Creatures Great and Small

Shame about the weather!
It’s not all beer and skittles.

So much for the forecast week of rain here; today was another sunny, warm humid day. (But as I’ve been reading about the conditions in Sydney & Cyclone Yasi I am really not complaining). The day started, as all days should, with a leisurely breakfast on the patio. Those 5.30am starts in Kenya are just a distant memory now.

We met up with some of Owen & Maryanne’s friends today. Rirette, who is a Mauritian & her husband Adrian, and Mel, who is English but lives in France, in a vineyard in the Loire Valley, with her husband Francois. They spend a month in Mauritius every year. It was a test of our French (which was sadly not up to the challenge). They slipped in & out of French & English all day. Mel’s French was fluent but her accent was terrible – so she was the easiest to understand. I found it surprising that living in France for so long she would not have learned to roll her Rs at least a bit! When they addressed us directly they spoke English, but the general conversation was mostly in French. The official language of Mauritius is English, as it was under British rule from 1810 to 1968. But most people speak French, or Creole, or Hindi, or Tamil …

Rirette & Mel joined Maryanne, Keith & me for a walk to Rochester Falls. We walked through the small village of Souillac and past sugar cane fields & gardens full of tropical fruit trees. Finally we came to a deep gorge which we descended into via a steep dirt track (all the while worrying slightly about the return walk up that track). It was worth the effort – Rochester Falls are not enormous but very pretty. The rock formation consists of numerous octagonal columns of basalt (a bit like the Giant’s Causeway on Ireland) which make for great jumping off spots for the local kids. There was a fair amount of water after the recent rains, but apparently it can grow to 3 times that amount.

To my relief we didn’t walk back up the hill, but crossed the river (nervously negotiating a wet rocky crossing) and Owen picked us up on the other side & drove us home. We all jumped straight in the pool for a very refreshing swim. It is a particularly nice pool, with a fabulous ocean view. The water is pleasantly cool but not cold. Feeling revitalised we all headed for La Vanille, Owen & Maryanne’s Nature Reserve. We met Francois & Adrian, and Rirette’s teenage daughter and headed for the restaurant, “Le Crocodile Affamé” (the Hungry Crocodile). What a gorgeous spot – an elevated platform surrounded on three sides by lush tropical rainforest. Marianne recommended the duck, so Keith had Duck Confit, and I had Aiguillettes (strips of duck) in Vanilla sauce. (Vanilla is a local product & they put it in everything!) – both delicious.

After lunch we were taken on a tour of the reserve by Owen. He is very passionate about conservation, and has some incredible projects happening. La Vanille is the world’s largest breeding program for giant Aldabra tortoises. We were able to pat some tortoises, and scratch their neck, which apparently they love, and then feed them with some leaves. That was very cool. We saw the fruit bat, Mauritius’ only native mammal, crocodiles, iguanas, deer, monkeys, other (smaller) tortoises. Very impressive was the Insectarium, an extremely comprehensive collection of all sorts of insects from all over the world, collected by one man and beautifully displayed in glass cases.

By the time we finished at La Vanille another swim was in order. There was another spectacular sunset and then a heavy but brief shower of rain. Tomorrow morning first thing we have to go to the Ministry of Health & have a malaria test, since we have come from East Africa. They have had malaria outbreaks here in the past but Mauritius is currently malaria free – and they are keen to keep it that way. Hope we pass the test!

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