Several of these are no longer privately owned and a few are open to the public. On my first weekend alone I went to one of these; Eureka in Moka. I should mention about Moka first. It is a small place, if you drive up the motorway out of Port Louis you could almost miss it as you get close to the conurbation on Plaines Wilhelm. But it holds a special place in Mauritius; it houses the campus for the University of Mauritius, as well as the Presidential Palace or State House. And sheltered in the lee of the northern mountains, it has attracted a number of high end villas. The streets are paved with gold in parts of Moka, or at least with the profits from the sugar trade. Nearby a new development was being built next to the motorway. Ebene was once just another sugar cane plantation but high rise gleaming tower blocks were already starting to appear on my first visit, and they were joined by hotels and high class shops over the few years that I visited.
It was being marketed as Cybercity, and was developing a big push to get technology in government up to date, and reach out to development, marketing, call centres and other internet dependent businesses to congregate there. Funny how use of a technology that should not be geographically dependent was being concentrated in one area.
Eureka was a hark back to a different era, but at its height was as much at the cutting edge as Cybercity was striving for now. The house itself looked very simple from the outside. It was a two storey building, the upper floor integrated within a high roof. The lower floor was almost completely surrounded by a wide veranda. The rooms were well appointed with both practical and ornamental artefacts, all of good quality. The dining room had a heavy oak table and almost medieval chairs, which was surrounded by an array of glass cabinets. The wooden floors creaked with every step frighteningly shaking the crockery in the cabinets.
Eureka – Dodo
Eureka – modern facilities
In the grounds
Side of Eureka
As I say the practical elements were once the height of technology. In the bathroom, instead of just the metal bath there was a gantry from which the bather could add more hot water. The sink was set in a sumptuous slab of marble.
I walked round the small lawns and down a footpath into a gorge where the River Moka gurgled across the rocks and fell over ten feet in a powerful force. It was a world away from the small villages hidden at the foot of the cane fields. I’ve visited a couple of other plantation houses over the trips; the same picture emerges from all. You wonder at the opulence and see it as the height of tropical living, but you can’t help to also wonder at the sacrifices and injustices at the huge number of slaves or indentured workers who strived to let these owners live this way.
Falls below Eureka
Falls below Eureka
The gorge below Eureka
There were three or four roads that led out of the northern plains from here, all crossed a rough rocky plain that could hardly sustain cane fields, indeed in some places they never bothered and it was a dark scrubby dry woodland. Beyond though was a massive plain, predominantly in the district of Flacq. The main town here is Centre de Flacq; again not much more than a service centre for the villages and plantations of the district. It did have a couple of colonial buildings of note in the town centre.
Poudre D’Or church
On the east coast
Centre Du Flacq
The extent of the plain was surprising. Considering this was a small island, I always felt the road leading west from Centre De Flacq was heading out into prairie lands – the views were extensive – a breath holding amount of sugar cane blowing in the wind leading the eye to a series of small mountain ranges that gradually tapered together in the west. But they never touched, the Flacq plain merged with the plain in Moka and on to the conurbations of Plaines Willhelm. But all the time you were rising, steadily but noticeably from near sea level in Centre de Flacq to over 400m in Moka.
With so many little mountain ranges around the island, there were pinch points where roads converged One of these was at the top of the Flacq cane fields. All traffic had to pass through a small town called Quartier Militaire – another wonderfully evocatively historical name for a place. But I can find no reason why it might have been called that. The only thing I can think of was that the town is about the dead centre of the whole island, and the most remote place from the coast. Maybe this area was set up as an area to marshal the military, maybe the area where they trained. It certainly was a good location to have an army to protect the whole island. If any foreign troops tried to invade from any angle, soldiers could be trooped (downhill) with little effort in almost all directions to face battle.
West of Quartier Militaire was a small rural area of Moka which contained a few villages. It was still full of sugar cane but was more windswept than many cane fields; it was at an altitude of over 450 m. As well as a couple of old railway tracks and stations, and the paraphernalia of storing and transporting cane to the refineries, it was marked by a pretty little lake at Valetta. The main road between Curepipe and Flacq skirted its northern side and pine trees provided little picnic sites around it. I found these little inland picnic sites all over the island; a match for the parkland at the public beaches. While they were nice little spots and it was good the government were making facilities for people to use, they always appeared rather heavy handed. Picnic tables would be huge clunky concrete structures on a hard surface. Fences were solid concrete posts with at best whole tree trunks forming the barrier. Footpaths were tarmacced or concrete again. Any naturalness had been stomped on by the need to produce services for hundreds of people to use them. But Valetta’s little reservoir here was still a pleasant relief amongst the incessant cane fields.