Port Louis and SSR Gardens

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Africa » Mauritius » Port Louis
August 24th 2015
Published: June 2nd 2017
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Today we get up a bit earlier. We have booked a tour to the Mauritian capital of Port Louis. Our guide turns out to be Ibrahim who is the driver who took us from the airport to the hotel when we arrived here.

We drive past the Le Morne Brabant mountain which Ibrahim tells us is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. He tells us a very sad story about the mountain. During the years when slavery was being practised in Mauritius, the mountain was used as a hideout by runaway slaves. When slavery was abolished, some of the slave masters found out that slaves were hiding there, so they climbed the mountain to tell them the good news that they were now free men. The slaves saw them and thought that they were coming to recapture them. Rather than be recaptured, quite a few of them then killed themselves by jumping off the cliffs around the mountain. He says that this is a very famous story in Mauritius.

As we drive, Ibrahim tells us some more about Mauritius. He says that the economy is very strong, and there is virtually full employment. We don't see too many obvious signs of poverty. He says that the economy is based around five main industries - tourism, sugar, textiles, IT and offshore banking. He says that their sugar is very high quality, and all of it is exported. The sugar sold in the shops in Mauritius is much lower quality and is imported from Sri Lanka. This doesn't seem to make a lot of sense. I realise that I don't really know what offshore banking is. It sounds a bit inconvenient.

Port Louis is named after the French King Louis XV. I'm not sure it matters too much which King Louis it was named after. It's called Port Louis, not Port Louis XV, so it could have been named after any of the King Louis's. I still wonder why nearly all French kings were called Louis. Surely at least a few of them could have come up with different names.

Our first stop is on one of the many hills that overlook Port Louis. Ibrahim tells us that there were originally 27 volcanoes in Mauritius. Issy starts laughing when he says this. The number 27 is a standing joke in our family for some long forgotten reason. Ibrahim can't work out why Issy finds the fact that there were 27 volcanoes in Mauritius so funny. We decide that we won't be able to explain it to him, mainly because we're not sure we can remember ourselves. I think that Ibrahim now thinks that we're a bit weird. He says that only four of the 27 volcanoes remain. I wonder what happened to the other 23. He says that scientists say that all of the remaining four are dormant. Ibrahim says that he doesn't believe they are dormant. He says that if they haven't erupted for millions of years, he doesn't think that there is any chance that any of them will ever erupt again. He says that they should be declared extinct. I wonder how long a volcano has to be dormant for before it's declared extinct. I think that maybe the scientists are just being cautious. If they say that a volcano is dormant then no one can ever say they are wrong whether it erupts or not.

From the spot we are standing on we get a good view over the residential area of the city on one side of the hill, and the Port Louis racecourse on the other side. We drive up to the top of the hill and visit Fort Adelaide, which is also known as The Citadel. Ibrahim tells us that this was built by the British to defend themselves against possible invaders, but after they built it, no one ever tried to invade. I think that the British were being a bit cautious as well. I am starting to think that Mauritius is a very cautious place. We get really good views over the city and the harbour from the top of the walls of the fort.

We drive down into the main part of the city, and Ibrahim drops us off at the market. It is a bit chaotic. We walk between the stalls and everyone tries to sell us something. We walk into a more formal department store. Issy sees a table cloth that she likes. She bargains the shop keeper down from 5,400 Rupees to 2,000 Rupees. She tells me that she asked him whether he takes credit cards, and he told her that he does. When it comes time to pay, he tells me to follow him. I think that he is taking me to his credit card terminal. This is a long way away. He leads me down some stairs, through the market, out into the street, and then across the street into another building. I wonder why his credit card terminal is so far from his shop. I start to wonder whether he owns lots of shops, and has one credit card terminal that serves them all. I then realise that the other building he has led me into is a bank. He points me to an ATM and tells me that I can withdraw cash from it. We've got almost no cash in our account, which is why we wanted to pay by credit card. I tell him that Issy told me that he told her we could pay by credit card. He says that no one takes credit cards in the market. Issy is still back at the shop, so I'm not in much of a position to argue. We have just enough cash in the account to pay him.

We meet up with Ibrahim again and he takes us down to the waterfront. We pass some palm trees with gigantic grey trunks. Issy says that they look like concrete so we touch them to make sure they are real. The buildings on the waterfront look quite modern, and there seem to be quite a few upmarket shops here. There is also a casino, and lots of very expensive looking yachts. Ibrahim says that only rich people come here. I don't know why he's brought us here. He takes us into a craft market where people try to sell us upmarket souvenirs for much higher prices than we could have bought them for at the other market.

Ibrahim takes us to a traditional Mauritian restaurant for lunch. The waiter gives us a menu, but he then brings out some samples of his seafood on a plate. They look plastic. He says we can have fish, fish, fish, prawns or lobster, with chips, salad and rice. We order fish and chips. I wonder why we came to a traditional Mauritian restaurant just so we could eat fish and chips.

After lunch Ibrahim takes us to the SSR Botanical Gardens. SSR stands for Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam, who was Mauritius's first Primate Minister. I can now see why they call him SSR. The gardens are enormous and spectacular. Ibrahim says that there
Palm Trees, Waterfront, Port LouisPalm Trees, Waterfront, Port LouisPalm Trees, Waterfront, Port Louis

The trunks of these look like concrete. We touch them to make sure they are real.
are 3,600 trees here from all over the world, and the origins of the gardens date back to 1736 during the period of French rule. There are lots of different varieties of palm trees and lots of them are huge. We see the Talipot Palm which is a monstrously gigantic fan palm which only flowers once in its life and dies straight afterwards. The trunk of one of the other trees is covered in thick red resin and it makes it look like it's made out of red wax. He says that this is called the bleeding tree. The water lily pond is a standout. The water lily pads are about a metre across and there are hundreds of them. Ibrahim shows us a tree with huge roots that spread out above the ground many metres from the trunk. He says is called the witness tree because a couple years ago a Chinese girl was taking a picture of her boyfriend sitting on one of the branches of the tree, when he fell off, banged his head on one of the roots, and died. We stop at an enclosure full of giant tortoises.

We leave the gardens and head back south towards the hotel. It is peak hour and we get stuck in a traffic jam. It is raining quite hard. Some of the mountains we pass are spectacular. They are very steep and some of them have very sharp pointed peaks. Ibrahim points out one mountain that has what looks like a huge rock precariously perched right on top of its very sharply pointed peak. I wonder how it got there. I wonder even more why it hasn't fallen off. Ibrahim points out the village in the valley directly below it. I would be very nervous if I lived there. I thInk that if I lived there I would move.

We get back to the hotel, and go to dinner. I tell Issy that I think I might wear sandals to dinner on our last night here, just to see what happens. I don't think I'll really do this. I'm not that brave.

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