We had a meeting with our guides in a local bar to discuss what it was we were supposed to have seen, the rain still pouring steadily outside and the occasional rumble of thunder reinforcing our good decision not to go into the middle of the lake in a metal boat.
We drove back to the crazy city over the next couple of hours, discussing our field trip, planning the field work to be done over the next couple of months and my mapping and modelling inputs to come. We also chatted about life, learnt more of Jean Luc’s other career as a fish farmer in Quebec and listening to various dotty songs in French.
In the rain
Tented city 2 years on
The rain makes the garbage float
Rain is a deadener for human activity in developing countries. As we drove along, all the hustle and bustle of the market had gone – a few souls desperate to buy food braved the mud and wet. No-one worked in the fields, we would get a glimpse of people grouping together in leaky corrugated iron clad bars peering out at the weather, or from verandahs of houses, or maybe as close up to a tree’s trunk as possible. There was no one in the fields. The roads; where normally people would be hanging around at junctions or by bus stops, were near empty. Even the animals had retreated under houses and sheds.
As we drove the potholes filled with water, the ghuts and gullies splashed with brown rivers, the droplets plopped from plantain and paw paw trees. In the countryside the rain looked life giving, once we entered the city again it just looked depressing – the already grey concrete landscape looked even drabber, the only saving was that the dust that normally hung in the air and was blown around on the trade winds or from traffic had been washed to the ground.
There were two ways in to this forest. I preferred this one coming up this back road to Le Petrin. A car park sits in amongst the pines at the edge of the forest. The air is always fresh and often cool up here and a track heads off westwards. Again if it were in Europe of North America it would be just an ordinary forest track, but in Mauritius it was something different from the norm, and that made it special. While the pine trees themselves were plantation style – long straight ranks of trees disappearing off in to the gloom, on the forest edge where more light penetrated the vegetation was richer. Prolific on the margins and climbing up the other shrubs was Chinese Guava. Having been introduced to gardens in Mauritius it had found a niche and exploded as an invasive weed. Like all the best invaders, they are so attractive to the local fauna; the berries become red ripe and are greedily picked by the birds and rodents…. and people. With a friend of mine, Martin, I picked a couple of bagsful and he made guava jam; a bit gritty but it tasted good.
Guava trees on the edge of the gorge
The pathway divided the forest park on the south with a hunting range on the north. They were managed in completely different ways. For timber the trees were grown uniformly to the same height before being chopped down to restart the process. The other side was allowed to ramble and some management of open spaces, scrubby areas and dark shade were introduced to set up the environment for the hunting “game”. At one junction, the main track headed northwards. I went this way to find another small reservoir, the Mare Longue. Several small valleys were dammed up here to provide fresh water for the central plains towns and the surrounding areas managed mainly with natural vegetation or hunting grounds.
The rainfall here was higher than almost anywhere in Mauritius. Once I tried to cut through the forest itself, but soon regretted it. Although it was a recognised forest trail, there were deep, thick tracks from the logging machinery that passed through from time to time. The trail did not get sun for long each day, and it was perched on the top of the ridge between Grand Bassin and Black River Gorges. The wind blowing up from the Indian Ocean from the south east was constantly condensing the thick humid air and forming clouds. If it was not pouring down with rain, you were often caught up in the dense, penetrating drizzle within the clouds. The mists blew in and out every second of the day and several plants took full advantage of that. Thick carpets of moss covered the floor – which was like a two foot deep sponge that oozed as you walked on it. The moss and lichens trailed from the pine branches. Little rivulets flowed down every crease in the landscape, forming standing pools in each depression and gradually working their way to the sheer sides of the Black River Gorges themselves which lay below these forests.