Well now that we’ve been here for over 4 weeks it seems like a good time for a little reflection on how we’ve been finding life on this island. We’ll steer away from any attempt at political observations for a number of reasons, including, but not limited to –
- We don’t really know, as we haven’t interested ourselves in local politics – apart from anecdotal conversations with people we’ve met
- It’s dangerous territory and will always be easy to over simplify in a short blog posting
- We may offend somebody
However to contradict that last concern, one view seems to come across unanimously – government here is corrupt! The examples we see in our day-to-day endeavours seem to give credence to the claim:
- The local coastguards are supposed to be protecting this designated marine park from illegal activity but are known to do deals with local (illegal) fishermen by accepting some of their catch.
- There are plans to build another luxury hotel complex on the other side of the bay. Planning permission hasn’t been given yet but the access road is built, the coastguard have been paid handsomely to build a new centre as their old one is where the hotel’s supposed to be and the site is marked out with the layout of the planned hotel. (And the site is on one of the very few beaches where turtles may nest again on the island – I wonder who will win?!)
Moving onto the populace at large, it’s striking just how racially integrated this society is – with the possible exception of the relatively small (but wealthy) white population! There’s
a mix of people of African origin (a legacy of the slaves brought here by the French), Indian origin (Brits encouraging immigrant labour) and a smattering of Chinese. And they genuinely seem to get on, with tolerance, acceptance and mixed marriage – at least, again, among the non-whites! It’s also clear that people aren’t comfortable discussing racial origin, what’s important to most people we’ve discussed it with is that they’re all Mauritian.
What we find really interesting is that, although the Brits were the last to colonise the island, up until its independence in the late 60s, culturally they haven’t left much of a
legacy – apart from driving on the left, road signs, electric plugs and sockets and a BSAC dive club! French seems to be the most widely spoken – certainly among the white population, then there’s Creole, which cuts across all races and social strata. We’ve found you can just about hold a conversation with somebody who’s speaking Creole if you start off in French – provided both you and your interlocateur are sober! Although most educated people can speak English (taught in schools) it’s definitely not their preference.
The other outstanding characteristic of the locals is their friendliness – just about everyone you pass in the street, on the bus, wherever catches your eye and says hello. The other Sunday afternoon Ian was sitting on a wall by the beach shaking sand out of his sandals, when a guy comes along, shakes his hand, makes his little son do the same then carries on his way; the sort of thing that would freak your average Londoner right out! We’ve also been impressed by the family values on clear
display out here, no more so than on Sunday afternoons down at the beach when the extended families come out together with their BBQ and picnic gear and make a whole day of it. The landlord of our apartment block spent 35 years working in Switzerland and he was telling us that the main reason he came back was because he wanted his 3 kids to grow up the Mauritian way and appreciate their family in a way that he didn’t believe they’d learn in Europe.
We’re also glad that we came to the island the way we have, i.e renting accommodation locally and living a relatively normal and modest life – taking the buses, shopping in the local supermarket, etc. Mahebourg, our nearest “big” town is a bit of a centre of poverty,
run down houses, badly lit broken streets, etc, and it’s definitely a cheap place to live. In contrast to the classic “resort destinations” such as Grand Baie or Flic-en-Flacq, with its enclaves of wealth, the big international hotel resorts, concentrated at the south end of the long beach, behind their security guards. You can imagine coming here with Virgin Holidays or something on an all-inclusive package and never leaving the compound, except with one of the approved local taxis who, for Rp 2500, will take you on one of the 3 recommended tours of the island. If you’re lucky he’ll take you to the safari park where you can see lions, giraffes and crocodiles – none of which are indigenous – or the famous botanical gardens at Pamplemousse. It would be a shame to come here on that basis, there’s so much more to the island. But then we’re speaking from being in the position of being able to take our time about it.
We wouldn’t be British if we didn’t describe the weather. We came at the tail end of their winter and that first week or so it could get surprisingly cool with the strong S-E trades winds blowing continuously. Now that we’re heading into the summer and the high season, which starts in earnest in November, it’s definitely heating up. We are however surprised at the amount of rain they get, seems like all year round and, consequently, the island is green and they grow lots of veg – particularly root vegetables – potatoes, carrots, onions, etc – they even have water cress beds. There hasn’t been a week gone by without rain falling; even tonight, after work, our little trip to the beach was disrupted by an extended shower of torrential rain. Again, as we’re here for a while, we can be philosophical but we might feel a bit different about it if we were on a two week honeymoon! It has to be said though that the climate is very localised; being on the south-east tip of the island where the trade winds first hit land is different from Flic-en-Flacq, on the west, where it’s much more sheltered and drier – hence the location of the luxury hotels. The other consequence of the rain and the heat is the humidity and the levels have been steadily rising since we got here; better stock up on the deodorant!
One last thing we must mention is the dog population – they’re everywhere, and they’re not all strays as many of the locals let theirs run in the streets. For the most part it’s safe enough but we have encountered a couple of instances where the pack frenzy has taken over and then you really want to keep well away. There’s also a sad side to the situation; for the first couple of weeks we noticed a young dog who’d obviously had puppies and then we saw her looking after 3 of them who were playing on some waste ground. So Jan started feeding the mother to keep her strength up but then over the course of a week or so the number of pups diminished to two and then just one. One day we were walking home and a group of French people had taken the final puppy and were walking up the road with it whilst the mother dog was running back and forward very anxiously. When we asked why they were taking it away from its mum their answer was very French and pragmatic: “we’re taking it to the local authorities, the mother is already in the street, at least the pup may stand a chance of getting a proper home”. Couldn’t argue with that but we still felt very sorry for the poor mother.
Despite the dog situation, in summary so far, we’ve been finding it a very easy place to live, and have adapted our pace of life to the surroundings. I think we’ll be sad to leave when the time comes in 7 weeks time.