For the final month of my first trip to Mauritius I was left on my own in the house. Mike had gone home to his wife for a well deserved month’s holiday midway through his ten month stint. None of the other consultants were to come through. I had sole use of the house, and, more usefully, the car. I really wanted to explore the island some more on my own. It also gave me the chance to walk in new places in the evenings. One of the first locations Mike had taken to me when I arrived was Anse le Raye but given his bad knees we had not got far.
Big chunks of the Mauritius coastline, particularly in the north and east, were public beaches run by a government body and an open park for Mauritians to picnic, exercise or slip off in to the quieter points to have a tête á tête with your lover. There was variation but the park was often a grassy lawn on a sandy base, littered with filau trees. There would be a sandy beach and black volcanic rocks smoothed round by the water. The bay itself would be calm and shallow often with a muddy bottom. The wilds of the Indian Ocean were kept at bay by an almost fortress wall of barrier reef that could be few yards away or maybe a few miles.
Anse le Raye was just a few miles from the house at Calodyne, and had an enchantment about it that set it apart from many of the other public beaches. For one, it gently revealed its charm from the road as you swept beyond the high class houses that dominate the coastal strip and past a track that curved up above the beach to the entrance of a small resort at the far end. The bay itself was deeper and more shapely than many, it was indeed the end of a creek. The road crossed this creek on a single track bridge which trapped in an inner pool that almost completely dried up when the tide went out. The sand was so hard here I regularly saw people playing football on it. This inlet obviously went further in but had been blocked off by a dam, called a barachois in Mauritius. There were many of these around, holding in brackish water and supporting massive nurseries of fish. At one time they were all managed carefully to release fish into the coastal lagoon or provide a place for aquaculture within a controlled lake. Some had fallen in to disrepair, others had become conservation areas or private pools for rich landowners. They were often hidden away in thick mangrove woodland.
The beach itself swept round in a glorious arc interrupted only by little grassy headlands punctuated with rocks at various points. Rather spoiling the view were a bunch of concrete platforms on which were gaudy statues in vibrant colours. Mauritius has a large Hindu population and temples are scattered far and wide over the island, from the smallest village to the busiest suburbs. Some are in the middle of cane fields, and more specialist ones are in sacred locations. Water and oceans in particular have special meaning in Hinduism and some of the most revered temples are placed on these beaches. Various statues are also here, and people come and adorn them with garlands, light candles and incense. Flags flutter in the wind as standards or as bunting. In some ways they look striking and a charming outward expression of a religion. Unfortunately both the sensitivity to other elements of the world (e.g. the natural world) and the aesthetics are sadly lacking. Here in Anse le Raye the statues are quite grotesque, not even naive. The faces are misshapen, the painting is sloppy, the proportions are wrong.
But this was only a small blot on the landscape and from a distance could look planned and beautiful.
I took to walking the extent of the bay; there were a few paths running through the undergrowth to the headlands on either side. I learnt they were primarily made by locals who went out to the lagoon to fish off the rocks. Out here you got a different perspective on Round Island, Flat Island and Coin De Mire and the roar of the ocean as it crashed against the barrier reef was palpable.
It was not a huge patch of parkland but many people passed hours here. After a busy day in Port Louis working in a high rise office block, and having tackled the nightmarish traffic there and back – sometimes over 90 minutes to do the 15 miles, to stroll around this quiet lagoon, only the noise of the wind through the filau trees to be heard, soothed out any stresses from my day.