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Monday, 22 March 2010

Finding Paradise in Mauritius - Page 2

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John M. Edwards grabs his “beach-combers card” and celebrates Diwali (Festival of Lights) on the Indian Ocean Isle of Mauritius--once only the roost of dodos, now the boast of beach bums who before they discovered it couldn’t place this paradise on a map!

I learned about “sights” in the capital of Port Louis—a President Kennedy Street, a Nelson Mandela Boulevard, and a Muammar Khadafy Square. Later at Port Louis’s Deva Saraswatee Laxmi (DSL) Coffee House, opposite the St. Louis Cathedral, I listened to an ululating muezzin from the nearby Jummah Mosque, right in the middle of Chinatown. Whew! Mauritius might very well be, as the Mauritian tourist bureau advertises, “The most cosmopolitan island in the sun.”

“You are here for ze deep-sea feeshing?” queried Grenouille (Frog), a wealthy French drifter from nearby Réunion, with a surprising self-proclaimed moniker, who was staying at my guesthouse. Just beyond the coral reefs, the waters teem with blue, black, and striped marlin, yellow-fin and skipjack tuna. sailfish, barracudas, sharks, and dorado, among other creatures. A virtual waterworld,
Mauritius somehow only reels in a couple thousand American tourists a year. Up everywhere were signs for “Deep Sea Safaris” and “Big Game Fishing.” With all that, Grenouille wondered why an American had come so far—to not catch fish, but I was there to eat them.

Mauritian cuisine is as mixed as its people. One night at the inexpensive Café Péyrebere, evocative of a mini dim sum palace, I tried something a little different. Perusing the menu for specialties such as smoked marlin, curried cerf (stag), and couer de palmiste (a.k.a. “millionaire’s salad,” made from the heart of a 7-year-old palm), I placed my order. The poker-faced Chinese waiter informed me, “Sorry, we are out of lobster. But we make you something extra special!” He cracked a smile. “Okay, you try!”

An hour later and still no dinner, I asked what exactly was this “special” dish.

“Sacré chien!” the waiter beamed. I began to grow a little queasy. This, of course, is French for “sacred dog.” An adventurous eater, I still wasn’t sure I could dig into a poached pooch. Needless to say, as the waiter removed the dome with a flourish, I was very relieved when the dish turned out to be not a steaming baked Airedale but just a kind of fish. The joke was on me—as it has been on many an unsuspecting customer before, I imagine.


Finding Paradise in Mauritius, budget travel Mauritius, Mauritius on a budget, travel Maurice, Péyrebere, Diwali, Festival of Lights, John M. Edwards

Time to check out the island’s stunning sand traps. One morning after my habitual café au lait and flaky croissant, the sun sent out an open invitation, and I answered the call. In
Mauritius you never have to go far: beaches are everywhere. “Very good beach!” the “snacky cart” (street food) vendor enthused, handing me a roti and pointing across Péyrebere’s one main road: the Route Royale, lined with low-key restaurants, bars, and guest houses.

Before me was a paradise—two of the best swimming beaches right in the center of town, one of which was marked “private.” By law, all beaches from the high tide to the low tide marks are public property. So ignoring all the Acces Interdit (No Trespassing) and Chien Dangereux (Dangerous Dog) signs outside the seaside villas, I set up my sarong on the powdery white sand of the “plage privée” (private beach). The strand was nearly deserted, except for a topless sunbathing woman.

After a solid week of beach-combing and now bronzed as a Buddha, I hiked around the coast, passing small dhows bobbing like Champagne corks in the water, until I arrived at Cap Malheureux (Cape of Misfortune), the northernmost point where the Brits first landed. I plopped down and gazed out to sea. In the Impressionistic light, nearby Coin de Mire, a humpback-whale-shaped island, seemed to be swimming ashore. Farther out lay
Flat Island (not flat), Round Island (not round), and Serpent Island (no snakes).


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Last modified on Sunday, 16 December 2012

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