One thing struck us. A couple of kilometres in we saw this incredible bay, a sweep of dark sand with a strandline of pebbles and detritus from the ocean backed by low overgrown sand dunes and a pine forest beyond. We could have been on the California coast, South Island New Zealand, or even Scotland, but not in the Indian Ocean. At the far end a white holiday chalet, the perfect hideaway.
As we went along, the trees became more stunted, and less lush vegetation took over – stone crops, devils baby toes, more lichens and mosses, fewer flowering plants. The roar of the sea was stronger today; although the weather too was not so calm with clouds building up from the south. It was all not so pleasant. Yet the parkland itself seemed more used –there were plenty more footpaths heading off in all directions. And the terrain was rising gradually to a horizon which seemed full of thick vertical posts.
By the time we reached these posts, there were few trees, mostly dwarfed by the incessant wind. The bare rock, worn away by many people as well as the elements, seemed artificial, like someone had built a badly made car park on top of the cliffs. When we arrived at the peak of the cliffs, a low stone wall had been placed in our way, the first such structure we had seen on this coastline since Gris Gris itself. And more than that, the vertical posts made up an ugly fence to stop people venturing near the edge.
We were at Le Souffleur, the blowhole. A hole in the cliff face through which the waves would be bashed and compressed and come jetting out the other side in a noisy wet rush. I actually found it a difficult thing to observe; the hole was tucked right in against the cliffs and all the protection stopped you from leaning far enough to get a good view. Also the whole sea was a tumult of boiling spray and foam, washing in different directions, bouncing and rebouncing off each other, every rock, the cliff face. It was hard to pick out what was spray from the blowhole and what wasn’t.
Despite the crude safety barriers and the disappointment of Le Souffleur itself, both the land and the sea at this point were spectacular and engrossing. The clouds had come low and the sky was a leaden grey, the noise from the ocean was almost deafening, the landscape on top of the cliffs a barely habitable lunarscape. We were no longer on Mauritius; nothing here fitted the clichés of the tourist brochures. And yet this was as wonderful a place as you could ever be expected to see; the most exposed part of the island facing the full force of the ocean that reached as far as Antarctica. I was used to Caribbean islands having their lee and windward sides and the coastline east and west would be dramatically different, but in Mauritius, I had never really appreciated that there was one very exposed coast. This was it and in fact it was extremely narrow, the worst of the ocean rollers focused on just about 10 kilometres. And Le Souffleur was the where the nadir of that energy was fixed.
Somehow people had drive to this point, the first public access road we had seen since Gris Gris too. Even on a week day we saw a couple of fishermen on bikes and a family picnicking in the trees.