The Other Mauritius – Vignettes around the island

Still it was a major adventure.  Over the weeks, and particularly the weekends, I realised I had traversed so many of the main roads of Mauritius, criss-crossing the island and overlapping routes I had taken before.  I took to filling in the gaps; visited other sites such as some of the major waterfalls like Rochester, Chamarel, Alexander.

  I saw the coloured earths; not the famous ones again at Chamarel but an interesting imitation near Bassin Bleu.  Removing the vegetation from  a sugar cane field, and smoothing the clay underneath in the shape of the island of Mauritius itself, people who owned the old estate had revealed over 23 different coloured soils; the effects caused by different balances of chemicals in the soil.  I must admit I found it difficult to discern all 23 different ones, but I used to have problems distinguishing vermillion and scarlet so I believed the experts.  All in all it was a pleasant little tourist attraction, a great walk around the edge of this bare earth with different aspects, including a high viewpoint which not only looked over the site but down the hill to the south coast as well.

Despite all my excursions through the lesser known lanes of the island’s interior, I still would find myself on the coast from time to time, and staring out at the ocean.  One of my favourite of these points was at Albion. Not very far west of Port Louis, I had been to Albion village  for the first time to talk with people at the Fisheries Institute just behind the beach, but for recreation I would drive to the lighthouse.  Probably the most spectacular and tallest of the lighthouses in all of Mauritius, it stood proud on a set of impressive cliffs.  Striped red and white, it was noticeable for miles around.  Most importantly for me, when you came flying in from London, this was often the first Mauritian feature you would see out the window.  I say, often, as sometimes the clouds would be swirling around the aircraft so much you would see very little, but if they cleared long enough you saw the top of the lighthouse as you crossed the coast.  I always found the approach the airport impressive.  Once over land, the plane would negotiate a valley between two small mountain ranges and pass above the centre of the Plaines Wilhelms’ towns.  It then came over a forest at a very low altitude – i.e. it was passing over the high ground near Midlands and then the land gently sloped away to the coast and the plane almost drops in parallel to the ground; gradually getting closer and closer to the land,  but running out of island to stop on.

The Other Mauritius – Moka and Eureka

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.

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Cyber City

  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.

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.