Thursday, July 12, 2012

Here is a video that Barry took on the top of the hill overlooking Port Louis, Mauritius.  It gives you a good perspective of what the island looks like. The suburbs of  Port Louis go on for miles, it is amazing that a tiny island in the middle of the Indian Ocean would have so much population. Historically, Mauritius or Isle de France was a stopover to reprovision and get fresh water for sailing ships rounding the Cape of Good Hope before heading to India.  The islands symbol is the dodo bird which became extinct in the 1600's shortly after European's landed.  Their demise was precipitated by the introduction of non-native species such as rats which ate their eggs as well as humans which ate their approximately 22 kg bodies.
The other day we took a tour of the southern part of the island. We engaged a local taxi driver and his car to conduct the four of us (the crew of Cat's-Paw IV and Tagish) around. We headed to Curepipe, a town where we visited a carpet store.
 As we sat enjoyed a cup of tea, they explained how the cashmere carpets were made, the emphasis being that the carpets were hand knotted.  They were stunning, the salesman showed us how each knot was made and he explained that a 30 year veteran would trim the carpet with sheers by hand when the knotting was finished.  He said they were magic carpets and rotated it under the light, the difference in shading was magnificent as they moved the carpet. I managed to resist buying one, but wonder if I will be sorry one day.
Our next stop was at model ship building factory. A couple of ladies were threading the rigging on the 3 masted ships. It was amazing to me that they could figure out where everything went.  One fellow had small .05 cm. sq. pieces of wood that he was sandpapering, they would be the ports for the canons, one ship we saw had 3 decks of canons on the ship.  They had all the famous ships from years gone by including a model of the Bluenose, I was impressed.

We headed out to southeast side of the island and visited the site of the first European settlement on the island, the Portuguese discovered Mauritius but the Dutch were the first to name and settle the island. The Dutch had a hard time with plagues and cyclones and were unable to maintain a lasted settlement.  
The French took over and colonized the island with slaves from Africa and introduced sugar cane.  The  British attacked and took over the island in 1835, they abolished slavery and indentured servants from India were brought in to continue to harvest the sugar cane.  The British were very benevolent conquerors, allowing the islanders to maintain their language and religion to this day the dominant language in French but English is learned at school and most officials, thankfully, are bilingual.  

Our tour continued with the natural beauty of the island.  We stopped to see a natural bridge made of volcanic rock.  The bridge was on the sea shore with waves pounding through the opening under the bridge, it was quite spectacular.  Standing on that bridge you could feel and see and hear the power of the waves. I was glad to be over top rather than underneath them. 
Our next stop was at a valley that bisected the island.  It was quite a deep rift and there was a long waterfall spilling down one side.  The mist gives this picture such a haunting feeling.  
Our next stop was at an unique spot.  It was called the coloured earth, apparently the basalt in the area had broken down and given it's colour to the dirt.  No vegetation would grow so the grains of dirt would blow around and form these fabulously coloured mounds.  I haven't seen anything else quite like it in our travels.  
We headed home after looking at a possible anchorage about 20 km down the island.  I think we might head there next week.  I went on another big hike up a hill called the Corps de Garde, it was a great day.  Barry figured his ankle might not like the climb so he stayed on the boat. We managed to extend our visa today.  It was the most bureaucratic experience we have had in awhile, having to provide proof of our finances as well as copies of all the documents we were given when entering the country, custom and health clearances. (I do not think these are computerized so not easily accessed.) It took us a very long and boring 2 hours of sitting around to meet all their requirements.  Horse racing is quite a tradition on the island so on Saturday we are heading off to the races. I don't think I have ever laid a bet at a race track so this may be a first!