The Other Mauritius – Lost in the forest

There were two ways in to this forest.  I preferred this one coming up this back road to Le Petrin.  A car park sits in amongst the pines at the edge of the forest.  The air is always fresh and often cool up here and a track heads off westwards.  Again if it were in Europe of North America it would be just an ordinary forest track, but in Mauritius it was something different from the norm, and that made it special.  While the pine trees themselves were plantation style – long straight ranks of trees disappearing off in to the gloom, on the forest edge where more light penetrated the vegetation was richer.  Prolific on the margins and climbing up the other shrubs was Chinese Guava.  Having been introduced to gardens in Mauritius it had found a niche and exploded as an invasive weed.  Like all the best invaders, they are so attractive to the local fauna; the berries become red ripe and are greedily picked by the birds and rodents…. and people.  With a friend of mine, Martin,  I picked a couple of bagsful and he made guava jam; a bit gritty but it tasted good.

The pathway divided the forest park on the south with a hunting range on the north.  They were managed in completely different ways.  For timber the trees were grown uniformly to the same height before being chopped down to restart the process.  The other side was allowed to ramble and some management of open spaces, scrubby areas and dark shade were introduced to set up the environment for the hunting “game”.  At one junction,  the main track headed northwards.  I went this way to find another small reservoir, the Mare Longue.  Several small valleys were dammed up here to provide fresh water for the central plains towns and the surrounding areas managed mainly with natural vegetation or hunting grounds.

The rainfall here was higher than almost anywhere in Mauritius.  Once I tried to cut through the forest itself, but soon regretted it.  Although it was a recognised forest trail, there were deep, thick tracks from the logging machinery that passed through from time to time.  The trail did not get sun for long each day, and it was perched on the top of the ridge between Grand Bassin and Black River Gorges.  The wind blowing up from the Indian Ocean from the south east was constantly condensing the thick humid air and forming clouds.  If it was not pouring down with rain, you were often caught up in the dense, penetrating drizzle within the clouds.  The mists blew in and out every second of the day and several plants took full advantage of that.  Thick carpets of moss covered the floor –  which was like a two foot deep sponge that oozed as you walked on it.  The moss and lichens trailed from the pine branches.  Little rivulets flowed down every crease in the landscape, forming standing pools in each depression and gradually working their way to the sheer sides of the Black River Gorges themselves which lay below these forests.

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