Two weeks ago, I spent some days in Mauritius, a country in the Indian Ocean; courtesy South African Airways, which is trying to get Ghanaians to see and experience the world beyond the shore Gulf of Guinea.
It was an eye-opening experience which will stay with me for the rest of my life; thanks to South African Airways’ Menon Ramasawmy, Emotions Destination Management and three Attitude Resorts hotels.
From the three Attitude Resorts hotels, I together with eight others, who were on the trip, I kept trying to find the words to express my impression of a country, whose citizens know they have no gold, diamond, timber and any other mineral to sell, but white sandy beaches, calm seawaters and a super friendly atmosphere created by the Mauritians to market their country.
It has a Visa Free policy for visitors. One is only required to at least spend $100 a day during the period of the visit.
The nearly 1.3 million people living on a tiny island, appreciate the size, their situation and have strived to make use of the geographical locations and arable lands, together with all the beauty that comes with it by making Mauritius; a paradise put on sale.
According to Kevin Ramkaloan, Director of Mauritius Tourism Promotion Authority (MTPA), tourism fetches the country US$1.5 billion annually.
Everybody in Mauritians appears to be a Tour Guard, ready to show you what their country is made of.
Yasin Salamuth, our tour guard with Emotions Destination Management; one of the biggest licensed tour operators on the island, owned by the ever-smiling David Collard, employed wit, humour in sharing his in-depth knowledge of his country as he took us to all the places that matters in the country.
Yasin, like many of his fellow countrymen and women, said God created the now defunct, Garden of Eden, after studying Mauritius’ flora and fauna.
When I later asked Yasin, whether there is apple on the island, she told me it was imported, suggesting to me God, created the biblical garden, collapsed it for Mauritius, but denied its inhabitants the forbidden fruit, to maintain their purity.
With a 1,860 square kilometers (781 square miles) land size, 40 percent of is covered with Sugarcane farms, the tiny island, produces 400,000 metric tons of sugar annually for export, especially to France.
The country’s coastline of 177 kilometers (110 miles) is always a place one will like to stay, rest, read or mediate anytime of the day.
Indeed, it was wholeheartedly accepted by me and my colleagues, led by Gloria Yirenkyi, Country Manager of South African Airways in Ghana that, the Indian Ocean is peaceful and less salty compared to the Gulf of Guinea – as experience on the Ghana coast ravaging homes and displacing families.
Mauritius according to Yasin, tries to be as natural as possible and self-reliant, and indeed, this can be seen from the many coconut groves and undisturbed rainforest, houses and hotels, were also built from volcanic rocks, making them appear very captivating.
Yasin, took us to Trou aux Cerfs a dormant volcano site with a well-defined cone and crater. It is 605 m high and located in Curepipe, Mauritius. The crater, has been alternately described as 300 and 350 meters in diameter, and is 80 meters deep.
He told us the last time a volcano erupted in the country, was some 75,000 years ago.
Yasin prefers to call it “The Beverly Hills of Mauritius” – the rich and famous play. Although, he agreed the place was quiet dangerous to put up a home, he was not sure whether there would be another volcanic eruption.
He, however, mentioned that facilities, have been provided to monitor, sound alarm and rescue residents in that part of the country.
We visited Ganga Talao, a crater lake situated in a secluded mountain area in the district of Savanne, deep in the heart of Mauritius.
It is considered the most sacred Hindu place in Mauritius, where Goodlands Sri Mohanparsad, is said to have seen in a dream the water of the lake of Grand Bassin, springing from the ‘Jahnvi’, thus forming part of Ganga.
This was my first ever contact with Hinduism, seeing its gods, including the great Lord Shiva and other Gods, such as Lord Hanuman, Goddess Lakshmi.
The temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva, whose 108 feet towering statue greets you from the main entrance to the holy temple.
I had a brief walk in the temple, touched some of the gods and smelled the heavily scented incense.
I fetched some of the water from the sacred lake to wash my head and face and made a good wish to myself, family and friends, after which I went to ring a huge bell hanging on the veranda of the temple as everybody, especially the Indian-looking people were doing after what looked like a pilgrimage.
They chanted words I could not understand, but I made sure I got their red mark on my forehead just like them – to the surprise of my colleagues from Ghana.
In my estimation, there are no sharp differences between Catholicism and Hinduism, in terms of removal of footwear, bowing to statues, burning of incense, praying and offering of food sacrifices as a sign of worshipping.
It also seemed to me that Hinduism, silently champions environmental preservation, this could be seen in the reverence accorded animals, such as the cobra, the elephant, the monkey, lion and the cow by Hindu worshippers.
From the foot of Lord Shiva, we drove through a mountainous forest, populated with monkeys, 30 minutes from Rhumerie de Chamarel Distillery; a rum factory.
We did a tour, tasted the rums, shopped after a delicious lunch in a beautiful ambiance surrounded by vast sugarcane plantations growing in harmony with pineapples and other tropical fruits.
Chamarel, is a village administered by the Chamarel Village Council under the aegis of the Rivière Noire District Council. It is known for its scenic locations and natural attractions in its neighbourhood, among them are the Seven Coloured Earths, the Chamarel Falls and the Black River Gorges National Park.
After a brief visit to the Chamarel waterfall, we headed to the Seven Coloured Earths; a natural phenomenon and a prominent tourist attraction site.
Literature, has it that the colors evolved through conversion of basaltic lava to clay minerals. It is a relatively small area of sand dunes comprising sand of seven distinct colours (approximately red, brown, violet, green, blue, purple and yellow).
Due to the tropical weather conditions, all water-soluble elements such as silicon dioxide, have been washed out. The remains are the reddish-black iron- and aluminium oxides, which create shades in blue, cyan and purple. The various colors developed due to the different compositions.
And what is more fascinating is the fact that, if you mix the colored earth together, they’ll eventually settle into separate layers.
You may also be puzzled as the colors might play tricks on you and may appear to be shadows millennia, the rocks were pulverized into sands, which have the amazing property of settling into distinct layers: if you take a handful of each of the seven different colours of dirt and mix them together, they’d eventually separate into a colourful spectrum, each dot of sand rejoining its colour caste.
Since the earth was first exposed, rains had carved beautiful patterns into the hillside, creating an effect of earthen meringue. At first you’ll notice shadows on the hills, creating the illusion of different colours, but soon realize that the colours are real and the shadows were the illusion….200.
Sunrise is the best time to see the Coloured Earths. Geologists are still intrigued by the rolling dunes of multi-coloured lunar-like landscape. The colours, red, brown, violet, green, blue, purple and yellow, never erode in spite of torrential downpours and adverse climatic conditions.
The Colored Earth of Chamarel is said to have become one of Mauritius’ main tourist attractions since the 1960s. The dunes are protected by a wooden fence and visitors are not allowed to climb on them, although they can look at the scenery from observation outposts placed along the fence. Curio shops in the area sell small test-tubes filled up with the coloured earths.
We drove to West Coastal road to still enjoy the nature’s many wonders especially when the sea meets with one the many lagoons of Mauritius, before arriving at the 5-star famous Ravenala Hotel, also part of the Attitude Resorts. This hotel boasts of 10 different restaurants serving various cuisines, vast swimming pools for different ages. Indigenous drummers and dancers were at hand to entertain guests. Live jazz music was available. M
My colleagues and I were to have cruise on the Indian Ocean here.
After sleeping in Coin de Mire Attitude on our first night, Zilwa Attitude, the next day and doing a late night boat cruise on the Zilwa Catamaran Lagoon on our second night in Mauritius, the Ravenala Hotel, where we spent two nights is beyond description.
We had visited the Sugar Adventure Museum and seen equipment dating back to the 17th centuries, and pictures of the sugarcane farmers and how they used native knowledge to make sugar many centuries ago. The museum, had a good restaurant serving sumptuous foods and drinks to its guests who could afford a meal.
Although, I together with Charles Benoni Okine of the Daily Graphic, could not make it to the Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam Botanical Garden, commonly known as the Pamplemousses Botanical Garden, another popular tourist attraction in Pamplemousses, near Mauritian capital of Port Louis; the oldest botanical garden in the Southern Hemisphere, members of the team described the place as breathtaking.
They saw all kinds of plants and animals, including Amazon water lily, deer, the crocodiles and giant tortoise. The emblematic Dodo, famous for everything Mauritius wasn’t there in the Botanical Garden. A lady shop attendant was there to charge angrily “the Dutch ate them to extinction”.
Dodo was said to be a medium-large sized flightless bird that was discovered only on the Island of Mauritius in the 1590s, but declared extinct less than a century later, in 1681.
Literature revealed that, despite the turkey-sized body of the dodo, it is thought to have been most closely related to smaller birds such as doves and pigeons. From my observation, the Dodo, is more celebrated in extinction than any animal still alive or extinct. It represents everything Mauritius.
The harmonious coexistence between Indians, Chinese, Europeans and Africans, who are followers of Hinduism, Islam, and Christianity, makes religious diversity another reason to visit Mauritius.
Indeed, Kevin Ramkaloan, Director of MTPA, again suggested to us in his 4-5th Floor, Victoria House office in St Louis Street that, in Mauritius, there are almost no crime, as statistics on the rate of crime is hard to find. This was also repeated by Yasin, our tour guide.
Mauritians proudly proclaim English as their official language, but speak impeccable Mauritian Creole as a commercial language. Interestingly, Yasin mentions that Mauritians prefer travelling to France, than England or the United States of America (USA).
Indeed, Mauritius has a Visa Free arrangement with the France for their citizens. Another interesting thing about Mauritians is, their reference to the continent, sounds as though they are not part of it, yet the volcanic island nation in the Indian Ocean, is part of the African Union (AU).
I was not disappointed at all by Mauritius, having seen its beautiful beaches, lagoons and reefs, it nice people, who warmly greeted me with smiles before extending their hands for a handshake, having tasted its good foods, seen the vast Sugarcane plantations, rum factories and Sugar Museum borne out of hard work and dedication, having been driven on their good roads, having seen its mountainous interior, I wish to revisit and continue with my tour by going to the Black River Gorges National Park, with rainforests, hiking trails and seeing native fauna like the flying fox, the Champs de Mars horse track, colonial Eureka plantation and 18th-century botanical garden.
Perhaps, the best time to do that with South African Airways is next year, when one of the giant tortoise on the island turns 100 years or during one the many festivals on the calendar of the Mauritius Tourism Promotion Authority.