Walking the Beaches – Shrines

More than anywhere else in Mauritius, the Morne is a corner of the coastline, moving from the calm protected lagoons of the west coast to the harsher but more ruggedly beautiful south coast.  As it is backed by the Black River Gorge mountains, the highest in the island, the landscape is quite overpowering and feels cut off from the regular landscapes to the north and east.

Le Morne is another long drive from Calodyne in the north but this time we came with our colleague, Keith, who was a coastal engineer.  He left us by the filao trees at the south end of Le Morne Village and headed off to look at some of the engineering issues around the peninsula we were to walk.  We arranged to meet him at a road junction later in the afternoon.  I was sorry in a way we were not getting to walk the opposite direction.  The coast down to Souillac from here was a gorgeous mix of sand dunes and small lagoons, not as dynamic as the previous walk, but with the roaring sea only half a kilometre away on the fringing reef.  With the mountains behind and a series of sleepy Creole villages and old sugar plantations, it was an interesting mix.

We would head west, though, and the walk ahead was still going to be stunning  – even from the beach at the village of the Morne, the bluff looked magnificent against  the early morning sun.   We dealt with the minimal issues along the village front – a couple of storm drains that might cause pollution but nothing serious, and headed out on to a long spit of sandy land.  The lagoons around the Morne are the shallowest of any around the island, and at low tide large expanses of coral rubble and rocky fragments are exposed.

In the middle of the lagoon here, a couple of catholic shrines had been set up.  Taking religious ownership of the water was a strong trend in Mauritius – the Hindus in particular were not averse to setting up huge temples in lagoons, on small islands or low rocky headlands.  At best these looked functional, at worst the most horrible excesses of gaudiness, with badly painted , badly cast concrete or plastic representations of their deities being plonked unsympathetically in the environment.  Don’t get me wrong, a well designed and sculptured Hindu temple can be a delight, the detail mesmerizing and its colours vivid statements against the drabness of human routine.  But so many examples I saw were not of high quality, and spoilt for me what could be an incredibly aesthetic view, as spiritual in its own right as much as any group of icons.  The use of clay pots in various religious ceremonies close to the water’s edge has left a significant debris layer around many a bay.  Some religious tensions have grown up around these practices and especially the building of temples or placing of statues on what should be common land.  The Catholic response has been to set up statues and crosses in various parts of the lagoon and this is what we could see – with binoculars we could see there was a white Virgin Mary statuette.  Why there was felt the need to have somewhere to have a pilgrimage to on Assumption Day, I could never find out.

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