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Mauritian Mini-visit

FROM one picture postcard paradise island to another was the second phase of a recent three week cruise from Durban, South Africa to Genoa on Italy’s Mediterranean coast, touching three continents.

The first leg of our trip involved an uneventful and peaceful journey from a bustling Durban, as busy as I’ve ever seen it, but looking slightly tacky, tawdry and in dire need of a good municipal wash-and-brush up.

I stayed at The Tropicana, on the “front”, or Golden Mile, which has definitely seen better days since the mid-70s, but the neighbouring Edward still looked pleasantly up-market and chic if, as always, a little staid.

As I love the ocean, I had alfresco supper at Pier 107 at the Beach Hotel, which was roughly midway between The Tropicana and The Edward, geographically and probably price-wise.

First priority was a large glass of something delightfully chilled and of a moderately intoxicating nature and I see from the bill I had no trouble teeming three 500ml draught Castle lagers down a parched throat before and while polishing off a substantial platter of fish (and chips) of the day, with a fringe of salad, tartare sauce, good crusty bread and butter and a grand fruit salad with ice-cream all of which cost R111, at the timeUS$11: a bottom line which graphically depicts how relatively dear eating out in Zimbabwe is these days. (Incidentally the delightfully fresh fish, I was told, was steenbras.)

From Durban to the French prefecture island of La Reunion was 1 427 nautical miles, part of the three-and-a-half-day voyage (as long as some cruises) we sailed with mysterious, mainly mist-shrouded Madagascar on the port bow. Dolphins often escorted us; flying fish lived up to their name, soaring across teak decking and marine birds provided impromptu “air shows” whenever we were reasonably close to land.

We had embarked a little late, UK passengers had — surprise, surprise-— “lost” luggage between London’s Heathrow (thief-row) Airport and OR Tambo (ex-Jan Smuts), at Johannesburg.}

The only surprise to me was that some items were actually delivered to the ship at Reunion, others in Mauritius; but a few passengers travelled largely in scratch Zhing-Zhong kit bought hurriedly at a Durban Indian market, rather than purloined Sloane Square finery!

Why can’t something be done about this blatant on-going airport theft? Vociferous New Zealanders on the cruise complained bitterly their suitcases were broken into and cameras stolen at — they were convinced — Victoria Falls, en route to Durban; my main case had the lock removed and was (fruitlessly) messily searched either at Gatwick or Harare on the return leg.

From Reunion’s Pointe des Galets (I have been unable to source a translation) to the Mauritian capital of Port Louis was only 131 nautical miles. We weighed anchor under the French tricolour and EU flag at 6pm, tying up in Mauritius at 7am.

Mauritius has changed hands many times and names at least once. It was the Isle de France and French is still the major language spoken there, despite it being a British possession for centuries. It was named after, Mauritz of Nassau a prince of Holland. The Dutch were in charge from 1598-1710.

During a brief Portuguese occupation, the last of the island’s famous dodos was killed. A rather stupid, flightless bird the size of a turkey, it presumably went well with piri-piri sauce!  There is reportedly a stuffed example of the bird in Port Louis Museum but I have tried six or seven times to see it and, each time, the establishment was “closed for refurbishment!”

Port Louis was named after King Louis XV of France by the French East India Company who moved their headquarters there in 1772.

Later the British developed the city into a major port, which flourished until the opening of the Suez Canal and the development of steam navigation reduced its importance.

Twenty-years ago the Victorian-style harbour must have been much as it was when the British colonial architects and designers finished it: full of character and characters.

Nowadays the Caudan Waterfront has replaced it and it is considered (wrongly, I suspect) to be among the island’s major tourist attractions with trendy shops, restaurants, bars and a Chinese theme casino.

I was disappointed to learn I had to meet a contact in the Black Steer restaurant/Bulldog pub on the floor above the Keg and Marlin, “genuine English-style pub”, avoiding these chain outlets like cholera on mainland Africa.

I much preferred Port Louis two decades ago when, for reasons which now escape me, I was made an honorary temporary member of the very welcoming dockside Merchant Navy Officers’ Club and downed several tots most days when the sun was over the yardarm, and hypnotic talk was of members’ experiences in Singapore, Saigon, Seattle, Santiago, Port Sudan, Port Said or Southampton.

Our cruise ship, the Panamanian-registered 35 000-tonne  MV Melody, of the Italian-based Mediterranean Shipping Company and soon after this to be attacked by pirates off The Seychelles, docked at 7am, but it was “all aboard” by 3:30pm for a 4pm foghorn blast- announced embarkation to Victoria, capital of the Seychelles archipelago: a distance of 949 nautical miles a 42-hour cruise.

As, on almost all cruises, the Mauritius call was far too brief to see very much of this lovely island which, although just a red spot in the middle of the Indian Ocean on the map, has much to see: wonderful beaches with great diving, including Isle aux Cerfes, Grande Baie and Trois aux Biche which I got to know well on a family holiday; the world-famous Pamplemousse Botanical Gardens; Casela Bird Park and Eureka, an authentic colonial-era plantation estate…oh and one of these days the museum may be open!

  • dustym@zimind.co.zw



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