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Round-the-world: Mauritius & a trip status report
Originally, we'd scheduled five nights in Mauritius and four nights in Réunion. Mauritius would be devoted to the beach and the ramshackle capital of Port Louis, while our time on Réunion would prioritize hiking and the quaint villages of the interior. This, at any rate, was the plan.
Réunion was the one pesky piece of the itinerary that stubbornly resisted advance planning. Every attempt to nail down a gîte or hotel in one of Réunion's inland calderas failed. My email requests for room availability were either returned with regrets or ignored outright. Our sources (Lonely Planet; the French civil servant and his wife, previously resident on Réunion, who we met in New Caledonia; the French women we met on Mauritius) suggested that we should rely on a tourist office on the ground to make reservations. This prospect seemed fine with me but didn't exactly thrill Matt.
Our informants also told us that, in light of infrequent bus connections between the airport and the inland calderas and the extortionate taxi fares, we'd probably need a car. (Ordinarily, we would have inquired with our hotel regarding a transfer, though this was not an option in light of our inability to snag a reservation.) The hardy French women we met in Mauritius detailed their exquisite week-long itinerary over breakfast one morning. It involved hiking from gîte to gîte through the mountains. "You see nobody for half the day. It is like you are alone on the earth," one of them said. That sort of isolation, with a simple bed and a home-cooked meal at the end of every hiking day sounded like a perfect holiday.
We weighed all this information against our existing itinerary. We had a limited amount of time (nine nights) set aside for these Indian Ocean islands, after all, and the thought of more fully exploring Mauritius struck us as more appealing than the alternative. In addition, the idea of returning to Réunion on a later occasion and doing it properly, hiking across the island's trails and staying in countryside gîtes, seemed preferable to a more rushed visit.
So, after much conversation, we decided to remain on Mauritius for the entire nine nights. Our guest house in Mauritius had room for us for the entire period, and we were able to cancel our refundable Mauritius-Réunion round trip tickets on Air Austral, albeit with a penalty.
Mauritius was full of surprises from the beginning. It was mercifully cheap, for one, a huge relief after the staggering prices in Australia and New Caledonia. Mauritius is a culturally extremely diverse place, with Hindu, Christian, and Muslim adherents in evidence throughout. The majority of the population is of Indian descent, and Mauritius is ethnically diverse across the board, with Creoles of African ancestry and small percentages of Chinese Mauritians and Franco-Mauritians completing the puzzle. It's not a rich country by North American standards, but it's relatively well off, typically ranking in the top five or six African countries in terms of per capita GDP.
Mauritius is one of only eight countries that belongs to both the British Commonwealth and the Francophonie, and its first language of Mauritius is French Creole. We found that most Mauritians reached for French before English when interacting with foreign visitors, and most newspapers were in French as well. The French influence saturates many spheres of life on Mauritius. One example is culinary. Although curries are a menu staple, food is generally quite mild.
We spent our time exploring Port Louis, the capital, Pamplemousses Gardens, the southern quarter of the island, and the east coast up to the town of Trou D'Eau Douce. It was a fantastic week and a half. Stay tuned.
Check out other posts in the Capricorn Route series here.