I had already spent four days at the Mauritian island. These days had been truly enthralling; comprising of scuba diving, underwater walk, snorkelling, beach volleyball, boat rides, tube ride, waterfalls and beach time at Ile aux cerfs. Add to that a couple beers, beach table tennis, early morning beach walk with a slightest of drizzle and you have for yourself the perfect recipe for bliss. Following this, we had reached the airport and my folks from work were set to catch their flights back to India. I had slightly different plans. While I had covered most of the touristy places, it was time for me to taste the real flavor of Mauritian life.
I headed to my Airbnb which was 8 km from the airport in Mahébourg at around 1830 hrs. Mahébourg is a small city on the southeastern coast of the island of Mauritius. My host had informed me that owing to the nature of his job and the time of the month, he’ll stay at work till very late and consequently suggested me to grab dinner on my own at a restaurant Chez Patrick; 15 walking minutes away. I left home at about 1900 hrs to explore around the town. I realized it was already starting to get rather dark. I walked around the town aimlessly and truly unwatchful of where I was heading; I entered a supermarket to glance at what they have in store. In addition to the stuff that you’d expect to see in a supermarket, was a truly mesmerizing medley of alcohol. Roughly estimating, they had at least a 100 varieties to offer. Took a mental note and headed to Chez Patrick and ordered Chicken in Kreole sauce with rice and banana rum to go with. I started walking back at about 2045 hrs and to a great surprise, the sky was pitch black and streets desolate. With chilling winds and dogs barking at a distance, the feeling was congruent to walking around in Delhi at 1 AM on a November night.
I reached back home and spent some time chatting with my Airbnb host, Nicholas; who was gulping Chinese tea; recipe as taught by a Chinese friend of his; who had BnB-ed at his place some time back. Nicholas seemed to be a chilled out guy. Nicholas offers his place on Airbnb so that he can meet new people from around the world. He likes to paint, cook, play the guitar; has a mini bar of his own.
I had set out by 8 in the morning. Mission of the morning was to arrange a local sim and a scooty. I could have searched online but I found this as a golden opportunity to interact with the locals. I inquired about where I could rent a scooty in the vicinity. Some people directed me to an approximate location / place / shop; the ones who did not know of any, seemed rather upset about about the fact that they couldn’t be of much help. The thing that stood out for me was that most people knew Hindi! When you try conversing with them in English they would reply back in Hindi! – “Hindustan se ho?” “Sau-Doso rupye lagenge”. Now, conventionally speaking, Mahebourg isn’t a touristy town and my efforts to find a scooty were in vain.
I decided to go the traditional way of finding a rental on the internet. By 12 noon, I was setup with a scooty. I started out from the Mahébourg waterfront and headed towards South along the coast. My plan was to keep riding aimlessly along the coastline. I rode for about 7 KM, stopped at some places to click some pictures. I realized that while going in this direction, it was rather difficult for me to stay alongside the coast. The roads were repeatedly throwing me off, into the city. Post 15 Km, I found myself in the middle of farms with the seas nowhere in sight! I decided to head North instead; so I navigated to Vieux Grand Port, North of Mahébourg. Here onwards, I was in for a treat. I drove along the beaches for 50 KM straight. With some rock music in my pocket and one hell of a scooty, I rambled wherever the road would allow one to go – Trespassed into random valleys; needless to say “Private Property” and “Cremation Street” signs were not a deterrent.
It was 1800 hrs; I was at Bel Air and considering that it gets pitch black at 1930; I reckoned that it was in my best interest to start heading back. I drove back to Mahébourg which was 30 km if traversed without deviating from the route. Some stray dogs almost got both of us injured by suddenly appearing in my way. After a long and tiring day, I wanted to grab some familiar food, so I headed to KFC for Dinner.
On this day, a solar eclipse was to happen which was to be visible only from Mauritius in the entire world. The nerd in me was screaming for me to head to a planetarium, but guess where I ended up reaching? A rum factory. In the morning, I had about an hour to kill, so I decided to head to the national history museum which was at a stone’s throw from my bnb pad. I learnt that Mauritius was colonized by the British from 1810-1968 and they brought in slaves aggressively from India among other countries. When in 1968, the British decided to abandon the island, because it was financially draining, the slaves were left behind which is why I gathered, Mauritius is abundant with people of Indian origin.
Rhumerie de chamarel is this big ass rum factory. At about 930 hrs I started for Chamarel. Navigation was a pain. GMaps was continuously losing the GPS signal. So I had to stop frequently and try to make sense of the directions. 40 KMs out, I started an ascend uphill. For some reason I wasn’t very confident about the fuel indicator and that was making me anxious, since I was pretty sure I will not find a filling station uphill. In the last 10 KM run, the roads became increasingly convoluted and turns rather sharp. I eventually reached Rhumerie de chamarel. The folks here offer a guided tour of the factory, entry ticket priced at 370 MuR.
90% of cultivable land in Mauritius is dedicated to sugarcane cultivation. Now, sugarcane juice, my friends, can be used to produce great rum. Our tour guide, Nathalie enlightened us about the rum production process while maneuvering along the spectrum of industrial processes like fermentation, double distillation and aging in casks. Following that, we tasted nine varieties of rums. I bought a Vanilla liqueur rum priced at 600 MuR as a souvenir for folks back home. During the tour, I met an Indian happy go lucky couple with a great sense of humor. Along with that some folks from England who hailed old monk as the most superior rum! I loitered around, clicked some more pictures.
It was time for me to head back to be on time for my flight. I had just had rum. So, technically speaking, I drunk drove. On the hills. In Mauritius. Mauritius, you son of a beach; just wait and watch when I visit you again. Soon enough.