Some thoughts from a retired couple who visited Mauritius for the second time
By Birgit A. Mehus and Aldo De Bonis
We were in Mauritius 30 years ago, Christmas time. We were both living in Zambia then, it was our first holiday time together and that trip is one of our most cherished memories.
Early 2018 we decided it was time to go back. Since we are retired, time is not a constraint anymore. We booked a flat in Pereybere for five weeks.
What remained the same: The sea and it’s colour. The temperature of the water and the air. The birds. The rain (sometimes very heavy). The general attitude of the Mauritians, kind and open to foreigners. The tasty food. The rum. The fruits: passion fruit, pineapple, papaya, litchis…
“It seems there has been a strategy aiming to keep regular tourists, nature lovers and those who like hiking or biking to stay away from the island. The alternative given is clearly shown in the five star hotels and golf courses located mostly on the southern tip of the island and on the eastern coast. Secluded environments where rich tourists can find everything they may need, resulting in very poor contact with Mauritian society. The economy of the island is clearly benefiting from those investments, but what about the general population?”
What had changed? Thirty years ago we were in Cap Malheureux, staying in a bungalow belonging to a hotel that is not there anymore. We biked from Cap Malheureux to Grand Bay to board a sailing boat we had booked for a trip to Flat Island. The coast was in open view, may be a few low rise buildings now and then, but it was open, I remember stopping the bike and taking pictures.
Impossible to do that now, unless you go to a public beach. Private houses and mansions are blocking the view all the way, and access to the sea is difficult and discouraged by notices threatening legal action against those brave enough to sit on the sand (warnings often fully ignored by tourists and residents).
Same story in all the places we have been visiting on the East and West coast of the island.
“We made a trip to Flat Island. An “armada” of catamarans full of tourists left Grand Bay heading for the same target, arriving Flat Island more or less at the same time. Total chaos. Where is our tour organizer? Where is our lunch served? Who will take us back to “our” boat? And again, garbage and plastic all along the beach. Last time, we were taken around the island by a guide. Nothing like that this time. Everything felt very hectic. It was a huge disappointment to come back…”
Unfortunately, in spite of the sharp increase of buildings and population, a proper upgrading of infrastructure did not follow accordingly. The roads are not wider; pavements are very often missing or so narrow that they allow one person at the time. Out of towns, guardrails are just non-existent, except from a very few stretches. It means that to go off road, also just for a couple of decimeters, may result in a plunge of a meter or more.
The narrow roads hardly allow two buses to cross each other. No biking tracks or walking tracks. In towns, no or very few parking places, only those at the supermarkets and public beaches.
It seems that when the roads were built the Mauritian authorities forgot that sooner or later, those driving cars, vans and lorries have to get out of their vehicles and that is when the trouble begins. Where to leave them? Not along the road, since there is no room… Well, that is exactly what is happening, causing traffic jams, never ending slow down, accidents and huge, huge loss of productivity. If the average speed of those travelling between towns and not using the highway is down to 20 or 30 km per hour or slightly more, it is clear that the time dedicated to work is strongly reduced.
By the way, there should be regulations stating the minimum width of the lanes, the pavements and the obligation to provide public parking as it is in most other parts of the world.
Garbage. All over. Apart on the public beaches where workers employed by the public beach authorities keep beaches and toilets clean seven days a week. Highly appreciated.
Outside those beaches, there are widespread layers and mounds of garbage, mainly plastic (of all kinds), tins, old fishing lines, diapers, and so on.
There is a clear lack of attention towards what it means to cover the coast of the island with garbage. From what we have seen, such behaviour is related both to the residents, for a great deal of it, and also tourists (cigarette stubs dropped on the sand). The general public has to be educated to respect the nature, otherwise very soon the Green Paradise Island will become the Plastic Garbage Island. Regular cleaning activities should be carried out sponsored by schools, it is very important that young children will grow up with the idea that keeping the island clean means to keep their lives safe.
West coast or east coast, there is no difference. Of course, the closer we are to a village or small town, the higher is the amount of garbage left all over. One of the worst experiences? The Cemetery of Cap Malheureux. There are piles of garbage spread either at the limit of the graveyard (no wall to mark it) or even between the graves. It is obvious that some of the relatives have been trying to keep the graves of their loved ones clean and tidy, however all around it is a very sad and total mess.
If someone would like to verify it, just go to the Cemetery from the South walking along the coast, starting from Pereybere Beach. It is a kind of experience, and you will see with your own eyes the total disrespect towards those that built the Mauritian society.
While it is perfectly understandable that the local authorities, under strong pressure, decided to lease most of the lands along the coastline and in this way allowing extensive building, it could have been done in a much better way.
Very often, the walls of the private properties are erected straight at the limit of the roads, meaning there is no room for pedestrians, parking, biking. Looking at the very different shapes of some of the houses, villas and blocks of flats make one wonder if all of them were built in accordance with the existing building regulations or they were just built taking as much land as possible. Some buildings are so tall they are a thorn in the eye when seen from the coast. They remind us of some infamous stretches seen in the Southern Mediterranean (Calabria, Sicily, Southern Spain, some Greek islands).
It seems there has been a strategy aiming to keep regular tourists, nature lovers and those who like hiking or biking to stay away from the island. The alternative given is clearly shown in the five star hotels and golf courses located mostly on the southern tip of the island and on the eastern coast. Secluded environments where rich tourists can find everything they may need, resulting in very poor contact with Mauritian society. The economy of the island is clearly benefiting from those investments, but what about the general population?
The wonderful nature of Mauritius has been given away and only a few very rich people can enjoy it, with limited positive effects on the Mauritian people.
Also this time we made a trip to Flat Island. An “armada” of catamarans full of tourists left Grand Bay heading for the same target, arriving Flat Island more or less at the same time. Total chaos. Where is our tour organizer? Where is our lunch served? Who will take us back to “our” boat? And again, garbage and plastic all along the beach.
Last time, we were taken around the island by a guide. Nothing like that this time. Everything felt very hectic. It was a huge disappointment to come back. The beautiful and romantic island we had in our memory, was not there anymore. If that island shall continue to be an attraction that Mauritians are proud to show off, to save it from total destruction, restrictions on how many boats and tourists can visit the island every day must be introduced.
We have not mentioned the coral reefs. We did not feel like going there.
International travellers still have an impression of Mauritius as a paradise island. That is if they go to stay in a five star hotel with all inclusive, with a private beach and are taken around by private tour operators. Those who choose another and cheaper alternative for their stay face another reality, far from paradise.
Birgit A. Mehus & Aldo De Bonis
Oslo, Norway / Bolzano, Italy
* Published in print edition on 8 March 2019