Mauritius has been waiting patiently on my layover bucket list ever since becoming a fly guy. The island nation’s mountainous and coastal terrain sprinkled with a colorful cultural population made it a prime target for my exploration. Imagine my excitement when I finally scored a 31 hour visit to the island while on standby (this is a duty where cabin crew wait on call to fill-in last minute on a flight). I was put on the flight just just a few hours before its departure, giving me no time to plan my route of attack. I would have no time to waste once I landed in paradise.
The flight left home base in the early hours around 3:00 and arrived Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam International Airport around 9:00 that same morning. Four of us in the crew made arrangements upon reaching the hotel to rent two scooters to use for our island adventure. Mopeds are my preferred means of transportation for exploration. They’re safer and easier to ride than motorbikes, cheaper than a rental car and more open than a tourist bus. They allow you an opportunity to meet the island right down to the native insects that hit you in the face while driving.
We put on our sun and head protection and we were off chasing the sun light. Our first destination was a dormant volcano that would give us a 360 degree view of the Mauritius. A photocopied map dotted with an orange highlighted path led the way. No street names provided; if we wanted to know if we were headed in the right direction we had to ask the locals. If we hadn’t planned on meeting the natives then we were now going to have to if we wanted to reach our destination. This forced interaction revealed the most beautiful part of the country, the people. A mix of Indian, African, European and Chinese, Mauritians are a colorful lot. Most of the locals seemed to be extremely friendly and warm always sharing a smile and point in the right direction. Those helping hands worked and after only a few wrong turns we reached Trou aux Cerfs. The views from this extinct volcano were incredible and well worth the 40 minute drive from our Port-Louis base. After a quick walk around the rim we were off again scootering our way towards our next destination, Chamarel waterfalls.
As we made our way south we not only felt the warmth of the island’s inhabitants, we also learned their language; well a few words of it. Mauritius has been colonized by the Dutch, French and English and their dialect reflects this diversity. Most Mauritians are multilingual and can speak English, French, Creole or several Asian languages. The country doesn’t list an official language in the Mauritian constitution, but English and French seemed to be the language most widely spoken. I didn’t have time to do my homework, so not knowing this I assumed from what I was hearing from the locals, French was the best means of trying to converse. I tried and had major fail moments attempting to ask for directions in French. I seem to still read French named towns with my Southern American dialect and this will always confuse the locals for several repetitions until they realize what it is exactly I’m trying to say. Cascades are waterfalls in French. Not sure I will ever need that in my French repertoire, but for this trip it came in very handy. However, when asking the locals for Chamarel Cascade they only understood the last part (my southern pronunciation again) and directed us towards the waterfalls, but not the ones we had intended to visit. After winding our way down dirt roads and getting rerouted by several more friendly directional points, we arrived to the edge of a lush forest that had signs for a waterfall, just no well traveled paths leading us towards one. A shady character wearing rubber boots and a cowboy hat offered to be our guide into the lush jungle for around 400 Mauritian Rupees (around 13 USD) but as seasoned travelers we decided to skip that offer and make our own way. After all, we came this far without a guide.
We led our mopeds along a small path that was bordered by an indigenous forest to the left and a sugarcane field on the right until we found a small trail leading down towards where we suspected the waterfall to be. I left the others and followed the vertical and dense trail to scout if the trip down the steep ravine was worth it for the girls in our group not wearing the right shoes for such a hike. At the end of the trial the jungle cleared right to the edge of a soaring waterfall. My knees went wobbly so I made the short crossing to the cliff’s edge on all fours to inspect the view from the top.
I called back for the gang to follow and they brought with them a friendly and helpful group of local boys. My moped buddy broke her flip-flop on the hike down and was hospitably offered a replacement right off the foot of the oldest in the gang. We jumped around in the pools and snapped daring photos on the waterfall’s edge that would for sure impress and prove our adventurous spirit . According to the boys, we had stumbled upon Les Sept Cascades (seven waterfalls), a series of seven waterfalls, with the one we were standing on top of being the highest. The waterfall proved to be the pinnacle of our day and after we had exhausted all the photo ops we made our way back up the embankment.
Reunited with our scooters we got a proper introduction of the local boys. The most engaging of the bunch unzipped his backpack to reveal the reason he and his friends had been foraging the forest to begin with. It was full of fresh wild guava, a perfect treat to end our hike. We thanked our new friends and then followed them out of the fields and back to the main road towards town. By this time the sun was setting and we had plans of making it to the west coast of the island by sunset. The sugarcane was a distraction that would keep us from our final stop. The boys were once again hospitable hosts to the island’s wild provisions and they broke off and prepared several pieces of the fresh sugarcane for us to enjoy. The pilot in our group had never tried the sweet treat and loaded his bag with the natural souvenir to share with his family when he got home.
Since daylight was fleeting we decided to ditch the rest of our trip and head back to our hotel. Along the way we once again felt the warmth of the locals, this time the local police. Our moped was selected on the motorway at random for a traffic stop. I was now the passenger and my driver didn’t have her license. We were caught in brief panic, but as soon as we said hello, we were identified as tourist and sent on our way with the wishes of a good evening and a pleasant trip. The day ended over dinner with a recap of our adventure and a review of our photographic memories. We relished in our accomplishments of finding our own way around paradise and the rich rewards that come with being a 24 hour traveler and making the most of a short visit to far off exotic islands.
The next morning, with the pickup lingering in the early afternoon, I opted out of another day on the scooter for the fear of getting lostand missing my departure. Instead I joined my moped buddy on foot for a visit to the markets of Port Louis. Port Louis is thecapital of Mauritius and the oldest city on the island with a history dating back the mid 1700’s. Some structures still remain from the cities colonial era but today they are shadowed by taller modern structures that make up the downtown district. Nestled amongst these more recent additions to downtown sits the Port Louis Bazaar, a complete showcase of colors, smells and flavors that make Mauritius a unique rainbow nation. On the plate is where the islands influences of Indian, African, Creoles, Chinese and European fully collide into one spicy mix. The Bazaar is where that infusion starts. Fresh fruits and vegetables, African masks, Hindu gods, textiles and trinkets from India are being sold by cold callers all fighting for your attention. One must browse a bit if they want to get something truly unique of Mauritius. Don’t be fooled by imports coming from mainland Africa, India or China.
Among my purchased treasures were a small hand carved wooden dodo bird. The indigenous dodo went extinct around 1662 but today still corners the market as the most popular Island icon. My secret wooden box that I picked up for around $8 bucks also features the flightless dodo on top. The secret boxes are very popular among the bazaar stalls. They have a trap lock somewhere on it that you must press to get the hand carved top open. My seller started his price at around 900 rupees and without little hassle I talked him down to 250 rupees. The chaotic hustle of the bazaar tired me out after about an hour inside and it was time to head back to my hotel to catch a nap before jetting back home. Mauritius has tough competition in the Indian Ocean when I think of comparisons. But what I found unique to this small country is a colorful population with a hospitable nature that I’ve yet to encounter from the other island nations I’ve visited. This is something you’re not likely to experience unless you leave the resort walls and take the chance to get lost in between its coastal boarders and really meet Mauritius!