Thursday, January 26, 2017

Mauritius - day 3

26 January 2017

We had a busy day ahead of us, but the car rental company was only supposed to deliver our car at 11 am, so we spent a leisurely morning playing Uno and chatting. Xena wanted to go for another splash in the pool, so Viv accompanied her.

At about 12 noon, we got into the car and set off towards Chamarel on the west coast of Mauritius. Chamarel is home to some of the most popular attractions of Mauritius, such as the seven-coloured earth and the Chamarel Falls.

Viv and Clueless were in front...

...and the rest of us, also known as the Xena Entertainment Squad, were in the back. 

Xena had nicknamed the car 'Almy'. She has this habit of nicknaming all the cars we use for our road trips.

On the way, we passed by this mountain which we would see almost every day. We called it the 'thumbs up' mountain because of the little protrusion it had on the side that looked like a thumbs up sign.  

As we drove, we saw these sugarcane fields, which are a very common sight in Mauritius.

Since it was close to lunchtime, Viv decided to find a lunch place first and then start the sightseeing. We checked out a couple of places, but couldn't see much vegetarian fare on the menus. Finally, we stumbled upon Chez Ruben, which had Indian thaali meals, including a vegetarian one!

An Indian welcome at the entrance to the restaurant

We ordered a fried rice for Xena and it turned out so humongous that we had to pack most of it and take it with us so she could nibble on it later. 

After lunch, we couldn't immediately leave because it had started to rain! So the rest of us hung around in the waiting area near the gift shop, while Dad wandered out finding more and more examples of how ingrained Indian culture was in Mauritius. 

He found Indian-style paintings on the walls...

...and pictures showing Indian mythology.

Dad and Xena pose next to the painting of a dodo on the wall. The now-extinct bird was endemic to Mauritius, where it had no natural predators. It became extinct due to a combination of overhunting by humans and predation by the non-native animals introduced by humans when they decided to settle in Mauritius. The dodo was apparently last sighted in 1662. With all the dodo talk, Xena had started referring to her daddy as 'Dody'. 

These trees were just outside the restaurant. Can you see the brown dots in the centre of the photo? We were told that they were bats' nests! WOW!

As we waited for the rain to stop, we were continuously chatting with one another. The gift shop lady, who couldn't help but overhear us, asked Clueless if we were Tamil. So Clueless started pointing out who was Tamil in the group and who wasn't. The lady looked very puzzled and said, "Oh! I thought you're one family." When Clueless told her that we were indeed one family, she wanted to know how we were related! Ha!

Our first stop was the Chamarel waterfall, a prominent tourist attraction. The upper viewing deck for the waterfalls is situated at the Chamarel seven-coloured earth reserve, which is where we headed. It was drizzling, but the rain was not heavy enough to deter us. 

The volume of water running through the spectacular Chamarel waterfall is 22500 cubic metres during the dry season and 41000 cubic metres (which is the daily average water consumption of one-fifth of the Mauritian population!)

A sign comparing the Chamarel waterfall to the Statue of Liberty

The young ladies against the waterfall

Clueless taught Xena how to do the cheesy 'tourist-catching-the-waterfall' pose. 

After several tries, she got it. 

My dad was so fascinated even he wanted to try it!

Group shot (notice how we 'made space' for the waterfall to fit in?)

A short walk away was the famous seven-coloured earth of Mauritius -- a small area of sand dunes featuring seven distinct colours. 

Clueless leading my mom towards the dunes -- what a heartwarming sight!

I stopped several times along the way to take photos of colourful flowers and berries. 

And there it was -- the seven-coloured earth! (In case you're curious, the colours are red, brown, violet, green, blue, purple and yellow.)

This curious phenomenon is apparently the result of molten lava cooling at different rates and forming oxides of various metals, which explains the different colours. 

It is a fenced area (understandably; can't imagine what stomping tourists would do to it!) but you can walk around it to see it in detail. 

You can click on this photo to get more details about the dunes. 

Even though the sign above said that no vegetation can ever grow on the dunes, remarkably, we saw some tiny saplings peeping out of the soil!

Dad, Xena and Mom pose with the dunes.

Family picture time! (Xena is posing as a dinosaur.)

There was also a small tortoise enclosure with two males Toto and Tizean, and two females Rosette and Nini. 

We observed the tortoises for a short while. Not that they did much.

Xena was quite thrilled to see the tortoises from such close quarters. I was more thrilled at the thought of how she'd react when she saw the giant tortoises at La Vanille Nature Park. And that is where we were headed next. 

Viv poses with Almy.

La Vanille Nature Park is in the southern part of Mauritius and it took us about two hours to get there. Apprehensively, I instructed Xena to take her nap in the car, and guess what? She did! By the time we reached, it was late afternoon and fresh from her nap, she was happy. 

Spanning 35 hectares, La Vanille is not what you would call a 'zoo'. It felt more like a forest safari. We walked under gigantic bamboo trees, crossed bridges over ponds with beautiful fish, climbed up wooden steps and generally had a pretty good hike as we went from enclosure to enclosure, viewing the animals.

My little wild animal venturing off 

Xena examines a tiny bird's nest she found on the floor. 

I loved walking under the bamboo canopy. It felt like such an adventure!

La Vanille has the world's largest captive group of giant Aldabra tortoises. I had read that you could get really really close to them at the park, which is what had made me choose La Vanille over the other places where Xena (and we, but that's secondary) could see animals. 

And boy, was it worth it!

We started off with the tortoise enclosure first. I saw the tortoises from a distance but there didn't seem to be any fences between them and us. Mom was sure it was out of bounds for us, but there were so signs so I headed straight inside. There a guide who told us it was perfectly fine to do so, and we could even (gently) touch the tortoises as they were very used to human contact. 

I was a little scared myself, but I didn't want to show Xena that, so I started off by touching the tortoise on its shell. 

The guide then taught me exactly how to touch the tortoise on its head without freaking it out. 

Soon, Xena gathered her courage and touched its shell...
...and eventually its head!

The guide told us that the tortoise on the left was more than 100 years old! (The tortoises had numbers printed over their shells for the caretakers to keep track.) 

This interesting fruit could be seen on palm-like trees found all over the area. 

One of my favourite shots from the holiday

This sign said that in 1874, Charles Darwin and other eminent scientists co-signed a letter to urge the Governor of Mauritius to establish a captive breeding program to protect the Aldabra giant tortoises from extinction. Apparently, the tortoises were abundant before, but their numbers rapidly declined due to intensive harvesting by man for food and oil (!). Also, the animals introduced by man, such as pigs and rats fed on tortoise eggs, leading to a further decline in their population. 

We spent a really long time walking around and saying hello to the many many tortoises in the area. 

Inevitably, we stumbled upon a mating pair as well that was making very weird and very loud sounds. I can't recall who cracked the joke, but either Clueless or Viv called the sound 'exclamating'. Sheesh. 

We also went to the nursery, where they had separate sections for tortoise eggs, newly hatched tortoises, and almost-adult tortoises. 

Next, we went to check out some Java deer, native to Indonesia and introduced to Mauritius by the Dutch in 1639.

We couldn't get close to the deer, but we did feed them some leaves through the gaps in the fence. 

A coffee plant with coffee beans on it

Lemurs! We'd never seen lemurs except in books and movies, so all of us were pretty excited. 

They were quite curious and came up all the way to check out Xena's hand through the glass. 

Lemur family

"Look, Xena, your best friends!" I teased. 

There was quite a bit of walking and climbing to be done, but my parents took it quite well. I was proud of them. 

The Madagascar day gecko is bright green in colour. Creepy, but fascinating. 

They have a HUGE section on crocodiles too. Boy, these animals can be really, really, still for long. 

There was also a fossil museum called '100 million years under the sea', displaying hundreds of ammonite fossils. There was also a section on marine mammals, with skeletons of animals such as whales, seals and dugongs. 

While we focused mainly on the fauna, Dad, of course, couldn't get enough of the flora. 

The farm animals' section was adorable! We saw everything from chickens to ducks to geese...

...plus some very weird birds we couldn't recognise.

High five?

No? Okay, then!

Xena's first donkey sighting

"Mama, what are these??" (Goats)

The bunny had to do her bunny pose when we reached the hutches, of course. 

Mauritius fruit bat (also known as the Mauritian flying fox) hanging upside down

Xena also undertook a rope adventure...

...and completed it successfully to my mom's rapidly beating heart.

It was past closing time by the time we were done with La Vanille. We got into the car and headed towards Gris Gris beach next. I tried to teach Mom the French pronunciation of 'Gris Gris' to some hilarious results. Think ghaw ghaw

The heavy French influence in Mauritius is due to the fact that it used to be a French colony from 1715 to 1810. In fact, the French had even renamed it from 'Mauritius' to 'Isle de France'. The original name 'Mauritius' had come from the Dutch who had landed on the island in 1598 and named it in honour of a Dutch prince called Maurice. When the British took over (1810-1968), the name reverted to 'Mauritius'. 

Soon, we had reached Gris Gris beach. We found an ice-cream van near the beach and got ourselves some cones. Loud Hindi music was playing from the van and it turns out it was the radio! Viv asked the seller for the station's frequency, so we could also listen to Hindi music during our drives. I was touched. He knows I love listening to Hindi music, especially during road trips. 

Check out the perfect match between Clueless' nails and her ice-cream!

Gris Gris beach turned out to be absolutely magnificent. We were actually supposed to stop by before La Vanille but we were running short of time so we had skipped it. Luckily, Viv decided to check it out after La Vanille. 

The beach is famous for its very rough sea and giant waves that crash against the cliffs. As there are no coral reefs to tame the waves, they make for a stunning backdrop. 

It was also beautifully windy up there and all of us spent some time just walking around and exploring the place. I love this picture I took of Clueless.  

Father and daughter pose for me. 

Mom and Dad at Gris Gris beach

Interesting trivia about Gris Gris

It was getting dark so we finally decided to leave and go foraging for dinner. We picked Stenio's near home, a pizza place recommended by our AirBnB host.

There was a Shiva temple opposite the restaurant, and my Dad went and paid a visit. Not that he's very religious, but as you can probably tell by now, he's extremely interested in instances of Indian influence in foreign countries.

Stenio's turned out to be a super choice! They were able to make yummy vegetarian pizzas for Viv and Clueless, and their chicken pizzas were just as good.

Soon, we were home and ready to hit the bed. It had been a loooong, but awesome day out.

Click here for Mauritius - day 4!



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