site the boat anchored up next to a pontoon where they were running one of these rather curious tourist experiences where you walk on the seabed with a big glass bowl on your head which is fed with air from the surface. They were obviously giving them bread or something to take in the water with them as the fish were swarming in that area.
After the snorkelling we were able to get off the boat onto the Ile aux Flamands, a tiny sandbank formed by the currents from two adjacent gaps in the reef, each piling sand up from opposite directions. Apparently the shape of this island is continually changing and as we were strolling around on it I couldn’t help but remember some of the disasters over the years with sandbanks collapsing underneath people who were walking on them! Fortunately however, this one was made of sterner stuff and we enjoyed a good hour relaxing in the warm shallow water which was lapping at its shores.
Then it was back on-board for a dash across the lagoon to the campsite again where the most amazing Mauritian lunch awaited us, dining “al fresco” around a long wooden table.
The local chef that they’ve hired at Otentic certainly knows her stuff and we had a choice of curried crab dishes, squid, chicken, beef with potatoes, coconut chutneys, to name but a few and no restrictions on how many trips to the serving hatch either! The whole thing was followed up with some amazing mango-flavoured ice-cream.
By then it was after 2pm and we had a choice – continue with the programme of activities or drop out and laze around for the rest of the day. About half of the group chose the latter
option and the rest of us divided into two groups, one which went kayaking again, this time round the nearby mangroves and the other hiking up the small hill behind the campsite – Mont Beau Champs . Jan was part of the 50% who decided to call it a day and Ian, rather foolishly decided to climb the hill in 30 degree heat with a group of people who were all young enough to be his children! It didn’t turn out to be too bad in the end though, he didn’t get left behind despite the steepness of some of the slopes and was able to appreciate the stunning views in all directions afforded from the summit.
As usual with these sort of hikes it took a lot less time to come down than it had done to go up and Ian’s group arrived back to meet the others sitting around the pool, with enough time for a quick dip followed by a couple of beers before the mini-bus came to collect us. We were all sad that we hadn’t been able to stay overnight in the Eco-tents but, if we ever find ourselves back in Mauritius, we’d definitely make it a priority.