Walking the Beaches – The most exposed part of Mauritius

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.

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Wild coast – it really is Mauritius

 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.

Walking the Beaches – Second Day on the South Coast

The next day we had scheduled to complete this south coast walk so we had to get back to Savannah, or at least the next village of L’Escalier.  Mike and I had explored the track leading from L’Escalier to the coast a few weeks before.  I remember completely making a fool of myself as we drove up to a shelter on the cliff tops, a large slab of concrete underneath which seemed to have a pile of charred sticks on it.  From the vehicle that was about all I could see, but given its position I said to Mike “Looks like a fabulous place to have a barbecue”.

Mike glared at me as he often did “I doubt it since it’s a crematorium for a Hindu Funeral.”

I must have flushed but then recovered saying “Well it is a similar principle, I suppose.”

Now it was just Jeremy and I, and I told him the story as we parked up next to the shelter.  Given the surprises the previous day’s walk had thrown up, I had looked again at the imagery and it looked like more or the same today, although it looked even more rocky and with steep cliffs.  There didn’t seem to be any more idyllic retreats for plantation owners, but there were plenty of woods, so who knew?  At least I had already been to our destination, in the calm of a little lagoon near the village of La Bouchon.  When I had been exploring on my own a couple of months previous, I had come across this pretty spot and was looking forward to sharing it with Jeremy.

We had that second day stiffness when starting out, but given Jeremy and I had now been walking these coastlines for a couple of weeks, we were a lot fitter than we had been and still put on a pace along the track.  Indeed for a while it did stay the same at the end of the previous day, that neglected parkland look with small indomitable trees and long grass, and lots of stone walls now partitioning nothing.

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Another gorgeous piece of unexpected coastline

Walking the Beaches – throbbing feet

We walked the last couple of kilometres feeling numb below the waist, and just plodding one foot in front of the other.  In our minds, though, we were both quite chirpy. We came to another incised estuary, but were happy to turn inland this time as it was our stopping point for the day, after over 10 hours of slogging.  We skirted along the edge of a wood above this river valley as we wanted to avoid the sugar plantation buildings just to the left of us. It brought us out at the track of the old railway, and we headed back along it parallel to the main road to the old plantation buildings at Savannah.  The plantation itself was not working, but some of the buildings had been converted to intense stocksheds; chickens and pigs.  The remaining parts of the plantation buildings had been preserved in part ruin and, like in many of these old estates, the surrounding land was landscaped as a pleasant open park, mainly palm trees.

The main coast road between Souillac and the airport cut through this area and we had arranged that Mike would head down this way after work in Port Louis.  At this time though, half the country’s population would be trying to escape Port Louis, mostly on the same M1 as Mike, so we knew we might be in for quite a wait.  We shared the remains of our provisions, biscuits, juice, squished banana.  Jeremy, as was his wont when given a spare moment, would light up a cigarette.  I spied a fast flowing stream running through the palms.  It most probably rose in the hills of the tea estates some ten to twenty kilometres away and had been channelled to run down the side of the cane fields to this point before spilling in to the larger river we had met at the end of our walk.  It was encased very neatly in granite walls and floor, the minimum resistance another reason why it was so fast flowing.  With as much flexibility as I could muster I bent over and washed my hands in it.  It was icy cold.  I splashed it up over my greasy, sweaty, dirty neck and smeared my face.  I then took off my trainers, pealed my wretched white socks from my clammy feet and swung my legs over the streams wall and into that fresh, bubbling, arctic balm.  It instantly froze my feet, but I did not care.  It was a good numbness that took away the pain of all the blisters, sore feet, overheating that the last thirty kilometres had put on to them.  I lay back on the soft grass and smiled an enigmatic smile of one who is glad something challenging has been completed.

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End of the walk

It was a good hour before Mike swung the pickup truck across the gravel of the plantation yard, we still had to head back to Gris Gris to grab the first vehicle, so we used the journey to try to explain to Mike the range of weird and wonderful secrets this coastline contained, and pick out along the way the corresponding land from the road side.  Of course when we were in the midst of the Frenchies’ playground, taking photographs was the last thing on our minds, so now our stories of ring tailed lemurs, giant tortoise, gorgeous water features and luxurious holiday homes sounded a little like embellished travellers’ tales.

Walking the Beaches – More surprises

While the day was more of the same; the job itself was very easy.  Where I could I would peer into the water to determine what was going on.  It was mainly rocks with the occasional scraps of reef; hardly any seagrasses.  Here or there white sand had become trapped but often as not the wave energy was too strong for any deposits to stay fixed.  And in other areas the waves were so intense that both on the satellite imagery and in reality, you could not see below the water for all the foam and spray. Similarly on the landward side, there was very little to monitor.  There were no coastal protection features; the cliffs did a good enough job anyway, and for the most part there were no pollution problems.  The worst pollution we saw came from a fast flowing stream coming down from one of the cane factories on the hillside way inland which was black and thick with charcoal residues from where burning had taken place.  It flowed into the coastal woodland and settled in a gloopy swamp before the stream disappeared into the rocks and fell off the cliffs.  We could see the small plume of black discharge out in the sea but the high energy waves soon dispersed it.

We approached an area where there was more human activity again, but it was what we could term artisanal.  There was evidence that people came down to fish off the rocks, or borrow sand, hold barbecues and leave litter.  There were even more open areas of pasture in amongst the wood and cattle grazing.  We passed very close by a rudimentary farm – at least accommodation for a stock watcher, and associated barns to store some feed and allow the cattle to shelter from the worst of the weather.  Outdoor grazing in Mauritius is a rarity, most being held in enclosed pens and barns and it was a shock to smell the long forgotten odour you get from manure and livestock after so many months of living next to sugar cane.  Even this enterprise seemed half hearted.  At one time there had been a series of paddocks divided by thick tall stone walls, but now many of these walls were broken down, only the tracery of their course discernible in the undergrowth.  How long this area had been wooded was difficult to determine.  The trees looked small but given the buffeting they received from the south eastern winds hitting the coast, it was likely they were partly dwarfed and very slow growing, so could have been there for over a century.

The quiet, slightly decayed beauty of this whole coastline was also faintly disturbing, and I never felt at ease in it.  That feeling was amplified when we heard not one or two but a whole pack of dogs barking, a hundred metres or so to one side of us.  We were used to cane dogs, they were frequently seen in the cane tracks around Calodyne.  Most of them were timid feral mongrels, half starved and disease ridden, but if they occurred in packs they gained significant courage.  As I’ve said, I always carried a few stones in my pockets in case one or two of them thought they would have a go at me.  Here we jumped up onto one of the more complete wide stone walls and picked up a few of the loose pebbles from the top.  We heard the dogs crashing through the undergrowth, but never saw them and eventually felt secure enough to move on.

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A rare piece of grazing land near the coast

Walking the Beaches – On safer ground

After what seemed like an age and with the adrenalin still pumping hard around our bodies, we saw a fence.  We worked our way back towards the track and saw an open gate.  It was a bit of an anticlimax – I was thinking we would be scaling walls or cutting our way out, but here was an open gate.

We were still nervous that we were in the wrong place, but to have put some distance from the houses helped.  It was still concerning that we did not really know what was ahead, and there was the horrible chance we might have to double back and face this area again.  Although I was carrying print outs of the satellite image, I had worked them to show the features in the sea strongly, and the shapes on the landward side were all dark and low contrast.  I had never picked out all these amazing features beforehand; my assumptions were that we were going to be in just wildwood.

East of the menagerie of animals, the ornamental ponds and the perfect little holiday houses, the land returned to a more open parkland, still well kept, but more natural.  There were a couple of interesting hilltop ponds capturing the freshwater from the cane fields above before allowing it to trickle over into the sea.  The cliffs were higher again, but the vegetation much more tangled than earlier on.  Then we hit yet another large gorge.  This time we were determined to cross it close to the beach; time was going on and we had some distance to cover yet and few options for short cutting inland back to the main road.  We found it easier than we had expected; there were a couple of trails where animals had zigzagged down the side, and we found the stream shallow and covered in rocks rather than mud, so fording was an easy task.  We were then able to scramble up the other side and regain our track – a fifteen minute crossing instead of an hour’s diversion.  This was very useful as both our energy levels were sapping and our feet were very sore.

Walking the Beaches -On tiptoe…. and trapped

So slightly nervous, we struck out down the grassy track leading to this mysterious building.  As we got closer we realised it was a house, very much lived in.  There were no people visible as we approached.    Our grassy track opened up on a very well kept and soft grass lawn flanked by a stream and a pond.  The pond opened into a gushing stream tippling forcefully over the edge of the cliff, which at this stage was only about 5m high.  Below the rocks were piled high and the sea was crashing in close to the falls.   The house was fairly small – I estimate no more than 3 bedrooms – and quite compact.  Made from the dark black granite rock held in place with grey mortar, a cyclone could not have as much chipped at it.  We had to walk along the lawn before dropping down to the beach.

Progress was slow, though, along this next stretch – the rocks were a couple of metres high with large chasms between that took a lot of precision leaping (and braking) to span them.  Some were wet with spray, others slimy with algae.  We eventually thought for all the hazards of trespassing, we would be better off on the land itself.  So we clambered back up the cliff and saw an incredible sight. At first it looked like more fish tanks as if we were approaching another fish farm, but then they revealed themselves to be ornamental ponds with an old stone edge and stone urns at each corner; a very attractive waterfall spilled from one pond to another. At the end of the final pond were a cluster of buildings.  Well, there was nothing for it, we had to get past those buildings.  We hoped to get back down on the beach because now the long sandy beach was not that far away.

Once more we were scuppered.  We crossed another tightly cropped lawn in front of more holiday homes, just as sturdy and beautiful as the previous ones, and found a tall fence in the way on the cliff top. Although the cliff to our right was only a few metres high here, the route was blocked by more huge boulders covered in a tangle of creepers.  No way would we get through here without breaking an ankle, we thought.

Jeremy and I had a conference to decide what to do next, and realised we were both whispering.  We were now trespassing on a very rich family’s estate and we did not know when we would meet burly security guards, Rottweilers or some irate old woman with a shotgun.  But we decided there was nothing for it – we had to go through this compound and try and head back to the cliff on the far side, hoping there was a gap in the fence where we could get beyond all this trouble.

Silently we headed inland along a stone pathway in front of the holiday homes.  Our worst fears were almost confirmed instantly – the garden next to us contained a brilliant blue swimming pool and sun bathing face down was a middle aged woman in two piece bikini, straps of the bra loosely dangling either side of her lounger.  We tiptoed past here, barely 3m from her face and entered a wooded area.  On the left were a series of smaller pools containing carp, the bottom of these pools seemed to have been painted as they were crystal blue.  We passed an enclosure with giant tortoises, and some cages with ring tailed lemur.  In the distance we saw cars parked and, horror of horrors, two gardeners having a break.  We could hear them chattering in Creole, but they were too intent on their smoking and tea drinking that they did not look in our direction.  Fortunately we noticed a track heading up to the right, back towards the cliff edge.  Hopefully we could get out of here without having to give explanations.

We walked quickly but without drawing attention to ourselves up this track and were soon in a thick woodland.  The track carried on to the back of the wood, but we thought it would be safer for us to cut into the thicket and keep out of sight, in case anyone were coming along the track itself – we could hear a chain saw going.  Yes another vision of my grizzly end was now in my mind along with the lion, shot gun, beaten up or arrest that was already cluttering it up.

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A gorgeous location – we can’t take the beach route – dare we walk up to the house?

Walking the Beaches – Were we trespassing?

We’d started to realise that these areas of Pas Geometrique were being used by the Plantation Owners as a pleasure land for their own recreation.  In our dumb way we also eventually grasped that the reason certain members of the civil service wanted us to make this the pressure zone was to ferret around trying to find out what exactly was going on , possibly with the idea of some land grab to get a piece of the action.  Indeed we already knew one area of this clifftop was scheduled to be developed as yet another of these spa hotels.  This was not necessarily solely an ethnic issue – the Hindu dominated government moving in on the Frenchies territories.  In fact the Frenchies; having lost political power to the English centuries ago, seemingly loosening their grip even more after independence, and with the decline of the sugar industries now hanging on to the remains of their real estate, looked like a spent force.  But you do not manage and dominate industry in a country for several centuries without learning a few tricks, and many of these families had got involved with the property developments and high class resorts all over the island.  If anything they were more dominant now that at the height of the sugar plantations.

In the shadows there was a slight movement; it looked like quite a large creature was lurking under the trees.  As we moved along the path in its direction, it noticed us and bolted – a deer.  Its movement sparked three more deer to follow.  So the high fence was to keep them in (shame about the rusted hole in the fence that we had found, though).  A thought played across my mind at this point.  What if the fence were not just to keep deer in?  These eccentric millionaires might have a whole menagerie of animals….. maybe carnivores too.  Jeremy did his best to calm me down, showing how the well clipped grass tracks here would not look like this if lions and tigers were  in the compound, unless the owners could be happy to lose a few groundsmen once in a while, and the fences would have been in much better repair.

We headed back to the clifftops to resume the survey and after half an hour or so ended on a headland topped by a small shelter.  We decided to lunch here on this remarkable spot and we reflected on both how gorgeous the landscape was here and how different it was to the rest of Mauritius.  The lagoon was hardly present – more like a series of rock pools at the foot of the cliffs, and the full force of the ocean roared in against the beach.   The woodland on top had a magical quietness, so unlike most of this densely populated island.  Looking ahead the cliffs seemed to soften a little and we could see some sandy beach pummelled by rollers, and in the spray, we could definitely make out quite a substantial structure.  We hoped that we could walk the beach here and once on the sand would make faster progress.  We had had enough diversions already and the curious nature of what we had seen had already caused us enough surprises for one day.  Also, we had to make a lot more progress to reach our expected rendezvous before sundown.

Walking the Beaches – Costly Detours

To our left we could see a complex of low buildings.  Our track fortunately dropped into the woods before reaching them and we were back near the sea on the clifftops.  I say fortunately as we were not entirely clear on our legitimacy at this point.  Two things were in our favour; we were working for the Mauritian Government, and we knew that if you were on the beach you were on public land.  This walk up the valley and back, though, had placed us firmly in private plantation land.  Many Mauritians seemed to use the cane tracks as public rights of way across the island, but we were also heading into the woodland that was pays geometrique and we had no idea who was leasing these lands.

The complex of buildings turned out to surround a sizeable fish farm, the lowest of its ponds we walked past on the cliff edge.  We entered the familiar parkland that Mike and I had explored a few weekends before and I was back on firmer ground again, knowing that locals were using this area for recreation and farming.  As we passed the holiday chalet with the turtle rock  in the pine trees the track turned inland once more and below us we could hear the gushing of a furious river deep in another gorge.

This time we were not so lucky; the gorge was deep and covered in a thick brush including bamboo and other tall grasses.  We kept walking inland, knowing every step this way meant another step the other to return to our work task.  On our way we noticed an open mausoleum ; a series of graves, one topped by a tall column with an outsize urn, no doubt for one of the plantation owner’s family in the late 1800s.

On we trod.  Eventually we saw a well metalled canetrack; it was in fact the course of the old railway line down to Souillac.  As we approached we spied several trucks thunder along spitting up a dusty trail behind them.  When we reached we realised the track crossed the gorge by an enormous iron girder railway bridge.  The view was spectacular on both sides, the lively little river gushing down a series of cascades.  Sitting precariously on a huge bamboo shoot was a monkey, preening itself and generally taking in the view for himself.  At the foot of the bridge was a rather untidily dressed man, a tall Creole guy with a beard, washing his CD collection.  He seemed oblivious to us watching him from above, but he was meticulously emptying a bag of CDs and dropping them into a pool of clear river water, then brushing them down before laying them on a sun drenched rock to dry.

We could not stay long, so crossed the remainder of the bridge and turned right.  The cane track, like its parallel one on the other side of the gorge, was far from straight and this just added to the frustration about the amount of time we were taking just reaching our study area.  In amongst the fields and hard up against our boundary track was a securely fenced compound.  Again we were a little nervous approaching it but it was fairly obvious we were at the rear and would not be confronted by any gatekeepers.  It was hard to make out what it was; we could see various things inside the chain fence with its barbed wire securely affixed atop.  There seemed to be brightly coloured play areas and we wondered if it were a facility for children, in some way.  But surely having barbed wire around the outside would be both dangerous and a bad image for any child facility.  There were single storey buildings, difficult to tell what they were for although some were obviously offices.  Then we saw something which solved the riddle.  A lady in a white coat emerged from one of these anonymous buildings and was leading a monkey on a leash to the play area, which we realised was securely caged in.  It twigged in my mind that this was a facility I had read about, which was keeping wild monkeys captive.  Caught from the wild in this southern part of the island, they were eventually sold to research labs, mainly in Europe but also in North America.  Mauritius remains the second largest exporter of monkeys for research in the world.  I had heard of the trade and knew there was a centre; now I had seen the location with my own eyes.  I have mixed feelings about the use of animals in research; mostly I believe that there is merit in their use in the whole cycle of medical science, but no for other purposes.  I am human centric in my view – well after all, I am only human…  But I see no reason for unduly harming animals (or for that matter plants) when alternatives can be used.  And the idea of shipping off populations of monkeys half way round the world seems ludicrous.

It was over an hour from when we had left the coast that we found ourselves close to it again – again able to see our original track barely 300m away across the gorge.  We realised that we could not afford another diversion like this and next time, we should aim to try and get down on to the beach and ford the river.  Now another challenge emerged.  As we approached the pas geometrique, we noticed a large pickup truck pulling away – we were not alone.  We were not spotted but we cautiously approached the wooded area.  It was firmly fenced in, and the fence was at least three  metres high.  There were tracks going in but they were blocked by locked gates the same height.  We could not see the sea.  There was nothing for it but to continue eastwards and hope we could get through.  With luck, it was not too long before we saw a gap in the fence and we clambered in.  We really felt like breaking and entering now, but once inside we calmed down as we were in yet another enchanting parkland with thick lush grass.

Walking the Beaches – Striding out

When we described this to Jeremy when he arrived, we believed that the whole length of this coastline was like this – a thin wooded strip of land beyond the end of the cane fields maintained as a public, yet very intimate park.

We bit the bullet early one morning.  Even the drive was logistically a challenge – being about as far from our house in Calodyne as you could go on dry land.  We set off before sunrise and the grey cloud was still quite gloomy as we approached the aptly named Gris Gris.  We were both a lot fitter from both our walking of the coastline and some evening strolls around the Calodyne area but we knew this was to be a long day.

The first stretch was familiar to me but it was surprising how quickly we got through it (Jeremy was a lot younger and fitter than Mike), and we reached the corner of the wood where I had turned back in less than fifteen minutes.  It was here we had our first setback of the day.  We knew from the images and maps that several sizeable rivers tumbled between the cane fields and spilled out in to the ocean along this stretch of coastline.  We had hoped to ford these at the coast itself, but at this first river, we realised there was no easy way down the cliff, with its loose rocks and muddy vegetation.  The alternative was no easier – it was to follow the cane tracks up the side of the gorge until we could spot a safe and sensible way across.  We started walking, hoping the elusive ford would not be too distant.  No such luck.  In fact no track crossed the river until very near the main road, by which time we would be a couple of kilometres inland, with an equally long walk to regain the coastline on the other side.  In the end we took a gamble and cut a trail through the undergrowth at a point where we could see a way back up on the other side of the valley.  The gorge was not too deep here and although we had to wade through several inches of water to get through, we escaped relatively unscathed. Then we had the soul destroying walk back along the other side, along where the cane fields met the wooded gorge, and still being able to see where we had walked nearly half an hour beforehand across the valley.

Walking the Beaches – A secret world

Our team leader, Mike, and I had visited Gris Gris a couple of months before.  The administrative centre for Savanne District, the most southerly of the island’s ten districts, is a charming little town called Souillac.  The town itself is tucked in to one of the more sizeable river estuaries – a narrow steep sided valley with fringing mangroves at its mouth.  You can see why the town was founded in the valley as the river mouth is buffeted by rolling waves coming in from Antarctica.  Now in modern times people flock down a narrow road out of town that leads to the clifftops at the southernmost tip of the whole island.  It is described as a public beach but the majority is a well trampled grassy knoll some 40m above sea level.  The view is breathtaking – you see a line of cliff headlands stretching away to the east within which nestles tiny coves of pristine sand unblemished by sun loungers.  A mixed woodland frames the clifftops and as far as the eye can see, no building sullies the vista.  The majority of people who visit here are Mauritian with the odd adventurous tourist being shown the island on a taxi ride.  Most stay within this little parkland, maybe long enough to have an ice cream.  A few will explore down to the first beach below the cliffs and a number in the know go as far as the first headland.  Mike and I followed a few of these to see what the fuss is about.  We found a taxi driver speaking of “La Roche qui Pleure”, describing some fable of a woman left on the rocks by some jilting lover, forever weeping.  He tried to describe the face of the woman, although if it was what I was seeing, I could see why the guy ran away.  The waves crash against this face relentlessly .  Mike and I continued on along a track past a convent and well into the woodland at the top of the cliff.  Now we were alone save for the odd local guy marching back with a fishing rod and some potfish, or some child either up to no good or just ending an amazingly imaginative adventure.  The further we got away from the car, the more we realised just what an enchanting coastline this was, and far away from the heavily pedalled touristic beaches elsewhere on the island.

We decided to see where else we could get down to this area.  It proved very difficult , the main coast road turns inland at Souillac, and the slopes down to the sea were some of the largest sugar estates  in Mauritius.  We found a way in which looked legitimate – in fact it was signposted several times to “the Beach”.  This was very useful as cane tracks, as I have said before, are notoriously difficult to navigate through at all times of year except when the ground is bare. As we reached the end of the road, it was obvious that there was still woodland along the entire clifftop.  My original thought was that the cane fields reached almost as far as the cliffs with them dropping rather unceremoniously into the sea.

I was not expecting what we saw.  A track wound steeply down the cliff and it was thick with a red mud , so we decided to save our new pickup truck the bother.  Even with all the 4 wheel drive and gadgetry that could have made it cope, we didn’t think it worth the risk not knowing whether the track petered out at the edge of the cliff with nowhere to turn.  As it was we shouldn’t have worried.  On each side of the track were an assortment of exotic trees – exotic to Mauritius you understand –  fruit and timber trees of the highest quality.  We noticed that much of the ground level was well tended too – smallholder plots of peppers, onions, herbs and spices, with the odd cereal crop like maize thrown in.  We even saw a couple of women weeding away amongst their crops.  Our original track descended to meet a more level one, beautifully grassy and obviously clipped.  We could hear the sea roaring away below us but only occasionally got glimpses of it.  Instead we walked through a paradise parkland, ending up at a small cottage set amongst some dark pine trees.  It appeared unoccupied but incredibly well kept.  At the cottage’s entrance was a huge lump of volcanic rock that resembled the shape of a turtle.  We realised this was some kind of holiday home, or maybe a retreat for the plantation owners.  Yet there was evidence that we were not trespassing – that others were commonly using this area for barbecues and parties.  There were a couple of small concrete shelters in amongst the trees and people had obviously used them recently.

We were quite perplexed as to why such a well maintained yet almost secret parkland existed here.  It certainly looked like the plantation owners were responsible for this part of, what was still after all, pas geometrique.  But it seemed to have open access at least to locals, and we were not stopped or questioned here.