July 7, 2017 - I woke up at 7am and went for a walk to the beach, but it was cloudy and windy, so the lighting was bad and it was a bit chilly. I did see a macaque though, on my to the beach. It also saw me and was gone before I could think of taking a photo. I also saw some in the national park that day, but they were also gone quickly. They are not native to the island. I had some yogurt and granola for breakfast and then chatted with Jeroen while he got ready for work. I left at 9:45 to walk to the meeting point for my daytrip, and got there at 10:15. I paid and then chatted with a German woman named Annette until we left at 10:30. There were about 14 people on the tour, 10 of us with the English speaking group and the other four were in the French group. I don't think any of the others in my group were native English speakers - mostly German, and a Chinese girl. This always impresses me, the ability of so many people to speak two or more languages. Europeans always impress
me with this skill. But it's pretty much all people these days, aside from Americans and maybe Brits. English is the language of tourism, pretty much everywhere - except for my next destination - so for me it is very easy. But I wish I had studied more languages, and had more language skills.
Our destination today was a short boat ride to an island just off the coast - Ile aux Aigrettes, Egret Island. It is a nature preserve run by the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation. They are trying to get this island back to what it (and the rest of Mauritius) would have been like 400 years ago, before man came to the islands. Our tour guide told us about the natural history of the region and helped us look for and find all of the rare endemic animals that live there. The tour took about two hours, and we saw pink pigeons, olive white-eyes, Mauritius fodies, Gunther's gecko and Telfair skinks, as well as several Aldabra tortoises roaming freely and many plant species, like the ebony tree. To give you an idea of how rare some of these animals are, by 1974 there were only 24 pink
pigeons left in the world. Today there are about 400 after captive breeding programs. The olive white-eye and Mauritius fody both have only about 150 breeding pairs left in teh wild. It was really great to be able to see these animals and contribute a little towards the good work going in to save them.
Back on the mainland, I waited about 30 minutes for a bus to Mahebourg (pronounced My-bore) and fifteen minutes later I was there. It's possible I could have walked in the same amount of time. On the bus I sat next too and met another Western Girl, Jane. She's Czech and lives in Germany. She's here for two weeks. She was planning to catch another bus in Mahebourg but decided to come with me to the Biscuit Factory, my destination. At the bus station we looked at my (terribly) hand-drawn map and asked for directions. We had to walk about a kilometer to get there, but it was easy. We paid for a tour and a biscuit tasting afterwards. FYI - biscuit in this case refers to cookies. We were told to wait a few minutes, so we used the bathroom and then sat
at the table outside with the biscuits and started sampling. Eventually I realized she probably forgot about us, so we went back and she started our twenty-minute tour.
It's such a cool little place. It started in 1870 and is a small, family run and operated business, with about 11 women making the cookies. They are made from manioc (aka cassava or tapioca) that they grow on the grounds. All of the equipment is original, dating back to 1870, including the massive scale they use to weight the manioc. Manioc is a root vegetable, looks a lot like sweet potato, and they also use the leaves as a vegetable. They can replant the stems to grow more plants, so all of the plant gets used.
Every day, they wash the roots in a special machine and then cut them up and squash them for 30 minutes under high pressure to release the liquid. They use the rest to make flour, which they sieve to remove the fibers. The flour is mixed with sugar and salt, and whatever other flavor they are using, like chocolate or vanilla. No other ingredients. They burn palm leaves - not wood - to
heat the surface that they cook the biscuits on. Several women are involved in this process, and the biscuits move down the line and get flipped to cook both sides. They are then packaged by hand. They make cookies until they have used all of the flour made that day. So cool.
After the tour, the guide made me a cup of tea and brought juice for Jane, and we sampled the biscuits (again). There are 7 flavors, and my favorites were milk and butter, but vanilla and cinnamon were good too. They are a little dry, but really nice dunked in tea. At this point I had about $11 dollars left, and was deciding if I had enough to buy bus tickets, dinner and one of two packets of biscuits. I went with two - one milk and one butter. After this, Jane and I walked around a bit and ended up at a cemetery, through which we walked to the sea next to a sugarcane field. Eventually we ended up back in town, where I took a few more photos before saying good-bye to Jane and waiting 30 minutes for the bus. I always time it badly.
I had hoped to get back to Blue Bay before 5:30pm, to get some more of the roti from the woman with the food truck, and I did get back by 5pm, but she was already gone. Bummer. Luckily there was another guy so I got two roti from him and two samosas. Very good also. And I still have about $5 left to change at the airport tomorrow. My dinner cost less than $2. Bargain.
After dinner I showered and washed my hair with proper shampoo and conditioner. Oh, that feels good. My shampoo bar and conditioner are just not ok. Tonight will be packing and maybe singing along to a track or two from Moana. May as well enjoy the internet while it's good! It might also help drown out the sounds of the occasional airplane flying over. I am close to the airport, and it actually sounds like the planes will be coming through my room. Quite intense.
As I get ready to leave Mauritius, a few impressions come to mind. People here are friendly and helpful. They always ask if this is your first time here, if I'm alone and how long I
Me and Big Daddy
That really is his name. He's about 100 years old, and is the largest tortoise on the island.
will stay. The water is so blue and clear. The environment is tropical, but there are no dangerous animals here, and no malaria. There is a big mix of people here and different religions abound, but everyone gets along. The buses are old and slow, but work and are cheap. Winter is a great time, as it's not too hot and nights are cool. Wind is intense, especially on the east side of the island. People have lighter skin color on Mauritius than on Rodrigues, but both speak Creole. The wildlife is unique and endangered. Sugarcane is everywhere. Taxis are overpriced.
Tomorrow I fly to Reunion island, where I begin the second part of my journey.
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