Seven days in Mauritius #2

Monday, 5 March 2018

The second half of my week in Mauritius was as busy as the first, with more kind local contacts taking us out to experience some of the more hidden areas. On one of my favourite days of the trip, we took the jeep out to the sugarcane fields, driving through the nine foot tall leaves and avoiding the pre-harvest burn. We headed up to see a little patch of land where my mum's colleague is hoping to build his own house, then drove further on to see the Pont Natural. After watching in trepidation as tourists in extremely unsuitable footwear walked out onto the bridge for photographs, and having my drone dive-bombed by territorial seabirds, we moved on down the coast to the Souffleur. We drove past ruined chimneys and buildings swallowed up into the banyan trees, morphing into farmlands with stone walls like the ones you'd see in England; eventually, we reached the little rocky formation where the waves force jets of water into the air. Further on from this, through the glades, was the most beautiful beach I've ever seen - perfectly empty aside from a local fisherman and hoofprints from the cattle who make daily visits. From here we drove to a quiet local spot, a waterfall running straight off a little beach cliff, onto the crashing waves below. On our way home, our final stop was a huge old bridge over a canyon, the palm trees at the sides filled with parakeets and macaques, and the river running far below.

Whilst most of the week we spent exploring the countryside, we did venture into Mahebourg to buy pineapples at the bustling market, and visit the National History Museum - because I don't pass up a museum trip. The museum is a beautiful building, but it displays a much more unpleasant side of Mauritius' history - colonialism and the slave trade. The displays include everything from railway memorabilia and natural history specimens to colonial artefacts, and don't shy away from the realities of  what life was like for enslaved people (and later, indentured servants). We also booked a ride at a local stables, who look after ex-race horses. We arrived right in the midst of a torrential storm, and when it became clear it wasn't going anywhere, we just rode out. I've never experienced anything like it. It was warm, there was no wind, and no waves on the lagoon; just heavy rain and total silence apart from the sound of hooves on the sand and the quiet splashing of raindrops on the water.

On my final full day, we took the jeep and drove up the east coast, admiring the organised little gardens at the side of the road, stopping to photograph the bougainvillea and look at the mangroves. A feature I loved were the signs at the entrances of some of the villages, with kind reminders: Mahebourg's was 'speak softly and lovingly', and another I saw reminded visitors to 'help ever, hurt never'. We finished off the day with a trip down to the beach, collecting some washed up coral and watching the little pirogues (traditional wooden fishing boats) sailing past. All in all, it was a perfect week with one of my favourite people.

Seven days in Mauritius #1

Tuesday, 20 February 2018

Last September, straight after handing in my final dissertation for my Master's degree, I packed my bag and headed the furthest from the UK that I've ever been - to Mauritius, to visit my mum. She was on a six month stint working on a wildlife conservation project, helping local conservationists work to protect endangered species. So, it was probably appropriate that after a day recovering from my sleepless (read: turbulent) flight, our first trip out was to the tiny Île aux Aigrettes, now a nature reserve managed by the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation. I encountered my first giant tortoise, learnt about ebony forests, spotted Telfair's skinks, and visited the little island museum to see the poor, doomed Dodo.

The next day, we were picked up by a friend of a friend who does tours of the island, and were whisked off on an extremely thorough excursion across the Southern part of Mauritius. Starting off in Mahebourg, we visited the diamond shops (not our thing) and the model boat makers (actually very interesting), before quickly heading into the Mauritian countryside. The Hindu temple at the Ganga Talao crater lake was a beautiful visit, and we were lucky to have our guide able to explain to us the significance of all of its aspects. I admired the many temple cats, the monkeys, the loudly-singing frogs and the great number of fish causing the lake's surface to boil with anticipation every time a passer-by looked over the edge. We headed further west, stopping at a local restaurant for lunch (and twice for roadside pineapple), and then making our way through the hills of the Black River Gorge National Park, winding down through the sugarcane to the Chamarel distillery for rum tasting. Me being me, I bought local papaya jam instead. A little wobbly from our tasting, we stared out across the near-three hundred foot Chamarel waterfall and marvelled at the Seven Coloured Earths, before heading down to see darkness fall at the viewpoint over Le Morne Brabant mountain (the site of the famous 'underwater waterfall' illusion!) and making our drive through the fields and villages back to the bay.

Another day, another contact from my mum's colleague, and we were taken out on the reef by Zoulou, an expert on the best snorkelling spots in the area. After a look around the wreck and a swim, he took us to some of the more difficult locations - one being Île de la Passe, a fortified island which was a key site in the Battle of Grand Port, where British colonial forces fought the French, who occupied Mauritius. There are still plenty of military structures on the island, complete with the carved graffiti of soldiers occupying the island. We also headed to the more easily accessed Île aux Fouquets, wading through the shallows to wander around the ruined lighthouse. One of the most exciting parts of the day was driving the boat up the river to the Grande Reviere Sud-Est waterfall, watching the giant fruit bats lazily flapping from tree to tree, and sharing my lunch with wild macaques who clambered down from the trees to the riverbank. To my mum's great amusement, Zoulou forced me - terrified - to drive the boat back to Blue Bay, and we finished off with a final snorkel over the reef, looking out for the resident family of clownfish and getting extremely sunburnt in the process. A day well spent (minus the sunburn, whose tan lines I'm still sporting, nearly six months later.)

A weekend in Gothenburg

Monday, 27 November 2017

This year has been a pretty good one for cheap travel. I've got a sharp eye when it comes to the Ryanair sales, and one of the few benefits of a zero-hours work schedule is some occasional flexibility - so I've made the most of it whilst I still can. A couple of weeks ago, I headed off on a long-awaited trip with five old school friends. We haven't been away together since a post-A-levels trip to Majorca which was less about culture and more about drinking and sunbathing. Several years later, we still managed to get in a bit of alcohol - mainly in the form of Glühwein - but we were a little more imaginative when it came to our activities!

The weekend was largely food-based. We visited the small shops around the Kronhuset, sampling chocolate (great), liquorice (not so much) and salmiak (definitely not for us). We ate meatballs and lingonberry jam in the Saluhallen, were given free hot waffles by a visiting church, and picked up local Swedish cheese to eat back at the apartment. We headed to Barn for great cocktails and fantastic burgers, and overloaded on cheap churros at the Christmas markets. We got giant head-sized cinnamon buns and Swedish cheese pie at Cafe Husaren. I stayed an extra day and had amazing Italian food at Hotel Bellora (who also offer a breakfast buffet that dreams are made of; the full works). In between all the eating, we took a trip out tVrångö, the most southerly island in the Gothenburg archipelago, to wander around the island and plan our moves to Sweden; rode the wooden rollercoaster at Liseberg amusement park, complete with awful mid-scream photographs; sweated it out in the mini rainforest and sat mesmerised by the aquarium at Universeum; and walked for miles around Slottsskogen park in the snow and sunshine. I didn't tick off any of my museums, but that's all the reason to go back - I'm planning for the summer.

Can Graphic Design Save Your Life?

Thursday, 19 October 2017

Over the last few of months, my seven-day-a-week research and writing schedule didn't leave me a lot of time for other things, especially not extra trips into London for exhibitions. After the final hand in for my Master's degree, I headed straight out to visit my mum in Mauritius, and after that had a whole (slightly jetlagged) four days before diving straight into work on a research project. Most of those were spent doing life admin, but I also sneaked in a trip to the Wellcome Collection to see their new exhibition: Can Graphic Design Save Your Life?

Split over six sections (persuasion, education, hospitalisation, medication, contagion and provocation), the show examines the often overlooked sphere of design related to health: the information campaigns, wayfinding design, medication packaging and a whole host of other graphics. It's something which I've thought about a little more since starting to collect matchbox labels, which very often were used to communicate health related information (or flat out propaganda). My favourite objects were the vintage anti-smoking stamps, issued from 65 countries so far; the Catoptrum Microcosmicum from 1660, featuring hinged paper layers showing human anatomy; the New Rail Alphabet typeface developed from Margaret Calvert's original and used first in the NHS; Yin Yao's pain visualisation research; and 19th century broadsheets warning of the cholera epidemic. It's really a treasure trove of amazing design objects, many of which you'd probably never notice in day to day life but are essential - like the 'battenberg emergency' pattern on ambulances, or the familiar prescription bags from Boots. Another cracker from the Wellcome Collection, and it's free! If you can't get to the exhibition before January, you can see highlights, and even download the information about the exhibits, on the website.

FIND 'CAN GRAPHIC DESIGN SAVE YOUR LIFE?' AT: Wellcome Collection, 183 Euston Road, London NW1 2BE

Some of my health-related matchbox labels!