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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My Galápagos Dream Journey – 5: North Seymour

5: NORTH SEYMOUR

Although North Seymour Island covers an area of only 2 sq km, it is the perfect place to spot wildlife. The visitor site is just a trail on the southwestern part of the island, where I had to give a way to a passing sea lion and some marine iguanas. The whole island has a low, flat profile with a tiny forest of silver-grey Palo Santo trees where a limited amount of tourists can watch Blue-footed boobies nesting on either side of the trail. Mating pairs perfomed their courtship dance and further along the rocky shore lies a white sand beach where large flocks of sea birds mass together.

Islas de Galapagos Walk way tail

Walking trail in North Seymour

The trail in North Seymour Island turns inland and reveals the largest nesting site in the Galapagos of the magnificent frigate bird. Therefor, this island was – together with Isla Bartolome – my favourite island and very recommendable to visit on your Galapagos trip, if you ever have the chance to go.

Animals that are regularly seen:

  • the Magnificent and Great Frigatebirds nesting
  • Land Iguanas
  • California Sea Lions
  • Swallow Tail Gulls

My trip to North Seymour started the 2nd of May 2014 around 8AM. I happened to go on the tour together with the girl from New Zealand, as we booked our excursions in the same travel agency. We were transferred to the Canal near Isla Baltra, from where we would board our boat to head further to North Seymour which is more northern in the archipelago. We were lucky to have a great group for the day so the ‘travel conditions’ were excellent! However, I got a terrible cold from all that snorkeling last days. I guess I should be more carefully with cleaning my snorkel gear so I don’t get infected by the bacterias on it…

Galapagos

Map of the Galapagos Islands

Around 10AM we arrived. After a dry landing with the zodiac and being greeted by some sea lions near the cliffs, struggling to get on land on some slippery rocks… Our discovery could start! Aparrently, only 2 groups of 16 persons a day were allowed to step feet on this island each day, so I felt really lucky one of the happy few!

The walking trail was only about 2,5 km but it was super super super hot as there was not shadow at all. Even the birds sat with their mouths wide open and feathers up to get as much air as possible to cool off.

 Islas de Galapagos magnificent frigatebird

Magnificent Frigatebirds / Juveniles with their mouths open to cool off

Words cannot describe how amazing and unbelievable it was how many birds and iguanas I have seen there that day!

Islas de Galapagos land iguana

Land iguana having lunch

The Frigate Birds and Blue-footed boobies were all nesting and flying around. It was understandable that our Naturalist guide was very strict with us walking not further than 4 meters away from here presence. We all had to stay together and we had to keep always at least 2 meters distance from the nests and animals.

Islas de Galapagos Great frigate bird

Great Frigatebird

Luckily, I had brought my 200 mm lence so I could take wonderful pictures from far away (zoom in).

Because of the constant heat, I guess the whole group was happy to go back on board after an hour of walking around and listening to the interesting stories of the guide.

Islas de Galapagos blue footed boobies

Blue-footed Boobies

A short boat ride away we went snorkeling in the deep sea. To admit, I did not see anything very special today comparing to the other days I went snorkeling, except from some more tropical fish. Via the zodiac I struggled myself back on the boat. I also had some troubles with my mask today as it constantly fogged.

Back on the boat, I enjoyed another delicious and well deserved lunch with fish, beans, rice and some watermelon. Afterwards, we headed back to Santa Cruz, where we had a wetlanding at Playa de las Bachas to end our day with some daily portion of PARADISE.

Islas de Galapagos las bachas playa

Wetlanding at Playa Las Bachas

The site visit Las Bachas is located in the north of the island of Santa Cruz, and the beach has a total length of about 1 km long.

The name Bachas originates from the Second World War, when the U.S. Army left two barges (or “barches” in English) thrown away on this beach, the first settlers could not pronounce the name correctly in English so made it Playa de las Bachas.

It was truly a paradise on earth being on this beach, but there were a lot of horseflies too and it was really hot, so after an hour we were happy to get back on the zodiac to head back by boat to Puerto Ayora.

Islas de Galapagos playa las bachas

Me at Playa Las Bachas, feeling like a *godess* 

It had been one of the most amazing days during my time on the Galapagos Islands so far, and I have made a lot of pictures.

In the evening I went to a travel agency to book a trip to the island of Isabela, as I got an inside tip from one of my fellow travellers who got a very good deal there. It was a very unexpected but good decision to book that trip and so I had suddenly a plan for the next days!

Later that night, I met my volunteer group in Santa Cruz, as they had taken the ferry now from San Cristobal too to enjoy their free weekend off. We had dinner together in a local restaurant and chatted about last week, them volunteering and me exploring the islands…

Very late in the evening I packed my bag to leave the next morning early to another island…

Next stop: ISABELA (6) –> Keep following for the next destination 

From Julie with Love

My Galápagos Dream Journey – 3: Floreana

3: FLOREANA

Day 3 of my Galapagos trip, and again time for a daytour. Today the island of Floreana was on the schedule. At 8AM I left for a 2 hour boatride southwards from Santa Cruz. The sea was rough and a lot of people were sick on the boat. Me, I wasn’t because I am just feeling great at sea!

Islas de Galapagos Welcome to Floreana

Welcome to Floreana

The island of Floreana is inhabited, but it has a long history of strange people and there is only one main road in which they all live. The Galapagos Islands captured the world’s attention in 1934 when they were the site of an international scandal of sex and murder.

Unsolved Murder Mystery: The Galapagos Affair – “Who Killed “The Baroness?”

Friedrich Ritter and Dore Strauch

In 1929, German doctor Friedrich Ritter abandoned his practice and moved to the Islands, feeling he needed a new start in a faraway place. He brought with him one of his patients, Dore Strauch: both of them left spouses behind. They set up a homestead on Floreana Island and worked very hard there, moving heavy lava rocks, planting fruits and vegetables and raising chickens. They became international celebrities: the rugged doctor and his lover, living on a far off island. Many people came to visit them, and some intended to stay, but the hard life on the islands eventually drove most of them off.

The Wittmers

Heinz Wittmer arrived in 1931 with his teenage son and pregnant wife Margret. Unlike the others, they remained, setting up their own homestead with some help from Dr. Ritter. Once they were established, the two German families apparently had little contact with one another, which seems to be how they liked it. Like Dr. Ritter and Ms. Strauch, the Wittmers were rugged, independent and enjoyed occasional visitors but mostly kept to themselves.

The Baroness

The next arrival would change everything. Not long after the Wittmers came, a party of four arrived on Floreana, led by “Baroness” Eloise Wehrborn de Wagner-Bosquet, an attractive young Austrian. She was accompanied by her two German lovers, Robert Philippson and Rudolf Lorenz, as well as an Ecuadorian, Manuel Valdivieso, presumably hired to do all the work. The flamboyant Baroness set up a small homestead, named it “Hacienda Paradise” and announced her plans to build a grand hotel.

An Unhealthy Mix

The Baroness was a true character. She made up elaborate, grand stories to tell the visiting yacht captains, went about wearing a pistol and a whip, seduced the Governor of Galapagos and anointed herself “Queen” of Floreana. After her arrival, yachts went out of their way to visit Floreana: everyone sailing the Pacific wanted to be able to boast of an encounter with the Baroness. But she did not get along well with the others: the Wittmers managed to ignore her but Dr. Ritter despised her.

Source: http://latinamericanhistory.about.com/od/20thcenturylatinamerica/a/09galaffair.htm

We were welcomed by a happy group of sealions and the Galapagos National Park security guards, who as always and everywhere checked our bags for fruits, nuts etc. You cannot import anything in these islands to protect the nature!

Islas de Galapagos sea iguana

Sea iguana near the peer

Right after arrival we were brought by ‘ranchera’ (kind of pick up truck) to the higher part of Floreana, it was a beautiful road with a lot of sightseeing.

Islas de Galapagos yellow warbler

Yellow Warbler (Canaria Maria)

We visited a protected area with giant turtles and finally I got to make a picture with these massive animals. This was definetely one of the MUS TSEES on the Galapagos trip. By the way, I am posing behind a 90 years old one…

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Me with the Giant Tortoise

After that, we hiked around and got a lot of information about the history of Floreana. Apparently there were pirats, but also some Inca-wise art is found which made the people believe that there were people since long time ago.

Islas de Galapagos inca

Inca looking sculptures during the hike

 A lot more then that I don’t remember, because I was more busy with enjoying the surroundings then listening to this boring stories. (hihi, honest)

Islas de Galapagos floreana

Hiking in the highlands of Floreana Island

After 2 hours of walking, we returned to the car and just when we wanted to head back, the tire was broken. ‘No pasa nada’ (no problem), we just waited until it was fixed and continued with some delay. I asked the guide why he did not call somebody to send another car, but there was no phone signal… Of course! There is no service, no WiFi etc. on this island!

During lunch in a local restaurant I found out that there were 3 Belgians in the group, but I absolutely did not feel like socializing with ‘my’ people as I do not really like to see Belgians in other countries. I know, I am a WEIRDO! And so I did as if I did not know, and I did not talk to them in ‘our’ language. Lol, afterwards I felt quite creepy as I could understood their conversations but they did not know that I could. But oh my god, I really hate this typical travellers questions: ‘Where are you from? How long have you been here? Where did you go before and where are you planning to go next? …’ Bla bla bla

After that moment which turned out completely AWKWARD, we headed to Playa Negra, a black beach where we could enjoy some snorkeling. I felt like having a nap on the beach and enjoyed some music. It was just chilling and relaxing with the sun burning me again as usually…

Islas de Galapagos floreana playa negra

Playa Negra, Floreana

Around 3PM it was time to head back to Santa Cruz by boat, and we were lucky to see some Galapagos Penguins right on the cliffs where we left the island.

Islas de Galapagos pinguin

Galapagos Penguin

When  I arrived, I bought myself an icecream on the peer, headed back to the hostal for a shower and bought some post cards to send home. Hope you received them, Mommy, Abdenbi, Kim, Karine, Linde and Grandparents!

I went to bed early as next day I had to leave to Isla Bartolomé at 6AM! But more about that later… Sorry for keeping the blog posts so short, but I’m trying to keep you up to date faster to keep up with my busy travelling schedule!

Next stop: ISLA BARTOLOMÉ (4) –> Keep following for the next destination 

From Julie with Love

A place to call home…

Where I will live the next 5 months… Some pictures:

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A (Faraway) place like this

I need an island in the sea,
Away from you away from me,
Beyond the waves beyond the wind,
Beyond the world that we live in,
Under skies of shining stars,
Away from lights and noisy cars,
Above the egos and the stress,
Beyond the world we made a mess.
A place for me a place for you,
An earth that’s green a sky that’s blue,
A place for you a place for me,
An open sky and light blue sea,
With dreams as solid as the ground,
A place like this I think I’ve found.
A happy thought no one can take it,
A place like this is where we make it.

I need a mountain in the sky,
Just beneath where angels fly,
Where snowflakes falling on the ground,
Is the most disruptive sound,
Above the waves above the wind,
Above the world that we live in,
Above my life above the stress,
Where I can lay it all to rest,
Under skies of falling snow,
Just above the world below,
Just above the trees and birds,
A place I can’t describe in words.

An empty place that’s so appealing,
How’d I get this stupid feeling?
Bad ideas come and go,
But none as potent as the snow,
I need no island in the sea,
Just the things that make me me.
I need no mountain in the sky,
Just to laugh try not to cry,
Forget these far off fantasies,
And manifest as realities,
Reach out and grab it in good time,
Seize the moment make it mine,
Catch the moment make it last.
Just be grateful when it’s past.

Sensations as real as the wind,
Try not to be sad when it ends.
A happy thought no one can take it,
A time like this is when we make it.
I need an island in the sea,
And all of that which makes me me.

Source: www.PoetryInNature.com