When I was booking tickets for La Reunion, the cheaper flight from Madagascar (about $300 round trip) stopped in Mauritius. I felt clever with myself for choosing the one that had a twenty hour layover. Two countries for the price of one, right?
So, last Tuesday we landed in Mauritius around dinner-time, and immediately the humid, sea air hit us as we descended from the airplane on pull-up airstairs. At customs, the agent looked at me when I handed him my passport. I could have sworn I heard him say “home”.
“Om! Your tattoo, it’s om!”
I started to laugh. It failed to dawn on me that on an island where 68% of the population is of Indian descent, people would be able to recognize the terrible scrawled out Hindi ‘om’ symbol on my pinky finger (the first time I had this tattoo done was with a DIY kit. Last year I impulsively had it ‘touched up’ in Madagascar. I’ve jokingly referred to it as my ‘punk rock tattoo’ because of it’s terrible quality for years now.)
Still, the moment was an introduction of what to come. After a rather painless and quick customs check, we sped off to Mahebourg, a small town close to the airport and checked in to a (more expensive than promised) sea-side hotel with a terrace that overlooked a pirogue dotted bay. That night, we had no problem finding cheap Indian food after wandering wide, palm-lined back streets. We weren’t sure if it was the time of night (about 8 or 9) or just the feel of the city, but save for the odd person sitting on a sidewalk in a plastic chair, or ambling by on a brightly painted bike, it felt deserted.
The next day, we spent too long sleeping and eating breakfast, and decided to wander the streets instead of checking out a beach 6km south of town (which in retrospect, I am kicking myself in the butt for. We could have figured out the bus, or rented a bike, and only spend two hours on the whole venture). We walked as the town opened up. Men clustered by the bus station eating sandwiches and telling jokes. Women in colorful saris and umbrellas to block out the sun passed by us on the sidewalk. At one point, we had wandered too far out of town, and as we debated turning right or left, I noticed a woman in a bright yellow sari smiling at me from across the street. I smiled back.
“You should go right!” she shouted in French. “There is a beautiful sea down that road,” It was one of those oddly serendipitous travel moments I love. We walked alongside her for a few minutes before she ducked in to her house, and we continued our aimless walk. Eventually the walk led us back to our hotel terrace with cans of Guinness, to a KFC (!!!), and ultimately, the airport.
If you find yourself with a long layover in Mauritius, don’t make my mistake! Go to the freaking beach! It would have been about 20 minutes by taxi from the airport and like I said, I’m still kicking myself in the butt. Why wouldn’t you try to see a destination’s biggest draw? Enjoy the non-beachy photos!
Photos: (1) Lion Mountain and harbor in Mahebourg (2) Bridge out of Mahebourg (3) Balcony (4) Hindu temple (5) View from our hotel terrace