Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Happy Diwali!

Captain's Log, Stardate RTW Day 2. In case you're wondering, I won't keep this level of verbosity going for the whole year! Enjoy it whilst it lasts!! Anyway, not much sleep was had before Dubai, and whilst there the whole no souvenirs thing kicked in - everyone wandered the terminal with duty free shopping bags, but I of course have no room in my bag, nor the compulsion to carry much picked up along my journey. I suppose it's inevitable that I will have something imposed on me sooner or later. My solution is to post things back to the UK, but of course I don't want to make a habit of this. Incidentally, when I got off the plane, I nearly left a load of stuff behind. My daypack bag has elasticated (but not zipped) side pouches, and somehow one of my camera lens filters (a quite expensive one, mind!), my bluetooth GPS receiver and some other bits had all fallen out. Thank goodness the chap sitting next to me pointed this out. Yellow card to daypack. Not good.
Anyway, stopped off in the "Irish" bar, as I had three hours to kill and no access to the BA Lounge (yet!), and ended up chatting with a rather portly American chap who is apparently a fire fighter in Iraq. Something he's doing just for a few years to earn plenty of money to put his daughter  (soon to be) through college. He described how planes take off from Baghdad Airport - apparently rather than the conventional along the runway, up and off tactic, in this case their is only a small area which is secure from rocket launchers etc around the airport. So planes take off in as short a distance as possible, then rise up in a tight cork-screw motion to stay within airport limits until they are high enough to be safe. Quite an 'exciting' experience!
So, our plane to Mauritius started boarding suspiciously early - and on trooping down the stairs in the gate it became apparenty why - a bus waited to take us out to one of Emirates more, shall we say, venerable planes. Not propellors or anything, but faded interior, and a shocking lack of leg room due to a metal box underneath the seat in front of me. The only solution... I would have to slip my right foot under the seat to the right of me as soon as the chap there wasn't looking! In fact he turned out to be very nice, a Mauritian returning home to his family after an extended period working in Pakistan as an engineer making plastic pipes (yes I didn't pursue the line of questioning much after that!).
Second disaster (legroom) of the flight struck when the chap in front of us agreed to swap his seat for one further back with more leg room. The real motive behind this kind offer from the stewardess came when a woman replaced him with a screaming (and I mean screaming) baby! Argh! And we already had at least two babies within about 4 seats of us. Naturally on take off the trio exercised their vocal cords to the full. And the one in front of us carried on... For what must have been about half of the seven hour flight. One was not amused.
Slightly bleary-eyed, I had a really nice view of Mauritius as we circled the Island coming into land (perhaps the water around it was dangerous?!).

One outstanding question was where to stay. Apparently the capital, Port Louis, didn't have much in the way of accommodation, so most people stay in one of the beach towns. Just to give you an idea of scale, Mauritius does have a couple of "motorways" - I think it's about 45 minutes drive from one end of the Island to the other. Transport is usually bus. My two possible ideas were either to stay near the airport (convenient for my 9am flight on Monday), or to stay the other end of the Island in Grand Baie, which sounded like the most lively town, or to do a combo, one night in each, though this would mean moving my stuff, a big downside!
Before resolving this though, I had to get through the idiotic immigration officers in MRU airport. I queue up, only to have a bunch of people who had queued in front of an empty desk filter into our queue, which I wouldn't have minded but for the stroppy English woman next to me shove herself in front of me to make sure she could push into my queue ("How rude!", as Lucy would say). Then the officer sent me away from the queue telling me that I had filled out the wrong form, that I had filled out a departure form. However, the one I filled out says "arrival" and the one he gave me says "au revoir". And then I notice another officer giving the departure form to a couple, telling them not to fill it out now, but they'll need it when they leave! Grrrrr! Not happy.
Rob would have been very proud of me fighting my way through the taxis and touts when I came out. It would have been oh so easy to succumb, but I have to think "on a budget" now. Plan is to bus it to Mahebourg, a town near the airport on the coast, and find a cheap place to stay there. LP recommends a couple of places for around £15 per night, which isn't the $2 I had envisaged, but then this is an expensive honeymoon-type Island. We'll see. Bus came quite quickly, though I had trouble getting my full pack through the door (doesn't bode well). Thank goodness there were spare seats I could drop it on, wouldn't have liked to carry the bugger or stand with it. Anyway, price of bus = 14 rupees (25p?). Good start!

In terms of scenery, Mauritius reminds me of Nepal. I suppose it's the Hindu thing, happy slogans painted everywhere, the vibrant colours. The bus station is right by the water.. My first Mauritian sea scene. Verrry pretty. Lovely blues, a nice breeze. Welcome to Paradise!
My self-welcome was seconded by a tout coming and chatting to me about 10 seconds later. Oh well. Fended him off and started walking along the water into town. Arrived at the recommended place, Auberge Aquarella [GPS: 20.41263S, 57.71074E]. He has one room left, and it'll cost 1600R. Oh dear! That's about £25 per night! Doesn't he have anything cheaper? No. What is it? It's a gorgeous self-contained thatched cottage right by the water, with a large window with waves lapping at the bottom, and a big bed where one can look straight out...

Ok I fell for it! I've paid three or four times this to be in some really horrible places, can't scrimp everywhere, eh? :) The owner is a French guy who has living in Mauritius for 6 years. Before that, Australia. Guess he just doesn't like home, huh? The majority of white people here are French it would seem. They did win once against the English here, apparently they're so proud of it that it's inscribed on the Arc du Triomph in Paris. Of course, we soon sorted that out, and the island was British until independence in 1968.
Dumped bags, put shorts on, flip flops out, and off to take bus to Blue Bay [GPS: 20.44275S, 57.71605E], about 6km along the coast and apparently one of the best beaches on the Island.

Went for swim and read my book (A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole). Swim was nice, but not quite as warm as the crystal clear azure waters would have you believe! It was a bit cloudy by this stage though, and in fact I ended up being driven off the beach by a brief rain shower! Rain! How dare they! Only for a minute though, and I noticed when it stopped that the tarmac roads were steaming as the water evaporated! Crikey! Anyway, rain was the excuse to dip into a restaurant for l
unch - Le Bougainville. Had a chicken curry for 250 rupees (£4), plus a Phoenix Beer. Phoenix is the main (only?) Mauritian beer. Apparently it's award winning, though it doesn't say which awards specifically on the bottle, and I know I'm not much of a lager person, but I have to say IMHO it doesn't taste particularly nice!
After lunch, bused back to Mahebourg (pronounced My-bor), pottered about town, though most things where closed, then back to hotel for a snooze. Nice! And in the evening, out for Diwali! Unfortunately it was still a bit wet and windy, not good weather for fireworks. People were still trying though, and there were flashing Xmas-tree lights everywhere, candles and fireworks crackling.
I went to a restaurant called La Velle Rouge, recommended by the owner of the hotel. On arrival, I asked for a table for one, and I thought the girl said "sorry, we're full up", so I trudged out looking miserable. Misunderstanding, she had said "we're full inside, but you can sit outside", haha! My French is just attrocious! I probably would have preferred to sit on the veranda-style area outside anyway! They had a special Diwali menu on for the evening, for 400 rupees.

That and a few drinks came to 750. Expensive living! Can't carry on the whole year like this! Diwali menu consisted of, erm, lots of stuff.. difficult to describe most of it, but there were some fish-aubergine things, lots of nibbly things, mini parcels to dip in a sauce, and finally a lamb curry with rice and vegetables on a big green sheet of paper (presumably originally it would have been served on banana or pandan leaves).
Incidentally, there is fruit growing everywhere here. Especially coconut, and mangoes, but also other things I'm not sure about. There seem to be water melons all over the place, but obviously all sorts of food-poisoning alarms start ringing there, so probably won't try them! Unless I buy the whole one, and nick a knife from somewhere. That reminds me, I haven't felt the urge to use my water-free anti-bacterial handwash yet, so obviously don't feel completely at war with germs here!
Final parting gift from the restaurant was a "Happy Diwali" box full of Indian sweets. Nice. According to LP, all the religions live happily side-by-side in Mauritius. Christians, Muslims, Hindus and others, they all get on and respect each other. Maybe the rest of the world could learn something from the Island of Paradise...

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