Today I have arranged to climb the Le Morne Brabant mountain, and the guide will be picking me up just before 7am. The breakfast buffet doesn't start until 7.30am, so I ordered room service breakfast last night by filling in a menu and leaving it in the box outside the room. Breakfast seems to be a bit late coming and I soon find out why. The menu that I filled in last night is still in the box outside the room. I am pretty sure that I won't be getting any breakfast, so I gobble down a packet of gummy bears from the minibar fridge.
Our guide's name is Yan, and he is an eighth generation French Mauritian. His accent is a combination of French and South African. He says that he studied in South Africa for five years. We are joined by a Saudi Arabian couple who are also staying at Le Paradis.
We drive to the base of the mountain where we meet our other guide, whose name is Nico, and the other members of the party. Yan asks us all to introduce ourselves. I go into a cold sweat. The last time I had to do
this everyone in the tour group laughed at me and called me Dive. I hope that this won't happen again. When it is my turn I concentrate really hard and try to say Dave in an English accent. No one laughs. I feel very relieved. Maybe they just feel sorry for me.
The group includes people from Sweden, Portugal, England, Germany and Mauritius, and there are about 15 of us in all. The Swedish people are a young couple on their honeymoon. They tell me that they only got married last week. They are wearing matching tee shirts that say "Just Married" and have their names and love hearts all over them. They tell me that their friends made the tee shirts for them. I think that this is very cute.
Yan explains that the mountain is about 550 metres high, but we will only be climbing to 500 metres. He says that they used to be able to take people right to the top, but when the site was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2008, they had to remove some of the ropes that they needed to get up the last 50 metres. The declaration
also meant that they were no longer allowed to go into the very top bit anyway, even if they were physically able to, as it had been declared a nature reserve. Yan explains that the first 250 metres of the climb will be a gentle hike along a jeep track that goes around the mountain. He says that the last 250 metres will be much steeper and that we will need to scramble up rocks using our hands with help from some permanent ropes.
The weather is partly cloudy and it looks like it could rain. Two of the English people in the party are carrying umbrellas. His is bright pink, and hers is bright purple. They are full sized umbrellas, and they don't fold up. I don't think that they paid too much attention to what Yan was telling us about the climb. They look like they are off for a leisurely Sunday afternoon stroll in Hyde Park. It will be interesting to see what they do with their umbrellas when they have to scramble up rocks using their hands.
We get to the end of the jeep track and start the scrambling part of the climb.
It is quite steep and the ropes certainly come in handy to help us pull ourselves up. Parts of the track are a bit slippery from yesterday's rain and there are very steep drops off the side of the track down to the base of the mountain. Some of the people in the group seem to be struggling a bit, and we have to wait for quite a long time at some of the stops for them to catch up. The English couple appear to have abandoned their umbrellas.
After about two hours of hiking, climbing and scrambling we get to our destination, which is marked by a steel cross. I can see why we can't go any further. There is a sheer cliff above us between us and the top. There are also sheer cliffs below us on all the other sides. The views are stunning. There is quite a bit of cloud around, but it is moving quite quickly, and there is enough sun peeking through to enhance the views. We can see the Dinarobin Hotel directly below us. We can also see east along the coast and across the very wide lagoon. The colours in the
lagoon are brilliant. The other main view is along the coast to the north towards some spectacular peaks. The low clouds make them look even more spectacular.
Nico points out a long straight channel that goes right across the lagoon from the shore to a gap through the reef. He says that this was dug to allow the fishermen to get their boats out to the ocean. Before they dug it, the water was too shallow for the fishing boats, and lots of them hit rocks and sank. He points out a white cross on a rock in the middle of the lagoon which he says that is a memorial to the many fishermen who have drowned in the lagoon. He says that most fishermen in Mauritius don't know how to swim. I am a bit surprised by this. I think that if I was a fisherman in Mauritius, or anywhere else for that matter, I would learn how to swim.
Yan tells us that some of the plants up here aren't found anywhere else in the world. He points out a plant growing right next to my foot. He says that this only grows on this mountain,
and only above 400 metres. I think that this must be a very fussy plant.
It is very windy. My hat blows off and I instinctively go to chase after it. I then quickly remember that I am at the top of sheer cliffs about 400 metres high virtually all around me. Luckily my hat snags on a bush and I am able to retrieve it. I decide that I should put my hat in my pocket and sit down. I suspect that Issy mightn't be too pleased with me if I fell off a cliff and killed myself a couple of days before we got home.
Yan says that in a few minutes we will start to go down and before we do this he will give us some tips on how to do this safely. We were all saying to each other most of the way up that we thought that coming down would be hard. He says that when we are going down the steep rocks we need to mostly face away from the rocks and keep our centres of gravity low. This sounds like good advice. I reflect at how wonderful it is that
we are high on a mountain in a wilderness area out in the middle of nowhere. It feels very isolated and away from the world. It feels very good. When Yan gets half way through his safety talk his phone starts ringing. Suddenly I don't feel away from the world any more. I decide that sometimes it would be good if technology went away for a while.
We start going down. It is very slow, and much slower than it was coming up. Every now and again someone dislodges a rock and we yell at everyone below to watch out. I am glad that I am near the back of the group.
Yan admires the Saudi Arabian man's running shoes, and tells us that he used to be sponsored to wear these same shoes. I ask him what sort of running he did. He says that he was an ultra marathon runner and that he once ran right around Mauritius without stopping. This is 202 km, or about four and a half marathons. Now, every day he climbs the mountain in the morning, and takes people for long hikes in the jungle in the afternoon. Unsurprisingly he looks
Climbers, Le Morne Brabant
If you look closely you can see some climbers in the middle of the picture.
Yan drives us back to the hotel. The Saudi Arabian lady, who looks about 30, has quite an American accent. I ask her about this. She says that her mother is American. Her husband's name is Abdul, and he is quite clearly Saudi Arabian, so she must be a Muslim to have been allowed to marry him and live in Saudi Arabia. She says that she grew up in Saudi Arabia, and has just moved back there again after living in the States for seven years. Yan says to her that this must be quite a culture shock. She says that she has got very used to moving between the two cultures. She says that she needs to wear a head scarf like all other women when she is in Saudi Arabia, but she just wears normal western dress when she is in the States. I later see them walking around hand in hand at the hotel. She is wearing an off the shoulder dress, and her hair is down. I think they'd probably lock them both up if they did this in Saudi Arabia. I hope that the Saudi Arabians don't have any spies here.
When I get back, Issy is lying on the beach. I tell her that I want to go for a swim. I am not hot, but I want to be able to say I went swimming here. Issy tells me to wait for her to warm up. Half an hour later she tells me that she is never going to warm up. I go in the water. It is cold. It's not Port Phillip Bay cold, but cold enough to not want to stay in for more than a few minutes.
It's been a long time since gummy bear breakfast and I am very hungry. I order a Mediterranean pizza. The waiter warns me that this is a white pizza. I have no idea what this means, but I tell him that it will be fine. I don't know why I do this. After he leaves I ask Issy what it means. She says she has no idea. The pizza turns up. The base is warm, but the toppings are all cold. This is different.
The waiter tells us that the hotel is in a very good location because it is protected from strong winds. He says that
it is never windy here, and it also doesn't rain too much. The day before yesterday it rained here for most of the day, and it was quite wet yesterday as well. After lunch we go to sit on the beach again, but it is too windy so we go back to our room. I think our waiter must have been talking about a different hotel.
I put on my shoes and long pants, and we go to the buffet dinner. I occasionally try to speak to the staff here in French. I don't know why I do this. They all speak English. If they understand me, they occasionally speak back to me in French. I never understand what they are saying, so I just give them a blank look. They then speak to me in English. This is a waste of everyone's time and energy. As we go into the dining room I say 'bonjour' to the waitress. She says 'bonsoir' back. 'Bonjour' means good morning, and 'bonsoir' means good evening. At least I think this is what they mean. I think that this is the waitress's way of telling me either that I have no idea whether
it is morning or night, or that I have no idea how to speak French. Either way I think she probably thinks that I am not very bright. I decide that I should stop trying to speak French.
We finish dinner and get the bill. The bill for the buffet and our drinks has been the same every night. Tonight it is 30 Rupees cheaper, which is about $1.20. Issy says that tonight she asked for her whiskey to come without ice. We decide that this must be the reason for the difference. I think that we should go into business making ice in Mauritius. I think that we will make a lot of money if we can charge $1.20 each for ice cubes.
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