Friday, 14 July 2017

When in Mauritius...


A little over three months ago now, I decided to make a change and go travelling. I was always the girl who said she would never go travelling alone, that I wouldn't be able to do it, it never appealed to me and just didn't think I would be tough enough to do it. However after having a hard couple of months, which left my confidence broken, disheartened in my direction, half a stone lighter and a bit of emotional wreck I wanted a complete change. Something that I had once loved had become a negative space and therefore I decided it was time to move on. I haven't looked back since and am very happy with the decision I made because it led me here. 

When I was 16, I spent a summer volunteering for three different charities and my time that year has always stuck with me. So when I started looking for a change volunteering came to my mind once again and a change of country sounded even better. I started researching a variety of volunteering abroad opportunities and ultimately decided on two: marine conservation in Mauritius and teaching in Bali. I also decided that I would go to Australia after Bali as I would be so close and it would be a missed opportunity if I didn't go. I gave myself a little over two months to get everything ready and boy did it come around quick, as we speak I am getting ready to go on the next leg of my adventure to Bali and will be leaving Mauritius today. I have absolutely loved my time here and wanted to dedicate a post to my four weeks in Mauritius, including everything I have done and learnt. 

Blue Bay
Charity swim round Ile aux Aigrettes
Celebrating the 250th Mauritian Police Anniversary in Blue Bay with a boat trip round the coast
Police march round Blue Bay for their 250th anniversary


Volunteering 
The main reason I came to Mauritius was to volunteer for a NGO project called Lagon Bleu, who deal within marine conservation. Their aim is the preservation of Blue Bay and Pointe d'Esny's marine and coastal ecosystem. They do this by educating skippers, fisherman and young minds about marine biodiversity and protecting said ecosystem, monitoring species, and doing awareness events. I had found the volunteering opportunity on a website called Working Abroad and loved the sound of it, it appealed to me because you would be helping in a variety of ways and sounded like you would be making a difference. It said on the website that you would be helping by carrying out lagoon monitoring (coral reef and fish), beach cleaning, sea turtle research, mangrove planting and monitoring, and also working in local community projects. The project cost £1,115 for four weeks, which included staying in an apartment in Blue Bay, airport transfers, volunteer activities, fees for Lagon Bleu and Working Abroad.

My first two weeks of volunteering at Lagon Bleu were slightly disorganised and felt a little bit frustrating with not much being achieved or getting an insight into the nitty gritty stuff they do. It consisted solely of a volunteer activity once a week, snorkelling at marine park once a week, and the rest of the time monitoring the lagoon whilst snorkelling, but the data collected wasn't always logged or you didn't know where exactly it was going. I do love snorkelling but I chose the programme as it sounded like they made a big difference and did a lot of work. One of the things I was looking forward to doing along with snorkelling was beach cleaning, mangrove planting and going into the schools, however, soon discovered they don't actually do beach cleaning as the beaches already get cleaned and nothing about caring for mangroves has been mentioned. With regards to going into schools they have to be invited and unfortunately I haven't had the chance to go during my time here. My third week had a little more variety to it with kayaking round the coast, helping the NGO pack up their stuff for their office move at the end of the month, a volunteer activity day, being part of the 250th Mauritian Police Anniversary and paddle boarding. My fourth week in the program is by far my favourite as they finally seem to have gained some structure and consistency for future volunteers, this week we did a snorkelling initiation for the two new volunteers, got up at the crack of dawn to do lagoon human activity monitoring to check fisherman aren't doing anything illegal, we went to the fish market to see if everything was by the book, we did a proper transect of monitoring fish and coral activity in a select area, had a volunteer activity day and did snorkelling at the marine park.

My volunteering experience here is quite different to what I had expected but at the end of the day I wouldn't change it as I have met some truly amazing people who have made my experience incredible and who I wouldn't have met if I had worked for a different NGO. I have had a lovely time and didn't expect to meet so many like minded people. I wish there had been slightly more organisation and structure but at the end of the day that is how Mauritians are, they are relaxed and do things at a completely different speed to England. What they need at the organisation is a permanent paid member of staff who looks after the volunteers as at the moment they are a member of staff down and seeing as volunteers are a big part of what they do they should let them help them more. I also didn't like that in their manual under the Eco Volunteer Programme page in the office it said the following "this programme is a cash cow as Eco Volunteers pay a set fee to participate in the programme."

One of the things I have loved the most about volunteering is getting to know the local community, I have never met more friendly or welcoming people in my entire life. They are always happy to help and are just so damn nice. Through volunteering for Lagon Bleu I have also got to see just how close the local community are, especially when the Mauritian Police Force in Blue Bay were celebrating their 250th anniversary. Lots of the local community came out to watch everything and mark this monumental moment. The celebrations started with a boat trip round the coast with the police force on board and then once we arrived back in Blue Bay, there was a march round the town and police station. It was an amazing day and the parade finished in the police station with lots of food + cake.

My only advice for volunteering abroad would be to ask to speak to previous volunteers about their experience to definitely check it is the right thing for you and not to be afraid to ask lots of questions especially when you have to pay a fee to be there. It is your experience and you want to make sure you are getting what you want out of it, I also think to truly get a gist of the culture and what an organisation does you need to be there at least a couple of weeks.

Ile aux Aigrettes
Ile aux Aigrettes
Casual 260kg tortoise on Ile aux Aigrettes
Ile aux Cerfs

Cap Malheureux
Cap Malheureux
Cap Malheureux
SSR Botanical Garden
SSR Botanical Garden
SSR Botanical Garden
SSR Botanical Garden
SSR Botanical Garden
SSR Botanical Garden
Volunteer Activities
One of the perks of my volunteer programme was that each week you get to do an activity that gives the volunteers a better insight into Mauritius. My first expedition was to Ile aux Aigrettes, a nature reserve island that isn't far from Blue Bay and is a sight to behold. The island is home to many rare species that have long disappeared from Mauritius and once upon a time centuries ago Dodos used to live there too. I loved getting to explore the island and discovering different species round every corner: both animal and plant wise. Some of the islands inhabitants consist of tortoises (there were baby ones in an enclosure but not accessible for the public), pink pigeons, the Mauritius Fody, Olive White Eyes and geckos. Even if you aren't much of a nature lover I would definitely recommend it and the tour only takes 1 hour and 30 minutes. It costs 800 Mauritian Rupees for tourists to visit the island, which is roughly £18 and isn't bad for a nature reserve that only has a certain amount of tours per day.

My second outing was to Otentic, which is a really cool eco safari tent lodge in Mauritius that have day packages where you can go on a trip to the beautiful Ile aux Cerfs and then once back at Otentic you can do kayaking/cycling/paddle boarding. I had wanted to go to Ile aux Cerfs ever since I arrived in Mauritius and was so excited to finally get to visit it for a couple of hours, it is heavenly there and looks like paradise. Once we got back from the island, we had the most incredible Mauritian lunch and I honestly felt like I was going to roll back home. The rest of our afternoon was spent kayaking round the river near Otentic and saw the beautiful waterfall that is there. I really enjoyed my afternoon and would love to stay there overnight, I think it would be a really cool experience.

My final outing was to the north of the island where I got to visit Grand Bay, Cap Malheureux, SSR Botanical Garden, The Sugar Museum and Factory, and we also visited Trou aux Cerfs on our way back which is an old volcano. Cap Melheureux is a quaint village that had a stunning beach and church, and was lovely to explore it for a little while. I have also wanted to visit the SSR Botanical Garden since I first arrived and am so happy that I got to go there on my last outing, it is a lovely place to walk around and if you are a nature lover you will be in your element. The Sugar Museum and Factory was by far my favourite place of the day, learning how they transform the sugar canes into sugar was fascinating and I was in seventh heaven tasting all the different types of sugar. 
Gris Gris Beach, Souillac
Gris Gris Beach, Souillac
Mesmerized by La Roche Qui Pleure
Rochester Falls 
Chamarel Seven Coloured Earth
Chamarel Seven Coloured Earth
Chamarel Waterfall
Ganga Talao, Grand Bassin
Ganga Talao, Grand Bassin
Ganga Talao, Grand Bassin
Ganga Talao, Grand Bassin
Ganga Talao, Grand Bassin
Ganga Talao, Grand Bassin
Exploring Mauritius
Whilst I have been 
primarily based in Blue Bay, I have also been quite lucky to see different parts of the island. I visited Souillac, which is a gorgeous and peaceful place on the south coast. The main beach in that area is Gris Gris and it really reminded me a little bit of home as the ocean has a slight darker tint to it and it isn't protected by the reefs, and there was just something calming about the area. Not too far along from Gris Gris beach is La Roche Qui Pleure (that means in English the Rock that cries), true to its name as every time a wave hits the rock, it looks like it is crying. I spent a good amount of time on a nearby hill just mesmerized by the beauty of it all. I also visited on a separate occasion Rochester Falls (based near Souillac), a beautiful waterfall hidden away in a field full of sugar canes.

If you go to Mauritius one of the places that you have to visit is the Chamarel Seven Coloured Earth as it is an incredible natural phenomenon and is unlike anything I have seen before. The colours are really pretty and it is fascinating to walk around, it looks like a big area in photos but it is actually quite small. It really wasn't expensive to visit either and cost about £5 (250 Mauritian Rupees) if memory serves correct. On your way driving down to the Seven Coloured Earth there is the Chamarel Waterfall, which is beautiful and we saw it whilst it was raining so there was a rainbow in the background that made it look kind of magical.

One of my favourite places that I visited whilst in Mauritius was Ganga Talao in Grand Bassin. It is one of the most sacred lakes outside of India and people travel from afar to visit it. It is truly captivating the amount of people who present offerings of fruit, incense sticks and lamps to Shiva in their own private prayer ceremonies, and I found it interesting getting an insight into their religion. There was a man there doing blessings where they say a prayer and draw two red dots on your forehead and merge them together.

I may be a little bit biased as I have stayed in Blue Bay for four weeks, but it is my favorite beach. Saying that I have also found it interesting seeing Tamarin beach, which is known for its surfing and is still very pretty. However, a beach I was disappointed by was Flic En Flac and found it to be very touristique there. Most places can be accessed by bus but as mentioned below a car makes getting to everything all that much easier and you will be able to pack more activities in if you are only in Mauritius for a short time.

Transport
Before coming to Mauritius, I'm not going to lie I didn't do much research into what was the best way to get round the island and upon arriving here quickly realised that unless you have a car or endless amounts of money to pay for taxis, it makes visiting different parts of the island very difficult. They don't have trains here and unfortunately the bus service is about as fun as going to the dentist for a filling. The bus system here is quite strange and the bus stops whenever someone puts their hand out for it in some parts of the country, which means it can take forever to get to your destination and they have lots of bus stops! The driving here is something that I will definitely not miss as they drive like they are in Fast & Furious and have thought we were going to crash more than once, but thankfully I've managed to survive their terrible driving. You would honestly think that they were in a car chase trying to get away from the police and they also don't have much love for their sealtbelts. A hired driver I had once for a volunteer activity tucked his seatbelt underneath his leg, despite having a working buckle.


Money
Depending on how much you want to do here and if you will be eating out a lot, you may want to bring with you a bit more cash with you or bring a credit card to get money out whilst here. I exchanged around £160 when I arrived in Mauritius as it is a hard currency to find in the UK with it often being ordered in specially in UK currency exchange offices, the money I exchanged roughly equaled over 7,000 Mauritian Rupees. However, I also had my debit + credit card with me to get more money out. I did get more money out whilst I was here, but that was because I ate out a couple of times and also rented a car with friends. My bank were actually the ones who recommended to me that whenever you travel you should always bring with you two cards just in case one is stolen and they also said to keep the cards in separate locations. If you intend to bring your card out to a foreign country and use it, you need to let your bank know because if not they will automatically assume it is being used fraudulently and have your account blocked. 


Food
Mauritian food can be quite spicy and oily, which can be a little bit of a culture shock to your tastebuds and stomach but I have had some really nice dishes that haven't set my mouth on fire. If you want to stick to your usual diet you can find all the food you get at home in the supermarkets. One of the things I love about Mauritius is seeing all of the exotic fruits round every corner and being a big pineapple lover I like that it is so easily available here.

Weather
My time in Mauritius has fallen under their winter months but don't be too alarmed if you are going this time of year as their weather is still a minimal temperature of 25°!!! Considering I'm a very pale person who easily gets sunburnt this type of weather has been absolutely perfect for me and I honestly don't know if I would be able to survive their summer where temperatures rise to 40°... There has been the odd downpour every now and again, but it hasn't prevented me from doing anything or being stuck indoors for too long.

Language
If you are worried about struggling language wise, don't as Mauritians speak very good English. Their native language is Creole but in schools they are taught English and French, so you won't struggle to get by.

Packing 
Whilst most of their food isn't expensive here, toiletries can be a bit hit or miss when it comes to prices. I was really glad that I brought suncream, aftersun and shampoo/conditioner with me as in some shops those items were quite expensive for such a small size. Considering I am very beauty obsessed, I barely wore any makeup whilst I was here as I was constantly doing water activities (snorkelling, swimming, kayaking, paddle boarding, etc...) and found it was actually quite nice for my skin to have a break. My most used makeup item was waterproof mascara as it was the only thing that didn't get ruined by lots of snorkelling but towards the end of my four weeks here I had even stopped using that. Whilst on the topic of toiletries, I would also strongly recommend you bring lots of mosquito repellent and even a net, because they are annoying little things and I have been bitten at least twenty times during my stay here (that isn't even an exaggeration as my legs look like a war zone).

Moving on from mosquitos, clothes wise I basically lived in shorts, t-shirts, bikinis and dresses, even when it rains it is still warm! Oh the perks of being in a tropical country... I would also recommend packing some warmer clothes for the evening, like a jumper or a hoodie as it can get a little bit chilly. A raincoat is also a must for when you have rainy days as it can get quite heavy and nobody likes looking like a drowned rat.



Would I return to Mauritius?
YES, 100%!! I have loved my time here and the people I have met are what have made it truly amazing. The beaches are absolutely gorgeous, they look like they have been taken directly off of a postcard and I could honestly sit & stare at the different shades of blue all day. I would love to come back here to Blue Bay and definitely explore the east side of the island more. When I do come back, I would love to stay in a really nice hotel to see that side of Mauritius too.
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2 comments

  1. Beautiful pictures, insightful, interesting, and fully explained. With very useful tips.

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  2. Sooooo gorge Abi it sounds fantastic. Also this is v helpful and will definitely reread if I go to Mauritius. Miss you xxxxx

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