This is part of the twelfth section of our around the
Complete Trip Overview & Map
Coming from The Seychelles
17/4/06 Mauritius is an island, south and east of the Seychelles, further out into the Indian ocean, about 70 km long and 50 km wide with a dense population of 1.2 million people. Mostly of Indian descent, brought in to work the sugar cane fields when slavery was abolished and the African slaves, their descendants are now about a quarter of the population, were freed. The motorcycle was on the same two and a half hour flight as us landing at 2 pm. We were initially optimistic the bike would clear customs today but were told that we needed permission from the transport authority to ride in the country. The airport is over 50 km's from the capital, Port Louis, and government offices close at 3-30 so it will be a tomorrow job. Another different city, Mahebourg, near the airport, a different accommodation and a different supermarket for self catering groceries. Supermarket shopping whilst travelling is a bit like going to your regular supermarket to find everything has been moved to a different place, but it seems the prices on the shelves didn't move as some things are now cheaper whilst others are outrageously expensive, but even the money numbers now require a calculation to have some value in a currency that you know. Added to that, they changed all the labels, and wrote them in a different language. Then the products you normally eat don't exist and things you have never seen before are in abundance, but you can only guess what they are by the pictures on the packets. This whole process is repeated at each new country.
18/4/06 They say if you can achieve one thing a day in Africa you are doing well. Mauritius is technically part of Africa but both its location and population mix also differentiate it from the continent. Our passports are virtually full and with only a few Australian Embassies in Africa we started the process of getting a new passport whilst overseas. Because we have two Australian passports, a normal one, plus a second one that allows us to travel in the Middle East between countries who refuse entry if we have visited their unfriendly neighbours, the process is more complicated, requiring an identification from a guarantor who has known us for over a year. This means documents couriered to Australia and back then the new passports couriered on to Madagascar two weeks later, a long process. Coraline Shipping Agency had booked our berth on their boat via Reunion Island, to Madagascar, three nights sailing, leaving Mauritius on the 30th of April. We collected tickets and arranged with a freight forwarder to ship the motorcycle on the same boat, $US 200.00 each, for the three of us. A visit to the National Transport Authority had approval, finally, to ride on the island. Temporary plates are issued, $US 40.00 plus a deposit ensuring their return of $US 65.00, however the refundable deposit will take two weeks to process and will be credited to our bank account. We are extremely dubious of ever seeing the deposit again but have been surprised before. The one and a half hour bus ride in each direction from Mahebourg, near the airport, to Port Louis, the capital, made it a long day, but logistically successful. The flight into the country and today's bus ride shows that sugar cane is still the main rural pursuit. The bright green monoculture covers any flat land we have seen. There seems to be three official languages here and most are spoken by most citizens. Creole seems the base language but we are approached with French which is spoken in offices yet almost all signs in offices and in public are in English. It makes communication for us easy but would be difficult for people having to learn the three languages. TV is also broadcast, on the same channel, at different times, different programs in different languages.
19/4/06 Business hours, for both government and private, are short. Customs opens, supposedly at 9 am and closes at 3-30. They were helpful allowing us to clear the paperwork ourselves, showing us from office to office. The warehouse also allowed us to uncrate the motorcycle at their premises where we organised for the crate to be carted to our accommodation for storage, for re-use to ship the bike to Madagascar. A few broken pallets were obtained for their timber as the crate is falling apart after its two uses but it is easier to repair it rather than build a new one. By 12 noon we were riding in Mauritius, travelling on the left side of the road, in light traffic. Whilst being pretty much the first person to bring such a bike here, that creates some delays, it also means the people are more tolerant and helpful of our unusual requests, like clearing customs ourselves, not normally allowed, unpacking the bike and being given used pallets, we are treated as a one off novelty. Even with the bike ready to now ride we decided to rest in our accommodation for the afternoon, catching up on emails and reading.
20/4/06 Humans have made extinct more plants and animals in their short stay on earth than any other species. The dodo bird is often representative of other extinct species. When man first arrived in Mauritius in the 17th century it took just 30 years for the dodo bird's demise. It seems it has been a long slow lesson to learn as there is now less than 1% of original forest left on the island, its surrounding beaches and oceans currently the main reasons for tourist visits. Always logistics, a visit to the Madagascan Embassy, visas in two days $US 20.00. Cancellation and refund of our onward air ticket from Air Mauritius now that we have a boat ticket and we sat in Company Gardens in Port Louis in the shade of large banyan trees watching the people traffic and sampling Madagascan street food. Distinctly Indian it seems the almost two hundred years of their settlement has done little to separate their culture from the homeland. Still Hindu's, dressing conservatively, similar foods and customs, even to the majority of buses being Tata, from India. A visit to Blue Bay beach showed the typical three generation family at play during school holidays. Picnicking on mats, children swimming, grandparents organising and everyone launching small boats of flowers after burning incense sticks.
21/4/06 We decided to do a tour of the island, two nights to the north, then two to the south and back here to prepare the motorcycle for onward shipping. The sit on the beach and relax holiday has never really suited my personality. Perhaps I have not worked hard enough to need, or enjoy it fully. The resort holiday even less to my taste, isolated from locals, with people waiting on your needs leaves me a bit cold and clinical yet it seems the most popular form of tourism here. Large beach front hotel resorts with high walls backing onto the road, security guards deterring the unwelcomed, line the coast wherever a bay, headland or decent beach occurs. There are a few excellent public beaches, often at river mouths opening into bays, or where the coast is a little rocky or exposed for a resort. These are well presented with grass and shade and are enjoyed by locals, some setting up tents for a weekend at the beach. Again the tourists and locals rarely mix outside of business activities. We followed the coast as best the road did around the eastern side, more rugged in its exposedness, stopping at the public beaches to watch local goings on. Like on the Seychelles there is a lack of in between tourism where we normally fit. Where local tourism merges with bottom end international. The locals here tend to picnic, buy beer from the grocery shop and drink in parks so restaurants and bars are scarce as the internationals eat and drink at their resort. We ended up at Trou Aux Biches watching the sunset over the water on the west coast.
22/4/06 It has often been asked if we were going to write a book of our travels. Initially the response was a no, that the web page was sufficient, but more recently we approached the man who wrote the series of articles on our trip in the Harley, HOG magazine a few years ago. He had then shown interest in writing a book, but whilst giving the idea considerable thought now he declined the opportunity, which was to be unpaid, but ownership of the rights to the book, as we still had no desire to be tied to the publishing and promotion process. However the seed had germinated and the thought process moved on. Probably the largest reason is that next year we will be visiting the Pacific Island countries. Being small islands we will probably need to ship the motorcycle, making the process slow and inevitably there will be plenty of time spent waiting. What better way to fill it. So today, keys were struck on the computer, how long the idea will last will be told in the future.
23-24/4/06 We have found some comfortable accommodation and decided to stay in Trou Aux Biches. Back from the water but a short walk we wander down each day to walk the beach or for a swim. The beach in one direction is at the back of houses and apartments, the other direction is a large resort of Europeans getting a spring tan on their beach chairs next to the restaurant and bar also open to casual drop ins like us. Most of the time is however spent at our accommodation thinking and slowly formulating a plan for the book which will likely occupy free moments for a year or two to come.
25/4/06 Left the relaxed beachside, riding to the container stuffing business to check procedures for crating and containerising the motorcycle. Picked up our Madagascan visas, and touristed in the southern mountain area the rest of the day. One of the prime, non beach tourist attractions is the Black River Gorge National Park. Not a spectacular park by other comparisons but pleasantly cool in the mountains with waterfalls and views and different native vegetation. The south coast a little more rugged but still with a wide fringing reef making swimming a shallow water experience but safe. Resorts have started to be built here also taking up premier beach spots. We were back at our original accommodation by mid afternoon, in the city of Mahebourg. We prefer it as a location. A functioning waterfront place with fishing boats and locals going about their business. It moves at a slow pace. People happy to chat, welcoming us on our return.
26/4/06 All morning was spent rebuilding the bike crate for shipping to Madagascar. The three old pallets we had obtained were dismantled and used to strengthen the sides and top of the old crate as we had been told other goods would be stacked around and on top in the shipping container. At least when shipping, as opposed to flying we are paying by volume, not by weight, so the extra strength will cost nothing in freight charges. A telephone call to ESC Export, the freight consolidator, and we were told there was not enough consolidated freight for this shipment so they couldn't take the motorcycle. Ten days earlier we had yet again been assured there would be no problems with the shipment, just phone the day before to arrange stuffing in the container. We have found in doing business in this region of the world that promises are easily made, without thought of how they will be fulfilled, just to get business. We were offered room on another cargo ship sailing a week later. Obviously they expected us to have to accept this as it was now too late to book on an earlier sailing, perhaps with a different company, thus virtually ensured of our business by the delay. Complaints to their management and to Coraline Shipping (the main shipping agent) resulted in nothing definite other than a meeting tomorrow morning, and a possibility of taking the motorcycle as broken freight.
27/4/06 Coraline Shipping were tremendously helpful, allowing the motorcycle to go as accompanied baggage, without needing a crate. What had seemed like a small disaster yesterday ended up being a great advantage. We could simply ride to the boat next Sunday, and hopefully ride off in Madagascar three days later, saving two days without the motorcycle at each end of the trip. The price was also less without the container handling and stuffing fees and we didn't need to pay to move the crate, the owner of our hotel is happy for us to leave it there, quite a successful morning. Customs also waived their Sunday call out fee to clear the motorcycle paperwork, eventually agreeing to use their standard customs officer who would normally be on duty. Originally they had wanted us to pay an officer, minimum call out of four hours, for five minutes work, a sideways way of getting official corruption in overtime. The passport applications we had sent to Australia for verification returned today and applications were made at the Australian Embassy for new passports, hopefully the new ones will arrive in Madagascar in about two weeks. The rest of the day was spent at the new Caudon Waterfront area of upmarket shops and restaurants overlooking the harbour. In stark contrast to the bustling street food and consumables sellers sandwiched between a conglomeration of new and dilapidated buildings in the main city just across the road, this waterfront, well spaced development of modern urban design was a great place to relax for a few hours.
28/4/06 Settled back into Mahebourg for the next couple of days. A smattering of tourists stay here, mostly arriving from or waiting for aeroplane flights. It rains every day, mostly at night, giving the place a washed cool effect. The concrete buildings have that black fungus growth of dampness and every second building is either falling down or being built, many taking years or even generations, as funds or larger families dictate. The other buildings well maintained, often shops downstairs, living quarters above, narrow roads without footpaths weave in between.
29/4/06 Stayed locally for a quiet day.
30/4/06 Rode over to the waterfront development again in Port Louis
for a last few hours wait for the boat. Whilst the smaller, privately owned
shops had been open, few of the tourist shops are. Labour rates, still paying
holiday penalties keeping them closed despite the many tourists in the area.
Everything at the port went smoothly. Customs signed off the carnet and
I rode the motorcycle through the passenger arrivals hall, and into a waiting
container, strapping it down. The container was then filled with passenger
baggage they would not be using on the trip. As there were only 50 passengers
it hardly covered the floor of the container. We were bused to the boat
in time to see the container loaded. The boat is half cabins, half containers,
an unusual combination. It can carry about 150 passengers in very comfortable
cabins. Ours, second class, two bunks, in a 3x3 metre area with sink, desk
and two chairs was the cheapest. The others, all ensuite, and with double
beds incredibly comfortable. All our meals are included for the three night
crossing to Tamatave, Madagascar, stopping at the French Island of Reunion
tomorrow, just $US 200.00 each, quite amazing.
Move with us to Reunion Island
Story and photos copyright ©
Peter and Kay Forwood,