The sugar industry was so dominant on the landscape of over 2/3 of the island. I’ve already mentioned the cane tracks which go at right angles across much of the landscape. It dictates the pattern of the roads. The villages themselves were planned around the plantations, not vice versa. I found several villages were not served by any main road – they would be down a cul de sac behind a sugar factory, or in the midst of the cane fields themselves. I rarely went down there as it seemed an intrusion on the locals. Many of these villages were still dominated by the families of sugar industry workers the houses modest, the services focused purely on the basics of life. This was no place for an inquisitive traveller, let alone an average tourist.
At one time each plantation would refine its own sugar, and some of the most magnificent monuments to industrial heritage can be found in the old water or steam run factories. Economies of scale, as well as a faltering export market for sugar, has reduced the number of factories down to eleven. These are huge structures set aside from towns in the middle of the cane fields. For much of the year, these giants stay silent but once the harvest starts they awaken and become very hungry. From every part of the island the cane cutters are out – mostly mechanised; often huge harvesters – chomping down the ten foot high grass, crunching off these huge blades of grass and stacking the canes themselves in supporting trailers. These massive open cages would then be transported along the main roads to the factories. At this time of year you realise once again just how much the sugar industry dominates the country. Woe betide you if you end up driving behind one of these smoke belching snails. The queues go back for a hundred vehicles, and with the humps and bumps in the road and the dangerous driving of the people coming the other way, there are rarely any opportunities to pass these beasts. If they are going up hill, you would be faster to abandon your car on the verge and walk past it.
On one weekend I ended up at FUEL. I’d wondered what this was on the map for weeks and was determined to find out what this was. It was an enormous sugar factory, built from an amalgamation of several plantations in the area, and stood for the Flacq United Estates Limited. I parked the car up close to the entrance and in five minutes saw ten fully laden cane trucks enter.