Last Friday, late morning, we took an impulsive decision to down tools and go off for a weekend break to Ile-aux-Cerfs, a place we’d heard lots of good things about. We’d both had a morning of frustrations in the Lagon Bleu project office, no computers available for Jan to use and the IT man that Ian had arranged didn’t show up with the laptops that his boss had kindly agreed to donate to the project. So, with the help of the good old Booking.com website, we decided to treat ourselves to a weekend of luxury after 5 weeks of (relative) austerity and frugal living.
There are a number of ways of getting to Ile-aux-Cerfs from where we’re staying. Leaving from Pointe Jerome, just 2Km down the road, you can go by cataraman, speedboat or even on a replica wooden pirate ship – all options including copious supplies of alcohol on route. We took the bus. Or actually we took three buses, one from Blue Bay to Mahebourg, one from Mahebourg to Centre de Flacq and then finally from Centre de Flacq to Trou d’Eau Douce, the fishing village from where (we thought) the boats for the island depart. All told it was a 2 hour bus journey, for the grand sum of 150 Rupees or £3 each.
Centre de Flacq is a busy (mainly) Hindu town further up the east coast from us with a large Sunday market and a very bustling and confusing bus station. As we alighted from our bus a little old man spotted us, looking lost with our weekend case and carrier bag full of beach stuff, and he led us, virtually by the hand, to our next bus. An unprompted act of kindness which is not untypical of people around here.
Safely on the bus, the last stage of the journey involved finding our hotel and, in our haste to get out of the office, grab lunch and pack our plastic beach sandals, we’d forgotten to print out the details from Booking.com. All we knew was that it was somewhere near Trou d’Eau Douce so, as the bus exited the village and we hadn’t seen any sign of it, we thought we’d better get off and ask somebody. (As I type this, over a week later I’m suddenly wondering why we didn’t just ask the bus driver!). Anyway a kindly passer by informed us that it was 2Km further on down the road, the way that the bus we’d just been on had headed. So the final 5 minutes of our epic journey added another 200 Rupees to the 300 we’d spent so far – penny pinching or what! (Of course all of that paled into insignificance with the size of the hotel bill we ran up over the next 2 days!)
Checking into Le Surcouf Hotel and Spa, we momentarily forgot our newly learned conservation ethics – it’s an amazing hotel, right on the beach, (turtle nests, what are they?), and we felt well spoiled as we were shown to our luxury modern room, fully air-conditioned and with its own little balcony looking out through the coconut palms onto the lagoon. And not a hint of a cockroach, ant, spider or gecko anywhere.
The hotel itself felt like it was pretty deserted and, after a little walk along the beach followed by a dip in the pool, it was “over the yardarm time”. Some beer, some rum cocktails followed by a (disappointing) buffet dinner which we made up for by drinking too much wine. As we rolled out of the dining room back towards the bar for a little digestif we met a Cornish couple, 4 days into their dream holiday in a virtually empty hotel and clearly bemused that the first non-Indian people they’d met all week were semi-incoherent!
The transport confusion continued the next morning; after negotiating the price of the hotel’s taxi from 400 down to 200 Rupees we found that the jetty he’d dropped us at was on the wrong side of the bay from the one we wanted. There followed another negotiation, another taxi ride and we finally got to the right jetty and on the right boat! On the way there our new found taxi driver, David, started asking us where we were going tomorrow and how we were getting there. “Blue Bay? I make you good price, 2000 Rupees.” “No we’re happy with the bus for 200”. “OK final price 1500 Rupees”. “Look mate we’re absolutely fine with the bus.” “OK absolute best price, I take you direct to Blue Bay for 1000 Rupees or for 1200 Rupees I take you to the market at Flacq on the way”. The guide book recommends the famous Sunday market at Centre de Flacq as a place to visit and, as we needed to get food on the way home, we struck a deal – our transport back to our hotel at the end of the day and our ride all the way home the following day, (with bags of groceries), arranged.
Now we just wanted to get to the beach and find our sun loungers so that we could recover from all that early morning negotiation –as well as the previous night’s indulgence of course! So when the boatman tried selling us “add-ons” during our visit to the island – speed-boat trip to the waterfall? Para-sailing? Glass-bottom boat trip? – he had absolutely no success. “We just want to chill out and lie on the beach!”
Finally Isle-aux Cerfs! It certainly lived up to its reputation, pure white sand, lovely blue sea, two or three restaurants and a beach bar with service direct to your sun bed in the shade of the coconut palms – a definite Caribbean flavour. (There’s also a golf course on the other side of the island, designed by Bernhard Langer, but we never ventured further than the beach bar and restaurant.) As opposed to our local beach in Blue Bay, which is rammed with local day-trippers at the weekends, this island was pretty much the haunt of overseas visitors, the downside of this being that the beach bar and restaurants charge overseas prices (no street food stalls here). But, being as how we are overseas visitors, (if slightly longer term than the average), we joined in the spirit of the place – literally in Ian’s case as, despite the previous
night’s excess, he was still able to take on the massive rum cocktail offered by the beach bar – before lunch too!
Despite lying around doing very little the day passed far too quickly and it was time to take the short boat trip back to the mainland where our new friend, David, was waiting for us with his taxi. Dinner that night was once again courtesy of the hotel buffet but this time was accompanied by much less alcohol. The hotel had really filled up over the course of the day, it appeared to be a popular weekend haunt, and the restaurant was quite full. We sheepishly met our Cornish friends again but either we hadn’t been as incoherent as we’d thought we were or they’d been in a similar state the previous evening because they didn’t give us a wide berth. The biggest topic of conversation was the disappointment that the rugby World Cup final wasn’t being screened anywhere in the hotel.
The only trauma of the final day was the size of the hotel bill. Apart from that David was as good as his word, dropping us at the market in Flacq where we spent a couple of hours whilst he looked after our weekend bags, and then ferrying us and our provisions back to Blue Bay, which was in the throes of holiday weekend partying. More of that later.