01 June 2017

mauritius

via
Greetings from Mauritius!

In case you aren't familiar with this little island, it's just east of Madagascar (which you may remember first as a movie about New York zoo animals being stranded in "the wild" and secondly as the large island off the southeast coast of Africa).

People describe Mauritius as the world on an island, partly because the people here are multiethnic, multilingual, multicultural, and multi-religious, and partly because of the diverse flora and fauna. But I think of Mauritius more as a series of pleasant surprises that challenge your assumptions and toss them out the window.

Here I am in Africa, for example, expecting to see African people, but instead, most people look Indian (Southeast Asian Indian) (and almost all of the guests in our hotel were Indian, too). The official language of Mauritius is English, but these Indian-looking people speak French instead. And while the endless fields of sugarcane might suggest some kind of slow pastoral scene, the airport is dazzlingly efficient, the highways are as nice as the German autobahns, and the buses are more punctual than the ones we had in Darmstadt.



Mauritius was a Dutch colony, a French colony, and a British colony, so it has legacies from all three. The Constitution is written in English, their Civil Code is written in French, and you can visit the old Dutch capital of Mah├ębourg (pronounced my-boor) to see its famous Monday market. What's most impressive is that everything exists and flows together in harmony, and it seems like the rest of the world could learn a lesson or two from them. The official language of Parliament is English, but if you want to speak French instead, that's fine. The air is sweet here (not surprising with beaches on one side and sugar cane on the other), and the mood as you walk around town is mellow and pleasant, so it fits that there are no religious conflicts or dramatic political upheavals here.

A delectable result of this melting pot of cultures is the food you'll find in Mauritius. Our hotel breakfast buffet offered proper French brioche and croissants alongside the masala chai and sambar, and all were delicious. (They even had fish ball soup for the Chinese guests.) Delicious and cheap street food abounds, and it's generally clean and hygienic (even the seafood). A big bowl of fried noodles cost about a dollar at a street stand, and you can get a delicious plated meal of tender chicken brochettes (skewers), frites (fries), and salad for about five dollars at a stand in Grand Baie. (They say Grand Baie is more touristy, but we felt very much like we were surrounded by locals when we were being serenaded by karaoke on our way to Super U, the big supermarket, and ate at a little stand next to the bumper cars there.)

If you're looking for a very calm swimming beach, Trou aux Biches is perfect for little kids. (And just to be clear, Pointe aux Biches and Trou aux Biches are referring to deer.) Mauritius has the third-largest coral reef in the world, so the waters are already super calm, but this beach literally has almost no waves at all. So, if you have little ones who are terrified of waves (ahem, like mine), this beach should be perfect for them. There are also big palm trees so children can play in the sand in the shade. Oh, and all beaches in Mauritius are open to the public, so you're welcome to go exploring any of the beaches on the island without worry.

We booked our trip to Mauritius on a whim (we had to get from Germany to Taiwan, so we just looked at all of the flight specials leaving Frankfurt), but we discovered it is even more awesome than we realized. According to Time, scientists discovered a hidden continent beneath Mauritius. The island is the only known home of the famous dodo bird, which weighed up to a whopping fifty pounds. (Hence their popularity with the hungry sailors stopping by. Yet another reason the poor bird never made it.) And CNN hailed Mauritius as "the best Africa destination you know almost nothing about."

To paint a more accurate picture, Mauritius is pretty darn impressive, but like all places, it isn't perfect. However, the only downsides we discovered were that Port Louis (pronounced poor Louie), the capital, can be a bit congested (but the so-called traffic is nothing compared to the 405 in L.A.), the beaches are beautiful but often have coral bits and pieces mixed in with the fine sand (water shoes would take care of this), and pools are often not heated at the hotels (talk about first-world problem, right? But if a heated pool is important to you/you're going in the winter, tripadvisor actually has a running list of hotels with heated pools.) But these are pretty minor if they are what people gripe about.

(Quick aside: this reminds me of when I moved to Manhattan Beach, a very pleasant part of Los Angeles, and read the crime report in the local paper. It mentioned someone stealing a tomato out of someone else's garden and tossing it back when the owner appeared. I figured if that was in the crime section, I was moving to a pretty safe place.)

So, back to Mauritius. No place is perfect, and we barely scratched the surface with our little ones in tow, but Mauritius is worth a visit if you're able to make it over. The weather is pretty nice, too. Here's today's forecast:



If you're in Europe, discount airlines like Condor often offer cheap flights, and we stayed at a hotel with hotel points for free, so it was a relatively cheap trip for us. (We are normally frugal parents and travelers, but we spent so little money on the island, we felt okay about splurging on stuffed dodo bird toys for our daughters at the airport, which we would normally never do.)

A few people have asked about how we finance our travels because we aren't fancy six-figure-income folks (hint: we stayed for five nights in Mauritius for free using hotel points), so I'll be going over that in my next post. Happy June, everyone!