A couple of holidays declared in the middle of last week afforded one of those rare opportunities where you apply for just three days' leave and end up with a nine-day vacation. We spent most of this vacation on the beautiful island of Mauritius. Clean beaches with white sand next to a turquoise-blue sea - what more does one need for a perfect vacation? Nothing much, it turns out.
We took a 6-nights/7-days tour-package from TravelGuru for this trip, which included airfare, hotel stay with breakfast and dinner ("half-board"), airport pick-up and drop-off and a basic set of tours. We had to travel via Delhi (at an extra cost) since the direct flights from Bangalore connect with Mauritius during the middle of the week, instead of the weekends, for some weird reason. We stayed at the Jalsa Beach Resort. The tours were organized by Seaside Holidays.
|The View From Our Resort|
The first shocker for us when we landed in Mauritius was to discover that the Indian Rupee sells for quite a bit less than what is indicated by the official exchange-rate of about 1.66 Indian Rupees for every Mauritian Rupee - the best rate we could actually get was 2 Indian Rupees for a Mauritian Rupee. If you carry US dollars or Euros, you can get rates much closer to the official exchange-rate. Fortunately for us, our credit-cards worked pretty much everywhere, so we didn't have to carry around much cash (even with the slightly higher retail exchange-rate and the 3% service-fee, using a credit-card works out to be cheaper than transacting in cash in this case).
The second, and bigger, shocker for us was to discover how expensive everything was in Mauritius, especially food and drinking water. The rate for a bottle of drinking water was particularly bad at the hotel (75 Mauritian Rupees for a liter of water), so we got a couple of crates of water from a super-market at the first available opportunity. Anoop, one of our drivers, explained it to us once by pointing out that tourism and sugarcane-cultivation were the main sources of income in Mauritius - almost everything else was imported from elsewhere.
Two things we quickly noticed in Mauritius were the ubiquity of sugarcane-fields and the preponderance of people of Indian descent.
It seems as if every square-meter of land that is not covered by a building or a road is devoted to cultivating sugarcane. (Oddly enough, they seem to export almost all of it and then import sugar from South Africa, the one thing you would expect them to not have to import. Even odder was that we could find sugarcane juice to drink at only one place, that too at the exorbitant rate of 100 Mauritian Rupees for a small glass of the stuff.)
Roughly 70-75% of the population seems to be of an Indian origin, descended from the indentured Indian laborers brought over to the country during its occupation by the British.
The people in the country mostly speak Creole and can converse in a heavily-accented English with you (they can also easily talk in French, if you know the language; one of the reasons why it is so popular with French tourists). All the people we met were almost always very polite and courteous. This was especially visible on the roads (which were mostly very well-maintained, if a little narrow in places).
The tours included in our package were the North Tour, the South Tour and the Island Tour. Apart from these, we also opted for an Under-sea Walk, a Blue Submarine Dive and a Catamaran Cruise.
The North Tour comprised visits to places in and around Port Louis, including a big super-market (a surprising stop for a tour, but very useful for buying water, wine, etc.), Aapravasi Ghat, Fort Adelaide (La Citadelle), Marie Reine de la Paix and finally the Le Caudan waterfront. Of these, I found only the Le Caudan waterfront exciting. It was very lively, very clean and quite beautiful.
|Le Caudan Waterfront|
The South Tour comprised long journeys to mostly "meh" places, except for the beautiful Chamarel Falls. The particularly irritating part of this tour was the stopover for lunch at a restaurant that charged exorbitantly for its passable food, even going by Mauritian standards.
The Island Tour was the best of the included lot. It took us to the beautiful island of Ile aux Cerfs, where you can indulge in a wide range of water-sports or just relax on the beautiful beaches (I found it somewhat amusing that most of us Indians opted for the former, while most of the white folks opted for the latter). This tour was marred a little by intermittent bad weather and by repeated break-downs of a boat that was to be used for some of the water-sports, causing us to waste a lot of time that could otherwise have been spent enjoying this beautiful island.
The Under-sea Walk was a unique experience - we actually got to walk on the sea-bed, admire the coral and sea-life there and feed the fish off our hands. The Blue Submarine Dive was promising, but a little underwhelming since we didn't get to see much under-sea life on our visit.
The Catamaran Cruise to Ile aux Gabriel was amazing. It was made thrilling by some high waves on the sea that rocked the boat and several sightings of flying fish. The island itself was beautiful, surrounded by shallow seas where you could wade in quite a bit. I tried snorkeling for the first time in my life and was very excited to find out how long I could remain underwater in this manner and how many intrepid fish I could spot, and almost touch, this way.
On the whole, it was quite a memorable vacation.