Perhaps it is telling of the times but as I exited the Air Mauritius plane together with a fellow Singaporean writer, we whipped out our smartphones while walking along the jet bridge and launched Pokémon Go. We had heard rumours that Ditto, an extremely rare Pokémon, could only be found on the African continent and while we were not sure if these speculations were true, we found no harm in trying our luck.
On 15 April 1896, Mark Twain’s ship had docked on the shores of Mauritius. The island was one of the stops in the novelist’s year-long lecture tour around the world. Twain would document his travel experiences in Following the Equator, a 712-page tome published in 1897. More than a century later, his thoughts on Mauritius would become the most misquoted selling point in journals, brochures and articles about the island. Twain wrote, “From one citizen you gather the idea that Mauritius was made first, and then heaven, and that heaven was copied after Mauritius.”
Eight omitted words later, it became, “Mauritius was made first, and then heaven…” This anecdote was on my mind as the van I was in made its way to La Plantation D’Albion, one of two Club Med resorts on Mauritius.
The sun might have already set but even the darkness could not hide the natural beauty of Mauritius. Its stunning rock formations stood proudly in the horizon, a ring of greenery on their slopes acting as capes. An array of stars populated the night sky, twinkling as furiously as possible before the sun reclaimed its bright mantle. I was enamoured. As a city dweller used to light pollution and concrete as far as the eye could see, sights such as these could only be found in YouTube videos and travel photographs.
An hour later the van trundled past the metal gates and security guards at La Plantation D’Albion, and unloaded us at the foyer to the entrance of the resort, where a few smiling Club Med staff welcomed us with firm handshakes, warm towels and delicious fruit tea.
For those unfamiliar with the ethos of Club Med, it’s an all-in-one setup, excepting add-on services such as the spa or out-of-resort programmes. There is a lot to do in Club Med, from snorkelling trips to yoga classes, but the main draw has to be its flying trapeze school. Whether you are a mess of tangled uncoordinated limbs or a graceful and genetically superior swan, the patient instructors will be able to turn you into a fledgling circus performer.
But after a seven-hour plane trip and a one-hour road journey, the only thing I was craving for was sleep. A quick dinner later, I found myself in the rather expansive suite assigned to me. Unpacking luggage would have to wait. The crisp white sheets coaxed me to sleep, my mind dreaming of the adventures in store for me tomorrow.
Carved By Man and Nature
Regularly mixed up with the Maldives, and understandably so, Mauritius used to be a Dutch, French and English colony before gaining its independence on 12 March 1968. The people are multi-lingual, able to seamlessly switch between English, French and Mauritian Creole, a blend of French and pidgin dialects, depending on the social situation.
Mauritian weather is spectacular, the perfect compromise between balmy warmth and cooling breezes. It probably explains the cheerfulness and hospitality of the residents, all of whom always had a smile on their faces and a laugh at arm’s reach.
After breakfast on the patio overlooking the ocean, we set off to discover the island and its offerings. I must admit, I usually prefer exploring cities and immersing myself in their architectural and cultural nuances. Valleys, forests and centuries-old rock formations are attractions I prefer reading about rather than being physically present.
And yet, there’s something seductive about the natural landmarks of Mauritius. For example, take the Seven Coloured Earths in the village of Chamarel (above). A small area of dunes that comprise sand in seven different colours – red, brown, violet, green, blue, purple and yellow – the Seven Coloured Earths is between four and seven million years old and came about after several volcanic explosions. The blazingly hot lava cooled down at different speeds, giving rise to the different colours, and of course, a thriving tourist industry.
A short trek away from the Seven Coloured Earths is the gorgeous Black River Gorges National Park. We reached the viewing promenade just as the sun was setting and were blessed with a stupendous view that took our breaths away. The park is also home to the 100-metre Chamarel Waterfall, the highest in Mauritius and one of the highest in the African region. The falls originate from three streams, all from the St Denis River, before cascading down, merging and crashing violently onto the volcanic rocks below.
But while the hands of nature have blessed Mauritius with such gifts, the craftspeople in the country are equally as talented. I was quite surprised to find a model ship workshop in the heart of Curepipe, a town in the Plaines Wilhelms district. In here, employees were hard at work cutting wood, sanding them down, fashioning one model ship after another and finally, painting them and affixing miniature sails and ropes. The level of detail that went into each ship was astounding.
The legendary Black Pearl was also on display and for sale, and I was honestly floored by the meticulousness. It would have made a fine centrepiece for any home.
Run In My Tum
Besides model ships, Mauritius is known for a couple of things – the final bastion of the dodo before it became extinct in the 17th century, incredibly delicious vanilla, and the poison of choice for any self-respecting pirate, rum.
Close to 90 per cent of the cultivated land in the country is devoted to sugarcane, the main ingredient in Captain Jack Sparrow’s favourite spirit. It would be a cardinal sin to visit Mauritius and not check out a rum distillery, and so I did, heading to La Rhumerie de Chamarel. One of the few distilleries that still grows its own sugarcane, La Rhumerie de Chamarel opened its doors in 2008, two years after the government relaxed the restrictions on rum production. Today, some of the best rums in the world are from Mauritius.
Visitors to the distillery can freely sample the different types of rums it produces and even indulge in a bit of cocktail making.
For a small fee, they can also imbibe a unique rum, aged in French oak barrels and limited to 890 bottles. I promptly paid up, eager to sample a rum with such exotic characteristics (below). The colour of the alcohol closely resembled whisky and yet, the taste on the palate was sweet, complex and spicy.
My five days in Mauritius ended far too soon. Heading back to the airport, the mood in the van was far sombre than when we first arrived. Club Med’s fantastic La Plantation D’Albion had recharged my body and mind.
When I reached the airport I suddenly remembered about the lone PokéStop. I took out my smartphone and was about to launch the app, when I noticed the ball of flame bathing the airport with a beautiful orangey glow. I kept my smartphone.
Air Mauritius flies direct from Singapore to Mauritius, three times a week.