Some days, when you are travelling, are just perfect from start to finish, and you would not be anywhere else. Other days are interesting, worthwhile, and memorable, but at the time they are not exactly fun. Days that improve with the retelling, and often result in great photos or interesting dinner party anecdotes, but at the time are hot or cold or exhausting or scary or crowded or dusty or … Today was one of those days.
It started with a trip to the local Health Department office to have the promised malaria test. It was very unlike any medical visit back home. For a start – no waiting! We just walked into the room, which was small and full of desks & people & files. We wrote our names & details on a scrap of paper, and then he pricked our fingers (no gloves, and right on his desk in the office). Thanks, you can go now. That was it. No idea if we will get the results, but I imagine no news is good news. And we both feel quite well.
We finally got the grey day we had been promised, so it was time for some indoor activities. Mauritius’ economy is built on sugar, and we read that the Sugar Museum (“L’aventure du Sucre”) was really worth seeing. Dubious about how exciting that could possibly be, we ventured forth. And they were right, it was definitely worth a visit, and we learned a lot about Mauritius’ history. It was set in an old sugar mill and is very well set out with lots of really interesting displays. I must admit I glazed over a bit in the section with the big sugar processing machines, but there was plenty to keep me entertained. And the best bit was a sugar tasting at the end (9 different types of sugar) followed by rum tasting. It was a little stuffy & hot inside, but can’t imagine how awful it would be with all the boilers & steam engines running!
Having resisted the temptation to buy lovely gift packs with various types of sugar, we drove to Port Louis. Having timed our visit to avoid getting stuck in peak hour traffic again, we still spent quite a bit of time not moving on the road. Eventually we made it to the parking station, which was in an old granary, and was certainly the narrowest, tightest parking station I’ve ever used. There is a new development on the waterfront of shops, restaurants etc., called Le Caudan. We found a nice café there for lunch. We had a typical Mauritian meal – pizza! Well, we can’t have duck every day.
After lunch we headed for the old markets. The first challenge was crossing the road – the main highway – there was so much traffic there was no way you could cross. Eventually we found an underpass and entered the markets. The main section was fruits & vegetables, and upstairs were the usual souvenirs, T-shirts, fabrics, carvings, etc. Similar to any market – except for the profusion of dodo-themed items from key rings to tablecloths to handbags. It was very crowded, very hot & there were the usual pushy salespeople everywhere. I wasn’t really interested in the souvenirs but I enjoyed the hustle of the fruit & veg market. More than Keith, I think, who was on the lookout for pickpockets, which we had been warned against. But eventually we just had to leave because it was so hot.
We strolled through some of the back streets, looking for the “charm of old Port Louis” as the guidebook described it. Mostly what we found was grime & crowds, but then we started spotting some really interesting old doorways & tiny shops which looked like they hadn’t changed in a hundred years, and realised there is still some charm amongst the hawkers & motorbikes. We came across a lovely mosque which was a nice surprise. It was in the middle of the shops, and even had a shop in one corner, but was a little haven amidst the hectic streets.
Another museum which both our hosts & Lonely Planet rated highly, much to our scepticism, was the Blue Penny Museum. The Blue Penny is one of the rarest stamps in the world, it seems, due to a printing error when it was first issued, and they attract prices in the millions of $. Fascinating though that is, it would not have attracted me to the museum, but apparently it is even more interesting than L’Aventure du Sucre. However we did not get to find out because although we arrived at 4.15 and it closes at 5, we were told it was too late to enter! (Hmm, a whole paragraph in my blog devoted to something we didn’t do, that can’t be good).
As they say, when the going gets tough, the tough go shopping. By this time we were back at Le Caudan, where the shops are less atmospheric & certainly cleaner than the markets, but also a lot more expensive. Fun to window shop though. We found ourselves in “Le Craft Market” where the souvenirs were a little more upmarket and the hawkers slightly less persistent. I think when I get home I’m going to be trying to haggle next time I go to the supermarket!
Dinner was a leisurely affair in a different outdoor cafe on the waterfront. Port Louis is not a particularly attractive harbour but it is a working port, so it was interesting watching the boats coming in & out. We enjoyed some extremely decadent desserts before heading home. We found a free Wi-Fi zone during dinner & were following the reports of Cyclone Yasi. Very scary stuff.