We broke off for the day when we hit the main road – there was not much left to do but we were not going to get it done in one session. We waited quite a while for Keith to arrive (he had apparently taken a leisurely lunch at an Indian restaurant along the coast), and he drove us back to Calodyne. It was the scariest thing that ever happened to me in Mauritius. Keith talked and talked normally, but I had never experienced him driving – we had tried to avoid him taking the wheel. We now knew why – he continued to talk (and look at us while he was talking) and we had several near misses on the road back to Port Louis. The worst was when he tried to slip into the traffic on the M2 heading into the city centre, right in front of a petrol tanker. The screech of brakes and rubber on tarmac as the tanker swerved past us on the other lane, only just managing to find a gap between two cars, was too much. We were glad to get to the office in one piece and we never let him drive us again.
Jeremy and I headed back to the Morne the next day to complete the survey. We knew it would not take too long, but it was still an hour’s drive down there and we wanted to avoid the Port Louis traffic. But once in le Morne area we decided we could take it a little easier. We had worked bloody hard over the last couple of weeks, the sheer physical exertion of conducting both the sea and land surveys was sapping, so we started with a coffee in a little cafe in Black River before heading to pick up the survey route.
This section started with us traversing a hard pan of volcanic pebbles revealed by the low tide – like tamped hard core, and was remarkably easy to walk across. A few drains and the occasional mangrove stand was all we saw. Eventually we reached the village of Gaullette. I’d driven down the main road next to Gaullette many times and seen the usual mix of half constructed villas, family homes, little shops and a couple of bars and restaurants, as well as the odd institution – the school , the police post. It looked the typical Mauritian village. But I had noticed as you sped past on the tarmac that there were pathways into the trees and you go a glimpse of washing hanging out by tin shacks and children playing outside.
Now we were walking the coastline slowly we had time to see more detail. While not the impoverishment of some African villages or city suburbs, this was at the bottom of the scale for Mauritius. In most cases people were living in concrete buildings, but there were some that were roughly made and packed with people. They were also built below the main village, right on the fringes of the coast. Indeed because they were often spilled out onto this hard pebbly core, the tide would relentlessly come in and flood their compounds. Some had attempted to build their own rudimentary defences. Even the best ones, made of concrete walls, had gaps in that the water would just flood over. The worst defences were made of brushwood and palm leaves and did little more than mark out the space.
People used the coastline as a refuse dump, not just for household waste but also fly tipping larger items, and, worst of all, their sewage flowed out of pipes at the edge of their plots onto the pan of the lagoon. We had to pick our way carefully through several hundred metres of this, and once or twice we slipped in our steps and our trainers sank deep into the mud, the slime oozing over our uppers.
Despite this, there was some industry down here, fishing boats every so often, a boatyard or two (unfortunately their waste products also spilled into the lagoon). I could not help but glance across the wide open stretch of the lagoon to the exclusive peninsula we were on the day before, and its sumptuous excess. So many tourists would never see even a hint of the world we were exploring around the coastline of Mauritius. Their experience of the Creole way of life was a highly sanitised one of people in highly coloured clean costumes dancing Sega, the local custom, of curious little artefacts that they can purchase in the foyers of their hotels without once stepping out on to the road or leaving the company of talkative tourist guides who will keep cheerful and informative but never be controversial.