Wednesday 10 December 2014

Escape to Rodrigues . . .

When you leave Mauritius for Rodrigues, you have no choice but to go through the recently renovated airport at Plaisance. You strolled between the sophisticated walls of that massive structure of metal, glass, and cement and when you reach the sitting room to await your plane, you find yourself staring at those printed canvas of the typical sights in Rodrigues. You see octopuses drying on branches; fishermen at sea and colourful boats sailing in dreamy blue lagoons. One senses the art is to convey a taste of what it is going to be like when you set foot there. But in the success of that effort is the failure to impart the humility of Rodrigues, because this is what Rodrigues does: it humbles you.

Landing at the Sir Gaëtan Duval Airport, I saw for the first time that the airport had changed considerably since my last visit. It was however nothing like SSR Airport. Nothing spelled grandeur about it. But leaving Plaine Corail and traveling inland did make me begin to realise how special Rodrigues was. In Mauritius, buildings seem to pop out of the ground like daisies and you cannot even remember what lay there before. In Rodrigues, even if my last visit was 10 years ago, I could still pinpoint most of the little changes in the landscape. It seemed to me that Rodrigues has a clock of its own. Time seems almost suspended. Looking on your right, you see cattle grazing lazily among the greens of the sloppy mountains; and then on your left, there is the serene sea reaching in vain towards the azure, while fishermen disembark from their boats with fishes aplenty. The breath-taking simplicity of those landscapes is what gives you the impression that the sand has stopped flowing in the hourglass.

Simplicity is what I resorted to during the one week I was to stay on the island. Every morning, I’d wake up at 5 because it seems to me Rodriguans are not familiar with the notion of a lazy morning in bed. At 5, they are already cleaning the maize and getting them ready to be sent to the mill; the goats and cattle are already on the way to their new grazing spot for the day, by the sea or on the mountains; and most importantly, my old, nosy and loud landlady is already up sitting on the terrace of her shop, getting her head around new rumours. A funny woman she was, but she told me of a place in Port Mathurin where I could get the best pork sausages. I did my best to eat as much as I could of the Rodriguan cuisine, trying some restaurants along the coast or near my place in Baie-aux-Huîtres.

On some days, I was very lucky to have good company in the person of Jean-Claude, an old Mauritian pensioner who leaves his wife and kids every year for two months to come enjoy the peace of Rodrigues. I learned a thing or two from him about the places to visit and he accompanied me on my trip to Rivière Coco. It was without doubt a funny trip for, if in Mauritius, buses tend to break down on the main roads, in Rodrigues they endure the tortuous curves of the island’s roads. My bus even stopped for the passengers to buy bananas from a street vendor! The bananas tasted like heaven, I must say! As the bus descended slowly towards the coast, I grew quite excited about the sight of octopuses hung out to dry in the sun. I got off the bus and decided to walk to photograph this view. I met with two friendly fishmongers who were cleaning buckets of fishes in the sea waters. I bought a fish with Madame Perrine and met with her family while keeping up the conversation about the lives of fishermen. They sail away very early and come back with fishes and octopuses before noon, and their wives clean it all to get the catch ready for drying and for sale. Hard work, she says but there are no complications and no surprises. I walked to Rivière Coco in the company of a fishmonger in the scorching sun. We see Rodriguans always wearing straw hats and while we thought it is perhaps just a folkloric thing, it would have made an amazing protection that day because I got back three shades darker.

Rodrigues, while being known for its crafts and foods, is also famous to hikers. I took time to climb a few mountains to get a glimpse of the island from high up. Mesmerising does not begin to describe it. Getting to the top was not always easy; even if the mountains and hills in Rodrigues do not rise high, the flanks were either covered in acacia bushes in which wasps thrived, or they boasted steep escarpments where somehow livestock could be seen eating grass. But more challenging were the meandering valleys that lead to the mountains. However, help was always available if I could not find my path. Kindness and a big smile were the token of exchange.

There is for sure a lot more to discover about the island and after four visits, I still find the place and the folks as lovely as ever. The people of Rodrigues are always eager to help and tell you stories. And they tell beautiful stories that will make you want to stay for dinner at their place, to hear more. But for now, this was part of my story. The rest is up to you to discover.


The road to L'Union

Hauteurs Accacia

So, this is obviously that picture where I just got stung by a wasp. I was too busy taking a selfie to notice the two wasps. Lesson learned!


That funny moment when everyone gets out of the bus one after another to go buy the bananas selling near the bus stop. We all and to laugh in the bus and the "controlleur" even had to go on bananas errands for the old ladies!

Ile Hermitage

Dédé Loulou


Walls of the prison at Pointe La Gueule, Rodrigues


Anne-Cécile et Mélanie Perrine


Laura & Ornella at Francois Leguat Tortoise Park

Poisson zégui

Barriers made of coral slates



Saint Gabriel Church, Rodrigues

Saint Gabriel Church, Rodrigues

Saint Gabriel Church, Rodrigues

Saint Gabriel Church, Rodrigues

Giovanni, my driver on the island tour. Meeting after 10 years. Nothing's changed. Still the same nice guy.

Never quite caught the name of the guy in blue but the young boy on the right was Romeo. They both dyed their hair blond that day and was being laughed by everyone. They just did not care. It was funny to them as well.


Laura, Ornella et Mégane

- The end -

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