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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Dreaming of the Dutch & the Dodo

Oh my God, I am already more than 2 weeks here now and I realized that I don’t manage to write properly about every day, because there is happening so much all the time! I am only in my room for a few hours of sleep each night and the days are very very busy! But in a good way, of course! What am I doing….? Following classes, doing fieldtrips, researching for my project, visiting beaches, doing some sightseeing and having the time of my life with the best host family ever, and an even greater group of students and professors!

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The Summer School group in front of the National Museum of History

There is literally not very much to complain about, and if there was one thing that could be better, then that would be… Having more TIME! So I guess that time flies when you’re having fun, and unfortunately there are only 24 hours each day, so let’s just give you a brief overview of some of the past few days so you get an idea of what exactly makes it so much FUN being here!

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On the road in Mauritius…

The second week started with a second field trip. The theme of this excursion was “Cultural Heritage of Mauritius”. We started the day with a journey from Pointe aux Piments (north west) to Mahébourg (south east), where the sea looked a bit less turqoise blue and the coastline was a bit more rough. We met our guide for the day near the peer. Geoffrey Summers and his wife, Francoise Summers, were living on the island for several years. The Brittish couple knew the island very well, and with archeology as Geoffrey’s specialisation, he knew a lot of things to talk to us about. We got to know a more historical part of the island that we had not heard of before. Interesting!

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Geoffrey Summers (our guide) & Dimitris Xygalatas (our professor) at Mahébourg

After a windy walk on the peer in Grand Port and a quick visit to the restants of some tanks used during World War II, we continued to Fort Frederik Hendrik. It’s a museum which is named after a Dutch guy who had his office here during the 17th century colonisation period by The Netherlands… The historical site became a museum in 1999 and tries to represent both the Dutch and French colonial settlements in Mauritius.

Did you know that the Dutch were the first inhabitants to settle on the island and colonised Mauritius from 1638 – 1710 ? Later it were the French ( 1710 – 1810 ) who colonised the island, and after that came the British rule ( 1810–1968 ), followed by the independence of Mauritius in 1968.

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Students at the peer in Grand Port

After a brief guided visit to the museum, it was time for lunch in the beautiful tropical garden of Fort Frederik Hendrik, surrounded by ruins. The leftovers from the walls of these ruins learned archeologists that French ruins were standing on top of a Dutch fort, so in this regard it is an important place for those who want to get to know Mauritius very well. And I guess that was the aim of this visit, even though I must admit that this historical tour was a bit boring for me.

Maybe more interesting was the Tour des Hollandais, which was founded very funny by me (Flemish) and another Dutch student. This tour is about an old watch tower, used  as a vantage point to observe the bay for any incoming ships, and protect Mauritius from invaders and so on. From this point they could prevent potential attacks from the French and later on from the British.

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Dutch Girls gone Wild…?!

In the afternoon we continued our excursion to Mahébourg, where we visited the National Museum of History. Here we got to know even more facts about the colonial history of Mauritius. But the most magnificent part of this element of the trip, was the beautiful French colonial mansion in which the museum was located. It was built around 1770 and inaugurated in 1998 as a museum by the one and only Prince Maurits of Orange-Nassau, exactly 400 years after the first Dutch landing in Mauritius.

But an even more interesting novelty was the story about the Dodo bird in Mauritius… which explains why this animal is so popular, even though you cannot see it anywere on the island…

  • The dodo (Raphus Cucullatus) is an extinct flightless bird that was endemic to Mauritius
  • The dodo was extinct by the time the Dutch abandoned Mauritius due to extensive hunting
  • The dodo’s appearance in life is evidenced only by drawings, paintings, and written accounts from the 17th century
  • The dodo achieved widespread recognition from its role in the story of Alice in Wonderland
  • The dodo has since become a fixture in popular culture, often as a symbol of extinction and obsolescence

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The famous but extincted Dodo bird…

Okay enough history for today! What else did we do? We also walked to a river where women washed their clothes on stones, saw a place in the lush forest where people practice Black Magic, and visited a grassroots NGO where women do basket weaving… The last stop of the day was in a restaurant, to have some well deserved food after a busy day of educational travel before heading back to our home town!

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Francoise Summers guiding us through the Basket Weaving NGO project

That evening I was very tired, and so were my roommates, from all this traveling around. We had dinner at Nanny’s place, and worked on our computers for a couple of hours before heading back to bed for a good night of sleep.

The schedule of Tuesday mentioned “Cognition and Culture” in the morning and “Religion and Cognition” in the afternoon. These classes were given by both Dimitris and his co-instructors, and were something totally different from what I had heard about Anthropology before. It was interesting, but also very difficult material to relate to in my opinion, so I guess I will better not bother you with the details about this either.

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Another day of classes at the Temple

But don’t think now that this was all very boring, no, not at all! Because just when you think it is getting boring, it is time for a lunch break again, or another few hours between the break at the beach! And this is how we roll: time flies when you’re having fun, so you better make the best out of every day you get here! And so did I do: bought food for lunch at a local ‘Patisserie’ and went straight to the beach to chill out a few hours between Cognition, Culture and Religious classes today…

Another piece of daily wisdom and insight: if you want to be and stay happy, be flexible and always open to changes! Don’t fix your plans, because…. The weather can change, just to give an example! I was actually planning a second visit to Triolet during lunch break, but the weather was so extremely nice that I decided to run home for that bikini, and run back to the beach. Best decision ever! Everyone happy! 🙂

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Me and a colleague-student at Pointe aux Piments beach

Or to rephrase this in a more anthropological way… 

Be stubborn about your goals and flexible about your methods… 😉

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Enjoying our daily lunch break…

In the evening my roommates and I were taken to a local restaurant in Trou aux Biches by our host brother. He invited us to try some of the local food in that place, which was quite a surprise. Some of the dishes were very nice, but others I didn’t like very much. But it was good to try everything, and to be hanging around with a local family member in a not so touristy-spot.

Wednesday was another day of classes. So you see, I am actually very busy studying here! In the morning Dimitris (yes, we call the professors by their first names here) talked about Cognitive Anthropology, one of his specialisations. It is all about addressing the ways in which people conceive of and think about events and objects in the world, while providing a link between human thought processes and the physical and ideational aspects of culture. And yes, I know that this sounds Chinese to you, so that is why I will not go into details again…

After spending lunch break in a local restaurant in the village and a powernap on the beach, together with some other students, it was time for another lecture given by Martin Lang. He gave us an inspiring introduction to Cognition and Quantitative methods, such as surveys, questionnaires, etc. and he also talked about Cultural Consensus.

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Martin Lang talking about Cultural Consensus

I also went to the village to recharge my phone, which is another notable story! Did you notice that I am always online while being in Mauritius? Well, if you reload every week for 100 rupees (+/- 2,5 euros) then you can get a package with Free Internet & Unlimited Facebook for a week here. So my 3G is on most of the time and whether I am in the forest or at the beach, I am always connected… Whether that is such a good thing for an internet addict like me, I am not sure… Because you know what they say: there is no WiFi in the forest, but there is a better “connection”… 😉

That evening I spent most of my time writing a Research Proposal for the project I am going to do here. My subject is now definitive, and I will explore the intertwined relationship between cross-cultural romantic affairs and sex tourism on Mauritius. The fundamental purpose of this study is to explore the question: “What is the difference between sex tourism and romance tourism, and how is it perceived by people who have intercultural relationships in Mauritius?” The objective of this research will be to increase our understanding of this social reality by developing explanations of the phenomena by critically evaluating the interrelation between sex tourism and romantic cross-cultural relationships in Mauritius. So now you finally now what I am doing my fieldwork about!

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Trying out a Sari in the local village’s shop

But oh yes! Before I forget to mention… Apart from working on this, I also went with my host father and host sister to the village to buy a Sari! Sari…What?!

  • A sari is a South Asian female garment, associated with grace and is widely regarded as a symbol of Hindu culture
  • It consists of a drape that is typically wrapped around the waist with one end draped over the shoulder
  • A sari is one of the most common outfits used by the women of India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, …
  • Saris differ from each other on the basis of design, fabric, drapes and colors
  • The length of a sari can vary from 4 to 9 meters

And moreover, that Wednesday evening we (my American host sisters and I) cooked dinner for our host family, after them cooking us dinners so often. We decided to make Mexican food, even though that is not very American or Belgium, because first of all the ingredients were more or less available here in the supermarkets, and second of all… A funny story! Our host family eats “Faratas” all the time, a local flat bread of which you have to use to eat the rest of your dish by wripping of pieces of this piece of bread. But I used to eat it all the time as a Burrito/tortilla, so that is why we decided to learn the locals eat Tortillas stuffed up as burritos. A funny cross-cultural experience in which we exchanged our culinary behaviour and habits! 😛

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Me and my American host sisters cooking Dinner for our Mauritian host family

Unfortunately I must admit that it was more fun for us than for our host family, who was not used to eat Guacomole with cheese and salad in a wrapped up – look a like – Farata flat bread… I am not sure if they really enjoyed this ‘different’ food as they are quite conservative. Also, our Hindu family is vegetarian so they do not eat meat, chicken, fish, eggs, … Therefore we used Tofu – look a like – chicken, which they did appreciate of course.

The evening ended with showing the Saris we had bought to our grandmother and family, and that was a lot of fun! And I worked until the late hours designing some research methods and tools for my research project…

Voilà…. This was another update of my busy days in Mauritius! I hope you liked reading it as much as I liked experiencing it, and I will keep you posted soon with more!

Kisses & Love,

Julie

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The beautiful peer and the view at Grand Port