Guest House Chez Jacques happened to have a vacancy, with one caveat... I would be the only non-Italian in the place. Bellisimo! I pack up my tent and say au revoir to my new friends. The room is nice and clean, the price includes breakfast, and the location couldn't be better. It takes less than a minute to walk to the beach and there are a few restaurants and shops just down the little street as well. Overall a wonderful, peaceful atmosphere and I feel immediately welcome by both Italian #1, Italian #2 and Snow (the hosts of Chez Jacques).
My first night there Italian #1 invited me to a birthday party on the beach – his friend's daughter is turning 8. There are about 30 people sitting out on the beach enjoying the night as the children celebrate with games, cake and lanterns. A beautiful evening and a big welcome to Tamarin. The next day I set out for Black River Gorges National Park for a bit of trekking, which was a convenient 10 minute drive on the scooter. I chose the Macchabee View Point hike which takes me through dense forest, over a few streams, and straight uphill where I had a great view of the gorges and the sea. After 12km, I had enough and head back to Chez Jacques. Italian #1 is in the kitchen, and asks if I'd like to join the group for dinner. How can I say no? I sat down to dinner with Italians #1-9 and we enjoyed bruschetta, grilled dorado, lady fingers, and a little vino, and I try to keep up with the conversation – catching only a word here and there but loving every minute. The week flies by with morning swims, yoga, surfing, rainstorms, delicious pulpo, linguine, fruit, vanilla tea, walks with Snow, noodles on the beach, and learning Italian at home and French outside. One day I took a tour of the Chamerel Falls and 7 Coloured Earth – a bit touristy but it was beautiful. Another day I went to see the 'world's largest Shiva statue' which was quite impressive, and also stopped by the Casela Nature Park which was more of a zoo. But mostly, I enjoyed the meals, vibes, and waves in Tamarin! Its a place with a great soul, and I was very lucky to find Guest House Chez Jacques and it's wonderful hosts and guests!
The ride back to Mahebourg was a breeze and once again I checked into Bamboo. That night I got an invite from a Couchsurfer living in Tamarin to go camping on the beach with her and some friends the next day. I was committed to witnessing the Cavadee celebration with the Bamboo crew, but I said yes hoping it was an easy ride across the island. We woke up early to prepare for the Cavadee celebrations and Reshma had outfits picked out for all of her females guests. The procession began a bit later than normal, around 11 am, so the sun was blazing... which meant those making the pilgrimage to the temple had to suffer barefoot on the hot roads. A truck went ahead spraying water on the street, but this did nothing for those in the back of the line. There are harnessed men, women in trance, the faithful – pulling their cavadee and moving with effort and determination to the Home of Muruga. Many have chains fixed by hooks clawed into their skin to pull the small wheeled altars, green lemons hanging from their skins and other 'vels', or sharp needles, pricked through their skin. All of this and ten days of fasting – a real showing of faith.
After the last offering passed by, I sped back to Bamboo to pack up and head west towards Le Morne. As soon as I get on the road I realize it will be a long day – most of the country is out in the streets celebrating Cavadee, making it slow going through every town. It is a gorgeous drive along the south coast though, and someone is always around to point you in the right direction. I pull up to Le Morne beach and am blown away – it's beautiful. I locate the couchsurfer and her friends as they are starting to barbeque – good timing. A nice crew, mostly from France and a few local Mauritians, all living and working in Mauritius – I feel lucky to be included and try very hard to understand French! Just as we're getting cooking, a storm blows in and we decide to move along and try to find another spot out of the rain. Without much of a choice, we start the procession of 4 cars following me on my little scooter as I am pelted by the rain. I am thankful that my new friends are helping to keep me safe as we go – probably up there in my top 10 most uncomfortable scooter rides! We end up on Tamarin public beach where the rain has stopped and others have already started a big bonfire. The neighbors even have a fire thrower. Tents are pitched, food is brought out, and we enjoy a great night on the beach. I wake up in my little green tent to a gorgeous sea view, and dive right into the sea. I return to find my new friends making a picnic breakfast – I could get used to this place. They are making plans for the day, but I am content and decide to spend more time in Tamarin – it has a great vibe. Guest House Chez Jacques came highly recommended, so I called the manager and explain that I'm currently camping on the beach, but would like to check out his place. “Are you standing next to a green tent?”, he asks in his Italian accent. Startled, I look to my left and there he is walking my way. Laughing, I hang up the phone and walk on down the beach to meet him. Yes, I think it might be a sign!
I awake to the sounds of the river and the pigeons outside my window rearranging their nest. Here I am in Mauritius, ready to start again. My first home was Le Bamboo guesthouse in Mahebourg, a colorful working class town with lots of character. Mauritius has a population of roughly 1.2 million people. It is multicultural and religiously diverse, with people of Indian descent (Indo-Mauritian), Franco-Mauritians, Creoles, and Sino-Mauritians. It made for a great environment and diverse dining options!
On the terrace of the guest house I met a South African couple that offered to take me around the town – the man was going out anyway. Off we went – me to get my bearings (and a SIM card), him to buy some cake. The sun is blaring, so my gracious guide offers his umbrella for some shade. The first thing I notice along the streets are all of the snacks. I love snacks. Noodles, samosa, pineapple popsicles, pickled fruits, dumplings.... Yum! After our errands, we walked down to check out the waterfront. There were vendors, small shops, a temple, and people sitting and enjoying the gorgeous view of the mountains and the stunning blue water.
There were a couple of other solo travelers, and one was a South African guy just off an oil rig stopping over on his way home. I mentioned I was going to rent a scooter, so he joined me in the quest. We found a local guy that just happened to have 2 left for 500 rupees a day (a bit high we came to find out). I stayed 5 nights in Le Bamboo (900R/night including breakfast), and got to know a great family. Each day I had breakfast on the terrace with other guests, and during the day I took my rented scooter out to explore the area. Dinners were also spent on the terrace, enjoying delicious Mauritian recipes out of Reshma's kitchen. I explored Blue Bay, went snorkeling in the Marine Park from a glass bottom boat, drove through fields of sugar cane, snuck into a few fancy resorts just to have a look, and drove around searching for the perfect samosa :)
After a few days it was time to explore so I packed and took the scooter to the north. The South African joined, and off we went along the coastal road to the north. It is a beautiful drive up the east coast of Mauritius, and after stopping for snacks, swims, and photo opportunities it took us 4 hours to get to Grand Baie. We started looking for accomodation, and the first place we came across was a nice guest house run by a Canadian. They had no clean rooms, so they made a call and sent us on to the Auberge Miko where Vivek and Lena were waiting. It couldn't have worked out better. For 800 R per night I had my own studio apartment with a small kitchen, dining table, queen bed and balcony. I decided to stay 4 nights.
Grand Baie is much more commercial and touristy, which meant more bars, restaurants, water sports, and traffic, but it was a welcome change after Mahebourg. The first night was spent at The Beach House, where they had a band and windows that opened up to the beach. A nice welcome to Grand Baie! The next day I discovered the stunning beaches, with turquoise water and white sand. Mon Choisy & La Cuvette became my 2 favorites. Noodles on the beach in Mon Choisy, and swimming in the cove at La Cuvette. There is a South African owned bar, the Patch and Parrot, so it's not surprising I ended up there with the South African. We made new friends, but it was time to drive back south. The South African was returning home to his family, and I wanted to witness the festival of Cavadee down in Mahebourg. Back down the coastal road, this time fully confident in our navigation. Although I had a feeling I'd be seeing the north one more time...
After sad goodbyes with American #3 in Cape Town, I was off to Mauritius via Joburg. First flight was no problem, but customs at JNB commandeered my passport and led me to the other side of the airport - I have overstayed my visa by 2 days. I'm led into a room too small for the number of customs officials hanging out. I'm told I have to pay a fine of 2000 Rand before I can return to South Africa. Ok - by this point my flight to Mauritius is boarding, so after signing my life away off I go!
It's a red eye, so I get to Mauritius around 4am in the cover of darkness. The Air Mauritius staff is cheerful and I'm exhausted but excited for a new adventure. We arrive, and I queue up for Immigration. Having chosen Mauritius on a total whim, I only made sure I didn't need to apply for a Visa in advance. I walk up to the Mauritian official and he inquires about my return flight. I inform him that I will be staying no longer than 5 or 6 weeks, but haven't yet decided on my next destination. Ooooh I pushed a wrong button! Red flags go up, and I am suddenly removed from the line and placed on the side to watch the rest of my flight enter the country. The man summons a flight company, and after 1 hour I purchase 1 flight to Madagascar via a very tired Air Mauritius officer. Ok let's go! Oh wait, that isn't enough! The officer is adamant - he has to make sure I'm going all the way back to the US and won't let me through until I prove it. My nerves are shot, so I lose my cool and tell him that I am leaving his country and its none of his business whether or not I go home. Fuel meet fire. I spend the next 2 hours with 15 immigration police officers trying to 'fix' this situation. Meanwhile, my guest house transport has been waiting for me and has finally given up and thrown away that sign with my name in capital letters. Finally, after purchase of 3 airline tickets I am allowed into the country. The sun is up and the airport is empty, save my lonely backpack by the turnstile. I hop into a taxi and go off to find Le Bamboo and make amends with my new hosts. Despite ruining their morning, they insist on feeding me and making me feel immediately at home. I spend the next few hours talking with flight companies to cancel my overpriced purchases and the passing out, excited to wake up and start over with Mauritius!
The road trip began on Christmas Day, with a sad farewell to American #2 and the end of a chapter. A chapter full of love, adventure, hope, challenges, and thousands of miles. Without American #2, I may have never plunged into this adventure, and for that I am grateful. As he walked toward the airport gate, I drove off with American #3 into the warm, bright day in silence towards Oudtshoorn.
After a few U-turns, we found Route 62 and had an incredible drive. Driving on the left – this time with a manual – was tricky that first day but luckily the roads were pretty empty. We stopped in small town and had a great Christmas lunch in the only place open. There were a few hair-raising moments, but we made it to Paradise Backpackers in time for a sundowner. There was a nice crowd at the hostel bar, and Vickus the bartender supplied plenty of entertainment. Popcorn and snooker replaced our Christmas goose, but I felt lucky to be with a close friend. The next morning after breakfast in the cute downtown, we were off again in our blue Kia Picanto.
Our goal was Addo, but the twists and turns of Route 62 were a bit much and once we hit the highway we decided to pull off in Jeffrey's Bay. As American #3 drove, I frantically called around for accomodation and there was nothing to be had. High season had come to the Garden Route... So we decide to stop in the first place we see to inquire about a room. Cristal Cove proved lucky, and a couple happened to leave one day early opening up a room just for the night. Excellent! Jeffrey's Bay was lovely but crowded due to the holidays. We had a nice walk on the beach, a swim (brrrr!), and took advantage of the kitchen facilities. It was great to be at the sea and we took advantage the next morning before setting off for Addo and the Orange Elephant. After getting lost in Port Elizabeth for what felt like eternity, we found the Elephant - a cute place, with a nice bar and garden. We took an early morning safari tour of the park, which was overrun with German tourists wanting to stop for every dung beetle... but nonetheless the elephants never cease to impress and American #3 got to see them up close and personal.
After our tour we set off for Cintsa – the gateway to the Wild Coast. Holiday-goers took all of the beds in the area, so we decided to hit the local sporting goods store to buy tents and sleeping bags. The best idea we had yet! The N2 was a gorgeous drive with plenty to see along the way. Buccaneers had camping space, so that's where we spent our New Years. It was heaven on earth. We liked it so much, we stayed 6 nights! The campsite is gorgeous – set among the forest next to the beach. There is a pool, volleyball court, and the beach is a 5 minute walk through the forest and over the stream. Our fellow campers were mostly South Africans on holiday, which made for a great experience. We were taught the proper use of Howzit, Mooi, Bru, Brah, Oak, Belter and lekke (important terms!), and how to make the perfect brandy and coke. On New Years Eve there was a theme party, and of course a braii where we set off chinese lanterns. The other days were filled with sand castle building, nightly braiis, and time on the beach. We even ran into Vickus - from Oudtshoorn- there on his holiday. Small world.
After 7 days it was time to go to Tsitsikamma for some more natural beauty. We stayed in Storms River Village at the Tube'n Axe. Again our tents came in handy for our last minute planning, and we lucked into garden camping spots. Our destination was hiking in the Tsitsikamma National Park, and we waited one hour to get in. It's a beautiful place, and it'd be a great place to camp. We chose the waterfall hike, and off we went. We didn't make it 2 km when I decided to admire some trees along the path – slipped on some roots and down I went with a sprained ankle. Excruciating pain followed, and down I stayed. That waterfall was looking very far away... After a few minutes and we tried to go on. American #3 found me a walking stick, and I hobbled the best I could until we found the boulder path – ok now we just climb on the rocks... I gave it a shot, but the going was tough. We came across a rock pool and that is where we decided to stay. The waterfall would have to wait until next time! The rock pool was incredible, and worth the pain! Next stop were the suspension bridges – another short hike but this time there were supports to hold... Terrible timing on the ankle, but they were worth the hobble as well. What a beautiful spot and somewhere I'd like to return to tackle the bungee jump with healthy ankles!
Cape Town was our final destination after 2,300 km. After a long day on the N2 we stayed one more night at the Green Elephant, and enjoyed dinner in Sea Point with a friend from Buccaneers. The day of departure we had a short downtown tour and a great Ethiopian lunch before packing up and saying our sad farewells. What a great road trip that gave me a new appreciation for the beauty of both South Africa and good friendship. American #3 was back to winter in the US, and I was off to my next destination – somewhere I knew nothing about... Mauritius!
Combining a passion for travel, the desire to make a difference & a love of maps, MaggieMaps was born.
Unless otherwise noted, all prose, poetry, maps and photography posted on this blog are Copyright 2013 Maggie Maps
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