Mauritius… A Dolphins Delight!

The second weekend in Mauritius was absolutely one of the greatest ever! Not only did I experience an amazing boat trip, I also snorkeled with wild dolphins in the open sea, barbecued on a small island called Île aux Benitiers and enjoyed a lot of sunshine with the coolest anthropology students! Just NOT too good to be true, because it was real and yes, every once in a while in life a dream comes true…

Happy are those who dream dreams and are willing to pay the price to make them come true? Yes, of course! I did pay to get access to this piece of paradise, but this boat trip actually only costed +/- 35 USD so not to bad at all for a heavenly experience! If you ever visit Mauritius, don’t forget to check out this amazing area called Le Morne (where you find the biggest cliffs), Île aux Benitiers (and its blue waters surrounding it), and the wild dolphins of course! But let me talk to you about my trip first to make you feel excited for it as well!

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Speed boats near Le Morne

Rule number 1: if you want to make your dreams come true, the first thing you have to do is wake up. And sometimes that means early! Especially when you want to see wild dolphins. Apparently they hang around the coast early in the morning, so our boat trip had to start at 8AM, and so we took a bus ride from Pointe aux Piments to La Gaulette, 55 km further on the west coast, so good for an hour and a half driving.

Rule number 2: if you want to spot wild dolphins, you better take a speed boat in stead of a catamaran, as it is much easier to spot the dolphins as they move fast, and you can follow them better. But… You have to be patient and lucky anyway, because nothing guarantees you that you will actually see them as they are wild dolphins, and Mauritius is not SeaWorld! 😉

It is indeed a very unique experience to spot these magnificent marine mammals in their natural habitat in Mauritius, especially in this wonderful scenery with great landscapes! And I must admit, I was very excited about this trip, but also a little bit stressed at the beginning, as I really hoped to see the dolphins, but it took about 3 times to jump in the water and snorkel while looking for them, before actually seeing one. But the fourth time our boat stopped and the captain shouted: “JUMP!” I saw not one dolphin passing by just underneath me, but at least twenty! I could not believe my eyes (my snorkels)… This marine underwater world was too remarkable and coming face to face with this wild dolphins was absolutely striking.

Of course it was difficult to focus both on photographing as on jumping in the water to swim with them, so I do not have good images of it. I did find a Youtube video about people who had a very similar experience during such a boat trip in the same area in Mauritius, and I must say that this video explains better than any of my stories how it felt to swim with those dolphins. Just watch it, and imagine you were there, because I wish you would have been… ❤

Oh my god… I still get goosebumps everytime I think about this unbelievable dolphin experience… But mostly because of a little crazy spiritual superstitious experience of myself… Well, a few years ago I had a dream. I was standing on a cliff near the sea, and I jumped a lot of meters down into the water. Of course, that would mean suicide in the real world, but in my dream I survived. Moreover, as soon as I was under water, my human body was gone, and my soul transformed its physical appearance in a dolphin. I started swimming very fast, I had never felt so free before in my entire life… Suddenly, I was swimming together with many other beautiful dolphins who looked just as happy as me, and I could feel how my whole body was full of energy, and how powerful my tale was while I was reaching a high level of speed in the ocean.

There came no end to the unlimited capacity of water, and so on. This dream was by far the greatest dream in my life, because it felt so real and natural, but at the same time it supposed to be very surreal, right? Well, the feeling that overwhelmed while I jumped off the boat and while I was swimming with those wild dolphins in Mauritius, was somehow familiar, as if I was coming home to dream I was dreaming years ago already. As if I had been here, doing this before already. Almost as if I was one of them, and my human body was trying to become one again, but my long capacity, and the limitations of my human legs brought me back to reality fast. In this life, I am not a dolphin! I am Julie! #expectation #reality

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Me, surrounded by blue water near the Crystal Rock

After snorkeling and swimming some more near the spectacular reefs of Mauritius, having some unforgettable views over Le Morne Mountain, and visiting the Chrystal Rock, it was noon fast, and time to head of to Île aux Benitiers, where a BBQ and wonderful meals were prepared by our boat staff ‘à la minute’ while we were enjoying some relaxation time: tanning on the beach, having a fresh coconut with rum, buying some souvenirs, and walking around the endless beach of this small island…

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The beach at Île aux Benitiers & magnificent view on the Le Morne Mountain

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Making friends with a Local Beach Hat Vendor

After spending more than 2 hours chilling and eating at the islet, we went for another few snorkel stops in a magnificent lagoon with shallow water. Did I mention already that Mauritius is almost entirely encircled by a coral reef? Well, then I don’t have to explain you why it is a superb snorkelling destination with many top spots to swim around! With a water temperature between 21 and 28°C, this island is a paradise for snorkellers and divers! And the waters around Le Morne offer some excellent visibility. However, I must admit that I was too tipsy from all those coconut-rums to focus on recognizing all the various species of fish, but hanging around the boat was a lot of fun!

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One of the Anthropology students found a Sea Urchin!

Well, and to all good things comes an end at a certain point, and so it did to this amazing excursion. In the late afternoon our boat returned to La Gaulette, where we spent the last hour at the beach before heading home for sunset. What can I say? This day was absolutely perfect! There was no where else in this world I wished to be, with no one else to have as companion, and even though I did not have everything, I felt the richest person on earth. Because yes, I can’t emphasize it enough: look at all this beauty… And confirm it: travel is the only thing that you can buy that makes you richer! ❤ And most importantly… Somewhere over the rainbow skies are blue, and the dreams that you dare to dream really do come true! So live simply, dream big, be grateful, give love, laugh lots… And I am sure that good things will come your way. So yes, some might say that karma is a bitch, but only if you are too! So be good, and good things will come your way…

x Carpe Diem x

From Julie with Love

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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

The Morning After Cambodia

What happens the morning after? Will we get closer? Or will I just feel like I just made a big mistake? The “morning after” usually refers to what happens after two people have sex. And it usually depends on what happens the night before. In my case, the morning after refers to Cambodia, and to what happened a few months ago. I do not mean that I had sex with the country (of course not), but I do refer to the manner in which I was emotionally overwhelmed, because it was at least as ‘deep’. 😉

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In love with Cambodia @ Koh Rong Samloem

I mean, if you are in love with a country and you have thought about the decision to volunteer, your entire experience can be something turning out dramatically different than your initial expectations if the country – or other (f)actors – do not seem to be on the same line as you are. Volunteering won’t automatically bring you closer, you might probably feel better by doing it initially but if you and the country do not seem to find a solution for the projects you’re working on, you might be asking yourself questions:

  • Why do I (still) want to volunteer?
  • What does voluntourism mean to me?
  • Does voluntourism fit with my values?
  • Is this a short-term thing or do I see this having a long-term benefit?
  • And if we have a relationship, what does connect us?

I never expected myself to raise these questions in my mind, but after working in the volunteer industry in Cambodia, I did ask myself many deep questions about volunteering and tourism (so called ‘voluntourism’).

  • What kinds of projects work?
  • Who will benefit from our projects: the locals, the industry or the volunteer?
  • What will we do if it fails?

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What if voluntourism was like a fake ‘snake’ / sneaky friend?

“Don’t fear the enemy that attacks you but the fake friend that hugs you.”

When I was working in Cambodia this summer, the first weeks I was doing my job great and I traveled around with the volunteers. Only by the time we were finishing our volunteer projects, I started to raise these questions. Some things just weren’t right. Maybe that’s the reason why I stopped blogging? Because I was confused?

I mean… If you are building toilets without offering maintenance or technical support, what does the family then do when the toilet is broken?

I mean… If you are building water pumping wells and you don’t supply the water filters, how can those people then give water to their children?

I mean… If you are teaching English to a class of children, but you only stay for two weeks, how can you get to teach them something worthy?

I mean… If you are going to play with orphans in a so-called orphanage, does it really make these children better if you leave again after two weeks? 

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Volunteering in Sihanoukville (Cambodia), Summer 2014

These are only a couple of questions that raised in my mind, after working as a volunteer group leader in Cambodia… And of course, I have seen many beautiful things too and the volunteering did contribute to many factors too. I am only disappointed that I feel like voluntourism does seem to have more positive impacts on the personal development of the lives of my volunteers, than it does on the country. That is why I talk about a “morning after” effect.

In the mean time, months have passed by that I am back from Cambodia, but I can’t get this questions out of my mind. And as I started my Masters in Anthropology in September, I found that this issue is the appropriate topic for me to write my thesis about. Therefor, I am now researching a lot about Voluntourism and its impacts. And I have found surprisingly much information and articles about it. So much that I am even stuck in finding my own research question to solve in my thesis. 🙂 So if you can help me, comment bellow and help me finding my thesis topic!

No, the real reason why I want to share my feelings about voluntourism in this blogpost, is not about willing to stop the explosion of voluntourism. I still do have a lot of respect for all the volunteers in the world that want to spend time hoping to help a country and its people forward. I believe that they all have the right intentions, but that the problem of voluntourism is somewhere in a layer underneath: somewhere between the intermediaries and the local businesses… And I am afraid I am not powerful (and even not brave) enough to fix that fundamental issue.

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What I do hope to send out as a message via this blog post is to be aware that you might be going to hell with good intentions. One of the problems is that “There has always been a nagging inadequacy around the assertion that one cannot sell poverty, but one can sell paradise. Today the tourism industry does sell poverty.” (quote from my Professor Noel Salazar from Tourist Behaviour: A Psychological Perspective)

I am afraid that I cannot give you that much answers yet, but what I can advise you is to be careful when you decide to go abroad volunteering. You can find tips and tricks on http://learningservice.info/ , created by the ‘rethinkers of volunteer travel’. Because I am convinced that we all want to make the most out of volunteering and travels, but we have to do it the right way. And if we – volunteers – are aware of the critical issues in voluntourism, we are one step closer to rethinking and re-creating what used to be a noble random act of kindness.

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And don’t worry, I don’t have the intentions to stop volunteering. I won’t stop before I have the feeling that something has changed, partially through my efforts. Because you have never really lived until you have done something for someone who can never repay you. ❤ Share the message if you agree that volunteer travel needs to change. Awareness is the greatest agent for change! ❤

Lots of love

x Julie x