Port Louis, Mauritius
Just east of Madagascar, Mauritius is a beautiful island with 59% of the population being Hindu along with Muslims and Christians. This island was uninhabited until it was colonized by the French then the English who brought over many indentured servants from India to work the sugarcane plantations which is their largest export. There are lots of South Indian cultures and temples along with mix of Indian languages (Tamil, Hindi), Urdu, English and French. This was a pretty interesting port for all of us. We were only in the country for about 8 hours so as soon as immigration clearance and stuff was done, several of us went to check out the town.The port was very much industrial and because our ship is too big for their harbor, they have a special port for cruise ships that we had to use as well. From here, we took a little water taxi to take us on a 5 minute ride to the entrance to downtown.It was cool to see all these little merchant and fishing boats lined up in the harbor.
First we walked to the local vegetable market where there were delicious looking veggies and fruits and lots of Hindu names and pictures of Gods. Then we went off to the craft market before it closed at 2 since it was a Sunday. It was fun to smell, taste and see the similar images of India. I got some fun rainsticks with Dodo birds on them. The Dodo bird is one of the famous things from this island but is now extinct because all the settlers ate them all! But there are several fossils and bones that are on display throughout this island country.
Markets, Museums & Temples
In the market, someone mistook me for being a local and started yelling at me when friends would ask for my opinion on a product and I would tell them it's too expensive. After the market and some interesting experiences with shopping, a group of us went to go check out Apravasi Ghat…which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site for it's history. Over a half a million Indian indentured servants came to this island through this immigration site. Unfortunately, it was closed since we were here on a Sunday so we didn't get to go in but it was cool to see it from the gate and think about the many histories written right here.
Then we went off to search for a temple because I miss being in temples and wanted to see how Hinduism is practiced in this country. There was also lots of commotion here and all across the island in preparation for Shivaratri. There is a volcanic lake on the southern side of the island where Hindus gather every year as pilgrims to celebrate this festival. With only 8 hrs, we were suggested to not try to go there because of the traffic and inability to get back in time. We first found a Mosque but couldn't find any information on if we could enter so then we kept walking and ran into China Town. This section of town is quite old and there is a vibrant community of Chinese folks…but it being Sunday, this area was like a ghost town. Finally, we were pointed in the right direction to find a temple and my heart started racing as soon as I could hear south Indian prayers over a PA system.A block down the street was this cute temple dedicated to Kannanoor Mariamman (a form of Shakti). We got there right as the concluding prayers (Pushpanjali) was being said and Aarathi was being performed! How cool is that! I got to get some Prasad and do some prayers before getting onto our next adventure. It was nice to just have a few minutes in this very traditional setting where I felt like I was in a traditional temple in South India.
Botanical Garden & Beach
Back in the Amazon River, there are these huge lily pads called Victoria Regina, so called because they look like a crown as they are sprouting. When fully sprouted they can be several feet wide and can often hold a small baby without sinking into the water! How cool is that! Anyways….I never got to see them in the Amazon since I had very little time in Manaus, so when I found out there was a botanical garden with them on the island, I HAD to go! So we got a taxi driver to take us up to the Pamplemousses Botanical Garden. This was a cute garden made for the former Colonizers and had some cool plants. We really only had time to see the Victoria Regina lily pads (they are indeed beautiful!!!) and also checked out the lotus and water lily pond as well. Then we wanted to go to Flika Flaka Beach (really just for the cool name) but ended up at Blackalava Beach. It's this small section between Le Meridien and Oberoi Resorts that's open to the public. The water was just incredible! So clear and warm; I just didn't want to get out of the water…but we had been warned about sea urchins and once I started seeing them I decided it best to not be in the water for a while. We did walk around a bit and got some cool pictures of starfish, sea urchins and other randomness. It was just so beautiful and nice to relax on the beach with friends. Then we headed back to the ship because I had gangway duty to help with getting everyone back on the ship. This was quite an experience and something I'll save for when I see you all in person.
One thing I didn't get to do in Mauritius was go to the Himalayan Academy Hindu Spiritual Park on the other side of the island. It's a place I've wanted to visit for a long time but didn't feel comfortable going by myself and couldn't find anyone else wanting to go…so I've decided to come back someday to this island so I can do this and check out the rest of the beautiful island as well.