Despite a bit of a convoluted journey including a night in Perth on the way across from Australia’s east coast, then a 4 hour delay due to an Air Mauritius pilots’ strike, we made it.Even in the dark as a driver took us to our Flic en Flac apartment, we could see some of the big rock formations that dot the landscape of Mauritius. Next morning Mr Frequent Flyer had an early start for work commitments but I had a walk along the beach over the road and found this:
Unfortunately this beautiful weather did not last – the first two days were the best of our nine day stay. After that, we had overcast and windy weather most days, particularly in the afternoons. I had four days on my own while Mr FF worked and still enjoyed exploring the area and its blend of India, France and Africa. I loved the quirky beach shacks selling delicious local food. I walked miles each day along the beach, read my books and admired the tropical flora. I liked speaking some French, though it was definitely different. I took the local bus to the Cascavelle shopping centre one day for 24 rupees (only about $A1). The bus was a bit rickety and was ‘air conditioned’ by having the windows opened, but was fine – I enjoyed being with the locals. The buses had names like King of the Road, Road Warrior or Perle du Jour.
The driver who had taken Mr FF to and from his workplace for the first four days was made available to us on the fifth. Good timing as I felt I had seen most of Flic en Flac. With his help, we planned a day of sightseeing in the north. Our first stop was the Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam Botanic Gardens at the charmingly titled town of Pamplemousses (grapefruits). The gardens were begun in the 1700s and had some fantastic lily ponds and pads and a great variety of palms.
The Mon Plaisir chateau in the grounds was reminiscent of the planters’ houses in the Deep South of the USA – not surprising really with the French having colonised both places.
L’Aventure du Sucre was a Museum describing the history and importance of sugar in Mauritius. Very interesting but at times a bit too detailed for me. It was amazing though to read about the immigration and slaves – it really was a history of Mauritius not just sugar. We tasted different rum, jams and sugars at the end.
The simple little church at Cap Malheureux was our next stop. (It’s so named because boats ran aground on the reefs here – the name means Cape Unfortunate). It was a picturesque spot right at the north of the island. Some of the islands nearby were used to quarantine immigrants with infectious diseases way back.
Our driver’s suggestion of Pereybere beach rather than Grand Baie for our beach stop was perfect and we spent an hour or so enjoying this little cove.
Another day, we hired a little car and went to the south of the island. We definitely recommend doing this. The driving was not difficult, being on the same side of the road as we are used to. The flexibility and the chance to get out to some small villages and rugged scenery made it a great day out. The Slaves’ Memorial was our first stop. Lots of sculptures from various worldwide sculptors depicting slavery. The mountain of Le Morne was an appropriate backdrop. It was here that some slaves, unaware that they were finally free, jumped to their death after seeing police approaching.
Le Morne was a great walk despite its sad history. We had to sign our names in a little book then sign out again on our return. We did not not go right to the top – apparently you need to be with a guide for that – but even from halfway up, we got great views. Not as spectacular as some we saw on postcards because of the cloud, but we got the idea.
We continued around the south coast through undeveloped small villages. We stopped at a big rock with steps up, then at Riambel beach for some noodles in the rain.
After some lunch, we turned inland on the A9 and the road climbed. We had not planned on visiting the Bois Cheri tea plantation but it was afternoon tea time so why not? We enjoyed the tea tasting – a bargain at 100 rupees for as many as you would like to try. Initially we parked at the front and started to walk in, but realised we could drive in further and park near the lake.
The Grand Bassin had a huge Hindu temple complex complete with a sacred lake, statues of Shiva and a massive but empty car park. On searching for more information I found out that half a million people come for the major festival each year. We continued to Alexandra Falls and the Black River National Park. No hiking though, as it was getting late and we were not keen on night driving.
Because we had to check out in the morning and were leaving at night, we spent our last day in Port Louis. After leaving our bags with the security man, we caught the local bus from Flic en Flac. It was an old bus but it was fine and very cheap. We enjoyed seeing the different areas on the hour long journey. The (‘Immigration’) bus station was conveniently opposite the Aapravasi Ghat. Once slavery was abolished, this was where the indentured labourers (really not so different from the slaves who preceded them) arrived. It’s now a World Heritage Museum site and is free to get in. Very interesting with lots of personal anecdotes, photos and some interactive activities to bring the history to life for younger people. The labourers mostly came from the Indian subcontinent and very few went back, although they were technically allowed to at the end of their contracts. Thus Mauritius gained its Indian influence that remains to this day.
There were symbolic footprints and steps where the labourers stepped onto Mauritius and some buildings remained from that time.
The nearby Central Market was definitely a real market. While there was some tourist tat, it was predominantly fresh food for the locals.
Le Caudan waterfront had a surprising number of eating places. It’s a shopping area combining some older buildings with more modern ones, reasonably successfully. After a delicious thali and a coconut pancake, we continued on our walking tour.
Government House, built in 1738, is the oldest building in Mauritius so we had a quick look. It is a colonial building surrounded by other old buildings, right in the centre of Port Louis. Not open to the public as it is still in use for the parliament.
The shade of the big banyan trees in the nearby Company Gardens gave us a tranquil break. Sadly the nearby yellow Natural History Museum (complete with Dodo skeleton!) was closed for renovation.
We found the return bus easily and were glad to have a seat for the journey back to Flic en Flac. Then off to the airport, back to Perth and finally home the next day.
Travel for 2016 was over but a few things are planned for 2018.
Flic en Flac Restaurants:
We had good fish (sea bream) at Bougainville both grilled and in a curry. With complimentary chili bites and a carafe of pleasant local wine, this was a great introduction to Mauritian food. We ended up going back a second time on our last night.
Zub Express was a cheap and cheerful place. We had samosas, butter chicken, fish curry, naan and saffron rice and could not finish it all. It was our cheapest meal out, partly because they serve no alcohol.
La Marmite Mauricienne was okay, but I was not crazy about the spices in the Fish Vindaye – they tasted like pure mustard to me, but maybe that’s how it should be. They also asked if we would like noodles or rice with our meal and we presumed this was included, but were charged extra for another main course. Not a big deal, but annoying.
We really enjoyed Rib and Reef especially the fish skewers. It was a bit smarter than some of the other places, though the service was a bit slower.
Casa Pepe was reasonable – not the best, nor the worst pizza we’d had.
We ate in a few times, getting food both from the Spar in F en F and Monoprix in the Cascavelle shopping centre. Monoprix was the better of the two but both had the French influence with delicious baguettes and pastries.
p.s. Only two places to eat in the airport, both fast food. We opted for Subway as the slightly healthier of the two. Eat before you get there if you can!