This week we managed to fit in a short, 5-day, visit to Rodrigues, a small island to the north-east of Mauritius. We hadn’t originally planned to go there, mainly because we didn’t know it existed until we met Tristan, one of the guys who sells bracelets and necklaces on the beach at Blue Bay. He comes from the island and, after listening to his description of the place, we booked a trip, just before our departure for Australia. Now that we’ve been and come back again we wish we’d been able to stay for longer, it really was everything that you ever thought a tropical island should be.
Part of the so-called Mascarene group of islands which also comprises La Reunion and Mauritius, Rodrigues was first discovered by the Portuguese in the 16th century, when it was totally uninhabited and covered in dense forest. Not much happened to it until the 1700s when the French, at that time in control of Mauritius, decided to turn it into the cattle ranch for Mauritius. They brought a number of slaves to the island and set about having it de-forested and prepared for grazing. Then when the British kicked the French out and added Mauritius to their empire, the slaves were eventually set free. Today the population of the island is about 42,000 and the ethnic heritage is clear to see; whereas British rule encouraged mass immigration to Mauritius from the Indian sub-continent, this never happened in Rodrigues and the vast majority of the population are of African origin.
Our departure date, early on Monday 7 December, started badly as we’d been out with the Lagon Bleu volunteer gang the previous evening, making Sunday a very short night. Mr Muttur, our landlord, was at the door nice and early, ready to drive us to the airport in
plenty of time to catch our turbo prop plane which took 1 ½ hours to fly the 600 Km from Mauritius to Rodrigues. At the other end we were met by Frederique, a member of the extended family which runs the Kafe Marron guest house under the watchful eye of Dorothy, the owner. The airport is at the west end of the island and Kafe Marron is at the opposite end, at Pointe Coton. However as the island is only 18 km long it wasn’t a major trek in the 4 x4 pickup truck and the drive gave us a good opportunity to take in the landscape. Although mountainous probably isn’t the right term as the highest point is only 398 m, mountainous is exactly what it felt like. The road from the airport, which forms the east-west spine of the island, climbs steadily up to the highest point at Mont Lubin before descending again, down to Pointe Coton. Along the way various spur roads branch off and plunge down to the coast, many with spectacular hairpin bends as we would later experience. From time to time we’d get glimpses of the sea far below or, more accurately, the turquoise water of the lagoon which surrounds the island. Much of the time we were passing through light-forest with palm trees, (with not a sugar cane field in sight), giving it all a Caribbean feel, accentuated by the loud reggae music that Frederique was playing on the pickup’s music system. In contrast though, as we began the descent down into Pointe Coton, the landscape changed to barren, boulder covered slopes. This and the individual houses dotted across the hillsides, a bit like crofts, made us think of the Gairloch, in north-west Scotland. This impression was re-enforced by the narrow roads and the livestock wandering freely around, small herds of cattle, goats and sheep going in and out of gardens as and when they pleased.
We’d imagined that Pointe Coton would be a small village but when we arrived there we found two or three houses, a bus stop and two street food stalls-cum-shops, all built on a pleasant little sandy plain next to the lagoon and sheltered from it by a strip of hardy pine trees. Kafe Marron is one of the two or three houses, a large detached building which
wouldn’t look out of place in New Orleans, standing in its own gardens. We’d picked this guest house pretty much at random from the Bookings.com website and we have to say that we’d made an inspired choice, the place is a gem. It’s a family run business and the guests are made to feel part of that family. Everything is totally relaxed, no such thing as locking doors and the food served up by Dorothy and her team was first class. It’s listed on TripAdvisor and we’ll be sure to give it an appropriate review.
If we thought we’d slowed down our pace of life during our time in Mauritius then the gear-stick went into the neutral position here. Apart from an early start on the Tuesday, when we’d booked ourselves on the morning dive boat, (the local dive centre is situated at the Cotton Bay Hotel a little bit further up the road), the days were very lazy. The dive itself was a good one and gave Jan a bit more practice with her backward rolls off the boat – if only the Divemaster had given her time to put her regulator in her mouth before he pushed her in! Once in the water she was able to continue the upwards progression with her buoyancy control whilst taking in the lovely corals and various fish – most of which we had no idea about! The previous day they’d seen a whale shark in the water but we had no such luck, although we did see a pod of dolphins, playing around the dive boat. It was really good to see them like this in their natural environment.
After that the days were taken at a nice slow pace, we were in no particular hurry to leave our room after breakfast, contenting ourselves with sitting on our balcony, which
overlooked the gardens, out across the “village” and beyond to the lagoon. Once breakfast had been digested we’d take off on our little hired scooter and explore the immediate vicinity, without venturing too far. The biggest distance we covered was on the Wednesday morning when we went to the capital, Port Mathurin, (all of 14 Km away) for market day. We also took a couple of the “spur” roads down to the coast which was a good test for Ian’s embryonic scooter handling skills as we negotiated the hairpins. (Coming back up was also a test for the poor little scooter’s engine as it struggled to generate enough power to carry our combined weight up 20+ percent inclines!)
On our first day there, during a stroll along the beach and up onto headland we met Sammy, the local entrepreneur who was buying lobster from the fishermen and then
cooking it in his little makeshift outdoor kitchen. We couldn’t resist and, although we knew full well that we’d been ripped off, we thoroughly enjoyed eating it out in the open air. Two days later, despite the fact that we’d negotiated so badly the first time, we returned to Sammy’s kitchen for some grilled fish with a fresh Papaya thrown in for desert. Actually this time around it was another of his kitchens, on the next beach down the coast where he was barbequeing in a little sheltered corner of the rocks. Whilst we again failed to negotiate any better than tourist prices, the meal was delicious.
Our evening meals were taken in the guest house with the exception of one night where we tucked into some more grilled fish, this time in the local “restaurant” surrounded by tables of locals sharing bottles of rum to a backdrop of loud “seggae” music and the local duck population hanging
around outside. That was quite an experience and, when the meal was over we toddled over to the beach where we were treated to an amazing night sky over the Indian Ocean. We could easily have spent the night out there, lying under the stars but it did seem rather a waste of a nice air conditioned room so we eventually went back to Kafe Marron.
Over the days we were there we became quite familiar with the little stretch of coast line to the south, between Pointe Coton and St Francois, the next village down. It’s just one white
sandy beach after another, each one backed by a strip of pine trees. Beyond, (to the south of), St Francois the coastline becomes more rocky with a series of sheltered coves, including the local beauty spot known as Trou d’Argent. The track eventually leads to Graviers even further south and a couple staying in our guest house walked the full distance there from Pointe Coton, reporting that it took them 3 hours. On the last full day we took the bike as far as we could to the point where the coves began with a vague intention of walking to Graviers and getting the bus back. We made it as far as Trou d’Argent before we realised the scale of the challenge, especially in the heat so we turned around, retraced our steps to St Francois
and spent a couple of hours on the beach. Suitably rested we then had lunch at the little road side shack, run by Solange and Robert, where we sampled the local sausage, (which we’d often seen hanging out to dry at various places around the island), washed down with some nice cold beer.
So that unfortunately was it; a very short but hugely enjoyable stay and we left feeling that, if the opportunity ever presents itself, we would not hesitate to return to Rodrigues, this time for a much longer stay.