Blue Bay and Mahebourg
In what has become our pattern, we ran some quick errands as soon as the ship docked in Port Louis (approximately 8 hours behind schedule due to our late departure from Cape Town and weather/current en-route). We were quick with these errands, however, and headed out of town (and away from the "shipboard community") as soon as possible. Our destination was Villas de Guerlande, a series of beach-side and garden-view bungalows with the all-important kitchen for Dean's cooking! The group included Ron and Lil Osgood (from Bloomington, IN and the other penguin couple), Mark and Louise Mosrie (our Brazilian crab eating partners), and Dawn Anderson and Tim Brazill (two other faculty types). We marveled at the traffic, pollution, and general congestion on the way out of the city. While the whole island of Mauritius is only 30 miles by 17 miles, it took us almost an hour to get to the southeastern corner of the island.
At first light, Dean was up and ready to snorkel right in front of our hotel! It took Patti a few minutes to wake up but we managed to be in the water by 7 am. Later in the morning, part of the group took a local bus in to the open-air market at Mahebourg. While Dean and Lil perused the fresh bok choy, potatoes, and eggplant, the rest of us bargained for great baskets from Madagascar and wonderful Indian spices. Most of the vendors were of Indian descent, some Hindu and some Moslem. We wandered off from the market to buy fresh baguettes from the French bakery and then stumbled across a great little café for lunch - sharing octopus, chicken, and lamb roti (think soft-shell tacos) with great curries and some samosas (friend lentil triangles) on the side. As we ambled through the streets, we saw beautiful sari stores, the remnants of colonial (French) architecture, and very few other tourists! Most people were speaking creole, although we heard some French too. Once vendors realized we were primarily English speakers, they rapidly adjusted. We headed back to the bus loaded down with purchases (and exhausted).
The afternoon snorkeling trip was one of the most amazing under-water experiences we have ever had. Our guide, aka "AquaMan," took six of us (plus 5 French tourists, including a little girl who was ALMOST as cute as Dani) out in a glass bottom boat to see Blue Bay. The water was amazingly clear and we saw incredible coral: the usual fan, brain, and antler of various colors, as well as "chapeau" coral - which looks roughly like huge plates that are stacked in overlapping fashion - and another coral that resembled a rose, with layers and layers of petals wrapped around each other to form a huge opening bud. We have never seen so much coral!!! We swam for over an hour (following our guide, who was trying to set the world record for fastest viewing while snorkeling) and didn't see the half of what was in Blue Bay. We saw amazing schools of yellow jacks, some beautiful Moorish idols, and a puffed up puffer fish. What an experience!
That evening, Dean and two of our friends (Lil and Louise) played tag-team in the kitchen. Although we hadn't found fresh fish, we did have the right ingredients for a wonderful vegetarian meal. It was really nice to spend the afternoon drinking a little red wine (French, of course), eating Dean's olive tapanade on French bread, and hanging with our new friends. (Ron, Patti, and Mark did most of the hanging - while the others did the work!) The final product, roasted potatoes with mustard seed and curry, lentils with masala, a lovely risotto with garlic and balsamic, and a stir-fry dish with bok choy and carrots, was served al fresco in the garden next to our bungalow. We managed to finish up the meal just before a tropical rainstorm hit and we ran inside! It poured all night long - the rain came down in sheets onto our tin roof. It was a great way to sleep (although we also got up in the middle of the night to watch the lightning). By early morning, the skies were clearing and the puddles were virtually gone. Clearly, Mauritius gets lots of tropical rain - and the ground easily absorbs it. The frogs behind the bungalow started singing immediately, competing with the many beautiful songbirds near our window.
"The Tour" - Tea Factory, Hindu Temples, Creole Fishing Villages, and More
By Day three, the group scattered to do other things and we were left to our own devices. We found a wonderful guide and taxi driver, Manoj, who took us on a whirlwind tour of the South Coast of Mauritius. First, we toured a working tea factory, saw the stooped workers in the fields, and sampled several local varieties of black tea. Next, we stopped by the largest Hindu Temple in the country, in Grand Bassin. There, Hindu pilgrims were preparing for an annual religious festival - and workers were touching up paint, constructing scaffoldings, and preparing tents for overnight visitors. We observed several families making offerings of coconut, flowers, incense, and fruit at the altars of several Hindu dieties. Later, we visited a variety of picturesque sites including "Land of Colored Earth" (which Patti said was somewhat like visiting the "World's Biggest Ball of Twine"), The Waterfall of Colored Earth, the Black River Gorge National Park, and several other waterfalls. Then we descended through the sugarcane fields to reach the southern coast - the landscape was stunning and reminded us of Hawaii. We drove through many little fishing villages and stopped for a picnic lunch (of roti, samosas, and a variety of other greasy, fried, Indian foods) with Manoj. Of course, Patti couldn't resist interviewing him and we learned a lot about his life and experiences. The last stop was a visit to a spectacular Tamil temple, with incredible layer upon layer of brightly colored, hand-carved, Hindu gods. Our favorite was the elephant god!
That night, we enjoyed more samosas and some local rum drinks (think lighter fluid) on the veranda of the hotel. For dinner, we opted for a local restaurant called "Le Jardim Creole" - sort of the Mauritian equivalent of the "Le Must" place in South Africa. The atmosphere was probably the best part - the restaurant is tucked away in the back garden of a colonial house, complete with waving palms, candlelight, and a little Abbey Lincoln on the sound system. Dean tried the white tuna, cooked Creole style with tomato sauce, and Patti had the chicken satay with the best peanut sauce she's ever had!
The last day in Mauritius involved a quick snorkel in the morning (we had to get just one more in - and Dean spotted a lion fish!), followed by a rapid tour of city of Curepipe, including this incredible view from a dormant volcano crater, and a return to the ship. In the afternoon, we did our only real "work" of the Mauritius visit - a factory tour of a textile assembly plant. We took about 20 students to visit one of the factories in the Export Processing Zone (EPZ). This particular one was producing Tommy Hilfinger dress shirts for the US market on the day we visited - but they also make shirts for J Crew, Eddie Bauer, and others. We saw many of the 3500 or so factory workers, on four floors of layering, cutting, numbering, assembly, pressing and packaging. Roughly 20% are foreign workers (Chinese), mostly single young women who live in a dormitory and have a three-year contract. The students were horrified and we overheard some saying that they would never buy a shirt again! We actually were relatively impressed with the facility - it was air-conditioned, was meeting ISO 14000 environmental standards, and had recently been designated as a "WRAP" (Worldwide Responsible Apparel Production) location. Nonetheless, it was sobering to see row after row of women hunched over, trying to meet their production quota for that hour.