After the excitement of Neptune day (of which the shaved heads of both male and female students were a constant reminder), faculty and students turned their focus to three days of classes before our arrival in Mauritius.
We would be in Mauritius for only twelve hours. It is not always clear why the program chooses not to overnight at a particular port, but of course there are always rumors. More likely than not, the decision was a financial one (as are most ship related decisions). The costs of running a program like Semester At Sea are staggering (and definitely a conversation for another time...).
There was no Interport lecturer for Mauritius, but the overview of the island country given by faculty member Lewis Hinchman sparked my interest in learning more.
|The physical setting of Port Louis (volcanic in origin) is stunning.|
|We were welcomed with dancing and drums.|
Mauritius is a middle-income nation on par with Uruguay or Bulgaria, and has enjoyed a 5% - 6% growth rate since it gained independence in 1968. English is the language of government, but French and Creole are spoken as well. Life expectancy on par with the US (69 for men and 77 for women), and healthcare is free. The legal system is respected, the government generally transparent, and it is considered one of the easiest places to do business (according to the World Bank). And finally, the country appears to really work at honoring its diverse heritage. It is a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural society that seems to do more than just pay lip service to the concept.
Most of us know Mauritius as the the home of the Dodo bird, hunted to extinction by the Dutch who settled on the island in 1638 to 1710. An extremely large bird (50 pounds) that had no animal predators and had lost the ability to fly, the Dodo had no fear of humans and was easy prey for hungry settlers.
But before the Dutch, it was the Portuguese who first came across the uninhabited island on their way to India in 1507 but chose not stay to stay.
In 1715, five years after the Dutch left, the French came. They renamed the country Isle de France, set up sugar plantations and imported slaves to work on them. During their time here, the city of Port Louis became a naval base and ship building center. In 1810, the French surrendered Isle de France to the British, and the country was once again called Mauritius. Many of the French plantation owners chose to stay and when British abolished slavery in 1835, indentured servants, primarily from India were brought in to replace the slaves. In 1968, when independence came, the transition was surprisingly smooth, possibly due to a a stable clan of landowners (over the years, despite their low income, indentured servants were able to scrounge enough money to buy small parcels of land as they came up for sale) and an already educated population in the civil service (when administrators were needed, the ethnic Indians were sent to England for education, as was the case in India).
Interestingly, the island, which could have fragmented into opposing ethnic / religious groups, didn’t. Perhaps through smart leadership, the political parties managed to campaign on the issues, and to this day, candidates are recruited from a cross section of every constituency. Mauritius’ leadership has also managed to stay one step ahead on the economy as well.
Gary had been asked to lead one of the Field Programs in Mauritius – the Mauritius Ecosystem Tour. Our guide was an engaging young man whose ethnic heritage reflected the country itself: African, Indian, European and Chinese.
|After traveling southeast across the island by bus, we waited on this shore for forty minutes, hoping|
the driving rain would subside so we could take a boat to an small island preserve.
It was overcast as we climbed on the bus, and it started pouring in earnest just as we approached the beach where we were take a boat to a nature preserve. Fortunately our guide saved the day by modifying our itinerary and taking us to the Vanille Reserve des Mascareignes, Mauritius' park for Giant Tortoises and Crocodiles.
|So we headed to our next stop, which totally captivated us....Giant Tortoises!|
|Giant Tortoises on the move! There is something so primordial and appealing about these lumbering creatures.|
|You feel compelled to touch them. Fortunately, that is allowed.|
We were told we could feed them (but not get too close) and sit on them too....the kids loved it (as did the adults).
|Some food is spotted...|
|Adolescent Giant Tortoises....they haven't yet learned that it's impolite to walk over each other during meals...|
|Crocodiles. After seeing these teeth, the crocodile on the lunch menu didn't phase us.|
Despite the rain, we enjoyed the Park so much we chose to stay there to have lunch at Le Crocodile affamé Cafe and Restaurant. Prominent on the menu were crocodile burgers and crocodile curry. We had an adventurous group who tried both. No, it didn't taste like chicken, but more like a red meat.
After lunch we decided that our visit would be complete if we could visit a beach.
|Windswept trees along the beach.|
|Touching the Indian Ocean...a beautiful pristine beach with clear and quite warm (!) water.|
|The many kids who came on the excursion kept it all lively...lot's of questions and lot's of laughter.|