On to Australia

It’s Christmas Eve and amazingly we’ve now been here for 9 days, our feet have hardly seem to have touched the ground since we arrived; the pace of life is definitely faster than it was in Mauritius!

Our well laid plans to meet up with Thomas at Kuala Lumpur went astray as his flight from London was late arriving so we left KL without him. Apparently his plane was actually on the ground but there was no gate available so, after waiting for an hour, our Malaysian Airlines A330 finally took

Crossing the Western Australian coast high above Broome

Crossing the Western Australian coast high above Broome

off, minus 62 passengers from the London flight. Half of the 8 hour flight to Sydney was over Australia, crossing the Western Australian coast high above Broome, more than 1000 miles north of Perth. After 4 hours overflying Australia we had a good understanding of why some people call it the Great Bugger All!

Arrival at Sydney airport was smooth and trouble free; the signs at immigration informed us that filming for the Border Security documentary was in progress but, as we didn’t get pulled over, we missed out on our chance of a starring role. We then hit the bar at our cheap, but perfectly adequate, airport hotel in an attempt to fool our body clocks into sleeping 7 hours earlier than they were used to. This was moderately successful and, after a quick night, we were finally able to collect Thomas, whose delayed flight arrived yet another hour late as it had to circle round waiting for a tornado to finish destroying Kurnell, a local town near the airport. (We were blissfully unaware of this as we were inside the terminal building at the time!)

Then it was a 2 hour drive south to Kiama, just after Woollangong, where we spent the first 4 nights with Ian’s aunt and uncle, Agnes and Jimmy, getting over our jet-lag. Not surprisingly we found it very different after Mauritius, with more of an American feel about the suburban landscape. Also the temperature was very pleasant, in the mid-twenties, after the oppressive heat which had been building in Mauritius in the weeks prior to our departure. (Little did we know

Sunrise over Kiama

Sunrise over Kiama

what lay ahead!)

Kiama itself is a nice, laid-back, sea-side town with some quaint old buildings, loads (or heaps as they say here) of coffee shops, a lighthouse, a blowhole and 4 beaches. On the first morning Ian was awake enough to get down to the seafront to watch the sunrise – after that we reverted to normal waking hours.

We spent the next 3 days exploring the varied landscapes in this part of NSW, whilst being well looked after by our hosts. We were impressed and surprised by the variety of NSW landscapes; from the views atop Saddleback Mountain above Kiama,

With Agnes & Jimmy on Saddleback Mountain
With Agnes & Jimmy on Saddleback Mountain

 

the rainforest at Minnamurra, the town beaches at Woollongong, (populated mainly by students), the escarpment looming over the rural coastal strip, Seven mile beach to the south of Kiama and the coastal flats out to the fishing village at Greenwell Point. We enjoyed fish’n chips for lunch here one day, keeping a wary eye on the pelicans before returning for a couple of

Pelicans at Greenwell Point

Pelicans at Greenwell Point

hours laying on 7-mile beach and getting battered by the surf. With no reef here to protect the beaches we were literally getting swept off our feet by the huge, powerful, waves.

By the weekend the temperature had climbed to the low 30s and the local TV news was dominated by the bush fires to the south, in Victoria. We left Kiama behind on Sunday and drove for a couple of hours westwards, climbing up the escarpment face into the southern highlands and up to the farm owned by Chris and Bettyann , the parents of Natalie’s good friend Belinda. Their flight down to Sydney from Cairns had been delayed so we arrived a few hours before them to 38 degree heat.

The house is built on a plot of several hundred acres of land, deep in the bush at the end of a long

The Hughes Homestead

The Hughes Homestead

dirt track road. It sits at the top of a slope overlooking a lake formed by a creek which had been dammed some 50 years ago by Chris’s father – a successful Sydney doctor turned cattle rancher. On the other side of the lake is a steep, wooded slope where the Kookaburras were making their presence heard. (Laugh Kookaburra, laugh Kookaburra, etc)

With no a/c in the house and the fans just pushing hot air around, we really didn’t think we were going to survive 2 hours up there, let alone 2 nights! However by the end of the afternoon it had cooled enough for us to venture out for a walk up behind the house, through the woods to the open fields beyond – all the time watching out for snakes whilst trying in vain to fight off the aggressive Kangarooslocal fly population. Although we saw lots of evidence of their presence, we weren’t lucky enough to actually see wombats but we did see a number of Kangaroos hopping across the open fields in the distance. Our hosts eventually arrived just as it was getting dark and in time for dinner and we spent that evening and the following day, just chilling and helping out with odd jobs around the homestead.

By the following day the weather had followed the course predicted by the forecast and had cooled significantly with a day of rainfall and by the time we left on Tuesday morning it was down to 12 degrees, forcing us to wear long trousers and socks for the first time since leaving England in late September. After a 2-hour drive to Sydney in pouring rain and heavy traffic, we arrived at our AirBnB accommodation in Randwick a trendy suburb to the S-E of Sydney. Once we got ourselves moved in we didn’t get up to much as it rained non-stop all day. But we DID spend time appreciating the unlimited wifi access throughout the house and the multiple channels on the TV – luxury after our apartment in Mauritius!

Wednesday was a manic day for us as we crammed all of our Christmas shopping into a single day. We started by food shopping at the local mall in Bondi Junction, continued by shopping for gifts on Pitt and George Streets in downtown Sydney and finished off

Sydney Fishmarkets

Sydney Fishmarkets

by joining the crowds at 11pm at the famous Sydney fish markets. Along the way we fitted in dinner at a bar down by Circular Quay and caught our first glimpse of the Harbour Bridge and the Opera House (floodlit by that time of night). By the time we finally got home just after midnight we were laden with bags and totally exhausted. But at least we had everything in for Christmas and we’ve been able to enjoy a relaxed Christmas Eve, checking out the local beaches (Bronte, Clovelly and Coogee are all close with Bondi not far away either) and getting everything ready for the girls’ arrival on Christmas morning.

Christmas Eve on Coogee Beach

Christmas Eve on Coogee Beach

So it’s now late afternoon on Christmas Eve, it 29 degrees outside, Thomas and Ian are just back from 2 hours on Coogee Beach whilst Jan has been preparing tomorrow’s food. The last of the booze has been bought, Thomas is decorating the tree and we’re about to download some Christmas songs from the iTunes store.

Merry Christmas Everybody!

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Rodrigues

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

Arrival at Rodrigues

Arrival at Rodrigues

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.

The busy bus terminus at Pointe Coton

The busy bus terminus at Pointe Coton

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

Kafe Marron

Kafe Marron

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

The view from our balcony

The view from our balcony

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

Sammy cooking up a storm

Sammy cooking up a storm

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

The local restuarant

The local restuarant

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

The beach at St Francois

The beach at St Francois

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

Local sausages being cured

Local sausages being cured

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.

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Jan’s Adventures in Diving

This accomplishment merits a blog post all of its own, the momentous occasion being Jan’s completion of the PADI Open Water course. This is something that neither of us would have believed possible just a few short weeks ago but, after 8 weeks of looking out at the beautiful lagoon and ocean, she couldn’t resist it anymore and finally decided to have a go (Ian kept his mouth firmly shut!)

The idea was planted following a couple of adventurous and lengthy snorkelling trips far out in the lagoon and the realisation that, actually, it might be a bit better under the surface where the waves weren’t buffeting you and you could get up nice and close to the marine life that you were looking down on from above. So, given the opening, Ian didn’t hesitate and suggested that she sign-up for a “Try Dive” and we were soon down at our local luxury resort, Preskil, where Jan embarked upon the entry level to PADI’s dive education system. While she was at it we got the instructor to throw in a bit of the dreaded mask-clearing exercise, just to show that it wasn’t as bad as she feared.

It couldn’t have been because, after the Try Dive Jan signed up for the “Discover Scuba” session, which involved going out to the lagoon for a 6 metre dive in Trou Moutu or the “Blue Hole”. This is a sandy bowl under the surface studded with occasional outcrops of interesting corals and sloping down from 3 metres at the edge to a maximum depth of 6 or 7 metres in the middle – so an ideal dive site for beginners. There were a few more varieties of fish out here too, including flute fish, cornet fish and trumpet fish and a large shoal of Barracuda. (That’s about exhausted my knowledge!) The bottom was populated

Where else would you put them when you were finished praying to them?

Where else would you put them when you were finished praying to them?

with discarded Hindu idols, which made for a rather strange sight. Apparently, in times gone by, the local Hindu population used to deposit them here when they were no longer of any use. (I didn’t ask for details of the lifecycle of a Hindu idol in Mauritius!). The dive included the obligatory session of feeding bread to the fish and whipping them into a frenzy. (Not good for the fish but guaranteed to impress the new divers!)

Feeding frenzy

Feeding frenzy

After this dive was over Ian was holding his breath but, no Jan happily signed up for the Open Water course, so game on!

The first open water dive was in the Blue Bay marine park where the average depth is around 5 or 6 metres but unfortunately the coral is mostly dead –there are still lots of fish to see though as they feed on the algae and there are also at least two turtles living there, (we didn’t see any that day). The dive lasted 54 minutes which has to be some kind of a record for OW dive 1. At the same time the boat had taken Ian and another diver over for a

Rosy cheeks after a long wait in the water

Rosy cheeks after a long wait in the water

drift dive out through the gap in the reef to the open sea. This was also a long dive at 58 minutes so Jan and the instructor had to wait for a while in the water for the boat to come back for them. Jan had a nice rosy face at the end of that day.

That was in the morning and we had a nice lunch at the resort before the afternoon lesson which was a confined water session in the 2 metre pool. That took a bit of effort (on Jan’s part) after the exertions of the morning (and the lunch) and all the time Ian was stretched out, snoozing on a sunbed by the pool!

The next day Jan was feeling the effects of the previous day’s sessions so postponed her next dives until Friday and there was a further glitch when the instructor cancelled the Friday dives, claiming ill health (we have it on good authority that he was badly hungover). The consequent loss of momentum allowed second thoughts and feelings of dread to build up over the weekend so that, by the time Monday morning arrived, Jan was a nervous wreck!

It has to be said however that over the weekend the benefits were already evident – the earlier plans to go on a glass bottomed boat were torn up – “what would be the point now that I’ve been down there in among it all.”

Christophe, a very patient dive instructor

Christophe, a very patient dive instructor

Monday was the penultimate open water dive, out in the lagoon on a dive site known as Coral Garden. Whilst Jan and Christophe, her instructor, practised surface skills and a CESA before going on a dive down as far as 12 metres, Ian went down to 17 metres with a couple of other divers.

That left one more open water dive and this time Ian accompanied Jan and Christophe, (a bit like the old divemaster intern days at Wraysbury), on a dive outside of the reef, in the big bad open sea that’s the Indian Ocean. It was actually quite a difficult dive for a beginner as there were large tidal surges pulling us first one way and then the other and we were swimming along a sub-sea wall, trying to avoid being pushed onto the rocks. (Getting off the boat in a fairly large swell was quite hard too.) It was a really good dive however, with lots of interesting sub-sea formations and marine life and the highlight was when we found a very large and beautiful Lion fish hiding in  a cave.

Beautiful Lionfish hiding in a cave

Beautiful Lionfish hiding in a cave

So that concluded the diving part of the course, it was now just a matter of wrestling with the new PADI on-line manual and on-line knowledge review submission process, (further complicated by the totally slow and dodgy internet connection in our apartment), prior to taking the final exam. Then it was back to the dive centre on Friday to have it marked – passed with flying colours so now Jan is a PADI Open Water diver!

 

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A Day Out with the Volunteers

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

Otentic: a novel concept based on camping in Ecotents. I'm a Celebrity without the bugs for dinner!

Otentic: a novel concept based on camping in Ecotents. I’m a Celebrity without the bugs for dinner!

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

The famous waterfall on Grand Riviere South-East

The famous waterfall on Grand Riviere South-East

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

Apart of an action packed day out. Snorkelling fortified with rum punch

Apart of an action packed day out. Snorkelling fortified with rum punch

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.

A sandbar in the lagoon formed by the currents coming from two adjacent gaps in the reef

A sandbar in the lagoon formed by the currents coming from two adjacent gaps in the reef

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.

After a hard morning of kayaking and snorkelling

After a hard morning of kayaking and snorkelling

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

A spot of after-lunch exercise for the more energetic

A spot of after-lunch exercise for the more energetic

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.

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Flic-en-Flac

We visited Flic-en-Flac for the second time this weekend. We like it there, it has a nice, laid-back holiday feel, about it and a very long sandy beach – 5km they say.

The beach at Flic-en-Flac is 5 Km long

The beach at Flic-en-Flac is 5 Km long

The town’s laid out a bit like a strip, with bars, shops, restaurants and street food stalls and between the “strip” and the beach is a thin band of trees – so there’s always plenty of shade. It also has the advantage of being on the lee-shore of the island, sheltered from the SE trade winds that continually buffet us here in Blue Bay by the highlands in the middle of the island. (Although to be fair, the winds do keep us cool on a hot day.) These same SE trade winds drop all of their rain on the highlands so Flic-en-Flac is also one of the driest places on Mauritius. All in all it’s got a lot going for it!

Getting there from Blue Bay involves a long climb up to Curepipe, where they say it rains every single day of the year, then a left turn at Phoenix where the island’s beer is made and

Phoenix, the beer of Mauritius

Phoenix, the beer of Mauritius

then west through Quatre Bornes to the coast. We treated ourselves and hired a car for two days, so no buses this time! The approach road to Flic-en-Flac crosses a caldera and the town itself is sandwiched between the jagged remains of the mountain that was blown apart in prehistoric times and the sea. The most famous of the jagged remains is called le Montagne de Rempart, 777 metres high and also known as the Matterhorn of Mauritius. To the south, at the far end of the bay lies Le Morne Brabant, a World Heritage site with a tragic history.

Le Morne Brabant - World Heritage site with a tragic history

Le Morne Brabant – World Heritage site with a tragic history

In days gone by a number of slaves escaped and hid-out on the mountain. When the slave trade ended on Mauritius in the 19th century, a group of local policeman climbed the mountain to give the good news to the fugitives. Unfortunately the slaves thought they were about to be taken back into captivity and so, in a spontaneous suicide pact, leapt to their deaths.

The reason for our visit this time was to use the Whale-watching voucher that Natalie had given Jan as a birthday present back in September; the boats leave from Tamarin just a few miles down the coast so we decided to make a weekend of it. Also, another one of Flic-en-Flac’s advantages, at least as far as Ian is concerned, is that it has a number of dive shops which are much cheaper than the local one in Blue Bay and some good dive sites too. So the plan was to arrive early on the Saturday in time for the 0900 dive-boat and then spend the rest of the day enjoying the beach, with the Whale watching booked for Sunday morning. We’d left Blue Bay as the news about the atrocities in Paris was breaking and so that was the main topic of conversation with the café owner where we stopped for a second breakfast. The conversation inevitably concluded that no European city was safe and her advice to us was to retire to Mauritius! (She then spent the next 15 minutes explaining how to get around the Mauritian government’s immigration laws.) We eventually excused ourselves, paid the bill and then Ian went diving whilst Jan went for a sleep on the beach.

The dive site that Ian visited was one of the best he’s been on, in terms of marine life but unfortunately he’d messed up his camera settings which he couldn’t do anything about whilst underwater and so wasn’t able to bring back many photos. He did get a short video clip of a turtle which they saw at the end of the dive on the way to the surface; that video clip almost caused him to run out of air, but that’s another story!

By midday we’d sought out our accommodation, again booked courtesy of the Booking.com website. It was quite different from our luxury hotel of the other weekend, a small self-catering studio in a complex built around a swimming pool. It was modern, cheap and would have been OK but for the fact that there was lots of cockroach poo in the bathroom – all over the floor and in the shower tray too. But after our experiences moving into our apartment in Blue Bay that sort of thing doesn’t faze us anymore so we, or rather Jan, got busy with the dustpan and brush and we never saw any sign of the little critters for the rest of the weekend. There were also a number of cockerels pecking around in the street outside which promised an early morning wake-up call the next morning. They didn’t disappoint and ensured that Ian had time for his jog along the beach and we still got to the whale watching boat 45 minutes early. (A 4am wake-up call will do that!). Actually we weren’t alone in being early risers; as he hit the beach at 06:15 Ian was surprised by the level of activity – walkers, swimmers, joggers, 4 separate games of beach football and half-a-dozen extended families cooking breakfast underneath the canopies where they’d obviously spent the night. The beach must have been a hive of activity the previous evening.

At the departure point in Grande Riviere Noire, just to the south of Tamarin, our whale-watching guide for the morning carefully managed our expectations by advising that there was only a 60% chance of us actually seeing a whale, after all “they’re wild animals and it’s a big sea out there”. So we boarded the speedboat with our 11 fellow watchers, (6 Germans, 3 Frenchmen and an American couple) full of hope but asking ourselves how lucky we felt. It turned out that one of the French guys turned out to have a very keen whale-watching eye, if he hadn’t been on the boat we may well not have seen any. Our, or rather his, first sighting came within within 15 minutes of leaving the shore, a small Pod of beaked whales, very rare according to the guide. Within another 30 minutes

Pilot whale offshore Tamarin

Pilot whale offshore Tamarin

we came across a large pod of pilot whales, somewhere around 40, many of them mothers with calves, all at the surface. It was quite difficult to film them from the bobbing boat and also given the fact that every time the camera focussed on one it dived under! Anyway that was all of our excitement for the day within the first hour of the trip; the next 2 hours or so consisted of a nice boat trip far out to sea, during which we came across a few flying fish and a small school of dolphins. At this point the water depth was more than 1000m and there was something mesmerising about looking from the boat into this blue water with shafts of light disappearing downwards into the deep. A bit further out and we were out of the lee of the island and the sea became a bit rougher, with these old Trade Winds hitting us again. The front of the boat was regularly rising up and slapping down again and we’re all getting regular soakings. We chose that time to try to eat the sandwiches provided to us – more of Ian’s ended up on his tee-shirt than in his stomach! So all and all a very enjoyable weekend which did nothing to change the good feelings we have about Flic-en-Flac and its surroundings; not even when we got home to discover that Ian had left his dive pouches behind, adding to the long list of places at which Ian has left dive gear behind. Ah well we’ll just have to go back again before we leave Mauritius!

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Ile aux Cerfs

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!)

Le Surcouf Hotel & Spa

Le Surcouf Hotel & Spa

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!”

Our sunbed at Ile aux Cerfs

Our sunbed at Ile aux Cerfs

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

Pre-lunch taster

Pre-lunch taster

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.

Flacq Sunday Market

Flacq Sunday Market

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.

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Impressions of Mauritius

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

The local regattas are very colourful and loud

The local regattas are very colourful and loud

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

The beach is very popular with locals, especially on Sundays

The beach is very popular with locals, especially on Sundays

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,

Local building regulations seem a bit lax!

Local building regulations seem a bit lax!

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!

There are dogs everywhere on the island

There are dogs everywhere on the island

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.

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Lagon Bleu

We’ve now completed 2 weeks of our voluntary work with our temporary employer, the Lagon Bleu lagon_bleu_logo_low_resproject here at Blue Bay on Mauritius and the old “roller coaster” cliché has certainly applied. First impressions were very much “oh my God, what have we walked into here?” IMG_20151020_090106[1]Coming from the corporate wealth of Vodafone, it was like the absolute opposite end of the scale, it even made Woking Hospice look like a very wealthy organisation. And then there was the age gap – between us, mum and dad Wright and the other interns/volunteers – even the full-time staff are young enough to be our children!

So for much of the last two weeks we’ve been singing along to Joe Strummer – “will we stay or will we go now?” Maybe I can go and volunteer as a Divemaster up on the west coast, maybe we can move onto south-east Asia for a month before Oz, etc, etc.

But it’s funny how you settle down after a while. Once you get past the “what’s going on here?” and “what can I possibly do to help in such a short time?” things begin to fall into place. Because, even without much money and a variable supply of man-power (international volunteers) the team have made a difference over the 5 years of their existence. I could find over a hundred ways that they could do things better, more efficiently, etc, and maybe I’ll help them do some of it, but there are definitely some encouraging signs based on what they’ve already done. Most notable is the growing engagement of the local community; there are more and more local kids turning up at the offices asking how they can help and that’s got to be a good thing.

100_2155Also they’ve done a pretty good job of taking their message to the local primary schools and bringing the kids down to the lagoon and involving them in field-trip type activities – turning the heads of the next generation whilst trying to have an impact on the behaviours of the current one.

But, in our humble opinion, their volunteer programme is a shambles and is badly in need of an overhaul – but unfortunately their president doesn’t see it that way so, with 8 weeks left, it’s probably not worthwhile taking that one on. Which leaves us in the position of, having understood that we’re not going to change their world, knuckling down to do things that we CAN help them with.

In Jan’s case that means looking after the welfare of the volunteers who, after a gap of a few weeks, are beginning to arrive again. From what we can see, the experience of previousGetting Ready to survey volunteers has been variable so Jan’s offering guidance on what they can do to make their stay a bit more consistently enjoyable. As well as playing mother hen to those in need of a bit of tlc!

For me, it’s fund-raising because they’re desperately short of money and, without it they’ve been standing still on many of their plans for most of this year. Fortunately the president is savvy enough to know his limitations in this area, and well connected enough to have drafted in a couple of local businessmen with their connections. So we’ve got a little team going, focusing on the Mauritian business community with a fund raising target. We’ve already secured 2 second-hand laptops and the services of one company’s IT manager to sort out their office LAN. OK, OK I SHOULD be able to do that for them but after a morning messing about with it, during which I thought I’d lost the office server, I’ve decided to put pride to one side; good intentions count for nothing if all of the project files get screwed!

So we’ve formed a bit of a bond with them and their cause and, although a life of diving every day is very attractive, there’s something satisfying about this too. Now if only the lagoon were 10 metres deeper so that the surveys needed full scuba gear instead of just mask and snorkel.

Anyway, got to go now, I’m up at 04:30 tomorrow to go turtle patrolling!

Turtle Beach sunrise

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Settling In

It’s 2 weeks since we arrived in Mauritius, 10 days in our little apartment and 4 days in our new “jobs” and we’re beginning to feel like we’re settling in. Before we came out we used to dream about the slow pace of life that we’d be enjoying out here and now we’ve got it. I have to say though it did take a bit of adjusting to, the idea that we didn’t have to rush around all the time to get things done; the last two weeks have made Ian, in particular, realise what a stress junkie he’d become!

We’ve become regular passengers on the local buses which ply their trade between here (Blue Bay) and Mahebourg – 24 rupees (43p) each way. There are 3 or 4 different ones and, as far as we can make out, each one is Our local transportprivately owned and together they stick to a (rough) timetable which allows us to jump on to get into the supermarket and then, depending on how much we’ve bought, we either get a taxi back (£3) or the bus again. Usually it’s a cab but the other night, as we were feeling frugal, (and there were no taxis around), we got the bus back – and it broke down 1 ½ miles from home. So we started walking with our heavy bags and, as luck would have it, our landlord happened past in his beat-up old Audi and gave us a lift. Anyway I reckon the next time we get that particular bus (Sam’s Travel) he owes us a free ride into town.

We’ve taken to going down the beach most evenings (often with a bottle of Phoenix, the local beer),Phoenix to watch the sun go down and, in doing so, are beginning to get to know a few of the locals who make their living in one way or another from the tourists. One of them, Tristan, (probably one of the few that’s actually coherent and not out of his head all the time), stops for a chat every time he sees us. He’s from the island of Rodriguez so he’s sold us on the idea of a short visit there sometime before we leave for Australia – to be researched.

Last Sunday we were feeling restless, not helped by the fact that the weather was bad and our internet access was down so we hired a car for the day and headed for the Black River Gorges national park – and it never stopped raining all day. It was grim and, on the way we passed through what must be the grimmest town I’ve ever been to, Curepipe. Grim, ugly old buildings, pouring rain, fog, the lot. It’s built on a high plateau and gets the most rain of anywhere on the island – what a place to live! From Curepipe on the way to the Black River Gorges we passed a place called Grand Bassin, a small lake which is the site of an annual Hindu pilgrimage and so is surrounded by Hindu shrines – and loads of huge car parks. The lake is guarded by a massive statue of Shiva (about 2/3 the height of the Statue of Liberty) and it was so foggy that you could barely see the top when you were standing in front of it. So we cut and ran for the most northerly point on the island, Grand Baie, the Cote d’Azur of Mauritius and reputedly the driest part of the island. Hmm, we weren’t convinced; probably OK for bars, clubbing and casinos but I think our little corner here at Blue Bay is much nicer.

On the way we visited the famous Botanical Gardens, (Jardins de Pamplemousse), and saw a tree planted by Princess Margaret in 1954, one by Princess Anne in the ‘80s (it wasn’t doing very well at all), some giant water lilies dedicated to Queen Victoria and some giant tortoisesVictor Meldrew – not dedicated to anybody that we could see. Then our first day at work, volunteering with “Lagon Bleu” came round and we’ve spent the rest of the week learning about what they do and figuring out what we can best do to help them in the 9 or so weeks we’re going to be with them. It’s been quite an eye opener for Ian, coming from the corporate ranks of Vodafone and seeing how a small NGO has to struggle to make progress with very little funding. This year has been particularly bad for them in terms of raising money so it looks like one of our main tasks is going to be cleaning out their database of prospects and then picking up the phone and cold-calling. (Did somebody say something about diving??) Anyway more about Lagon Bleu and their mission and trials and tribulations in a future post. It’s Saturday afternoon and the beach is calling loudly.

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Blue Bay

Tuesday we took the bus over to Blue Bay just to have a look around our future place of residence. At the grand total of 40 Rp (less than 50p) for both of us it made for an interesting Our local transportexperience. The bus itself must have been about 50 years old with no suspension and torn seats and we were conspicuous as the only non-locals on it. We were impressed with the way that the driver would wait for anybody in the distance who was obviously hurrying not to miss it, unlike the driver of the Addlestone branch-line train at Weybridge station!

The first impressions of Blue Bay were of significant wealth and a total contrast to Mahebourg. Large beach-front houses line the approach road, many with swimming pools and the entry to the town (village?) is guarded by the exclusive Preskil Beach resort. This looks a bit more like the IMG_20150929_141417Mauritius that we would have thought about back home but we were quite glad to be seeing it from the perspective of the locals on the bus, rather than seeing the locals on the bus from the perspective of the tourists in the resort!

There are absolutely no shops in the village, not even a kiosk, which is going to make our regular shopping trips logistically challenging. There are 3 ice-cream vans parked by the beach, a beach-side café/restaurant and a handful of street-food stalls. Along with loads of taxi drivers touting for your business – 2000Rp (£40) for a day trip round the whole island, (maybe one day). The bay itself is amazing, as per the photo. This area has been designated as a marine park although there’s no obvious evidence of this fact – apart from a tired old sign at the very far end of the bay.Tired old sign It’s also where our employer, Lagon Bleu, have chosen to deploy their conservation project as, (in their own words), they fear that the local authorities aren’t going enough with their protection measures. It’ll be interesting to learn more about the dynamics of the relationship between Lagon Bleu and said local authorities. Lagon Bleu themselves have got no obvious presence in the area which again I found surprising, indicative either of a lack of funds or restrictions placed upon their operations – tbd.

The bay is flanked to the east by another luxury beach-side resort, (currently closed until November for refurbishment) and the Deux Cocos resort on the other side. Both quite recent which, along with the building work going on in the village itself, makes you wonder how seriously the marine park concept is being taken. I guess it’s very tricky to find the balance between the tourism economy and preservation of the local environment – this is what we’re going to learn all about, first hand!

We did find the Lagon Bleu office, located in a large house on the main road into the village and we went in and introduced ourselves to the two bemused fellow interns who were sitting there working. (Bemused because we were older than their parents!). We had a quick chat with Rachele the project manager about the sort of things they’re looking for us to do and then she informed us that they were all off to an arts-eco festival up-country and were a bit too busy to welcome us until next Tuesday.

Guess we’ll just have to continue chilling then! (Pity we’re under an anti-cyclone until next Wednesday!).

 

 

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