Even the growing of the cane was an act which dominated the life of the island. So often when we were driving around letting the air circulate in the car with the windows down, someone would spot one of the huge irrigators in the distance. In Mauritius most of them were a metal framework that could be up to 1/3 mile long supporting. More often than not they were not activated but if they were, they were none too accurate. As you raced along the road, you had to rapidly hit the window switches and slam on the brakes not to be drenched in water as you passed underneath. It was not so bad if you were on a straight road but a couple of times you came round a corner, the irrigators would be hidden by the canes and no way could you close the windows in time.
The overall magnificence of the cane fields stretching for miles never ceased to take my breath away when you had the full vista, but the monotony of the detail when the canes were in full growth could also overwhelm. When the canes were in flower, though, you could marvel again at the individual plants. Huge pampas like florets extended high in the air, and gently waved in the wind. They turned whole fields a greyish white. In the late afternoon , as the sun dropped towards the horizon, they could go golden then red. They seemed to refract the light in all directions.
The sugar cane dominates the culture of Mauritius too. Not just the sugar itself, but all the other products. I’m not as big a fan of Mauritian rum as the brown Caribbean sort, but the rums flavoured with vanilla and other spices had their charms. The whole societal structure had been managed around the plantation culture. The Frenchies were the owners and the key workers, the Indians replaced the Creoles in the fields, the Chinese were merchants supplying essential ironmongery and groceries. As I said many of the field workers lived hidden away from the main thoroughfares. The plantation owners generally did too, but the announcement of where they lived was as bold as anything. Massive gateways, long avenues of trees leaving to a wooded hilltop where if you caught the right angle you might get a glimpse of the white paint of an estate house.