Published: March 14th 2009March 14th 2009
Two days, two very different islands, two very different impressions.
Yesterday we arrived ahead of schedule (pronounced "shed-jul") in Port Louis, Mauritius. This used to be a British Colony, but became independent in 1968. The official language is English, but most of the signs and people we ran across spoke French. The shuttle bus from the ship to the "downtown" was a disaster. It took us over half and hour to get to the other side of the harbor (no more than 1/4 mile as the crow flies) where the shopping mall was. Not the center of town at all. It was very hot and pouring rain. Mom and I wandered around (we do that a lot, don't we?) looking in the fabulous jewelry store windows and through the "Crafts Market" which was mostly high priced junk. We went into the lobby of a 1st class hotel that sits right on the harbor (can't remember the name), then decided it was time to go home. We went out to the bus and sat for another 1/2 hour before it finally left and took us a bit more quickly back to the ship. A local group of men and women performed at the show last night. It was extremely loud, brightly costumed and rather gross. Most of the women were fatter than I am, gyrating their hips for 40 minutes non-stop. I guess we're not in Australia any more!
Today, however, was another story. Overnight we sailed to the Ile de Reunion, a French "Department," which means it is a part of France, with the same government, services, etc. They even use the Euro. It was sunny, hot and humid in the morning. I went on a tour to Piton Maido, the edge of one the extinct volcanos that formed the island. It was an hour and 1/2 of hairpin turns to get to the top, 7185 feet. Then, after scambling up a volcanic path we looked out on the most awesome scene I may have ever seen! The interior of the volcano's cauldron -- called "Cirque de Mafate" -- was thousands of feet below us, all of it covered in thick lush green growth. A few tiny settlements were visible even though there are no roads to get to them. The people who live there must walk 5 - 7 hours (up/downhill) to get to their houses. It used to be a great place for runaway slaves to hide out. While we were there clouds came in which completely wiped out the view, then disappeared again just as quickly. Our guide said yesterday the clouds never left. I can't imagine enduring that ride without getting the marvelous payoff! I really can't emphasize how stunning the view was!
On the way back down we stopped at a geranium distillery. Reunion used to provide 40% of the geranium oil to the French perfume industry, but that's down to 3% today. They take cuttings of the plants and steam them in a copper still (like Lil Abner!) and the oil comes out the other end. Quite interesting.
I found mom having lunch when I got back to the ship. She had planned to take the shuttle bus into town (St. Denis,) but since it was pouring rain (we were above the rain clouds on the volcano!) and the reviews from passengers coming back were very negative, she decided to stay on board.
We leave at 6:00 PM tonight for three days of sailing. Then we will arrive in Richard's Bay, South Africa, where I am scheduled for a safari on a game preserve!