So much for domestic life. This was one of those projects that are actually quite rare in my line of work – long periods away, living amongst people with whom you work. I knew one of the people from before, Paul. He had worked at NRI for a time and its sister organisation NRInternational, and we had once met up in Dar Es Salaam and spent a very pleasant weekend in Zanzibar. He is a gentle soul, very good company and his conversation rambles around a million topics in an afternoon. But as for the others we were working out each other’s characters, foibles and, worst of all, domestic habits. Even in the best of environments, where you get on all the time and have a good laugh, the truth is that you are with these people 24/7. And it does get claustrophobic. In a place like Mauritius, which is a relatively benign community welcoming to strangers, there is no need to be constantly keeping watch on each other. It does from time to time get a little stifling.
At first I did swim with Mike and the others, but as I say, I started to find going up and down the same pool with the mosquitoes biting at your shoulders every time you rested, a bit wearing. I preferred to walk – a bit of exercise and a chance to explore the neighbourhood.
The compound in which our house sat was right on the coast; there was a low fence beyond the swimming pool, and through a gate you could access a large expanse of rocky pools. The view from here was enchanting. Mauritius has a fringing reef with a few small islets of significance, but there are no really substantial sister islands – the second island of the nation, Rodrigues, is over 200km away to the east; well over the horizon. Only to the north are there a number of islands beyond the reef, and we could see several of these from our beach. Round Island is one. Mike scoffed that this was a misnomer, the shape of the island was like an inverted comma on the map. But I gave him some logic back to stop that scoffing. Round Island was named during an era when there were ships but no aeroplanes. No explorer would have seen the island from above in that era; they would observe it side on, and from a distance it looked like a perfect semicircle. It rose steeply from the sea to a bulging plateau on top. Bound to look “round” from the side. Mike would not climb down on this one but I think he grudgingly accepted my reasoning. Behind Round Island was a smaller blob of land, Serpent Island, and to the left and much closer to us was Flat Island. Again some may say this was a misnomer, but although not at sea level, much of the island was at the same altitude, hence flat. And to the left of there, only visible by heading out to the rocks where the lagoonal tide lapped, you could see Coin de Mire or Gunner’s Coin. A gunner’s coin is the carriage in which a cannon or other gun can be placed. If you look out from the mainland this island’s profile perfectly matches the sculpted shape of a gun carriage. Again if the early explorers had been in balloons they may have called it butterfish island – a bit fat central blob with two floppy fins either side. But they weren’t so they didn’t.