Footsteps in…Mauritius…let’s explore!!

The island has some beautiful, scenic spots that need to be relished. We were looking forward to indulging in some of the spots that have made Mauritius famous, but unfortunately, our agent had booked us on a group tour. And M and I realised on this trip just how much we hate group tours. First off, the tour people picked us from our hotel an hour late. Rather unapologetically. We had rushed through breakfast because we didn’t want to keep anyone waiting but instead we were the ones kept rudely waiting, in the reception. Not off to a good start. Was this an omen on how the rest of the day would be?

First stop was some wholesale shopping arcade in Floreal, where we spent an hour waiting around because some of the groupies wanted to “shop”. The mind boggling thing was the group that we were with had been to the SAME shopping arcade the previous day, so shopping meant comparing prices to see whether they had gotten a good deal or not. “Shopping” finally done, we started on the real tour.

The first stop was Le Port, a workshop making miniature boats.

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Moving on from the shopping area of Floreal, we drove off towards Trou au Cerfs, an extinct volcano. The drive up was very scenic and we passed some beautiful housing estates and lush greenery. Once at the crater our guide told us to come out of the van – we thought we were going to get some info on the crater, but she pointed at it and said “that’s Trou aux Cerfs, umm, let’s get some ice cream from the van up the road and get back into the van!!” Huh?? Were we really on a tour? Thank goodness for our Lonely Planet Guidebook!!

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Next stop – the Shiv Statue. This is such a beautiful statue and is in such a scenic area, but sadly the people we were with didn’t seem to enjoy the sights and we soon found that we were the only two taking photographs and taking in the scenery. Our guide criticised us for keeping others waiting conveniently forgetting that we had patiently waited for the group to be done haggling and comparing prices in Floreal, without rushing anyone. Another reason to detest group tours.

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Now the straw that broke the camel’s back – the lunch spot. You would assume that the tour would stop off at a convenient place with a few eating spots (which do exist in Mauritius) but our driver and guide dropped us off in the middle of nowhere, at some shack serving Indian food off a set menu costing US $ 50 per head without any option! We don’t have anything against eating Indian food – but it was so obvious that there was a commission scam going on here between the tour company and the shack – the guide refused to give us any other lunch options! We did not wish to be extorted in this manner and so chose not to eat at the shack but rather to walk out – and we were not the only people that felt extorted because following our lead, half the group walked out too! Enough was enough with the group tour and its shenanigans.

We had to sit around for an hour waiting for the remainder of the group that chose to eat at the shack to finish eating ( and funnily, the bus, driver and guide were nowhere to be seen). On the positive side, we managed to get to know some of our rioting comrades, which I suppose was the silver lining in the dark cloud that has ruined group tours for us forever.

Our final stop for the day was Chamarel, the area in Mauritius famous for its seven coloured soil. Chamarel is, contrary to what one may imagine, not a vast expanse of land with coloured soil – but it really is coloured – the purple stands out somewhat!

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We had dinner at the wine area that night, with a delicious selection of French wine and cheese, paired with duck and foie gras and various condiments.

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Having learned bitterly from the previous day’s group tour, we chose to explore the Northern side on our own. We started off with the old fort, which had a fantastic view over the northern side of the island and a great selection of Mauritian spices – I got a tonne of fresh vanilla pods and pink peppercorns from this shop.

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As we had already set foot at the Caudan Waterfront, we spent a couple of hours revelling in the cool, green Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam Botanical gardens, which has some beautiful lotus flowers with vibrant colours, Amazonian lillies and lush, green avenues lined with trees to spend a cool morning.

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A popular afternoon activity is sea walking, parasailing and then a late lunch at Ile aux Cerfs, previously the private island owned by Le Touessrock but now open to everyone. This island in the midst of aquamarine waters is said to have powder white, soft sand – it really isn’t that different from the sand that runs along the rest of the Mauritian coastline – but then again I am biased because I think Mombasa in Kenya has the whitest, softest sand…

The undersea walk is quite an experience – you have a glass, oxygenated bubble placed over your head – this is connected to an oxygen tank on a boat. You actually do walk on the sea bed with fish swimming up curiously to try and figure out what you are. Followed by some parasailing, this is definitely a fun activity to try out and can be organised by most hotels.

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Some adventure was a nice way to spend the last day of 2010 before heading back to the hotel to get ready for a new year’s eve gala dinner in the hotel grounds – one of the best I have been to – the manager cracked open champagne with a sword and started off a champagne fountain which flowed throughout the night, coupled with the freshest seafood and fireworks to usher in 2011 – a brilliant start to the year!

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