Mauritius - Lost Ark in the Indian Ocean
Trip Start Sep 09, 2013
24Trip End Dec 16, 2013
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The island is well known for once being the only home of the Dodo bird, which itself is one of the world's best known extinct species. We often consider, quite rightly, the impact of our current lifestyle on the environment and ecosystems, but even pre-industrial society could leave a huge footprint. Mauritius was uninhabited before the Dutch attempted a colony on the island in 1598. The last Dodo bird vanished from the island in 1681 (less than 100 years later), the victim of over hunting and being easy prey for introduced species, like rats and mongoose
But all is not lost. Ile aux Aigrettes is a tiny coral island off the southeast coast of the main island, and here the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation is trying to save as many endemic Mauritian species as they can. Rare birds, bats, small lizards (skinks) and even a type of ebony tree that once flourished on Mauritius, and only on Mauritius, are being brought back from the brink of extinction here, on this tiny protected atoll. One breeding pair, one egg, one seed at a time.
Since colonial times, the economic engine of Mauritius has been the great sugar plantations which still occupy most of the arable land mass of the island. Many of the smaller roads cut narrow swathes through cane fields - and it is easy to get lost like we did a few times. There are also tea plantations and caffeine addict - er, tea lover - that I am, naturally we had to visit one at Bois Cheri. There we could see how tea is produced, from fresh picked leaf to tea bags in a box. Of course I would have liked to buy the whole factory, but instead had to settle for a box or two and the tea tasting at the end of the tour.
To go with the tea are unique biscuits made from manioc (cassava) produced at the Rault biscuit factory, another "only in Mauritius" experience, established in 1870. The cuisine all over the island is heavily influenced by rich and spicy Indian recipes, passed down from the descendants who were brought here as indentured labourers in the 19th century. Fish curry at Chez Patrick - for about $4 (Can) - was my favourite. Sandi liked to practice her French (islanders speak a Creole) at the markets.
After three days, the sun finally broke out and we got to explore some beaches, which were brilliant blue and beautiful - as they always are on a tropical island. Fortunately for us as well, almost empty - our visit corresponded with low season. If it had been sunny the whole time during our stay in Mauritius we may never have left the beaches, which as it turns out, would have been a shame. That's just another way of saying, "when it rains, it pours, but do not despair.... just go out and make some tea."
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