I’m writing this as we are flying home from our Christmas in Mauritius. Why Mauritius? When we landed in Cape Town in September, as part of our goal for this experience – to travel as much as possible – we started researching potential Christmas destinations. We considered several: Namibia, Victoria Falls, Mozambique. We didn’t realize that all of these are a) prohibitively expensive over the holidays and b) mostly booked, since South Africans tend to book their annual summer holiday a year in advance. We decided on Mauritius because it was a) relatively more affordable than any of the above and b) relatively easy to get to – just four hours from Johannesburg.
It was a great decision. Mauritius is a FASCINATING place. Its history – like most of Africa – is complicated and complex, with strands of French colonialism, and Mozambique and Indian immigrants and slavery. Our cab driver upon entry told us proudly he’s a fourth generation Mozambiquian living on the island. By far the most prominent language spoken was French (we repeatedly thanked the Milton French immersion program!) with very limited English. It was great for the kids to speak mostly in French and/or to translate between French speakers from France with English speakers from other places (Europe, Australia).
The island reminded me a lot of Bali in its colors, topography and vegetation (remember that, Stacey and Jamie Lyons and Jane Mingey?), but the culture was far more diverse, reflecting European, African and Indian customs and traditions. We saw multiple Hindu temples and Buddhist shrines, although did not see as much evidence of Islam as we might had we visited Zanzibar, further up the coast of Africa. (remember that, Judith and Melissa?) The island, just about 120 miles from north to south, seemed relatively affluent, with a robust tourism sector and evidence of continued reliance on sugarcane obvious in every field we passed. However the past was never far away: for instance, we took a beautiful hike to the top of the Black River Gorge, a remote and stunning area where apparently slaves used to hide from capture – and if capture seemed imminent would jump off the cliffs to their death. (Hence the vigilance to keep Luke FAR away from any cliffs!) Other excursions included a visit to the capital, Port Louis, during which we browsed through its famous market, got henna tattoos and twirled under hundreds of hoisted umbrellas, and a trip to the northern (and rather crowded) resort community of Grand Baie, passing gorgeous beaches and scenery along the way. Color was everywhere – as was nature – frogs and monkeys and beautiful birds were plentiful. The food was delectable: fresh-from-the-sea fish and so much fruit- especially pineapple, mangos, pamplemousse (grapefruit), gauva and lychees. Yum Yum!
Click above to hear the frogs from our hotel!
Mauritius is also one of the most progressive and permissive African nations (along with Kenya) for innovation in education policy and practice. Chris was super excited about a day he spent with leaders from the African Leadership University, an institution created recently to develop African leaders for Africa. (See his blog post about his day here). Over the next few months we hope to visit their sister organization, the African Leadership Academy, which is based in Joburg and enrolls high school (or matric) level students.
So that was the context for our stay there. In terms of the holiday itself – what a hoot!!! In this culture – and in South Africa, as we understand it – the big deal is Christmas Eve versus Christmas Day. The resort threw a big Christmas Eve fest, complete with cuisine and entertainment from multiple cultures (Mauritian, Malay, Indian), that we enjoyed with another family from Cape Town. Santa rolled in via speedboat on Christmas Day, and while an announcer narrated (all in French of course) a program providing kids presents and opportunities to pose with Santa, Chris and I snorkeled and, after hemming and hawing, enjoyed perhaps just one more fruity cocktail.
One bit of excitement was the threat of a cyclone which developed on our second day. While it didn’t materialize, the risk was imminent enough that all water sports were cancelled for two days. Unfortunately this meant cancelling a planned trip to “swim with dolphins,” instead we opted to swim with turtles. That was absolutely miraculous and a terrific Christmas gift. Since we were departing the next day, we also spent our last day saying goodbye to the friends we had met during the week. Who knows where we’ll meet again?
(Post script). The standard closing for a post like this would be something like this: we departed sunny Mauritius and arrived back in chilly, wintery New England, gasping at the cold air in our lungs and the dollars we must fork over for Uber or parking at Logan Airport. However, this wasn’t the case. As we got off the plane in Cape Town, squinting in the 80 degree sunshine and marveling at Table Mountain’s striking profile 10 miles away, we walked briskly to our car and, after being a bit confused about the whopping $30 parking fee for the 7 day duration of our stay, we drove home to our own little paradise in 30 minutes.