Monday, October 7, 2013

Guest post: Exploring the underwater (and overwater) life of Mauritius!

And so I decided after much mulling that despite making a coastal town (Mombasa) my adopted home, I would once again go to another beach-based location for a short vacation and take a break from the drudgery of work. 

Mauritius it was. Not for the much-spoken about beauty and allure of the place but just for the convenience. Since I am partially based out of Dubai, a direct flight on Emirates Airlines landing at 9.35 am into MRU and taking off at 6.30 pm out of MRU was perfect. Moreover, Indian passport holders do not need a visa – a huge bonus! 

Mauritius is a largely overpriced destination. No doubt the beaches are pristine, the island is scenic, the climate is largely pleasant (with the occasional typhoon thrown in). So one does pay for the view. But then again, to pay for everything else, well that’s a little too much ain't it.

Anyhow, considering Mauritius has a considerable Indian business populace who can justify overpricing sand in the desert and ice in the Arctic, one can only shrug the shoulders, roll the eyeball and fork out as required.

I entered via the old airport which was a little version of our Goa airport 20 years ago but far more organized. However, on departure I was fortunate to exit via their new modernized, swanky airport with its sprawling glass facades and air-conditioned arches. Clearly the dividends of overpricing pay well. 

Choose your hotel well
Zeroing on the location to spend your vacation in is another task that requires considerable thought. This island has topography to suit most tastes. You have hills in the centre of the island which are great for trekking, the urban sprawl in Port Louis with its old slave quarters and quaint harbour view restaurants and, of course, the beaches along the entire perimeter and a couple of islands thrown in for good measure. 

I immediately ruled out the beaches. Lounging on white sands with azure water does not really appeal to me. So I opted for the northern part of the island with the rocky coasts and the coral reefs that were literally stepping distance from the hotel bar. 

Speaking of the F&B
Speaking of the hotel bar, I have to mention the spirit of Mauritius. Of course aside from the usual variety of international spirits available, one has a wide selection of local rums. Sugarcane being a commercial produce from the island, there is a plethora of rums available with a complement of flavours innovated by the populace. Lemon grass rum, cinnamon rum, ginger rum, aniseed rum, chilli rum, orange and then some. What makes the rum unique is the fact that unlike the majority of rums that are made from molasses, Rhum Agricole (aka agricultural rum) from Mauritius is distilled from freshly squeezed sugar cane juice. A technical point no doubt but being the copious consumer of practically anything alcoholic, I had to bring it up.

The cuisine of Mauritius left me rather disappointed. Having a diaspora of cultures and multilingual natives, I suppose the translation of traditional dishes may have taken a few twists leading to what I would term as literally a melting pot of mediocre cooking and flavour.

The languages of French, Creole, Hindi and English – quite a few Mauritians speak all four – have led to a confused state of affairs on what should be prepared and how. Food ranges from Continental, Indian, Chinese and Creole. Most of it I found lacked the distinctive quality of the said cuisine but had the knack of clearly being obvious that something was missing from the mix. Anyway, this is just my subjective opinion and since I am not known to have a refined palate or as most of my detractors – and some friends therein – say, I have no taste! So one should not pay much heed to my critical perspective on food.

A multilingual island

That being said, the people are very friendly and smoothly transition from language to language depending on the tourist with the ease of a drunk man slithering down a bar stool. This was most evident whilst doing some street shopping at a roadside stall for the usual souvenirs. Knick-knacks however trivial are essential purchases of my holiday as they allow me to temporarily wax eloquent to friends and family who will only tolerate listening to me if they have a glass of their favourite beverage in one hand and a sample of the local loot in the other.

Over the last couple of years they have garnered jade from Thailand, dates from the UAE, wooden masks from Kenya, beads from Tanzania and now coral jewellery from Mauritius. The lady who owned the stall was the wife of one of the barmen at my hotel. It’s amazing how a couple of free drinks that he purloined off the hotel and slipped to me “on the house” increased the profitability of his business ventures on the side. I just had to visit his shop. Ahh, us Indians…..!!!

All in all I had to admire the loquacity of his wife who started a sentence in English with one customer, moved into French with another victim, barked orders in Creole to her assistant and then ended with Hindi to me on realising I was a good old desi descendant. I bought more than I planned – as she gave me – ‘very good, special price’. Oh well, more people whom I can expound my stories to.

*snorkel snorkel*
I spent a blissful week snorkelling the crystal clear and azure waters off the Point Aux Piments area. The sea life was plentiful and never failed to mesmerize. Reef fish of all shapes and sizes, coral in all their splendour and the occasional dolphins that visited meant I spent hours in the sea turning shades of tan that would have made my grandmother pale in anguish.

My September visit meant it was the fag end of the rainy and the cold season. So the water was a bit chilly. Actually brisk would be the apt word but not intolerable considering my propensity for warm – practically hot water to swim in. I did intend to go inland and explore the other sights of Mauritius, but somehow the sensual sunsets and the ever beckoning waves kept me on the coast for the duration of my stay. For those who are reluctant to get in the water or have an aversion to snorkelling, there is always the Mauritius Aquarium that houses all the views of sea life albeit in little glass tanks. 

Despite being vastly overprices, I am certain to re-visit this hugely popular. And since I am allowed to contribute to this blog, I don’t even have to distribute trinkets to get an audience anymore!  


This post was contributed by my friend Bevill Braganza, who now lives in Kenya. So we can expect many more travel posts from him! To send him a few tips on brevity or offer financial aid to help him recover from his Mauritius trip, you can contact him at 

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