A Giant Tortoise & A Tiny Island in The Indian Ocean

Enjoy the little things in life, for one day you’ll look back and realize they were the big things. That’s what I am thinking right now while writing this blog with a grateful but sad muzing gaze. I am already back in Belgium, and with pain in the heart I had to leave Mauritius after a wonderul three weeks. Unfortunately, I did absolutely not manage to keep up with my blog, as I was too busy having fun. But I’ll keep my promise and write some after-travel memoires and reflections, while letting Mauritius mesmerize me over and over again… ❤

It’s a little bit paradoxical to hear from a giant tortoise that you have to enjoy the little things in life, but it is exactly what I’ve learned the other day from him while visiting his tiny island habitat in the Indian Ocean, when he secretely whispered in my ears: A great life isn’t about great huge things, it’s about small things that make a big difference. I think that what he ment to say is: it’s not because you seem to be giant, that you can do great things, buy you can still do tiny things in a great way. And sometimes it are exactly those little things that manage to occupy the biggest part of our hearts. Or in short: the versatility of ‘small’ and ‘large’ in a spiritual nutshell is where my mind wonders when seeing a giant tortoise on such a small island in the Indian Ocean. 😉

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 We didn’t know we were making memories. We just knew we were having fun…

It was Thursday, the 23th of July, when we had a new field trip with the Ethnographic Field School to the south eastern part of the island again (noth so far from Mahébourg which we had visited the other day). On today’s agenda was Activist Efforts in Mauritius, a break at Blue Bay and visiting the Mauritian Wildlife Foudation at Île aux Aigrettes.

We started with an almost 2-hours drive, but by now we got so used to our driver that we were actually becoming close friends, exchanging phone numbers, life histories and music from our iPods with him. To be honest, the poor man had no other choice than surrendering to our (damn cool) Western party music, but the good thing was that he liked it. Or at least that what it looked like, because he always turned the volume up. And he started to initiate us to Mauritian music as well, so we ended up exchanging our musical preferences while ‘cruising’ through the island, with tropical beats on the background… There is actually one particular song that I really want to share with you, because of various reasons…

Zoli Mamzel, is a Créole song, which means “Jolie Mademoiselle” (Pretty Lady) and it is written by Gary Victor, a cute Mauritian guy with a big heart. He has an adorable voice and addictive flow which enables you to experience instant happiness, and it is a sing-along-song…. It is thé song that everyone on the island knows, it was a big summer hit, and it’s lovely! Okay, just listen and try it: ”Hey zoli mamzel,..Beh zoli Nation pas gagne droit tousel,..dans gauche, dans droit, fodei gueter couma li aller, La haut enbas, fodei gueter couma mo ..?” (I give you the acoustic version, but if you like it more up tempo, try this one: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1_ZuCGllSrk

Ok, back on track… Our first stop was Blue Bay, a highlight of any visit to Mauritius! Whether you are on an educational trip or not 😉 Blue Bay is located in the south eastern part of the island, not too far from the international airport. While you drive to it, you can enjoy some of the most wonderful scenery and landscapes of Mauritius. But then when you arrive at Blue Bay…. I mean, it is obvious where the name of this place came from: such a blue bay! This is the kind of place where you realize: yes, yes, yes, I am in paradise! Look at all this beauty our earth has to offer us: white sandy beaches, turqoise blue water, small green islands, …. No wonder that this place is a favourite of both tourists and locals!

Mauritius Day 11 019The best things in life are for free? All beaches in Mauritius are public!

After having a coffee at a local bar with one of the students, and enjoying a lovely chat, I went to walk around the bay for some photographing and observation of the locals. It is amazing to see how the locals are also enjoying this piece of paradise. The hindus for example, come to pray at the beach as well. Of course they won’t wear bikinis, and so as a tourist you should dress and never go monokini (a bikini is provocating enough!), but they wear sari’s. I have no idea what kind of rituals they do, but involves some prayers with water, flowers, and offering of food to the gods. Beautiful hindu religion! It adds this extra value to the place, which makes it so relaxing at the same time. Just staring at it with this ocean background made me feel in a meditation-like mood. If that makes sense?! 😛

Mauritius Day 11 067Some people look for a beautiful place. Others make a place look beautiful. 

After spending some time at the beach with my fellow students, swimming, snorkeling and feeling over-blessed in life, it was time for a more educational turn of this field trip day. We took a boat trip to Île aux Aigrettes, a nature reserve, where we would visit the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation. We got a guided tour by Nethi Chunwan from this organization, and he showed us all the island. And with all the island, I mean, the whole 27 ha. 😀 And with the boat trip, I mean: a 5 minutes ride to cross the 850 meters of ocean between the coast and the island. Lol.

But what makes Île aux Aigrettes so special, is that is made up of coralline limestone, whereas the mainland of Mauritius is of volcanic origin. And that’s why you can find some special nature stuff there, I mean: exotic animals and native plant species. It is good that this place is kept well maintained as a nature reserve, and clearly a lot of effort was put in the intense conservation of restoration of this bit of forest and the reintroduction of these rare species, such as the pink pigeon (yes, it exists!), the Mauritian Fody (a red-head bird), the Olive White-eyes (Birds with white circles around their eyes), some special orchids (“Oniella-polystachys” if that rings a bell), and the Aldabra Giant Tortoise (yes, the one who taught me a lesson… 😉 ).

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The Aldabra Giant Tortoise

My favourite, however, was the Ornate Day Gecko, a typical specie of Mauritius and Madagascar that feeds on insects and nectar and has a total length of only 12 centimeters. But it absolutely mesmerized me because of its bluish green, blue, brown, cyan, white, turquoise and red colors. And no, I couldn’t bring it as a pet, because it needs a temperature of +/- 28°C and…. They are protected, of course!

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The Beautiful Ornate Day Gecko… You can look but you can’t touch…

After being introduced to the unique flora and fauna, the restoration work on the island, and some knowledge on the local area and the history of the island, we were taken back on a short boat ride to Pointe Jerome, where our trip started. Well, this was an amazing place worthwhile visiting! Bye Île aux Aigrettes, take good care of your beautiful self! ❤

Mauritius Day 11 263A short boattrip in paradise. Off to Île aux Aigrettes!

After this amazing day, we drove back home to Pointe-aux-Piments. And because home is where the heart is, I spent some time with my very best local family. Eating together, talking about our days, and feeling loved!

I ended the day with some writing on projects, making apointments for interviews and going through my pictures of the day. What a great time!

Friday, the next day, back to school… Back to reality! Classes in the morning became quite a habit at our temple based Summer School University. We had class in the morning about how to write up our papers, because slowly but steady each students began to have some ideas and data for his/her project. Yes, yes, I keep saying it: we do actually work between the hours of fun in paradise!

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Some publicity for our Ethnographic Field School in Mauritius!

After school, I went with my roommate to the local tailor shop, which was actually just a house with some very lovely ladies who had great fun dressing us up, and especially watching us getting dressed and undressed, admiring our white skin and making jokes. A great experience to get measured for a tailor-made sari by the way, especially when the seamstress appears to have no measuring tape. The Mauritian way! Lolll 😀

Mauritius Day 12, 13 & 14 001Getting my Sari tailored…

In the afternoon we had ‘free time’ to spend working on our projects, and so I had planned 2 interviews with informants for my anthropological project. I met one man and one woman in town, and spent an hour with each of them. A great and interesting excercise, but also very exhausting!

At 5 PM we had an evening session by Dimitris Xygalatas, our professor, about how to write an Ethnographic Paper, followed by a session on how to write a Scientific Paper (yes, those two are not the same!) by his Phd-student, Martin Lang, and another session by Michaela Porubanova, one of the other instructors, who is specialized in Psychology, and she did some cool experiments with us.

We finished the night of ‘classes’ eating in a Chinese Restaurant, while watching a documentary ‘Stealing a Nation’ (2004) about  Diego Garcia, another small island in the Indian Ocean that belongs to the Chagos Islands, and which was claimed by The United States to build a large naval and military base there. Ever since 1971, the population of this British Indian Ocean Territory was removed (deported) to Mauritius and the Seychelles. This caused a lot of controversy, together with the other dubious military activities of the US… This was really something I didn’t know about before, but which is very interesting knowledge, and very sad at the same time. Makes me think about “Make Love, Not War”, and how idealism and realism don’t walk hand in hand with each other most of the time. You should just check it out and reflect upon this, by watching this short movie (or watch the full movie that we have seen):

But then, finally… After some heavy stuff… It was time to let go all the stress and prepare for the second weekend, which I started in style with some of the students and instructors at our favourit party spot: the Banana Beach Club in Grand Baie. Party along all night long… And even though we had other awesome plans for the weekend… YOLO, because no one looks back on their life and remembers the nights they had plenty of sleep! 😉

Don’t Worry, Be Happy!

Yours Truly ❤

‘Zoli Mamzel’

Julie

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Mauritius… So Colorful but Colorblind

After one week of Mauritian discovery and cultural adventure, it is cristal clear: Mauritius is an amazing and colorful island with a rich cultural diversity and some kind of uniqueness that I have never seen before in any other place. An added value are the pristine beaches and the daily amazing sunsets, the taste of paradise tastes sweet. But what makes it all even greater is what I call the state of colorblindness in a world of abundant colors.

Mauritians have many different ancestors, religions, eat different food, have different skin colors, … But everyone seems to live happily together, and for a Westerner such peaceful multicultural society is almost a utopy, facing the daily media in Europe and elsewhere. But being here gives me faith and inner peace. Let me tell you why in this blog post…

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With the Anthropology students at the Botanic Garden

Thank God it was Friday! The last day of classes before the weekend! No, seriously!? It did absolutely not feel as if we had been in class for a week already, definetely because of the fieldtrip on Thursday. Today we were introduced to interviewing techniques and methodology in the morning session. After having had some theory in the temple, we went outside in pairs of two to practice our interviewing skills by recording eachothers conversations.

After doing this, we went back in the temple to listen to our records, and discuss the results. It was interesting to analyze some of the interviews, and notice how we could improve certain skills to avoid bias, but on the other hand I got a bit bored of it as well, as I already had a course in my university in Belgium on Qualitative Research Methods, in which I studied these methods into detail.

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During lunch we went to Deepah, the friendly girl with her streetfood tent on the coast, and grabbed some lunch there together with some students. It always a nice place to hang out, before heading to the beach. But today the weather was not too great, so we did not really have a beach day.

In the afternoon we watched a documentary, which is called “Secrets of the Tribe”, a movie about the field of anthropology which goes under the magnifying glass in a fiery investigation of the seminal research on Yanomami Indians. In the 1960s and ’70s, a steady stream of anthropologists filed into the Amazon Basin to observe this “virgin” society untouched by modern life. Thirty years later, the events surrounding this infiltration have become a scandalous tale of academic ethics and infighting. And especially/exactly that is what we discussed after watching it.

After class I met one of my first informants in the village and had a first informal interview with someone. My project is officially starting to get some shape! Quite exciting! Another hour later I had a meeting with my professor and one of the instructors to talk about the topic that I have chosen for my paper. The paper is the final assesment for this course, and will be handed in a few weeks after this course finishes, so basically I have to do my data collection and fieldwork now (read: interviewing etc.), and then write the ethnographic / scientific results about this research out once I am back at home. This is then evaluated in stead of having an exam.

But after those two meetings it was finally time for the weekend to begin! We had set up a plan to go out in Grande Baie, one of the most popular touristic areas in the surrounding area here! We had dinner in a quite fancy restaurant (La Pagode) for the first time with some of the students, which we really enjoyed! The prices were not even too bad or expensive comparing to Europe. And the Coconut Rum Punch tasted good!

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Enjoying dinner with Servia, Denmark, USA & Belgium

And around 10PM the Banana Beach Club opened, so our party night started! This beach bar is a well known place for its tropical natural setting and friendly atmosphere. There is a good mix of locals and tourists, so basically “the place to be” in this coastal town for live music and just chilling out. Nextdoor there a few other clubs like Zanzibar, Insomnia, OMG and Enfants Terribles, so there is plenty of party vibes to enjoy a late night out!

Apart from the enjoyable experience and many tropical cocktails I had, I also met some interesting informants here for my research project so basically Banana had it all for me!!! Great night, great drinks, and great people. What more do you need?! A few hours of sleep before another beautiful day I guess…

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Enjoying tropical vibes at Banana Beach Club

Saturday morning I met again with some of the students for a trip to the SSR Botanic Garden of Mauritius, located in the village of Pamplemousses. Therefore we had to take 2 public buses, one from Pointe aux Piments to Triolet, and one from Triolet to Pamplemousses. The buses here are so cheap, the total ride costed like +/- 50 rupees which is about 1.25 euros.

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The Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam Botanic Garden (SSRBG) covers an area of about 37.5 hectares (which is impressive, and not just another botanic garden as you might have seen before). There are many many many attractions to find in terms of flora, but also fauna. The garden dates back from the French period: the domain was set up in 1736 by a French governor, Mahé de Labourdonnais.

A few years later, in 1767, the French Intendant Pierre Poivre (the creator of this garden) introduced new vegetables, fruits, flowers and spices from all over the world to the domain and that is why tourists like us can still visit the oldest botanic garden in the southern hemisphere. No wonder that this is one of the main attractions on the island, and Mauritians are  proud of it!

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One of the highlights of this park are the aquatic plants, which we could see through a walk in the garden. The most photographed flowers were probably the giant water lily (Victoria Amazonica), the sacred Indian lotus (Nelumbo Nucifera) and the different Nymphaea. But unfortunately it is “winter” in Mauritius now, and so there were not many flowers to be photographed.

By the way: Mauritius has only 2 seasons, a wet and a dry season. July is the dry season, but also the local winter with lower temperatures but less humidity and less rain, so actually a great time to visit the island!

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Every year the garden welcomes around 250.000 visitors, while there is an estimated amount of 1.000.000 tourists visiting the island on a yearly basis. That means that 1 out of 4 tourists visits this place, not to bad at all, I guess! (I got these numbers from a brochure, so I am not sure if they are so reliable, but anyway…) . We also rented a freelance guide who showed us around in this place, which we were not regretting at all! How else can you recognize beautiful plants and birds?

I was especially surprised and very happy to see something like a ‘Bambi’ (Disney deer… you know…). But there were also several aquatic animals like turtles, fish and eels. The most remarkable animal however was the Pteropus Niger, a type of bat which is apparently the only endemic mammal that Mauritius has, and we could just spot them hanging on the tree tops during day time.

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After a few hours of smelling, breathing and walking trough this wonderful piece of nature, we became hungry and moreover it started to rain. I guess we were lucky however to see this beautiful place in a few hours of time. We had lunch in a tourist place called “Café Viennese Waltz”, which was very lovely. They had some French crèpes and Austrian Sachertorte (chocolate cake) and delicious coffee, which we obviously enjoyed  a lot while hiding from the rain!

When it finally stopped raining, we headed back to the bus stop, but the bus did not want to come at all. We waited more than an hour to take a bus back from Pamplemousses to Triolet, but while we were waiting something beautiful happened. We met a Créole woman with her little daughter, and she was simply amazing! I could have adopted her! Enthousiastically as I am, I started to photograph her, and so did my friends. And before I realized it, her mother and I exchanged numbers and Facebook accounts to send the pictures to each other and so on. I got half of her life story and the whole history that goes along with it, and yes, in the mean time I am a friend richer in life. She even invited me to her sun’s communion in September, but unfortunately I am not here anymore by then.

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But what I mean with this story is just how amazing it is, how open people are here, how much more they talk with each other while waiting for the bus in the street, how much more social contact there is between people, and how cultural borders don’t seem to matter. I found that the Mauritian way of life, the mindset and mentality is a great one that we should take as an example in our Western societies. Even though every place has it’s own cultural conflicts that come along with diversity of course… I just feel that I can smile so much more here than at home!

I guess that the visit of the garden and this encounter was a very synchrone spiritual experience that made me realize simultaniously that Mauritius is both a very colorful island, but in the same time also colorblind, because people don’t seem to mind so much over skin color, they seem to focus on the positive things they have and be grateful for those, even though all the difficulties there might be. And that is what made me fall in love with this island. It is not the beaches that make this a paradise, but the culture, which I wish all of you from the bottom of my heart to experience one day as well! ❤

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So we’re different colours
And we’re different creeds
And different people have different needs

But I see your true colors
Shining through
And that’s why I love you
So don’t be afraid to let them show
Your true colors
Beautiful, like a rainbow

People are people
So why should it be
You and I should get along so awfully

(Creative Mix of Depeche Mode & Cyndi Lauper)

But back on my travelogue now… We finally did manage to get home, but by that time it was evening already though. So there were just a couple of hours left to work a bit on my project and relax while doing silly things at the computer, and then I had to get ready for the next activity. It is crazy how busy I am here! Every day is so occupied but I Love it!

Well, so Saturday night, the Summer School students were invited by the people of the  Maha Kali Mata Mandir Temple where we are having our classes each day. They made us a whole local dinner at someone’s place so that was a very nice experience and opportunity to finally also meet all the temple members. We were offered to eat a favourite Mauritian dish: briyani (or briani). It is a rice dish made with beef, chicken, fish, mutton or vegetables (as well as yoghurt, saffron and spicies) that originates from Muslim Mauritians. The local Hindus are vegi/vegan so they eat it of course only with the vegetables, and most importantly: you have to eat it with your hands! Well, that was quite an experience as well! And oh yes, the entire dish is served on a banana leaf, or in our case here… Something that looked like a banana leaf!

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Going local! Eating Briyani with the Hindus

Note: in the picture you can see me eating with my left hand, but that was actually a cultural mistake (which I of course realized too late!). One isn’t supposed to use his left hand to eat food because the left hand is considered unclean, just as they believe in India. And also the muslims have their reasons for not using the left hand. I think – to be honest – that the main reason is that you cannot use your left hand because the people here don’t use toilet paper, you know… But I’ve bought some, fair enough! 😉

And to end our Saturday night in Peace & Love, we went to the only place that was open in town to have a last bear or wine before heading back home to sleep… Played some ‘never have I ever’ and ‘most likely to’ and other silly games of which I am going to spare you all embarassing details! 😛

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Drinks with the students in the village

Time for Sunday, a new day in paradise! After a slowly morning of showering and work on the computer, and a relaxing lunch near the beach, I decided to explore some more of the surrounding area to make use of my free time today. Together with the American girls and another student, we walked to Trou aux Biches, which is around 30 minutes walking along the beach northwards from where we are located. It was a great walk and extremely relaxing to walk barefoot over the soft sand of iddylic beaches that did not seem to come to an end.

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Walking from Pointe aux Piments to Trou aux Biches

By the time we reached Trou aux Biches, a lovely touristy town I finally got myself an ice cream! That did not happen until today in Mauritius! Me happy! But what made me more happy was sitting down at the beach and walking around in the village on a Sunday and seeing all these locals having a great family quality time together, picknicking at the beach or near the sea. Those are the moments that you are at the beach and you bring a book to read, but then you realize: I should just lay down and observe what is surrounding me, so much more interesting than a fiction story!

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After spending a few hours on the lovely beaches of Trou aux Biches, I called up one of the informants for my research project, and I managed to get a meeting the same night in the same location. So I met the woman who was so friendly to pick me up right at the beach and invited me to come over at the house. And after an hour and a half of interviewing and chatting for a little bit longer, her husband even offered to bring me back home by car to Pointe aux Piments. Well, that was rather a necesity than a friendly offer in the same time, because apparently public bus services stop to run after 6.30PM in the evening, so I would not have gotten a bus back anyway! But again: great people here, never a problem!

I had dinner at my host family and talked about my daily experiences in Mauritius, and went to back very satisfied with this lovely weekend. Ready for bed and a new week with new adventures! Curious about those? Well, then keep following the blog!

Greeting from paradise!

x Julie x

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The lovely beach at Trou aux Biches