Mauritius, a paradise for golfers

L’île aux cerfs, on the easten coast of Mauritius. Michael Yamashita.

Even though Mauritius is well known for its pristine beaches and white sands, it also deserves the tour for its history, those of the indentured labourers who landed at Aapravasi Ghat, today recognised as a World Heritage of Humanity and its hikes in the primary forest.

First, there is the dazzling discovery of the island through the porthole, the lakes like mirrors, the sharp peaks of volcanic pinnacles, the bright green that dominates everything. Mauritius is a splendour even before landing. The island is often seen in the enclosure of a luxury hotel, facing the ocean. But do you really have to do so many kilometres just for that? Between forest of endangered ebony trees and sugar cane cultivation, between colonial houses that have become guest rooms, Creole culture and Hindu spirituality, Mauritius tells under a dazzling sun a completely different story.

An ebony jungle

In the forest of Ebony. Jordan Manoukian

Frail trunks stained with black and white, a diameter that does not exceed 20 cm but of already impressive heights, such are the ebony trees – whose heart is ebony of the today’s Mauritius. We can discover them by visiting the well-named Ebony Forest in Chamarel in the south western end of the island. In the small museum that precedes the walk, we understand that upon the arrival of the Dutch in 1598, this endemic species covered all the land of Mauritius, and the wood trunks were so wide that the jungle was impenetrable. A section of an ebony trunk exhibited in the museum, over a meter in diameter, is the proof.
There has been no more ebony tree of this size on the island or any that came close to it. The cultivation of sugarcane has left only 3% of the island’s surface to primary forest. At Ebony Forest, besides welcoming visitors, we replant the ebony trees; remove the imported plants that smother the native forest within the protected areas. The visit can be done on foot or by 4 × 4 because the climb to the top is tough. However, it is such a reward! The view of La Gaulette, the Benitiers islands and Le Morne Brabant is sublime.

Sugar at Pamplemousses

The cultivation of sugar cane in Mauritius carries almost all the horrors of colonization: destruction of the natural environment, slavery, forced labour … L’aventure du sucre, a large initiatory and sensory museum installed in an old factory at Pamplemousses, in the North of the island, hides nothing from this reality. Because sugar and Mauritius are now inseparable: from plantations to pastries, from botanics to mechanics, between object lesson and industrial area, L’Aventure du sucre offers a discovery that helps understand the national novel. Twelve different, unrefined sugars can be tasted on the spot, as well as the sugar cane itself, juicy like a treat.

There are also large colonial mansions, such as the Château de Labourdonnais, built
in the midst of the 19th century. Touristically, it is a bit like the Mauritian Versailles.
Modest but authentic, the Demeure Saint Antoine opens four of its rooms to passing guests.
Ten minutes from Grand Baie, this house, still inhabited by descendants of Edmond de Chazal, who built it in 1830, is surrounded by a ‘’varangue’’, a Creole veranda rooted to majestic columns, so typical of the island. It also has a reputation to be a table where you can drink tea or dine under the flamboyant in the park.

Chayote, curry and faratas

Marie-Michelle Lindor (Left) and Brigitte Canotte prepare vegetables samosas for their ‘table d’hôte’, Kot Marie-Michèlle. Laurence OGIELA

How not to fall in love when you meet Marie-Michelle Lindor and her acolyte Brigitte Canotte in the modest house of the first, in Midlands on the central plateau, where they opened their table d’hôte, Kot Marie-Michelle, more than ten years ago. They give you a warm welcome and speaks divinely about kitchen. ‘Kot’ signifies ‘at’ and here we have lunch like a family, after a cooking course if not too numerous.

Today, we will cook chayote, the ‘chouchou’ under two forms: the fruits, melting like an artichoke heart; and the ‘brède chouchou’, which are the leaves. There are Indian influences: a chicken curry, and we help Brigitte to make the faratas, from the dough to the pan where they inflate like balloons. Marie-Michelle remembers her origins. “Our Creole cuisine is that of slaves who fled the plantations,” she says by reheating a ‘’cochon marron’’ stew, a boar, prepared with wine and spices. She also makes deers and especially hedgehogs, the Mauritian tenrec. “But not to tourists! It is a shame because it is very good. » At the table, all dishes are served together, and the lives of Marie-Michelle and Brigitte are told in-between laughs.

Aware that their disconnection from local culture was a weakness, Mauritian hotels
put themselves in tune, especially those of the Sun Resorts group. Prakash Seetul, the head of the
Longbeach, at Belle Mare, wanted to interpret Mauritian cuisine with French know-how. Having passed by the Crillon, this Mauritian chef of Indian origin went to the Paul Bocuse Institute, in Lyon.
In result, the products of the island, duck, deer or the ‘’Vieille Rouge’’, an endemic fish, are prepared in the gastro spirit while enhancing the flavors of spices and fruits that accompany them.
The wasabi white chocolate tuna with mango vinegar is a delicious feast, and the deer loin with curry leaves melt-in-the-mouth.

Live Memories

At Grand Bassin during the Maha Shivaratri, a religious festival worshipping Shiva. Sime/Photononstop

Aapravasi Ghat, in Port Louis, is unquestionably one of the most emotional place of Mauritius. You can discover the dismal history of engagement, a form of work invented by the British after the abolition of slavery but which largely resembles it. In Mauritius,around 500,000 enlisted workers, 97.5% Indian, arrived through this immigration depot today restored and listed as a World Heritage Site. Self-guided or guided tour, the Aapravasi Ghat is also a must if you want to understand the importance of Indian culture in Mauritius. Because more than half of Mauritians practice Hinduism, it be about 800,000 faithful.

The site of the Grand Bassin, covered with temples and dominated by a statue of Shiva of 33 meters height, is their most sacred place. During the Maha Shivratri, a religious holiday that celebrates Shiva once a year, the Mauritian Hindus converge in processions towards the Grand Bassin. In 2020, the Maha Shivratri will take place on February 21st, it is essential to attend if one is on the island at that time. Forests and tea plantations surround the lake, at higher altitude. In Mauritius, we like it flavoured with vanilla, lots of milk and sugar. Another sweetness of an island, which now also assumes the seldom, bitter taste of its history.

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