The Other Mauritius – Walking the cane tracks

I sauntered up and down the beach a couple of times but progress across these irregular pock holed black rocks was difficult.  At one end was a very nice private house whose garden of grass and filau trees came right to these rocks.  Beyond that was a small resort hotel.  In the other direction was a fish landing site.  That was a rather glorious name for a small harbour in amongst the rocks backed by a grassy beach onto which  local fishermen dragged their boats.  The fishers were often down there in the evenings chatting, smoking and drinking.  They would grunt their “bonzours” at me as I went past, but I was put off going much further as they would watch my struggles to make progress on the rocks beyond.

So instead I took to walking inland.  At first I thought this was going to be pretty boring.  After all so much of the plains of Mauritius are covered in sugar cane fields.  I would wave at the security guards as I left the compound gate and head off down the short track to the main coast road, in a little village called St Francis. It was not more than a bread shop, a couple of apartment blocks and a few villas on the road side.  Instead of chancing it on the long straight road on which every type of transport would hurtle along no matter what was on either side, I would cross straight over onto one of the many cane tracks.  Cane tracks is the official name for these.  Most are still in good condition as they have to support the huge trucks which carry the cane from the fields to the refinery.  They separate out the square blocks of sugar swaying in the wind; because of this they are at regular intervals, at 90 degrees to each other and dead straight.  You see why a walk in these might be boring.

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Sugar cane fields cover most of the country

They tended to be raised up above the fields in some areas, at least by a couple of feet.  Often they were built on volcanic rocks, a ready material that is strewn across the island.  How anyone had the courage to decide to have extensive agriculture on this island I do not know.  Although volcanic soils are fertile, the liberal distribution of volcanic boulders would offput most people.  But of course, the early settlers had access to free labour from their slaves and set them to work to clear the fields of all the huge boulders.  Some went into cane track construction, others were used as wall and building material.  But this still left literally thousands of rocks in the fields.  The slaves were forced to pile them up in the centre of each cane field.  Over the years some have eroded a little, others have been borrowed from for more building material, but hundreds of these cairns, nay, pyramids are scattered across the plantations.  In one area, possibly because there were even more of these boulders than elsewhere, a whole strip of a cane field was used to pile these rocks high.  On a satellite image or when flying over the island, these features look like curious natural phenomena, only their regularity hint at the huge amount of blood, sweat and tears which much have gone in to their construction.  Many of the boulders were several feet across and, although volcanic, weighed a huge amount, as well as being jagged edged.  Think of those sharp edges cutting deep into a slave’s hands as he tried to grapple with them.

Vegetation has taken some of these mounds over, making mini hills in amongst the flat plain where wildlife congregate.  You would often see mongoose scurrying from rock to rock, and birds nesting, maybe the odd snake.  None of these were threatening to a lone walker like me.  But there was one animal that you had to take great care for in these fields.

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