From the Seven Colored Earth to the Black River Gorge
Mark Twain once wrote that “Mauritius was made first then heaven, heaven being copied after Mauritius” when I land at the almost too easily pronounced Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam International Airport, I am looking forward to finding out if I agree.
“Congratulations, Sir – you have been upgraded” says Ashgey from Coastal Tours and points towards a white 12-seter minibus. I hurriedly double check my voucher that clearly states that I have rented a ‘Toyota Aygo or similar’. An Aygo may be a splendid little car but it would not be fair to say that it is similar to a minibus..”I would rather have a small car” I truthfully say. Soon after (at the same rate) I am instead handed the keys to the only other alternative – a Toyota Avanza 7-seater SUV. A very handy car indeed in case once should come across six friendly hitchhikers along the way.
With a left hand not accustomed to shifting gears (they drive on left in Mauritius so steering wheel is on the right side) I navigate through the many roundabouts of the main Island (and only Island except for Rodriguez) towards the coastal town with the exotic name Flic en Flac situated on the other side of the island. Here I am staying at ‘Auberge Paille en Queue’ with breakfast, aircon and swimming pool for the bargain price of 25 Euro per night. My rental car also only sets me back around 25 Euro per day – including all insurances and road side assistance – so Mauritius is not – as opposed to what many people think – an expensive place for do-it-yourself travel.
The Flic en Flac public beach is packed with locals when I arrive just before sunset. Today is a public holiday due to the end of Chinese New Year and locals are flocking to the beach. This means that I can get locals in the foreground in my sunset photos which I think give them extra life.
The southern part of Mauritius is famous for its green hills and mountains. On my first full day of driving I firstly stop by the Chamarel waterfall before I continue towards ‘The Seven Coloured Earth’ – a phenomenon caused by uneven cooling of molten rock. I have never seen anything like this anywhere in the world – and yet my Lonely Planet for reasons unknown to mortal man recommends giving this place – the perhaps biggest tourist attraction in the country – a miss (?!). On winding mountain roads (that are much better and with much less traffic than those in Seychelles) I continue to the Black River Gorge National Park. There I do the two-hour Macchabee trek looking for the rare and endemic birds of Mauritius. First, I am lucky to see the pink pigeon (sounds weird, I know). The population of this rather strange pigeon has been down to 12 (!) but now it is getting back up through breeding programs – one of which takes place right behind the visitor center of this national park. Here you can see the pink pigeons the wild (just released which I guess is why they stay near the visitor center). Predictably I do not get to see the Mauritius Kestrel – once the worlds rarest bird with only 4 of them left (!). Also, I perhaps not so surprisingly see no dodos – even though they originate here. The dodo was a chubby non-flying bird that is thought to have become extinct at the end of the 16th century after sailors had both eaten them and introduced diseases to the island.
The next day me and my empty seats head for the northern part of the island. After intense rush hour traffic through the capital Port Louis I reach the botanical garden in Pamplemousse. Often these gardens are referred to as ‘the most beautiful botanical gardens in the world after Kew Gardens in the UK’. I see the the red, the white and the giant water lilies and exotic trees like the ‘marmelade box tree’, ‘the fish poison tree’ and the ‘sausage tree’. After that I check out five of the northern beasches: (Trou-aux-Biches, Mont Choisy, Grand Bai, Pereybere og Bain Boeuf). Obviously my six spare seats are reserved in case I should meet six hot members of the female Swedish beach volley team on their way to the beach but for some completely unfathomable reason this meeting surprisingly and unexpectedly doesn’t happen.
On my fourth and last day on the island all that’s on my program is to drive across the island, back to the airport and hand over my rental car. Easy one should think. We are in the cyclone season and on the internet, I have read that two cyclones are heading in our direction but fortunately they seem to (barely) go past the main island and continue towards the island of Rodrigues (see picture). Hence, I am not worrying too much about them. But I do get to my car a little late since I have been working on writing and posting my Seychelles trip report (before going to Madagascar where the internet is supposed to be slower). So it is exactly 11 am when I finallyI turn the key in the ignition of my Toyota Avanza. Unfortunately, absolutely nothing then happens…It turns out that the brilliant Oysterboy in ingeniously has forgotten to turn off the lights the day before. I have an hours drive across the island, it is 11 am and my plane departs at 2.20 pm. Fortunately I have become friends with Nanda the owner of my guesthouse and his two kind employees Tara and Desire. They are all of Indian descendance and speak a bit of Hindi. As always meeting Hindi speaking people I have told them that they are ‘a good person’ and that ‘I am an old camel’. Now I run to Nanda asking for jumper cables. “there is no jumper cables available in the whole of Flic en Flac” he simply replies. Sweet. Also, there are none in my car I quickly find out. I hurriedly call the sweet people of Coastal tours. Their nearest office unfortunately happens to be a full hours drive away – but fifty five minutes (and moments before I would have jumped in a taxi..) later two locals (called in from a nearby town) arrive with the cables and I am on my way. I easily make the plane with more than an hour to spare at the airport.
To summarize Mauritius is a well organized and relatively easy country to travel in. It has a pleasant climate, beautiful nature, weird birds, plenty of sugar cane fields and quite a few interesting attractions. Maybe not attractions that will go down in history – but a nice little country – and allegedly was the land that inspired heaven.