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.

The Other Mauritius – Moka and Flacq

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.

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.

The Other Mauritius – A quieter route

So when I had leisure time, the thought of battling through the centre of Port Louis was not my idea of fun.  Fortunately I found some interesting back roads to avoid the jams.

One route was to head south past a little reservoir called La Nicolière. There was no direct route from our house – the layout of the roads followed the alignment of the cane plantations and I would take one of two alternatives through villages like Mapou, Poudre D’Or and Piton.  The roads steadily rose up to the main A2.  The A2 was one of those magnificent cane plantation roads; to shade the travellers avenues of trees had been planted and these had grown to have thick trunks like the pillars in a cathedral nave.  After rising still further I turned off through some more cane fields and eventually reaching a dam wall.  At the far end of this the road turned sharply up some hairpins, but I would usually stop to take in the cooler air and view from this point.  The lake was tucked under a set of wooded mountains but still perched high up amongst them and looking north the whole northern plain was laid out before you.  Mostly it was sugar cane fields, but it was pockmarked with villages and small wooded areas; often the old plantation houses.  The sea shimmered in the far distance and if it were clear enough you could see the islands; the ones which loomed so large at Calodyne were specs on the horizon from here.

Heading up the hairpins was a hair raising experience, mainly due to mad young teenagers on scooters or people with cars too large for them to handle swinging out in front of you on the bend. Once up on the mountain themselves you were in thick forest, with occasional glorious vistas hinted at through clearings to your left.  This was the Rubicon for me, the views were different now from my home area; I had passed across to the “rest” of the island.

More often than not when I passed this way, the cloud base was low and I drove through a cool soggy forest, the reeds and mosses on either side thriving in this environment.  It was almost like being in a Scottish forest in midsummer.  I loved it, it was the closest place to our house which I could call a wilderness.  A few people did come up here to picnic but the climate was not really to Mauritian tastes.  The odd vehicle passed through and there was some work on the forests.  But it was so quiet compare to the hustle and bustle of the villages.