Traveling with not so basic comforts …

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I’m lucky enough to have the opportunity to travel frequently, both with my business and leisure, at other tagging along hub, or when we both take up a post somewhere. But the luxury of being able to visit and explore new cities as a part of my working lifestyle didn’t come naturally to me. I didn’t know if I enjoyed traveling or delecting my long hours designing at my desk. Travel came unasked for, unsought for, out of the blue like falling in love with a foreigner, getting hitched and resisting to leave one’s comfy cocoon and career to embrace the unknown. Many of my friends think I live this life of footlong days of bliss and luxury. I will lie if I said the contrary. But does not come without its drawbacks. Long hours of flying, passing through waiting in airports, to your new hotel room each time, I have lost count on how many beds I have slept in all these years. Nor how many new streets, people I have seen, whom I will never see again. I did not count what share of the world’s population I have seen as yet. How many plates of different foods I have eaten and how many useless trinkets of ‘souvenir’ I have bought, which all end up in a box in my loft.

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One important thing about selecting a place to stay when traveling is to be able to reach to the virtual worlds that I live by and need to stay in touch with. Even when I’m on ‘holiday’ I still need to stay connected, so it’s great to see more and more hotels cottoning on to the nomadic working lifestyle of their guests. The modern, design-driven lifestyle boutique and chain hotels cater for this next-generation entrepreneurial traveller. A decent wifi connection is a must-have as much as a 25 cm deep mattress, extra good white crisp linen, hot shower and clean towels. A TV can get a miss but a fridge is important too when you have just landed in one of those hot and humid countries when you are expected to get into a quick shower and straight into a meeting. Nobody cares how many hours of jetlag your body is adjusting to, nor how many hours of sleep did you get in a 12 hr flight. You need to be as fresh and clear minded as you can be.

A decent clean, well designed hotel room can make it or break it. Fortunately, the travel industry is horned with some healthy competition at all levels. And quality is slowly turning out to be the beacon of any basic service one can give. If the luxury of a fabulous night’s slumber was not enough, you can get lucky enough to be gifted a beautiful travel set like Sofitel gives : sofitel travel set, featuring a folding my bed rectangular travel pillow and a mybed neck pillow by dumas presented in a specially designed bag.

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Am I lost in Paradise ….. Mauritius?

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The French language has captured the imagination of millions of people worldwide. It’s romantic. Classy. Chic. People love the way it sounds. It’s also a language I loved learning. There are 80 million native French speakers; and another 140 million who speak it as a second language.  French is one of the eight languages that I know fluently.

Growing up in Mauritius, an island nation in the Indian Ocean around 2,000km off the southeast coast of the African continent, I spoke and knew more Asian languages than Swahili, the lost spoken linga in Sub Saharan Africa.

“She’s also fluent in sarcasm,” my husband would agree to. I would take a cloud if you didn’t laugh … It’s not everyday one of my Skype/Whatsapp conversations gets a backfire. Feisty and funny, that’s how I would like you to describe me and also most assertive and independent. I can always count upon myself to speak out my mind.

Language and accent is a big thing in Mauritius. How you use French and Creole to express yourself is a clear indicator of who you are in society and where you hail from, I know it is lame but that’s the way it is. Nobody questions it.

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People are aware of the white presence in Mauritius. Franco-Mauritians are rich and own all the best parts of the island with the most gorgeous beaches which they have leased to big international chain of 5 star hotels. Franco-Whites do not even speak French like the French from France. They are lost in translation in Paris when they try their heavy weight ‘French’. The roots of their accents can be traced back to Medieval French and they haven’t moved on from there. How could they? cut off from motherland some 12 hours flight from and 6 months sailing time, taken over by Brits and then the people who became independent. While they stayed on, and made more money from the land.

Non-whites have an amicable relationship with them, but there is a particular kind of accent and attitude that the Franco-Mauritians have. Nepotism is common. They even marry amongst themselves. To the detrimental lineage they produce. Most youth do not make any effort to do anything, as they know they will live off the wealth and inheritance of their family. Struggle is only synonym to the non whites. It is not South Africa, but if would not be too far from apartheid, if unspeakable white and black ghettos are mentioned. Creoles or blacks remain the lowly class and stick with poverty. Many ending working in hotels and desperately looking for that lone tourist who could swipe them off their feet and take them away. The Indians have climbed the ladder in accumulating wealth from agricultural land they own and investing in businesses. Education remains their bed rock to success and they rule the island with the majority of population of Indian origin while maintaining their headships in politics.

Franco-Mauritians have ‘fun’ with people from other cultures, but ultimately marry who they are supposed to marry.  That is a White, most often. There are a lot of white South Africans coming to Mauritius and Franco-Mauritians don’t like it. There’s segregation and hierarchy even amongst the whites.

We humans really know how to complicate our own lives, don’t we?

This segregation and hierarchy exists amongst the non-whites as well. Neighbouring Reunion Island is still a French colony; and Rodrigues Island, which is part of Mauritius – view Mauritians as arrogant.

They call us ‘granwar’  (Grand Noir) ironically meaning big black. During the slavery time it would have been the black guy who’s been called by the white master to manage all the black people.

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Black River, once a fishing village where only black people lived has now turned into a posh area where only …. white people live in their villas right on the beach. The fiery sun still shines bright there to dry the salt in the salt pans, but the White man remains white.

“You still have people earning their living as fishermen. People live in relative, not absolute, poverty. There is a gap between people who have and who don’t have money. But everyone still enjoys a cool beer under the shade of the tree or a nice verandah and look out at the mesmerizing horizon over the shimmering water of the blue turquoise lagoon.

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Don’t be mislead that paradise island breeds angels. There’s inequality in Mauritius, but people are more accepting. The notion of the other is not suppressed. There is a difference between ethnicities in Mauritius, but it’s not vilified. And the festivals year round to please each ethnic group in the form of a public holiday makes the joy of the other. Hence, Muslims for example, are very happy to ‘celebrate’ Chinese Spring festival although they don’t eat pork …. but they enjoy the holiday with a big pot of ‘briani’ by the beach. And so forth for the rest of the other ethnic groups. I would lie if I said Mauritians do not like public holidays. As we have grown up celebrating every single holiday we could fathom. Any reason to have a picnic by the beach is worth the respect. A golden one.

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People looking me are common, Indian? Creole? French Metisse, Asian? can’t place it, unless you have very pronounced afro hair or asian slit eyes. Most look a bit like a cook up, i.e, a mixture of everything. But, you can still figure out our backgrounds by our names. In Mauritius, you see a human being and then you dig into their background, which family they come from, which town and lo and there! you have the whole history. It’s a bit like a dog meeting another dog, butt sniffing for a few minutes and all ID is displayed. It is up to you to decide whether you want to continue with the conversation or retreat. Mauritians do react like that in a pathological way. It is not about judgemental behaviour at its worse, it is about pigeon holing. Just like their ancestors were subject to by their colonial masters.

Thinking differently is discouraged, though. People around you will bring you back to what they know. Everything exists in this structure. In school you often get told – ‘you would not  be asked that for the exam. Do not ask so many questions. It’s not useful, don’t waste your time, concentrate on what you will have to answer in the exams. It’s hard for people to think differently – so you are still a sheep. In a non sheep cattle rearing island. Yes, it sounds weird but once you live there, you won’t notice any different. if you are unconventional, you will end up as me. That is with less friends who can give me a genuine acquiesced nod.

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“Opportunities are lacking in Mauritius, agriculture and sugarcane were our biggest industries. Slowly fading into tourism. We market ourselves as a luxury destination for honeymooners. We focus on sea, beaches and hotels. But the offering is not as good as it should be although we win so many awards. Luckily, the service industry is growing big and successful.

We should focus more on food, local music, culture and art. Although there’s no indigenous culture in Mauritius, we have a lot of food inspired by the cultures currently living here. Lots of spicy and fried stuff, which is nice. Dhal puri. All kinds of curries – both Indian and Creole. Rougaille, Fried noodles, etc.

Once you unravel the Mauritian food panoply, I wouldn’t call it cuisine because it is not, but you will  never resist a meal that’s fun and spicy as this!

People remain semi conservative, albeit ready to embrace change once their friend or neighbour has done it. Slowly, this sleepy isolated nation is waking up to the new world. But it remains gossipy one. People watching is an art and a must here. Cannot really pinpoint where it originated from, could it be the French or the Indians? Anyway, I grew up in the capital city more precisely the old quarter planned and laid out by the French. A Sunday thing unique to the island and it happens only in Port Louis, is people watching. An afternoon activity when you have donned your day’s activities and concluding the afternoon by a shower, good clothes and take a very very leisurely walk across the streets, and stopping by for a chat who ever you know who happen to be parked at their house gate watching out … ‘les passants’ walkers-by. I find this absolutely genuine to be interested in humans, networking, catching up, relaxing in a chat without having to make anyone a drink but take a gentle stroll. These days, we still do so but probably with an App on our mobile phones, and no one has time for anyone. Sad.

Hey! but we still celebrate living in paradise island and we love our rhum and sega.

 Funny facts you might like to know about Mauritius:

  • Did you know that Mauritius is about the size of Luxemburg?
  • Did you know that Mauritius has no official language? (But English and French are taught at school)
  • Did you know that the tallest mountain on the island is about 800 meters high?
  • Did you know that Charles Darwin has written not only about the Galapagos Islands (which I visited last year), but also about the flora and fauna of Mauritius?
  • Did you know that there is actually a town called Pamplemousses (grapefruit) in Mauritius?

 

Rodrigues Island … Part II

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Rodrigues is a volcanic island rising from a ridge along the edge of the Mascarene Plateau. It is about 18 kilometres long and 6.5 kilometres wide with an area of 108 km2.A large fringing reef surrounds the island forming a lagoon within which lie eighteen small islets.

The coral reef of Rodrigues is of particular interest as it is self-seeding – it receives no coral zooplankton from elsewhere. This has led to an overall species-poor but highly adapted ecosystem. The isolation and location of the island give a micro climate specific to Rodrigues, with two seasons. Rodrigues enjoys a mild tropical maritime climate with persistent trade winds blowing throughout the year.

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Getting There

By Plane

Air Mauritius operates daily flights connecting Plaisance Airport and Rodrigues (flight time – 1 hour 15 minutes).

By Boat

Coraline sails once a week to Rodrigues Island and to Reunion island from Port Louis Harbour.

The beaches are beyond beautiful too. The local dialect is Rodriguan Creole, with French and English as second languages, and the food is a sort of creole too – curries and chutneys and rice, local sausage and fish dishes all served with the ubiquitous green chilli paste called mazavaroo.

Rodrigues island is very peaceful and has never had any political, social or ethnic upheaval. In fact, the place if one of the quietest inhabited island I have ever visited. Time seem to have taken a halt and ‘haste’ is a word most Rodrigues inhabitants are very upset about. They believe and preach a zen way of life in its true sense without knowing the word itself. Public transport is more of a casual lift by a passing car, so most people walk to the few small villages strew across the island. The locals are very honest in a naive sense as living in such a secluded piece of rock in the middle of nowhere. The British Royal family, especially the younger princes are regular visitors to the island.

As a Mauritian, I am washed by the hotels, beaches, outdoor sights, culture and food of the island, but my sight of Rodrigues was ‘Wow!’ … I fell in love head over heels. I thought Mauritius was paradise, but Rodrigues is paradise next to paradise. Tranquil, unstressed, friendly, welcoming…  and easy to get lost!  Rodrigues Island is a lovely, surprising stop-over on any journey from or to Mauritius. If I describe it, you might say but that sounds like the Seychelles … nope! it is eons better than the sticky humid crazily developed, shark infested lagoons of the Seychelles. Steep green sides reach down to tiny beaches; these and a few small uninhabited islands are completely protected by a broad reef around the island: the scenery is beautiful, rustic,peaceful. With this island geography, the Creole islanders (of mixed African and French descent) have a difficult task feeding their population of 36000, but wherever they can the locals manage small market gardens, All organic, as buying and flying fertilisers is costly from Mauritius. People live simply in a sustainable way.

Don’t miss it, visit it !

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Where is Rodrigues Island?… Part I

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One of the most remote of the Mascarene Islands, some 350 miles beyond Mauritius, is Africa’s most easterly point. A tiny nut shaped gem sat in pristine emerald and turquoise sea, Rodrigues is often quoted as being the Cinderella of Mauritius. The island is a well hidden gem and only royalty tread the green grass and white sandy beaches there …. if not for the local goats and fisherman. A 3hr flight from Mauritius reaches you there on board of an Air Mauritius ATR plane, the only having access to the island!

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True to any island in the Mascarenes, as you now are accustomed to Mauritius by now, you can expect spectacular clear shallow lagoons, blaring sun which shines really bright in a non polluted sky. As you land on the tiny airport and pass the Customs counter with a greeting, you are just on your own. Quietness is all you can hear here. The island is barely populated, and high buildings are not to be seen. Only a wide azure sky, and lush tropical green and all the hues of turquoise you can fathom.

Anse aux Anglais is one of the island’s livelier locations. Yet, as sleeping dogs lie in the shade, chickens peck speculatively in the dust and pretty girls at the thresholds of their open, airy homes ‘ case creoles’ with that air of a Sunday afternoon. At the beach, a few fragile fishing boats with a single sail, languidly drift across the lagoon. While on the sand you see lines of splayed out freshly fished octopuses drying out in the sun. A big local delicacy ‘ ourite sec,’ dry octopus, is exported to Mauritius, where the islanders relish this leathery dry creature resuscitating its plump tenderness by boiling it and turning it into delicious salads, stews, ‘vindayes’ and curries.

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Small B&Bs and lodges welcome travellers who venture out to see this tiny forgotten island in the Indian Ocean. In the warm evening air, condensation glistened reassuringly on bottles of cold Phoenix beer are the most welcomed as their caps are magically levered off for a sip of the beverage while watching the sun go down in its fiery orange down the immuable horizon of the lagoon.

This is ‘that moment’ when you feel you are alive!

Just while dinner is cooking on the simple stove, evokes the promise of a good hearty Rodriguan meal : octopus stew, black lentils and rice. Lights flickers then dims in the distance, fans wind lazily to a halt and for a moment, silence becomes deafening. Electricity cut. Unfazed, the host quickly lights up a white hurricane (here, cyclone) white candle. And all gets back to normal. Then, the lights come on. Marie-Louise extinguishes the candles as fat raindrops start to land on the corrugated iron roof making a rhythmic sound.  You are safe and sound, and about to eat the most delicious meal cooked in the most honest way with the freshest produce you can think of, and you will watch a trillion of stars before going to sleep tonight.

Welcome to Rodrigues! Check out my paintings on Rodrigues here

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An Albatros wing span is as long as 3m40, the largest of any bird on earth, while its close extinct cousin, the Dodo evolved into a rotund small winged one…for it did not have predators, hence no need to fly for survival.
The lesson is although being born on paradise one is not guaranteed eternal life !

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