Chapter 14

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Mauritius

Our next stop in the Mascarene Islands was Mauritius, 350 nm from Rodrigues - an almost three day sail. We left Rodrigues in the late afternoon with our friends on "Fantasy" and kept in SSB radio contact each day. We had some variable winds, even light enough one day to force us to drag out our 2000 square foot cruising spinnaker! As is usually the case, after hauling the heavy sail out of the sail locker, setting up all the lines and finally hoisting it up, within a short period of time the winds picked up and it was time to wrestle the sail back on the deck.

As we approached the northern part of Mauritius, it was about 2 am. We decided to go through the pass between the distinctively shaped island of Coin de Mire and Flat Island, whose lighthouse we picked up in the distance. As we were going through the pass, we noticed a lone blip on our radar - it was "Fantasy" off to our starboard side - small world! We continued to sail together towards Port Louis in the gathering morning light. Port Louis is a very busy harbor so when we got to the entrance, we had to wait for several container ships to enter ahead of us. After about 30 minutes, we were given permission to enter the harbor and continued on our way to the Customs dock. Check in was easy and within a short period of time, we were securely tied up to the dock at Caudan Marina.

Mauritius is the oldest of the Mascarene Islands, first settled by the Dutch in 1598. It was then claimed by the French in 1715 and called "Ile de France". It was captured by the British in 1810 and remained a British colony until 1968 when it became an independent member of the Commonwealth. Mauritius then became a Republic in 1992 and remains an independent state consisting of the islands of Mauritius and Rodrigues, and it's dependencies of the Cargados Garayos Shoals (also known as the St. Brandon Islands) and the two Agalega Islands. Mauritius would also like to reclaim the islands which have, since 1965, been part of the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT) which includes Diego Garcia in the Chagos Archipelago. The population is estimated to be about 1.3 million people. The official language is English, although most Mauritians are more comfortable speaking French. Sugar, textiles and tourism are still the main support for the economy, although projects are in place to make Mauritius a "cyber island" in the future.

We stayed in the capital of Port Louis for about two weeks. The opulent Caudan Waterfront has been developed in the past 10 years to include the marina, 5 star hotels, European shops, restaurants, a casino, craft market and museum. On the other side of the motorway (which runs along the waterfront) is the city. There are several underground pedestrian tunnels which makes crossing the busy motorway to the other side much safer. Port Louis is a booming city combining new buildings with old, which contrasts with the spires and peaks of the mountain range behind. One of our favorite spots was the Central Market -- a fantastically colorful fruit and vegetable market on the lower level with the largest selection we had ever seen. Above, is the place for bargain souvenirs -- baskets, spices, clothing, beautiful fabrics, wood carvings -- although the persistent sales techniques could become tiresome. Bartering is expected, so it's a good idea to know the value of what you want ahead of time.

As we were yearning to get away from the hectic city, we sailed up the coast to Grand Baie, a beautiful harbor on the northwest corner of the island. We dropped the anchor in the clear turquoise waters of this sheltered bay. Numerous resorts line the beaches as well as restaurants and bars. This is the place for watersports -- parasailing, water skiing, snorkeling, as well as deep sea fishing excursions. The Grand Baie Yacht Club offers free membership for visiting yachts and the Commodore, Phillipe, was extremely helpful and welcoming. This was a beautiful spot to enjoy a delicious breakfast out on the veranda overlooking the bay, or to come and relax on a lazy afternoon and watch the sunset.

As we wanted to see more of the island, we hired a cab driver, Ismed, who gave us a tour of the interior of the island. On our way up to the mountains, we drove through field after field of sugar cane. In most places, it is still harvested by hand, a truly back breaking job in the hot sun. The center of the island, approximately 1800 feet above sea level, is noticeably cooler than the coastal areas. The highest peak is Piton de la Petite Riviere Noire at 2700 ft. The central plateau consists of extinct volcanic craters, lakes, rivers and waterfalls. Our first stop was Trou aux Cerfs, an extinct volcanic crater at about 1950 ft. The inside of the crater is wooded and it is possible to climb the 250 ft to the bottom. We preferred to enjoy the panoramic views of the mountain ranges from the top! Further along, we passed the reservoir of Mare aux Vacoas, the largest in Mauritius. It is a mountain lake surrounded by pine forests and palms. It is a popular spot for the local fishermen. Our next stop was another natural lake in the crater of an extinct volcano, Grand Bassin. It is also known as Ganga Talao (Lake of the Ganges) as the Hindus believe it is linked to the Ganges by an underground stream. It is regarded as sacred by the Hindus, who regularly leave offerings of fruit and incense at the temples around the lake.

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