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.)

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