|Tue, 11 Feb 2003 01:14:34 -0600
|Tue, 11 Feb 2003 01:14:34 -0600
|Mark Twain wrote that first God created Mauritius and then he created Heaven modeled after the island paradise.
I just arrived in Perth, Australia at 2am this morning, but I will be sharing with you today my experiences about the third world island paradise known as Mauritius. I was unable to find an internet café that was open during my 10 days on the island. Really?
Where do I begin? The island beaches are the most beautiful I have seen. Mauritius is a volcanic island about 100 kilometers in length and width (it took a little over an hour to get from the airport in the SE to the hotel in the NW). It is surrounded by coral reefs not far off the coastline. So the Indian Ocean waves crash into the reef and then the waters surrounding the beaches are calm and beautiful coral green-blue. The aerial views are stupendous. The sands are soft powdery white and engulf your feet like a soft sponge. In contrast, the mountains are volcanic with lush vegetation and pine trees. The Island’s pine tree is the Casuarina, which is the name of the hotel in which we stayed. The weather is hot and “Houston in the summer” humid. It is tropical with brief rainstorms daily.
The make up of the population is about half Hindu/Indian, a quarter Muslim and a quarter French/Creole/Asian/Other. The island was occupied first by the Dutch, then the French and then the British before their independence. The French influence is everywhere. Although the “official” language is English, it is difficult to communicate in our native tongue. Mostly everything is in French Creole. The bulk of the tourists come from France, Germany, Italy and the UK. However, we just happened to arrive for Chinese New Year (Year of the Sheep) and the place was teeming with Asians.
Americans are an unusual lot there. We had many people say they had never met an American, never had one in their taxi, etc. Even with the heightened anti-American sentiment I am finding everywhere I go, the Mauritians are so removed from everything that they barely talk about politics. Refreshing!
This mix of people live in what appears to be complete harmony. There is little prejudice; no particular neighborhoods where types of people live…Catholic churches exist next to Muslim Mosques next to Hindu Temples. This mix of cultures, religions and backgrounds has created a race of very attractive people for the most part. They were all very friendly, but often communication was challenging. I was glad to have my American friend, Joanne, with me who could “get it”!
The island of Mauritius has gone through a population boom in the last 160 years where the population went from 100,000 to 1,100,000….making it the third most densely populated place in the world. It has put a great strain on the island and is especially apparent in the capitol city of Port Louis.
Joanne and I spent a day there exploring the market and the Waterfront. The market has been happening daily in the steaming, humid, filthy, loud streets in downtown Port Louis since 1828. The crowds are maddening as you are jostled around constantly in the heat. There are all kinds of rotting fruits and vegetables with flies everywhere, spices, bird cages with hundreds of parakeets stuffed in a tiny cage, small shops with all their unusual wares (everything from batteries to tea to dried stinky fish) pouring onto the pavement (sidewalks). Hawkers are yelling from their stalls “Hey princess, you like spices, baskets? I make special price for you.”
But the one line from the guide that was the most on target was: The meat and fish market is not for the faint of heart. This part of the market was a huge cavernous room with stalls of unrefrigerated (nor on ice) beef, poultry, goat, lamb, and fish. We were there at 3:30 in the afternoon when the heat had really taken its toll on the food. The stench of the beef blood in the stifling heat was enough to make even those with the strongest stomach gag. That is if you could escape the flies and the locals yelling at you to buy their salmonella laced products. We stumbled quickly to the nearest doorway to get a little fresh air outside after a couple of photos. Of course, the outside humid air was once again filled with stinky birds, rotting veggies, and curry. I do believe it was the most third world experience I have had thus far.
The island’s main exports are tea, spices,sugar, rum and textiles. The Green Island Rum is some of the best I have ever tasted. Really smooth! I don’t know if you can find it where you live, but if you ever have a chance, it is worth a swill or two! The national beer of the island is Phoenix. It reminds me a bit of Red Stripe or Castle.
The food on the island is good (but NOT great). Lots of very fresh seafood and Indian influences. We went to a sushi restaurant one night and the octopus delivery boy came on his bike to deliver it. He had just come from his dad’s boat across the road on the beach. 30 minutes later it was on our sushi. Now that is fresh! Also enjoyed a couple of Michelin one star restaurants, as Joanne is a chef in Portland. She was signing guest books right and left and inviting people to come to her home for dinner! Chances of that are pretty unlikely since Portland is exactly around the earth from Mauritius with a 12-hour time change.
If you were visiting Africa or even Western Australia, I would recommend a trip to Mauritius. It is a land of paradise and third world wrapped into one. I will never forget my special memories there!
I am now in Perth exploring on my first day. Finally catching up on the news, since I wasn’t even aware of the space shuttle catastrophe and the latest evidence to the UN. (We met a guy on the beach selling jewellery that didn’t even know Princess Diana was dead…can that be????).
I will send more as I am now in the first world for the first time of my journey. Putting a glass under the tap to drink the water when I arrived was the oddest thing!
I hope you are all doing well. I had a few homesick moments on my flight last night. First since Christmas. I miss you all. Godspeed and peace to you!