Far out in the outer rim of the continent called Africa, beyond the magical mythical land of lemurs, volcanoes formed. The movement of the continental plates moved the cone of the volcano away from the erupting magma. New volcanoes formed where the magma continued to bubble up, the old cones eroded in the waves. Three times this happened and now erupting magma is still forming Reunion Island, a huge volcanic caldera is gradually eroding away as Mauritius, another is gradually eroding away so Rodrigues will eventually fall below the surface of the sea, and another has already disappeared below the waves. Together they form a loose archipelago called the Mascarenes. Beyond them lie huge empty oceans – the southern part of the Indian Ocean and the cold, turbulent waters of the Southern Ocean – the next land of any size to the south is Antarctica.
I headed out for my first ever time in this part of the world in May 2008. The long overnight flight meant my first interaction and my would be project manager for the next few months, Mike Smith, was groggy – I fell asleep as he drove the length of the island from the airport in the south, past the capital, Port Louis, and out beyond to the northern end of the island and the house he had rented for the project period.
The job we were to do entailed proposing activities needed for full integrated management of the coastal zone. To Mauritius this was prime land – the majority of tourist hotels were here, the image of Mauritius was the long stretches of sandy beach, and many residents either lived near the beach or visited one of the public amenities on the coast at least once a month. Away from the shipping activity at Port Louis, the rest of the coastline was an important fishery to local people, and there was as a strong cultural and historical identity with the coast.
I know I might sound like a spoilt brat tired of eating ice cream, but to be honest working for nearly five months on coastal issues made me sick to death of the sight of the sea. When I had free time, I tried to find out about the other Mauritius, the inland areas of sugar, tea, forest, deer, rivers and waterfalls, historic houses, and to be frank where a good proportion of the population lived. So in this chapter, here is a bit of a geography of those areas rather than what most tourist blogs of Mauritius spew out.