The Other Mauritius – Lost in the cane fields

The logic of the fields were that they formed a regular grid.  I could walk one direction, turn left, later turn left again.  One more left and I would eventually intersect my path and be able to head for home.  Mostly this worked well and every time I headed out this direction I would get more adventurous.  If I went east I would cross the Port Louis Rd and more fields would open up.  And I started to learn that each block of fields was not so monotonous.  Particularly close to the coast road, the fields had been taken out of production; some were wastelands of weedy vegetation but others were being built on, and ever more grand mansions were being constructed here.  But I also found out that the cane tracks themselves were not as regular as I had thought.  Once I had set out a little later than usual and as the tropical sunset was only an hour away I wanted to get as much in as possible, so I walked faster.  I went over the Port Louis Rd and continued east.  I knew if I turned north again I would end up in Calodyne and could make my way back along the road or shore path to the house.  I did so and found the track descending below the fields.  I was entering an abandoned quarry.  Beside the track were piles of rocks similar to the cairns out in the fields themselves, but I was getting deeper and deeper into a gully from which people had obviously excavated the faces.  Worse still, when I turned a slight corner, which itself was a surprising anomaly on the tracks in these fields, I found my way barred by a wall of volcanic rubble covered in creepers and shrubs.  There was no more track.  Even if I had been wearing better clothing, I doubt I would have made it over the pile of rocks without sustaining flesh wounds.  There was no alternative but to head back.  I realised some of the cane tracks not only were cul-de-sacs, but some did turn 90 degrees with no junctions.  On a short walk this could seriously lengthen your hike and with the sun setting and dogs howling in the distance, and my platypus water container in a landfill 30km away; I was not really ready to survive a night out in the fields.

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When the cane is high it is easy to get lost

The Other Mauritius – The cane dogs

Like so many countries, pet dogs have not always been treated with all the care some dog lovers would demand.  Over time, some have escaped or been abandoned.  They interbreed and have several generations down the line developed a race of feral dogs which roam around the countryside.  Totally opportunistic, the skulk around the waste bins in villages, steal what they can from the humans or live off the smaller residents of the agricultural areas.  During the growing season the cane fields make the perfect place for these dogs to hide away.  Once off a cane track the monocrop of sugar grows tall, with little undergrowth.  Perfect for dogs to skulk around, make a nest, shelter from the rain and shade from the sun.

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Feral dogs are everywhere

Meeting one or two of these dogs on the cane tracks was never a problem.  They may stare for a moment but they tended to be scared of humans and avoided them at all cost.  Maybe the memory of being shouted at or abused made them cowed.  But get more than two together and you start to have a pack, and other instincts start taking over.  They grow in confidence together and start barking and running at you.  Standing your ground can help in some cases, but the strong minded ones with an alpha dog leading will still come on at you.  I learnt quickly that only by having a collection of hand sized stones can you deter the pack.  They never needed to hit the dogs; I’m not sure my aim was that good anyway, as long as something headed towards then and hit the ground it would be enough to unsettle them.  But I always had more than one stone in my pocket in case it didn’t.  It became a ritual for me to collect a few as I crossed the coast road in St Francis, and only release the unused ones as I headed back to the gate of my compound.

At first I was fairly cautious where I explored in the cane fields; initially I was not even sure they were public spaces.  The plantations were fiercely protective of their property and despite the declining importance of the industry, still influential.  But then I saw that I was not alone out in the fields.  I would see lycra clad walkers and joggers, couples trying to find a bit of space away from their respective families, sometimes little troops of children playing all sorts of imaginary games.