Mauritius day 4: Excursion

I woke up early today feeling rather excited. Today I will be going on an excursion in a hired taxi. I finished my breakfast (it was still the same selection so I didn’t bother to take a photo) and went to wait at the reception 5 mins before 8 am. Lionnel arrived shortly after. He spoke to the taxi driver and briefly listed out the places to go. After making sure everything was ok, Lionnel saw me off.

The taxi was white in color and looked as if it had just been washed. My taxi driver was an Indian man called Deven. As the weather was cool, we switched off the air-con and wound down the windows. Deven spoke good English and he diligently named the various places we passed by. “Moka,” he said when we passed through a town or “This is a church,” he said when we drove past a building. Although I forgot most of the names he told me, I appreciated that he tried hard to point things out to me, especially after I realized that he was a quiet man by nature.

Eureka

Our first stop was at a former colonial house called Eureka which was now turned into a museum and restaurant. I got bitten many times by mosquitoes as I was touring the house.

The entrance fee was MUR 300. An English-speaking lady gave me a brief tour of the house. She said the house was formerly owned by the English, then by a Frenchman who sold the house to its present owner. Apparently the previous owner had over 100 children so it was impossible to divide up the land and assets. It was easier to sell the house and divide up the money.

She said that all the furnishings were original. The furniture all looked pretty old.

There were old photographs and documents displayed on the walls. What surprised me was that there were also a lot of Chinese porcelain plates and pottery. Apparently collecting Chinese items was a fab during that period.

The Chinese room was a place for the owners to show off their wealth as Chinese furniture in those days were expensive. The room was seldom used and merely functioned as a display of wealth.

In the dining room was a table covered with the cutlery owned by the previous owner. The ends of the table could be pulled out so that they could sit more people down for dinner. Above the table was a chandelier which used candles so a servant had to use a ladder every time they needed to light it.

The master bedroom was where the owners slept. The children slept in dormitories on the top floor, with the boys in one room and the girls in another room. The bed was really small and the guide explained that it was because people in the olden days slept sitting up. They believed that one lies down only when one was dead. It sounded like a pretty uncomfortable way to sleep.

I thought the bed in the master bedroom looked small but the bed in the guestroom was even smaller. It looked like it was meant for a child. Parts of the wall were still covered with wallpaper put up for the filming of a Bollywood movie. The guide said that they would take down the wallpaper eventually and the original wall color was white (same as all the other rooms in the house).

The bathroom and toilet were originally housed in a separate building for hygiene and because of the smell. But the museum staff moved the items into the house so that it was easier to maintain them.

The last room we visited was the kitchen. Part of the kitchen was still in use to cook meals for the restaurant, so that area was out of bounds. I love the old pots and pans that were displayed and could imagine someone using them to cook many delicious meals through the years.

There was an old oven in a corner of the kitchen that was opened to the public. There was even a tap for the staff to draw hot water.

The guide brought me to the front of the house so that I could take a nice photo of the house with the mountain behind it.

This was the view from the front of the house. There was a sign pointing to a waterfall. I walked for 10 mins and I still did not see nor hear the waterfall. I’m not sure how long the walk would be and I still had other places to go so I decided to give the waterfall a miss. This was the first stop and I did not want to waste too much time.

Model ship factory

Next we went to a ship model factory. It was a popular tourist attraction and the road to the factory was lined with taxis and tour buses. There was a steady stream of people through the door but the staff were used to crowds. There was always a tour going on so it was easy to join one, just walk near the people.

The tours explained how a model ship was made and we were shown models in various stages of completion.

Then we were all shown through the door into the shop. The completed model ships all looked quite nice.

Lest you think the shop only made ancient ships, there were also modern vessels and aircraft for sale.

There were also some polished nautical equipment.

Deven was chatting with the other taxi drivers when I left the shop, but he kept an eye out for me and quickly got into his car when he saw me.

Ganga Talao

Our next stop was Ganga Talao, a crater lake up the mountain. Deven called it the Holy Lake as it was a place of worship and was considered the most sacred place for Hindus in Mauritius. Deven said that during Hindu festivals, Hindus would walk up the mountain to worship at the lake. There would be a colorful possession of people walking along the road. I was amazed as it was a long way to walk.

The air got colder and there was a light drizzle as we drove up to the mountain. There was a 33m tall statue of Shiva at the entrance to Ganga Talao. It was a faithful replica of the statue at  Sursagar Lake in Vadodara, Gujarat, India.

There were a few Hindu temples around the lake which looked different from the temples in Singapore.

At the first temple, a Hindu priest spoke to me. Even though Deven asked him to speak in English, the priest kept talking to me in French. I didn’t understand a word but it was obvious that he wanted me to give a donation or buy a pendant. As he was a little stern, I was glad when he finished speaking and left.

I could visit all the temples as long as I took off my shoes before entering. It was more crowded at the temple that was along the shore of the lake. There was a ceremony going on and a priest happily marked the forehead of Hindus and interested tourists.

There was another statue of Shiva on the lake shore.

Near him were the deities Ganesha and Ganga.

There were also statues of other gods like the monkey god Hanuman. The area was busy as the people were preparing for an upcoming Hindu festival. There were people putting up tents around the temple.

Devotees brought offerings and prayed along the lake shores. After they left, monkeys would descend and eat up the fruits, which were usually mango, coconut or banana.

La Vallee des Couleurs National Park

Next, Deven drove to La Vallee des Couleurs National Park. A lady greeted me at the entrance and asked which activity I wanted. I was caught unprepared because nobody told me that I had to pay for activities; they only mentioned paying entrance fees. Luckily the lady handed me a brochure to choose my activity, which allowed me some time to think and recover. In the end, I decided that since I’m here already, I might as well try an activity. After weighing the pros and cons, I decided to go for a 1 hour buggy ride (MUR 3600) as I wanted to be able to take photos. The flying fox looked fun but it felt like a fast ride and I would not have time to take photos. I also asked for a driver to show me around as I’m not confident of doing driving. It was a good thing I did as the paths were very muddy and sometimes there were potholes and steep inclines.

I thought the mosquitoes at Eureka were bad, but I soon found out that they were nothing compared to the mosquitoes at the park. The mosquitoes seemed really hungry and determined. I got bitten over 20 times during the one hour I spent touring the park.

After I’ve made my selection, I was given a hairnet and a helmet. Then I was introduced to the buggy driver and guide who was a skinny young man with a goatee. He was a friendly chap and tried to show me as much as possible.

Our first stop in the park was to a deer enclosure which housed a buck and two does. The buck is called Bambi. The guide said Bambi is aggressive towards men but seemed to like women. However, even though we stood right beside the fence, Bambi showed no interest in us.

Next to the deer enclosure was a pen with two giant land tortoises.

The guide broke off a branch from a nearby tree so that I could have a go at feeding the tortoise.

Then we took a look at the 23 colored earth which was a result of ashes from a nearby volcano. The guide said that the current owner bought the land to turn it into a sugarcane plantation. However when the workers cleared the land, they found the colored earth and the owner decided to turned it into a national park.

We viewed two waterfalls. We saw a group of ladies sitting along the shores of the first waterfall and they seemed to be having a good time.

The second waterfall was a cascade waterfall. The guide said that he preferred this waterfall and each time he visited it, it felt like the first time.

The guide also pointed out a plant growing along the banks and said the waterfall was named after this plant. If I remembered correctly, it was called vacoas (also known as the common screwpine).

Then we drove up to the top of the mountain where we could see the 23 colored earth.

On the way back, the driver took another route so that I could have a taste of what a 2 hour buggy drive felt like. We went deeper into the national park and saw some wild deer. They refused to came close and ran away after a while.

Black River Valley viewpoint

After the national park, Deven brought me to a viewpoint where I could look down at the Black River Valley.

Finally I remembered that I had brought along my polar bear toy. So out it came for a photo moment.

Lunch at Varangue Sur Morne

By now I was feeling quite hungry and wondered when we were going to stop for lunch. We drove past a mountainside restaurant called Varangue Sur Morne.

“This is a restaurant,” Deven said.

“Oh, are we having lunch here?” I asked.

“Yes, you can have lunch here,” Deven said and stopped the car. Then he escorted me down the steps to the restaurant. I was surprised when he turned to leave after seeing me to the restaurant entrance, saying that he would wait for me at the car.

There was a tour group having lunch but the restaurant was pretty big so I was able to get a seat at the quiet end.

There was a lovely view from my table and I could see a helipad. Pity no helicopters landed during my time there.

I was given a basket of bread. There was some butter and a saucer of sourish spicy chilli to spread onto the bread. The chilli was too spicy for me so I concentrated on the butter.

While eating the bread, I saw a red-whiskered bulbul landed nearby. It decided to sun itself and stretched out its wing.

After the bread was a complimentary deep-fried dumpling-like starter.

For appetizer, I had Chou Chou Gratin (MUR 500) which was made from the chou chou fruit (chayote).

The gratin was creamy but because of the melon, it remained light and I rather enjoyed it.

I had the special of the day which was tuna fish curry (MUR 608.70). The curry wasn’t spicy and there were huge chunks of tuna meat. In the beginning, I found it pretty tasty, but towards the end, I got a bit tired of the seemingly never-ending tuna meat.

For dessert, I had creme brulee (MUR 252.17) which the waiter recommended. The creme brulee was so-so.

Deven was waiting for me at the entrance when I left the restaurant. I asked him whether he had eaten lunch as there were no other eateries nearby.

“Yes, do not worry,” Deven smiled as he led me to the car. I think he was a little amused.

Chamarel distillery

The last stop for the day was to Rhumerie de Chamarel, a rum distillery. The entrance fee was MUR 350. My guide for the rum distillery tour was a woman called Wendy. Wendy explained that there are 12 types of sugarcane but the distillery only used the red sugarcane and the yellow sugarcane to make their rum.

We saw a worker loading the harvested sugarcane into the machinery to drain the juices. There was a sweet scent in the air.

Wendy walked us through all the steps and explained that the rum will go through either one or two distillation. Of course the rum which went through two distillation tasted smoother and cost more.

Finally we ended at the tasting area. Wendy started off by giving everyone a taste of the classic rum. I found the classic rum a little rough and I suddenly had an urge to cough. After this round, a man left the group.

We continued on next to the double distilled rum and gold rum which was smoother but still provided a bit of kick. After the next two rounds, everybody else in the group left. I was the only one left and wondered if Wendy expected me to follow the others and leave too. As I hesitated, Wendy took out the next bottle, not bothered at all that she was now down to one person in her tour.

So we continued on with the tasting. Perhaps because Wendy didn’t have to face a group, she was more relaxed and friendlier. We joked and laughed as I tasted the other bottles. The subsequent bottles tasted much better than the first bottle as they were infused with various flavors and were smoother. Those who left earlier didn’t know what they were missing. My favorite was the coffee liqueur as the roasted bitterness added a nice balance.

I felt pleasantly contented on the drive back. The rum left a warm feeling in my stomach. We arrived back at Club Med around 5 pm. Before I left, Deven gave me his contact number and said that if I wanted a half day excursion to Grand Baie, I could contact him. It would be cheaper than booking through Club Med.

Below is Deven’s mobile number if you want to find someone to bring you around Mauritius:

Deven
+230-57815881

I bumped into Nicolas and he asked about my excursion. Then he invited me to sample some homemade rum before dinner.

When I went to the Discovery Centre, only Lionnel was manning the office. He let me try the rum which they had added some ginger slices. The rum was still young and needed to age for a while more. There was a burning sensation as it went down.

Dinner

I choose a different table for dinner, a bit further inside and not in view of the buffet stations.

At first it seemed to work and I was able to enjoy my appetizers alone. I tried some pate which was pretty nice and not too gamey.

I also took some marlin tartare which was delicious. I loved it.

I took some grilled duck breast which was tasty athough the skin was a bit too fatty. I felt a little guilty eating so much fats so I cut away some fatty portions to ease the guilt.

I was eating the duck when someone came up and asked to join me for dinner. This time it was another Indian young man called Winsley. He said that this was his second day at the Club Med La Pointe aux Canonniers. Previously he worked at the Club Med Albion Villas as a butler, then at a Club Med in France for three months. Now he was working at La Pointe as a bartender before going back to Club Med Albion Villas. Winsley seemed to enjoy his job as a butler.

Towel display today

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