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Monday, 22 March 2010

Finding Paradise in Mauritius - Page 3

Written by John M. Edwards
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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!


The sea beckoned—literally. For the idyll was broken by a small unseaworthy-looking vessel, an independent deep-sea fishing boat plying the waters for customers. It anchored, unloading a pair of sunburnt Afrikaners arguing in argot, followed by their wily skipper—a Mauritian “Captain Stubing” in too-tight Speedo briefs. He jogged over with a gigantic book under one arm.

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

“You come with me to Flat Island!” he demanded—no, encouraged—turning the pages of unfocused pictures of previous customers looking miserable on a Conrad-style tropical isle of some sort. “Very cheaps. We catch fish. We eat fish.” Smiling like a Cheshire Cat—no, a Blue Meanie—he tried the hard sell. Caught in the vise-like grip of the sun, I politely declined: No thanks, I don’t fish.

At last he shook my hand and motored off. But already I had regrets. I had missed my chance at a guaranteed misadventure. I couldn’t help but think he had popped back into the pages of an unpublished Kipling novel.

After a few more days of milling around and meeting some of the locals, my attention turned to the buzz of excitement building on the island. Diwali Day dawned. I took an informal tour with the dour Monsieur Fan Fan and Ebrahim Tours. After the driver stopped in town to lengthily pick up a “beef paté baguette,” thus marking himself as a non-Hindu, we set off for the main “attractions.”

First off was the 60-acre
Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam Gardens in the funnily named town of Pamplemousses (Grapefruits). In this transplanted Eden, in 1768, Pierre Poivre (Peter Pepper—really!) began to collect indigenous plants such as mahogany, ebony, lantania, and pandanus, in addition to the ubiquitous palms. Next on the tour was the much-touted Trou aux Cerfs extinct volcano crater, looking like an Olympian coffee mug, followed by Mauritius’s number-one tourist attraction: the Chamarel Colored Earths—a mountain of multicolored mud straight out of Frank Herbert’s sci-fi classic Dune.

Finally we arrived at the sacred Hindu site of Grand Bassin (Great Pond), a 66-foot-deep volcanic crater lake. Inside the on-site temple, Hindu worshipers in full regalia chanted, lit earthenware lamps to a plethora of elephant-trunked and multi-limbed gods, and made offerings to, among others, Lakshmi, the goddess of prosperity. They serenely smiled. Nobody seemed to mind that we had dropped by.

Wandering outside, I spotted a sari-clad Hindu woman and her daughter, splashing through the holy waters, which according to legend come from an underground stream directly linked to the
Ganges. I stuck a tentative finger in the lake. Why not? Soon I was up to my knees in water.


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Last modified on Sunday, 16 December 2012

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