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  The Chatter Box : Travel
The Delicacy of Mauritius by Priam4 on 20 June 2005 8:31pm
To celebrate the jubilee of the year 2000, my parents did want to go crazy for once... As my parents are afraid of flying, I suggested we went to America or Canada or Cabo Verde for the reason that these destinations weren't too far away... and guess what ? Foolish mother chose Mauritius... But, no regrets because after 12 hours of flying, we reached Heaven...

Mauritius is paradise ! This leitmotif is being incessantly brought up ever since Mark Twain took the liberty of writing : “Mauritius inspired God to create the Garden of Eden”. I must admit that it’s not only a cliché ! Rocked by the breeze, your hammock starts a languorous sway. you look at the many colorful birds gamboling in the filaos (Casuarina trees). You listen to the sea, to the lazy sound of waves breaking a long way off on the coral reefs and then collapsing, completely shattered, in the lagoon to finally die on the fine sand of an iddyllic beach. An immense peacefulness fills your whole being...

Accordingly, Mauritius does not seem to be a "destination off the beaten track" and yet this Indian Ocean island abounds in treasures which do not unveil themselves quite readily and easily. Mauritius is clearly a deserving island. Most of the tourists are attracted to Mauritius due to the beauty of its beaches and its lagoon; however, the island's touristic aspect is not stereotyped to "sun, sea and idleness" only. On cultural grounds, it offers the rich variety of a significant number of combined ethnic groups. The existence of a multiracial, multicoloured and welcoming population teaches us how to live life: to take one's time, to socialize and mix up with different people, to taste unknown flavours, to admire nature and to appreciate the first light of dawn...

The Mauritian flag is always proudly floating in the winds. Four colors that perfectly summarize this island known as the Star of the Indian Ocean :

RED. For the bloodshed during the many conflicts, now considered as milestones in its history. For the wraths of the winds, which brings devastating cyclones. Yet, red is also cheerful, festive and passionate in its other shade : the Sega, which is a traditional music accompanied by rhythmic and sensual dance where bodies sway, meet, curve and brush against each other at the beat of percussion.

BLUE. Indeed, blue is for the sea that reveals an infinite range of the color : from the turquoise blue lagoon, to the indigo blue of the ocean depths. But, also for the azure sky where the clouds appeal our imagination by their ever changing shapes.

YELLOW. For the omnipresent sun, which set aglow the horizon at dusk. For the heat, scorching and moist. For the fine sand that adorns its beaches. And, last but not least, for the curry, the saffron or the cardamom which delight the taste buds through a local spicy cuisine.

GREEN. Green is for its landscape, a velvety carpet of green : the sugar cane fields that stretch out as far as the eye can see, and the lush vegetation that seems to grow with more sturdiness than anywhere else. Finally, for its sacred lake, Grand bassin, a highly esteemed place in the Hindu culture, and which is marked with an undeniable spiritual power.

Convinced of the beauty of the Mauritian beaches and their lagoons, it is now time to learn about the other side of this heavenly picture : inland, its people, and the real life without the contrivances of the sumptuous hotels. For that particular purpose, you have to leave behind the main places such as Flic-en-Flac, Morne Brabant, Belle-Mare and the North-West region (Trou-aux-Biches, Grand Baie, Pereybere) and instead, head for the small villages, devoid of any major tourist development, that have melodious sweet names: Mamzelle Jeanne (Miss Jane), Bois Mangue (“Mango Wood”), Bois des Amourettes (“Wood of little flings”), Petit Gamin (“Little Kid”), Grande Rosalie (“Big Rosalie”), Petite Julie (“Little Julia”), Poudre d'Or (“Gold Dust“), Sans Soucis (“Carefree”), Pompette, Bel Ombre (“Nice Shade”), Beau champ (“Beautiful Field”), Bon Air (“Fresh Air”)...These small regions are different and quite a change from the old routine. They are wonderful villages full of amazing hallmarks where you will come across a mixture of different cultures and traditions. There, you will encounter a rebellious yet bewitching nature, strangely sculpted and enchanting mountains, cliffs that overhang stormy sea - an unusual scene in this island that has an ever present lagoon - and wild and deserted that will mesmerize romantic souls.

The island has disconcerting sides. In a particular street, a hawker sells doughnuts and dholl puri (sort of pancakes), the fragrance of curry scents the air, women in shimmering saris are strolling about, and incense sticks are burning in a small temple of Lord Shiva : you picture yourself in India... Then suddenly, the muezzin’s call pull you out of your thoughts: a mosque, veiled women, small cluttered stalls, everything reminds you of the East. Further on, a grocer's shop is brimming over with goods; you're now “in the Chinese shop” where trade is in full swing. At the far end of an alley, hedges of corrugated iron sheets kept out of view modest-looking houses from which a booming sega could be heard. Rows of bougainvillea and flourishing flamboyants add a cheerful touch to this rather bleak Creole locality. Indeed, it is a complete change of scene to come across so many cultures and traditions in only one village !

These communities live together and accept their differences without any significant clashes. Mauritians show the same tolerance with regard to the stranger that you are. 'We never raise the religion subject with others or during a meal, we keep our convictions for ourselves" they say. They are easy to get on with and often end up telling you about their life, the customs in Mauritius, but it's also a means to know you better. A flood of questions will thus follow: where do you come from? What do you do for a living? Are you married? A natural curiosity is present in Mauritians, an urge to discover the other. The chance to talk to them on many occasions and each time, their availability and kindness will surprise you. Whether it was for showing me the way, advising me on the visit of places of interest, inviting me to a wedding, initiating you to their culture, spontaneously helping me to push your car, which refused to start, or simply for exchanging a few words. Why do they do that? There’s no particular reason except for the pleasure of conversing for a brief moment.

During those times, I realized to what extent, we, Westerners hurried and concerned only about productivity, have lost the touch of spontaneity and sharing. Proud of their island, they often ask you if you like Mauritius and are delighted to find out that you are deeply interested in their country and its multitude of traditions. Here, you learn once again how to open up to others and you get this pleasant feeling that you're the most welcome! In Mauritius, hospitality is not an empty word.

From my peregrinations, it was obvious that the rapid economic development of the island, much envied by its African neighbours, did not put an end to the existing social disparities. Life is a continuous struggle for many people residing in Mauritius. To smooth their everyday lives by any means, they will cultivate a patch of ground, rear some hens and goats, or grow fruit tree. Taking into account the meagre salaries, it is quite impossible to live alone. Undoubtedly, it is partly for this reason that Mauritians have acquired a thorough sense of living together in a family. All the members help one another faithfully and bring the remaining essentials for the smooth running of their family life. United, the clan meets on Sundays at a public beach to party. Uncles, aunts, cousins, friends... everybody is warmly welcomed and they get together in good spirits, relishing the present moment without bothering about tomorrow, which might not be all roses. In spite of all the trials that they went through, yet, I did not hear a single complaint, only their enthusiasm had the upper hand and their strong liking for life. A farmer, who is also a sega singer in his spare time, told me the following in a melodious Creole: "Ena cass, péna cass, pas faire nan-nyé! L’importance profite la vie, dansé, chanté, bien manzé, boire et amizé quand nou tou ensemble!" (Rich or poor, it does not matter; the important thing is to make the most out of life, to dance, to sing, to eat well, to drink and to enjoy when we are all together). A true and fine lesson of life!

However, if there is one place where they are in no mood to joke and have fun, it’s well behind the wheels ! Even though the Mauritian has a calm and courteous nature, these qualities fade away all of a sudden when he is on the bitumen. Just like a Formula One pilot, the road is his : he vies with others in hooting, cuts the bends and corners, does not give way to others in priority, smashes blithely the speed limits, overtakes without any visibility, pulls back in at the very last moment, and of course, cuts in in front of any vehicle ! As one taxi driver was rightly saying : in Mauritius, we do not drive on the left... nor on the right... but in the middle! These perpetual dangers do not seem to particularly affect the Mauritians, I have only rarely observed a driver insulting or threatening the faulty person with a furious gesture. The typical Mauritian “zen” side soon takes the upper hand and so much the better !

To soothe your emotions, there is nothing like lounging about in the magnificent botanical garden of Pamplemousses; quietness and peace are guaranteed. Behind a splendid portal in wrought iron, you discover a genuine “plant museum” of an unequalled wealth. Through the alley of palm trees that bring you to the lake of lotus, then to that of giant waterlilies, you let a pleasant feeling of serenity engulf you. Along the different paths, you come across centuries-old trees which were totally unknown till now. All your senses alert, you catch sight of pretty dragonflies, hear the aquatic frolics of a grey heron, breath in the rich fragrance of a cinnamon stick, touch the rough bark of a mahogany tree and tast the sweet and refreshing flavour of a “mangue-pomme” (“apple-mango”).

Another exotic side of Mauritius is its dance : The Mauritian Sega is a dance which originates from the ritual music of Madagascar and the mainland of Africa, and it is the musical expression of the Mauritian way of life: joy, carefree and lively. Originally sung by men and women who had been sold as slaves but whose souls had remained sensitive to music. Sega is nowadays a folksong which has integrated itself within the framework of our folklore. It is a cry from the soul trying to transcend the miseries and heartaches of life, while at the same time expressing the universal human desire for joy and happiness. It tells the joys and sorrows of the peasants and the fishing folks. It is a nostalgic heritage of the villagers. Its beats, gripping in intensity, now provide entertainment to Mauritians of all walks of life in towns and villages. Today the Sega and its beat are a part of every Mauritian's life.

The original instruments are fast disappearing, making way for the more conventional orchestra ensemble. However, all along the coastal fishing villages the traditional instruments are still being used: The Ravane, which is a wooden hoop over which has been stretched a piece of goat skin; the Coco, (Maracas) which represents the percussion section; the Triangle, a triangular piece of metal which tinkles when tapped with an iron rod. The traditional guitar which was a single string instrument with an arc attached to an empty "Calebasse", has been replaced by the more sophisticated Hawaiian and electric guitar.

Stimulated and inspired by local rum, the fishing folks gather around a camp fire and give full vent to their emotions. Very often they dance without any music at all and are accompanied only by the sound of the Ravane, the tinkling of spoons, the rattling of seeds in a tin, and the clapping of hands of spectators who eventually join in the melee.

The dance itself is the rhythmic swaying of the hips to the pulsating rhythm of the Ravane. It starts with a gentle swaying, to a slow and solemn tune, which gradually rises, consuming the dancers and setting their bodies jerking, stretching and swaying with animated movements to keep pace with the ever-increasing tempo. The beat creeps inside you and as your body responds to the rhythm, you are carried to heights of ecstasy, generating a vibrating force that shakes the "lead" off your feet and inspires you to a high-spirited and unrestrained way of dancing. Tiring perhaps, but exhilarating! Never mind if your movement does not follow the rhythm ... just carry on dancing and you will be amazed how rhythm and movement synchronize afterwards.

A precious tip for men who want to dance the sega : The man usually stands in the dancing area with hands on the hips waiting for the girl to shuffle towards him, wiggling, hip-balancing and waving a colourful handkerchief invitingly. Then the partners face each other with a waist-and-shoulder grasp and ... the improvisation starts.

Re: The Delicacy of Mauritius by simon1287 on 21 June 2005 7:28pm
Redwood, my how I admire your ability to change your mind as just a few hours ago you said that the article was boring.
Well, nevermind, at least you have seen sense!
Re: The Delicacy of Mauritius by Spursfan on 21 June 2005 9:22pm
eh? Have I missed something?

Re: The Delicacy of Mauritius by simon1287 on 25 June 2005 7:37pm
I am sure I do not know what you are talking about.
I am not currently taking any medication and I hope I shall not be needing to do so for a long time!
And as for the comment about trolls, nothing could be further from the truth.
Re: The Delicacy of Mauritius by Priam4 on 25 June 2005 9:17pm
Hey guys,

If you are already excited to have a new story, wait for the start of August, when I will be back from BURKINA FASO !!!
Re: The Delicacy of Mauritius by Ahren on 25 June 2005 9:33pm
Where's that?!
Re: The Delicacy of Mauritius by simon1287 on 25 June 2005 10:28pm
It's on the continent of Africa, although I know nothing about it but would be interested to learn.

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