Mauritius Dodo land!

S ometimes I just have to admit my ignorance. Mauritius is not Saint Mauritius (there is no such thing). Yes, it is a tropical island but it is not in the Caribbean. No, it does not have eternal summer. Worse yet, for some unknown reason, when you ask people to join you in a trip to Mauritius, they are not going to say automatically yes without a second thought…

…just as I did. Almost all my assumptions about Mauritius were wrong, when I enthusiastically accepted to go there for a business trip. And as the days came closer to the departure time, I was becoming at the same time thrilled and worried. Worried because I would go there alone and everything that I had in my mind was proving to be far from reality. And thrilled because everything that I learned about the island excited me!

So let’s start setting the record straight. Mauritius is an island in the Indian Ocean, somewhat close to Madagascar and technically (or politically) speaking it belongs to Africa. There is a reef around the island and two of the main reasons people go there, are to dive or have surf. This was the only information that I actually kept and my whole preparation for the journey was to go and buy a proper diving mask. All set!

After traveling for almost 24 hours to get to Mauritius, the only thing that I was thinking on my way towards the hotel was the time to get to bed. So when I got out of the hotel next morning, I found myself totally surprised. The place around me looked tropical but everything – the people, the villages, the smells resembled… India!

Which seems about right after I discovered that most of the people living in Mauritius are actually Indians! To me though that was unexpected and it was something that shook me for a few moments. Inside the bus, I found myself sweating… “I am in the wrong place, I am in the wrong place“. The memories from my journey to India came back alive, but in an unexpected, kinda frightening way. Fortunately, as I started walking around Port Louis (Mauritius capital), I soon came up again to my senses and started enjoying this colorful place.

Everywhere I would turn around, I could see drawings and sketches from …dodo! This is the signature animal of Mauritius, just like a koala or kangaroo is for Australia, the puffin for Iceland or the bear for California. But the funny and bizarre thing is that dodos…. dont live anymore! They have gone extinct, because people ate them all!

At the time, I could not realize why the dodo felt like an animal so familiar. It seemed as if I had so many happy memories related to dodos, but then I could not explain how. The important thing is though that because of that familiarity with the symbol of Mauritius, I started feeling much more comfortable in this place. Only after a couple of years since I returned from Mauritius, I got the answer: the dodo was in one of my most read and favorite books as a child… yes, it was featured in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland!

No matter how beautiful Port Louis was, I quickly understood that visiting a city or villages around it, was not going to cut it for me. I wanted to see what a tropical island was, as I had never visited one before. I wanted to see the nature, the sea and the reef. When I got back to my hotel, I headed straight to the beach. To my disappointment there was so much wind, but strangely there were no big waves on the beach. Instead I could see that the waves crashed a couple of hundred meters away from the beach, which seemed very odd because there was nothing there. It was an invisible barrier that prevented waves to come closer.

It didn’t take long to understand that this barrier that I could not see, was the reef that surrounded the island. I was thrilled and excited! WoW! Without much thought, I knew I had to find a way to see the reef from up close. It didn’t take long to make the proper arrangements. I joined a group that a boat would take us on the reef to swim with wild dolphins.

We started really early in the morning, but to be honest although I am not the typical morning person, I didnt have the slightest difficulty to get up. For a very simple reason. From my excitement, I couldn’t sleep at all! We arrived at a small fishing village and boarded a speed boat. And then suddenly…

We found ourselves surrounded by a group of spinner dolphins jumping above the water, playfully chasing each other. And then after a while, we came across a smaller group of larger dolphins; bottlenose dolphins the skipper said. No photos from the bottlenose dolphins though. Can you guess why? Well let me help you… it was the time I dived to swim along them!

Ask me to name just a handful of life events that I will never forget. This moment is easily included among them.

I dont think I can describe with proper words the whole feeling. I can only remember that my heart was beating so hard that I was thinking that the dolphins would hear it. The fact that I could see the huge tail of the dolphin so close to me in a wild environment was totally unreal and at the same time insane. I had seen dolphins before; heck I had even swam with them again. But never in the open ocean. In their territory. Looking down was the colorful reef with all kinds of fish. In front of me a couple of bottlenose dolphins leisurely moving up and down, totally unconcerned about my presence.

It didnt last long before the dolphins decided to speed up and get lost in the sea. But the greatest things dont need to last long. I returned to the boat amazingly happy. As everyone boarded and the skipper set our course towards the beach, someone asked a question that shook me as I only then realized how focused I had been on the dolphins and nothing else. “Aren’t there any sharks around?” Oups! Even oupsier was the answer… “There are always sharks where there are dolphins”. Eh… oh… I am so glad that I was so focused on the dolphins!!!

While I would be entirely happy if my trip to Mauritius ended at that point, there were other things to explore too and there were available days as well. The nature of the inner island was still unexplored. And what nature that was!

Volcanoes, tropical forests, rivers, waterfalls, sugar cane plantations, unusual earth formations. I was thrilled! For being a rather small island, Mauritius definitely packs a lot!

It was September when I was in Mauritius. I guess that we could say that it was the beginning of the spring since the island is located in the southern hemisphere. Add to that, that it is a tropical island and every moment was one step away from a bright sun and equally far from rain. Exploring the land this can be an interesting twist, but when I decided to go sailing to discover the last part of my wish-to-see list, the beaches, I started to think that my good luck was approaching its end.

We boarded the catamaran, with the first drops of rain falling on our heads. Having spent my last money on this day trip, I went over to catamaran’s bar and ordered my first rum to compensate for the bad luck. I blended with the rest of the grumpy tourists.

The local rum was perfect and I already had a couple, so everything was already looking better and then we reached the beach as soon as the sun made its appearance behind the clouds. Magnificent!!

I was finally on one of those tropical beaches that for years I had seen on photos. The scenery was amazing and imposing. The bizarre thing for a mediterranean guy like me though, was that the white sand was mostly not… sand! It was broken shells and pieces from the reef. By itself this was extraordinary, the feeling on the other hand was not as sensational as the one from an actually sandy beach. Anyway, I could not be happier and upon returning to the catamaran, another round of rum made me even happier!

As I was packing my stuff the next day to leave the island, I was trying to gather up my thoughts. I came here totally unprepared and alone. But I was so happy that I made the choice to come despite that and so grateful that I was given this opportunity!

Peace and love from Mauritius!

Mauritius, 2013.

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