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. 😉

Mauritius Day 11 172

 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… 😉 ).

Mauritius Day 11 397

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!

Mauritius Day 11 410

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!

Mauritius Day 12, 13 & 14 087

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

Mauritius Day 11 249

Happy Field Trippin’ in Mauritius!

Time for an update again! This time I write about Thursday, when we were finally leaving the village of Pointe-aux-Piments for a first field trip with the Ethnographic Summer School to visit some museums and to explore the capital. I was looking forward a lot to this trip as I was curious to see the rest of the island. We did – of course – not manage to see a lot of the island in one day, but we did visit L’Aventure du Sucre and Aapravasi Ghat, an immigration depot. We also visited the capital of Mauritius, Port Louis, which was very nice. Read more about it bellow!

DSC_0177

Group Picture – Ethnographic Field School 2015 – Mauritius

Visiting a Sugar Museum might sound like a rather irrelevant thing, but sugar cane is in fact all over Mauritius, and it has turned the sugar industry into Mauritius first source of revenue for centuries. L’Aventure du Sucre is now a museum but it is the former Beau Plan sugar factory, and according to Lonely Planet it is one of the best museums on the island. In my opinion, it is also one of the bigger museums I have seen so far, or at least way bigger than I expected to see on the island. It did not only tell the history of this sugar industry in great detail, but it also covered a lot of history of Mauritius, the slavery, the rum trade and much more! It was therefore quite necessary to walk around there for a couple of hours before heading to the next stop on our itinerary for the day.

DSC_0106

A Nice & Interacting Sugar Museum in Pamplemousses!

At the end of the visit we were able to taste some of the 15 different varieties of unrefined sugar, and two of them were apparently invented in Mauritius. And last but not least, we could do some rum tasting as well, and tried 6 types of different rums, which was the perfect end for this visit. After all, for a museum it was not too boring and I kind of enjoyed this because of the interactivity and so on.

DSC_0124

Rum Tasting at L’Aventure du Sucre, Mauritius

Time to continue our trip! The next stop was the Aapravasi Ghat, which is an Immigration Depot in Port Louis. In this building complex half a million of Indian indentured labourers passed through to be transported to the plantations throughout the British Empire (1849-1923). So it was actually a place used for Slavery under the British Colony. This large-scale migration is probably one of the main reasons why 68% of the current total Mauritian population is of Indian Ancestry. So I guess this also explains why we – as Anthropology students – had to visit this site of important reference for the local history and cultural identity.

I must say this was a rather boring place, where we were not even allowed to take pictures, and were we could not really see many interesting things according to my opinion, but hey… this ‘unspeakable’ named museum was recognized by UNESCO and declared a World Heritage Site in 2006, so I guess I am missing something here! 😉

Aapravasi Ghat

Immigrant registration at the Aapravasi Ghat

By the time we finished our guided tour in “the museum of which I cannot pronounce the name”, it was finally time for FREE TIME and lunch in Port Louis, the capital of Mauritius.

DSC_0251

“La Corderie” Street Market in Port Louis, Mauritius

We started with a strawl around Port Louis Market,also known as Bazaar Port Louis. It was obvious immediately that here you could find local products, cheap clothing, and local spices at the best prices, if you manage to bargain enough of course! I did not really buy anything, but I enjoyed photographic, looking around and seeing the amazing mix of cultures, religions, ethnic groups and so on huzzling and buzzling here all together. The vibrant city life was again something else than what I had seen in the village of Pointe-aux-Piments for the last few days.

On the other hand I feel also that the more you travel, the more all these markets are becoming a bit similar and boring when it comes to the products they are offering. However, I keep questioning myself about all this unuseful things that are being sold on markets and in shops in such cities. How can I explain this… Well, let me say that if I would come to live here, I would probably not be able to find out where to buy which products, because it seems like everyone is selling pretty much the same products, and in the same time I feel like the things I might need are not available anywhere. Does that makes sense? Probably not! Whatever… 😉

DSC_0360

Locals Selling & Buying at the Streets of Port Louis

Enough Hustle & Bustle for the moment. We were actually starving! We had some Samosas (pastries which are stuffed with vegetables) and Gateaux Piments (chili cakes) on the road already, but now we were looking for a proper meal. Me and another student went to Chinatown, the Chinese quarter of the city to look for a little restaurant where we could find some nice food. Mission Accomplished, and no, we did not get sick afterwards! By the way, Chinatown is absolutely one of the nicest and most colourful parts of the city!

DSC_0388

Lunch at a local restaurant

Well, after lunch we walked some more, but now towards the harbour, which is the more modern part of Port Louis. Here you can find “Le Caudan Waterfront“, which is a commercial development in the city. They are many (more expensive, European priced) shops, banking facilities, casinos, cinemas, restaurants, a marina and of course also a five star hotel, which is called “Le Labourdonnais”. It is obvious to me that this development has been created for the many cruise passengers that arrive here nowadays, but it is also a smart way to get some extra economic flows into Port Louis, I guess. But it still stays funny and a little bit ‘special’ how different areas in the city are so different from each other, while going smoothly over in each other without any problems, so it seems…

DSC_0411

View over the Caudan Waterfront, Port Louis

After that walk along the Caudan waterfront, it was time to head back. It had been a quite busy day after all. Home sweet home back to the host family, but not to sit down and relax. That very same evening it was time to meet my first informant for my research topic, and I have also done some work on my laptop after dark! I am not going to tell you what it is about at this moment, but maybe when my project is finished, I will publish some blog post about the results. We’ll see about that later! 😉

P.S.: Our ‘Nanny’ (grand mother) got herself a hot water gas boiler installed, so we can now actually shower at her place! No need to run to the neighbors anymore and no ice cold water anymore. Can my day be happier?! #feelingblessed

I’ll write more soon! x x x

Besitos, Julie!

Somewhere over the rainbow, skies are blue And the dreams that you dare to dream Really do come true

DSC_0423

Port Louis 

Settling into Mauri…What?!

Waww, I have only been here for a few days and so much has happened already! I feel like a cameleon, adapting smoothly to my environment. So: where to start?!

DSC_0141

It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives.

It is the one that is most adaptable to change.” – Charles Darwin

Sunday I arrived and I got to know my host mother a bit. She speaks some French but mostly Créole and it is obviously not always obvious what she is trying to say. She is very nice and kind, but also a little bit possessive in her own unique hospitable way, as she is cooking dinner and makes me eat whatever she likes. She made me eat the weirdest things, fortunately she is Hindu so I am not supposed to eat meat (lucky vegetarian I am!).

I was very happy to meet my fellow roommates after a few hours of being drawned into a little culture shock, having no internet, no phone, no toilet, no shower and so on. Emily is an American student who is staying at “grandma’s place” (as she calls it) as well, and Francesca is also an American student who is staying in the house next door, where I go to shower and use the internet. The house next door belongs to the children of ‘Grandma’.

Where I stay there is no bathroom at all, unless you consider the open air sink as a bathroom. So I have to walk through a garden and knock at the other houses door, which is not really a problem actually. But not really a luxury either! :p In the shower I got company of Mom and Daughter Cockroach, so yes… I have already made some friends here, and built up a reputation as murderer!

Mauritius Day 1 & 2 235

Going out to get some streetfood with my roommates

But enough about the house and the weirdest food being served there, I am here for Ethnographic Fieldwork, not for wishing I was at the beach all day! And dear friends, I hope you don’t keep thinking that that is (the only thing) what I am doing here. Anthropologists do have a hard life! 😉

Because as fast as I arrived in the house, so fast was I gone again. After a terrible too sweet and pink drink that I was offered to drink as a way of welcoming me into the family, I was invited at a Knife-Walking ritual in the village of Pointe-aux-Piments. So I did not even have time to put my luggage down and check my room, as my host father and I were already gone again.

Mauritius Day 1 & 2 002

Colorful Hindus in Pointe-aux-Piments

The ritual was exactly what it sounded like: people were literally walking over knifes, while playing music, burning essence sticks, while suffering and so on. I had never seen a ritual like this before – and I am not expecting to see many of these again in my life – and I was also not really understanding much about it either. The only thing that is for sure that is they sacrifice theirselves for their religion (Hinduism). I was told that before the ceremony those people were praying and fasting for several days, and during the ceremony partcipents would then envoken their godess whilst making a sacrifice. Walking over the swords appears to be a very meaningful and extreme ritual for hindus, in which they are seeking to prove their piety by withstanding their pain.

Mauritius Day 1 & 2 057

Walking over Knifes… A quite unsual religious practice in Mauritius!

Monday it was time to go to school at 9AM… Dimitris Xygalatas, the Summer School professor, an anthropologist who is very experienced in doing research on extreme rituals in Mauritius, opened the course by overviewing all practical concerns and reviewing the syllabus. I got to meet all the other students. We are with 18 students, coming from different countries such as Denmark, United States, Germany, the Netherlands, Finland, Peru, Servia and Belgium (which is represented by myself). After introducing ourselves, our field of study (we come from different degrees in social sciences, varying from Bachelors to Masters levels), the instructors also presented themselves. Apart from Dimitris, there are a few other instructors as well, who are basically research assistants or connections of Dimitris who are also researching within Mauritius. So we are a group of +/- 25 persons.

Mauritius Day 3 & 4 030

Having classes at the beach. This is The Life!

So what is this “Ethnographic Field School” all about?

Well, the course will “provide empirical training in ethnographic fieldwork through immersion into the field and engaging in qualitative as well as quantitative field studies involving a variety of methods such as participant-observation, interviews, surveys, and behavioral and biometric measures. The course also examines key methodological, epistemological, and ethical issues pertaining to the study of culture and working with human subjects. Furthermore, it involves a series of field trips and lectures on Mauritius, its diverse culture, and its fascinating history”, as it is mentioned in the syllabus.

So: again, we did not come here for 3 weeks of paradise and sunbathing, but we came to experience “the real Mauritius” (even though you can start questioning that, if you think about being a large group of Western students living closely to each other for the next few weeks).
After that first general session in the morning, we had our first lunch break and everyone was excited to get to know each other better, to overcome to culture shock and make some new friends. We decided to explore the coastal area of Pointe-aux-Piments (the village were we stay), and so we discovered our first beach at only 5 minutes walking from the classroom, which is actually located nearby a fancy hotel: Récif Attitude Hotel*** (about €90 per night for a standard room, which is kind of affordable for a paradise island!)

Mauritius Day 1 & 2 149

Getting to know each other at the beach of Pointe-aux-Piments

Well, I have to admit… It is kind of paradise here, right? And I guess not many of you reading this have lunch breaks as I am having here. So God bless the life I lead, and thank God for this amazing opportunity! But to all good things come to an end, quite fast, because lunch break was “only 2 hours” and then it was time again to return to the afternoon class. The only thing that I could think of, was that this might become an extreme ritual that people must start to practice every day and everywhere, lol.

This session an introduction about Mauritius and its culture was on the schedule, but as smart as Dimitris is (yes, we can actually call our professor here by his first name!), he started with a little quiz to test our knowledge about Mauritius, or in other words: did we read enough, and prepare ourselves well for this course? I spare you the answer to be honest… Woops! 😉

Funny facts you might like to know about Mauritius:

  • Did you know that Mauritius is about the size of Luxemburg?
  • Did you know that Mauritius has no official language? (But English and French are taught at school)
  • Did you know that the tallest mountain on the island is about 800 meters high?
  • Did you know that Charles Darwin has written not only about the Galapagos Islands (which I visited last year), but also about the flora and fauna of Mauritius?
  • Did you know that there is actually a town called Pamplemousses (grapefruit) in Mauritius?

But… maybe most important, do you actually know where in the world Mauritius is located? I bet most of you readers don’t, which is actually not really a problem (because I also did not know it very well before I heard about this course and looked it up). The most important is that you know that it is NOT “one of those French islands in the Caribbean”, but that is actually “one of those islands in the Indian Ocean, near Madagascar and La Réunion”. Or to be more specific… here’s a map:

worldmap

Enough educational stuff for today! Unless you really want to know more interesting facts about this island, then you should look at this nicely written article! Tomorrow I’ll write about more interesting facts, but more important: my interesting life and experiences here, a Sega dance night and much more fun!

A big kiss for all of those who are so great to keep following me!

You’re the best! Thank you for all the support!

x x With Love x x

Julie

Mauritius Day 1 & 2 181

Welcome to Mauritius!

Here I am. After all I got what I wanted. I have travelled again to a place far far away, both geographically and psychologically. I might say that I do not need therapy but travel to feed my huger for soul food. And soul food can be understood in much variations.

Let me begin with the beginning. In March 2015 I applied for an etnographic field school. I was not counting on a big chance to be one of the lucky few. But I made it and a few months later I am in Mauritius, an island in the Indian Ocean, known as a honeymoon destination in Belgium, but so much different than perceived, that is obvious after a first few hours here.
summer uni
I have been travelling from Antwerp to Brussels, to Paris to Mahé (Seychelles) to Mauritius. The journey took me 27 hours in total, and therefore you can imagine it was itself quite an experience. However, what touches me most is not the distance, but the people. What speaks more for a country to a heart than people? Maybe a landscape, but still… I have had an amazing flight, meeting a French guy who was going to visit his family in Madagascar. Unfortunately in this life our roads have split fast, him flying further to Antanarivo and me going to Port Louis, but time went to fast that I did not even suffer from these long flights! I just remember I could not stand almost crying when the plane left the Seychelles, because I was so touched, and it really looked like a paradise: I cannot describe it!
air-seychelles2
View over many amazing islands near Mahé, Seychelles
Arriving in Mauritius was different. It was a bigger island, less paradise and more organised at the airport. The road to Pointe aux Piments was modern, but the infrastructure was mixed: both modern buildings, luxury hotels and poorer houses where observable on the road. After a field of sugarcanes, the road split: left to the Oberoi hotel, and right to the village. And no, this was not the Mauritius from the postcards or from the pictures on Google, this was an untouristic place, untouched by globalisation, so it seemed…
Mauritius Day 1 & 2 259
Entering my Homestay House
My heart beated faster and faster, as I was arriving more closely to my homestay “house” and having to force myself to give up all hope for “destination paradise”. I was not staying at The Oberoi, obviously! My new house was a concrete building in a street without name, barking dogs, no hot water, no internet, no toilet paper and so on… Nothing to fancy for at all! But I surrendered immediately: from the one second to the other… Acceptance is sometimes in life the best way to make things “flow”… And after all, didn’t I just say that it are the people who touch us most, and not the infrastructure or the distance?
 DSC_0051
Life With Family “Bissessur”
Some very friendly local people warmly welcomed me into their “house”, and made me (almost) forget the cold of concrete third world buildings and poorness. Isn’t the one who has the biggest smile and the most open heart the richest and most beautiful person on earth? Yes, I have to learn my lessons in life over and over again… And if I long for development, the comfortzone is the first one to leave. Because through development is not in comfortable housing, but in personal development and widening your horizons.
So, yet here I am… Or to end where I started off with: After all I got what I wanted: a new adventure, starting from today in Mauritius, and you will read more about it soon!