Not far down the main road from here was Peka, where Christine worked from. We stopped off at her convent/orphanage and Christine dropped off her mystery parcel. She had a modest but clean, well maintained and functional house, set amongst the dormitories of the on site boarding school. Out the back there was a set of farm buildings with a stunning view through a wooded garden to the valley beyond. We were introduced to her swine; she looked after pigs. The sows were all snoozing in the sties, but the piglets were free range, a hoard of them snouting around in the weeds, chuckling and snorting at each other, and once in a while having a little disagreement that caused excess squealing.
Looking out from the farm I saw the striped fields stretching off in the distance and the looming high mountains in the distance. I surmised this might be the last chance I get to see more of Lesotho’s countryside. It was still only mid afternoon, and when we got back in the car, I took a look at the road map I had bought, and suggested we took a back road that went closer to those mountains. Both Christine and Becky loved the idea, without their own vehicles they often didn’t get off the regular routes. So we drove further down to the next town, Teyateyaneng and turned left. A few kilometres further we turned onto a wide well maintained dirt road towards Koali. The scenery was little different from the main road for a time. There was the mix of villages and roadside stalls, the stripy fields covering every bit of flat and gently rolling land, cut through by the sporadic steep escarpment or river.
We headed along the track further east, meeting up with the route I did from le Petrin. But we decided we did not want to walk on the road, so again cut through the forest. Forests often disorientate, and plantations are the worse. Where you think those straight tracks would be easy to orientate, you often find they come to dead ends or are impassable due to waterlogging or fallen branches. Worse still you think you are heading in a certain direction but imperceptible bends confuse your sense of direction. A combination of a few of these small changes, and then coming to a junction where you fatally turn left instead of continuing straight on can take you miles from your intended destination. We saw evidence that others had been through this way, but not human. Along the side of many tracks were extensive excavation of the surface. It was not as if someone had scuffed their shoes on the soil, it was almost like trenches were being dug to improve the drainage either side of the pathway. But if they were trenches they were being placed in the most bizarre locations and they stopped as abruptly as they started. Added to that the soil was scattered all over the place. It eventually dawned on me that a hog had made these tracks. I had heard that some wild boar still existed in Mauritius. Introduced as a game meat they had been hunted in Black River for many years. Now that Black River was a protected area, a national park no less, the boar were able to roam free from any predators. But their impact was heavy – they grubbed up soil everywhere, demolished small shrubs and, so I heard, were quite scary if confronted when they were with young. We did not see any although sometimes we heard noises off in the forest that our imaginations decided could have been a pack of boar.
The light plays
The weather was dull and the forest muffled noises and helped to disorientate ourselves. We occasionally could hear a vehicle, but since two roads were in this area, one to the east and another to the south, it was difficult to determine from which the sound was coming. It did not help the southern road was not straight, and we actually emerged on to it much further to the east than where we wanted to.
It meant we had to dodge the traffic – although light it did increase as the morning went on. The forest thins up here to a wild moorland, predominantly of this red guava tree. We did find a track that was parallel to the road and were able to enjoy a more civilised walk for a while. In theory we should have been getting epic views over the south of the island now, but the cloud base was low and a mist had formed below it. When we finally reached the best view point in the whole park, the sun had started to burn away the morning cloud.
Mauritius is known from the outside for its tourist resorts and beaches; nationally it is inextricably linked with sugar, but it does get a bit sickly after a while. I craved a different scenery. To the south of Moka, I eventually found this. Instead of taking the main motorway south from Curepipe I would head off from Valetta on a quiet back road. I remember the cross roads where I would turn off well ,it was in amongst a small wooded grove. As soon as you left the main road you could see an industrial complex on the right. It was quite modern. Indeed I had seen several of these dotted around the island. It was an attempt in the 1960s to diversify Mauritius’ dependency on the sugar. Incentives were given to build garment factories and women, yes it was mainly women, were encouraged to sit at row after row of sewing machines and looms. It was all quite modern for the time, but as usual with small islands, they were eventually undercut by much larger factories in south and south east Asia. Now only a few remain, and the rest are industrial relics, albeit more modern than the old sugar factories.
Centre of the island
The mountains fringing the central plain
The scenery changes to the south into a scrubby woodland. I realised this was not the natural vegetation but a sprawling regrowth over what had once been tea plantation. I could spy the odd tea plant sitting in amongst the weeds. As I went further south, I saw active tea plantations. There were always people in these fields as I went by, tending carefully to the small dark green trees, or weeding in amongst them, or occasionally I would see the ladies with baskets on their backs nipping the new tips off and tossing them behind them.
I passed through this area a few times, but once I noted from my map that in amongst the plantation was a small village called Dubreil. Curiosity got the better of me once and I turned off. I was always a little cautious about heading off the main roads; for one thing the maps never made it quite clear whether these were public roads. But I passed by a lot of people walking the road in their different colour overalls. I entered this rather drab little village; I think again the drabness was more the constant battle against the cool moist air in these upland areas than the motivation of the locals. But this village had a quietness that most of Mauritius lacked. People were going about their business but there were few bright colours in their clothes, the children were not playing around in the streets and there was a distinct lack of vendors on the main road. I realised this was really a corporate village. The houses all looked similar; many detached with their own gardens but all so similar and plain that it was like all life and individuality had been sucked out of them.
The village was set behind the offices and complex of the tea factory; whose gardens were the best tended and most colourful around. The village was there to house just the people who worked in the fields or the factory. Who would live at the end of this cul de sac, miles from the nearest town with nothing more than tea plants to look at. I felt uneasy and quite melancholic to spend any more time there so turned the car straight around and headed back.