Mauritius

August 2003

 

Mauritius is a volcanic island a few hundred km East of Madagascar in the Indian Ocean, as you might well know. A few hundred years ago it was uninhabited by humans. Word has that Arab sailors stopped by from time to time yet left no record. The Portuguese then 'found' it after which the Dutch used it for a while but it was the French aristocracy fleeing the revolutionary Guillotine who soon settled although the old story of pillage and exploitation began long before that. Since there weren't any people to enslave, the European settlers brought some along from the mainland. With the British rise to global power and domination in the early 1800's the tropical paradise came to an end - in the early 1800's after some resistance the French capitulated. The Brits appointed a Governor and agreed to leave the bulk of the legal systems intact, except of course the freeing of the slaves 20 years later since they had their own more 'civilised' version - indentured labour. When meant of course the importation of Indians to work the sugar cane fields. Eventually independence came, with universal franchise in 1959. It was only just over 10 years ago they gave the 'ole Queen the finger and became a Republic.

So it's a bit of a strange place - I will stop short of calling it exotic. Everyone speaks Creole which is a localised version of French, generally Indian culture is dominant by virtue of sheer numbers and lately economic prosperity. But get this: English is the official language and for most it's a third language since the northern Indian Hindu Bhojpuri is quite prolific as well, as is French. But what is a trip is Indians speaking French and lots of tropical flavours in their dress. And love all those smiles... and the lack of aggression amongst these generally laid-back island folk, which left me a bit disorientated. This was immediately noticeable on driving out of the airport as I was ready to force my way through the rush hour traffic, everyone just gave way in a way I am unaccustomed to.

The big industries are sugar, cotton sweat shops (with imported guest-labour from China) and, of course, tourism. Not just any tourists, it's the top of the market Euros they are after. Strictly no charter aircraft allowed, and certainly no back packers are encouraged. No wonder I got so much attention from the plain clothes coppers at the airport.

I was there for a 12-day holiday at the luxurious 'Sands Hotel' in the west of the Island. If fact, most of the Island is ringed with a series of these luxurious hotels. Why, we were just down the road from the Hilton. Now I am neither used to nor comfortable with such luxury but you have to do what ya gotta do. I had hoped to find a local guest house-type establishment with reed huts to spend the second week, with visions of a beach bar, parties in the moonlight but that dream turned out to be as dead as dodo: it was another week of luxury that I was forced to endure.

The occasion was a wedding, and not just any wedding. Actually it was a wedding reception to be technically correct. Long time and dear friends Ian Bampton and Helen Jackson eventually tied the proverbial after at least 20 years together during which marriage was principally out of the question as was sharing a surname. They settled in Zim shortly after independence in the spirit of a new age, a new beginning, free of the traditions of the past. So why sell out to the system and oppressive traditions at this stage? Well practicalities, like the spouse benefits of someone working for the UN for starters.

I see Ian often: he comes down to Jozi to stock up, we always manage a session at the Grill House. He is often accompanied by offspring Karin and Alex. I have been up to visit them often in Harare. We have come a long way together.

The occasional called for a great coming together and reunion of friends. A whole crew of Helen's mates from Oxford University days attended, Ian had his sisters out from the UK, the Butterfly-collecting Dad attended as did a few other friends. And a whole gang of teenagers (children of the above). Herewith follows some pics of various outings, with accompanying stories, anecdotes and miscellaneous titbits of information salted with a few opinions and acute observations during the holiday during which we all got to know each other. It should be said that at the end of it I felt extremely privileged to have been included in this diverse group of interesting and accomplished people.

Warning: Perhaps you might find the following pages boring 'cause you weren't there and u don't know these people. That's the story with holiday pics innit.

The Wedding

The Birthday

The Paragliding

The Catamaran

But that's not all folks