Leaving home … and coming back

It will be three months on Friday since I left my family and friends in the UK for a new home in Mauritius. I needed an occupation permit to live and work on the island which I was soon granted with clear instructions on what I needed to do at Immigration and passport control if I wanted return as a resident rather than a tourist.

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It was a strange feeling as the plane took off from Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam airport at Plaisance. ‘I’m leaving home’ I thought then fell into a deep sleep, well, it was 11:00pm.

Arriving in Dubai at breakfast time I was looking forward to spending some time off the island where there was space, skyscrapers, shopping and sand. It soon wore off; I felt unsettled and uneasy there in the concrete and glass jungle. I came back early from this multi-billion legoland dream in the desert and felt immediately comforted as I boarded the plane less than 48 hours later to return to Mauritius.

Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam International Airport is designed to remind visitors of palm trees

‘Have a nice holiday,’ one of the Mauritian officials wished me as I approached the immigration desk in Plaisance airport.

‘I live here,’ I replied proudly with a little indignation in my voice.

The heat and humidity hugged me as I stepped out into the airport car park, I grinned as the unique sugar cane sweet aroma of Mauritius hit me.

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I smiled the sunniest of smiles as I later drove past the amazing mountains on my way back to the apartment for a shower and a change of clothes.

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I was home.

https://youtu.be/QlXiGj85rOA

Kung Shee Fat Choy

That is, Happy New Year to those who follow the Chinese celebrations. On 8 February, a public holiday let many islanders celebrate this with family, friends, food and fireworks!

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The year of the monkey

A monkey symbolises unpredictability so that is what the Chinese predict for this year; who can predict what a monkey will do?

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Even the supermarkets had tasteful displays
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Many shops had decorated their windows accordingly

This restaurant had some interesting bottle decorations.

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Actor Leslie Phillips’ favourite Chinese restaurant

It is traditional to bring gifts for good luck. Two Chinese colleagues gave me some snacks to eat and take home.

Nian Gao in a red and gold bag (lucky colours)
Nian Gao, Prawn Crackers and something fried and crispy that tastes of doughnuts all delivered in a red and gold (lucky colours) bag

It was also a day when the Mauritius Meteorological Office issued a severe weather warning and it started to rain … heavily. Quite a relief as the temperature was in the late 20’s and 90% humidity causing serious strain on any recently applied anti-perspirant spray!

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Michael Fish had predicted long sunny periods

A strong anti-cyclone and low pressure West-North-West of the island has intensified into a ‘tropical disturbance’. Gusts of 100km/h and serious rain left beaches empty and many sheltering indoors, watching films and eating popcorn.

The sea was warmer than it looks!
The sea was warmer than it looks!

Children don't mind swimming in the rain

Torrential rain turned into persistent showers in the early evening and then back into an electrical storm which knocked out the power in the Flic en Flac area. Driving back to Tamarin was exciting, the only light coming from the occasional other car but mainly from lightning crazily illuminating the landscape from the blackest of sky.

‘No electricity. How will I get into the apartment?’ There is an electric gate, keypad entry to the block, elevator to the apartment, air conditioning …. hmmm.’

Unsurprisingly, the security guard was awake and reluctantly pushed the gate open to let me in the apartment block car park. The keypad worked somehow, I climbed the stairs past the silent elevator and used the service door into the apartment.

I was home safe and sound.

The view from the balcony was incredible, the most amazing lightning, heaviest thunder, torrential rain.

Next time, I will be prepared to photograph it properly.

Note to self:

  1. Buy a tripod
  2. Read camera manual on photography at night
  3. Book diving lessons

Yes, it does rain sometimes in Mauritius, it is almost like being back in the UK!

The journey to work the next day had less traffic, all the schools were closed due to the weather, but there was a lot of surface water and flooding.

The wipers were struggling to keep up
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Only overtaken on the inside seven times this morning!
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If I heard it correctly, local radio say the bad weather will last for three more days

So there we have it, after three months for bathing in sunshine, I am now drowning in rain… and it is the summer!

Many roads were closed today due to flooding
This was the only way into the office car park after 9am, many roads and streets were closed due to flooding

P.S. The local newspaper, Le Mauricien, published the rainfall around the island in the last 24 hours.

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Very glad I do not live in Mon-Bois

In case you don’t know what 77.6mm represents, …

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Because of the weather, the Government is sending us home now!

It is expected to stop raining by Friday!

http://www.lemauricien.com

Stunning sunset in Tamarin

Sometimes a view can stop you right in your tracks and you can only wonder at the true beauty of the world we live in. Stunning is a word often over used yet it is only one of many superlatives that shout out to describe the sunset witnessed this week. The photos have not been manipulated with software or photoshopped, only cropped, and do not do justice to the moving light show that those who were looking were privileged to experience.

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Tuesday 19th January at 18:54

It would have taken ten more minutes to drive home but I was impatient to stop and take in the beautiful sunset developing in front of me.

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Tuesday 19th January at 18:56

I had pulled over into a lay by, crossed the road to look down over the cane fields before the sea at Flic en Flac on the West Coast and spent a few minutes taking some photos.

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Tuesday 19th January at 19:00

The sky was changing colour fast so I decided to finish the drive home to continue taking photos from my balcony. I had to rapidly change my mind as the sky was suddenly going red or was it blue so I turned off the main road, went straight to Tamarin beach and ran from the car to the shore. It was spectacular.

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Tuesday 19th January at 19:08

No one was talking. It was very calm and peaceful, even the dogs had stopped barking and the birds tweeting. There were a handful of people watching the ever changing sky, some trying to capture the images on their phones, the only sound coming from the waves as they lapped on the beach.

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Tuesday 19th January at 19:09

I wondered if the solitary body boarder was enjoying the view as well.

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Tuesday 19th January at 19:11

A swimmer had been drinking in the view from the sea.

The colours suddenly were washed with light shades of grey, the vivid reds and blues quickly replaced with dusty pinks and oranges in the rapidly fading light. It went dark and then lighter again.

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Tuesday 19th January at 19:17

Finally the view from the balcony.

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..and then it was like this!

This was a staggeringly stunning sunset, indescribably beautiful and a natural phenomenon.  You just had to open your eyes to believe it.

Ten weeks as an Expat

When you actually agree to move abroad, the clock starts to tick and the countdown has started.

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This clock used to go ‘Tick Tock’ in England but it is now going ‘Tic Tac’ over here.  It does not smell minty.

You make your lists, tell your family and friends and a date goes in the diary.

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First thing to do? Book the removal company, even if you do not know where you are staying, you know when you are leaving! Order packing cases, parcel tape and bubble wrap. Now book your flight. Prepare for sleepless nights thinking about the things you have forgotten to do.

You are now moving house and country, there will be a different climate, culture, language and you have a new job to start. Advice comes thick and fast for ‘The Big Project, the task, actually picking up your life and moving it, in my case to the paradise island of Mauritius.

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‘You are going to Mauritius? Wow! Won’t you miss the rain and grey skies here?’

People know Mauritius as a fabulous holiday destination. Well, it is so much more than 5 star hotels and palm fringed, white sandy beaches surrounded by a turquoise lagoon under a fabulous blue sky!

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Mont Choisy public beach

You know where everything is where you currently live, this is what you will be leaving behind, local knowledge. There is support all around for you from friends, colleagues and especially family. You know where the shops are, where your doctor and dentist are, the supermarkets, shops, cinemas, theatres, the gym, how to travel, book things, pay for services and get things repaired. This is familiar and what you take for granted .. until you don’t have them!

Where do you get advice in the country you are going to and who do you listen to? I asked people who had been expats, family and friends, and their advice was excellent but not specific to where I was going.

“Don’t turn down any invitation, you never know what you may experience or who you may meet”

The internet was of course a source of information, some of the international removal companies were great but one website stood out not only for advice but also for support, both before and after moving.

http://www.expat.com

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I joined this website which has immediate access to expats living all around the world. Having registered as a potential expat specifically for Mauritius I now had access to people who had already done what I was going to do. This was invaluable, easy, free, immediate and totally up to date unlike many travel websites or blogs.

Information I needed concerned basic but essential things like:

  • How do I get a work and living permit?
  • Do I need a visa?
  • How long does it take?
  • How do I open a bank account?
  • What is the health care like?
  • Where is a good and safe place to live?
  • What is the public transport like?
  • Can someone recommend a Lawyer, Accountant, Doctor, Chiropractor?
  • How easy is it to buy a car?
  • Where do you sign up for a mobile phone, internet, tv?
  • What is the process for importing your belongings and tax implications?

The beauty of the expat website is that there is practical advice before arriving and after. This was a great help to me.

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I was lucky in that my new work colleagues went out of their way to help me too, not everyone is that fortunate. Moving on your own is a little bit more challenging than as a couple or a family but that is the same wherever you are relocating.

The day came for the boxes to be collected and there it was, my life condensed into nine cardboard boxes ready to be despatched, by Thompson Airlines I later discovered, 6,000 miles away to this beautiful tropical island.

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Boxes labelled, filled and sealed, ready to be collected and despatched

I flew to Mauritius two days after the boxes were collected. It was very exciting to see the boxes being delivered … having paid just under £3,000 import tax, all refunded after my work permit was issued by the BOI, 19 days after arriving.

Now which cardboard box has the Twiglets in?
Now which cardboard box has the Twiglets in?

It was a bit like Christmas opening the boxes, many things I had forgotten I had packed. Not one thing was broken, not even these New York Parade cows!

Even the cows enjoyed moo-ving to Moo-ritius
“We have moo-ved to Moo-ritius”

Every box had been opened by Customs, the contents checked against the itemised spreadsheet showing quantity and value, then repacked and resealed. I checked eight boxes and ‘I still hadn’t found what I had been looking for.’

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‘Ah ha! I have now’

Talking to other expats in your own language can be very rewarding, relaxing and supportive. http://www.expat.com offers forums and messaging to do this not only with people of your own nationality but also expats from other parts of the world. Organised events and meetings allow you to socialise with other families and people like yourself to share experiences as an expat and make friendships.

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“How, where, what, when?”

These are the questions that become more urgent when you are alone abroad, in a different country and you don’t know quite what to do. Colleagues, neighbours and other expats can help you, so can the locals who in my case have been truly exceptionally friendly. Their support and advice together with the opportunity to make friends with others like yourselves has been truly great.

Ten weeks have flown by.

I would like to thank all the people who have been so kind and helpful to me whilst I have been here. I am thoroughly enjoying the Mauritian culture and way of life … but their driving needs improving and the traffic jams are worse than I had expected … but it gives me time to listen to the odd podcast …

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.. and to think about what I am going to cook for dinner. I certainly miss the familiarity of the shops I used to frequent and the brands on sale, I have not recognised a single brand of chopped or peeled tomatoes in any supermarket yet. Only two types of potato are on sale, potatoes or sweet potatoes. Hang on, there are three varieties of this!

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When you last get ‘Smashed’ for 82p?

The weather has been very hot, even the locals say it is hotter than usual, well over 35 degrees and not below 20 degrees at night. Its essential to drink lots of water and the occasional ice lolly.

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I came out in red spots having licked one of these

There are so many brands that are unfamiliar, it is difficult to choose. You can always ask an expat but I prefer to buy a few different packs or tins with varying prices and see what they are like. Microwaveable rice, ‘cooked in two minutes in the microwave’ is not on sale anywhere. The amount of space given to rice is incredible. Here is a small selection of packs of rice and these are only the 5kg packs!

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Unfamiliar brands to many an expat!

And finally, my second goat story of the year. On the way to the supermarket on Saturday, three goats crossed the road in front of me.

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Yes, there were only three

Then, in the supermarket I noticed this …

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Was this a sign?

After ten weeks, which have flown by, I have learnt a lot, achieved so much, seen so many things I had not expected and met some really good people. It has not all been plain sailing, or snorkelling for that matter, but enormously rewarding. I impatiently look forward to the next adventure and experience; it cannot come quickly enough.

‘Banané!’

Happy New Year in Creole
Happy New Year in Creole

Warm Greetings, no, Very Hot Greetings to you all and thank you for the Christmas cards sent by friends and family. They truly had so much more meaning to me this year for many reasons.

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Christmas was very different as you can imagine this being my first in the beautiful tropical island of Mauritius. My son and his girlfriend came to visit for two weeks and it was extra special to spend it with them and explore some more of the beaches, scenery and restaurants on the island.

My festive decorations were minimal but effective and were taken down on 12th night. Christmas was not the major event it is in the UK for example, much more fuss was made of New Year.

Nice to have Santa Claus, purchased in Strasbourg, France, for 34 Francs many years ago, up on the balcony!
Nice to have Santa Claus, purchased in Strasbourg, France, for 34 Francs many years ago, up on the balcony!

Lots of places still have their Christmas decorations up, perhaps until Chinese New Year on 8 February when there will no doubt be more fireworks.

Anyway, who needs decorations when beach looks like this?

Sun, sea and sand at Le Morne
Sun, sea and sand at Le Morne
A lot of time was spent wondering if a coconut was going to fall
The decorations on this tree were just hanging there. A lot of time was spent wondering if one of them was going to fall … and how heavy it might be.

We enjoyed excellent lunches at the Lux hotel in Le Morne, La Pirogue in Flic en Flac (‘free and flat land’ in Dutch), Le Captaine in Grande Baie and Ile Des Deux Cocos near Blue Bay just to mention a few!

When you see the sea and it is this colour you can only gasp
Grand Baie. When you first catch sight of the sea and it is this colour you can only gasp. It is amazing.
The blue marlin weighed
Blue marlin caught on a day’s fishing trip with one of the excellent Sport Fisher boats from Grand Baie. The one on the left weighed in at 144lbs. Their noses weren’t stuck in the floorboards although it looks like it!

We had a long, lazy brunch one morning at Lacaz at Cap Tamarin and Le Moustache, Cozy, Medium Rare, Lazy Lizard and La Bonne Chute all served memorable dinners for us in Tamarin – five totally different places to eat, all recommended.

Curry
Seafood curry with pickle, tomato, sweet cucumber, rice, lentils and accompanied by the essential mouth-awakening chilli paste, a sort of ‘alight bouche’
Delicious fresh fruit platter
Delicious fresh fruit platter to cool the flames from the chilli paste

One night, we had a long drive for dinner at Savinia in the Bagatelle shopping mall on one of the busiest shopping nights of the year. Not only did it take us ages just to get into the full and overflowing car park at the start of the evening and 15 minutes to get a space but the restaurant were adamant they did not have our reservation. Fortunately they squeezed us on to a table outside which was kind; most Mauritians are very kind. Imagine our surprise half an hour later when the restaurant we should have been at telephoned to ask if we were still coming. The 90 minute drive could have been avoided with a five minute walk. It also took us twenty minutes to find the car as I could not remember where I had parked it.

With temperatures regularly above 35 degrees and humidity between 75 – 90%, regular trips to the sea or dips in the pool were essential. The beach at Le Morne was particularly spectacular but most of the beaches here are… especially when you see the colour of the turquoise lagoons and blue sea.

Spectacular backdrop to the beach
Spectacular backdrop to the beach at LUX Le Morne

The holiday season is now over, most people are back at work and the schools have started again. This means the traffic is jammed and journeys are taking much longer! It gives you time to listen to a podcast, reflect on the holidays or contemplate the beauty of the Mauritian mountains; such iconic views of the island.

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There is no road rage here, much to the surprise of many a visitor, despite overtaking on the left (rather than the right) and pulling into gaps at high speed, with or without indicating, that a small mouse would struggle into. Give way is the only way!

New Year was celebrated feverishly by the local population who have more than a mild obsession with letting off fireworks, in particular firecrackers.

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It does not need to be dark to let these off nor does it need to be New Year’s Eve
A flamboyant tree in full bloom at Pamplemousse
‘Royal Poinciana’, a flamboyant tree in full bloom at Pamplemousses

There are many wild dogs on the island whose main activity is either to bark for hours on end when an ant walks past or if a leaf falls off a tree up to a mile away. Strangely, the fireworks don’t seem to bother them.

Even the wild dogs like to relax on the beach and take a swim after a long night barking
Even the wild dogs like to relax on the beach late afternoon and take a swim before a long night barking

Conclusion. All the dogs here are deaf….from fireworks.

 

Return to the country

It is a lot warmer on the West coast than in the centre of the island, maybe 5 degrees difference, and strangely less wind.  Feeling extremely hot, I jumped at the opportunity to go for a drive and a walk in the forest close to Grande Bassin.

This time the deer were not hiding.

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They kept a watchful eye on us
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The trees are mirrored beautifully in the still pond, no wind here either

 

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This herd quickly got up to hide in the trees and bushes

There are thousands of deer in the forests, wild boars and hare as well. You need to keep your eyes open at all times, you never know what you might see.

This frog could jump the length of my size 10 shoe
This frog could jump the length of my size 10 shoe

I was lucky to have chosen the right clothes today as I had checked the excellent weather forecast…for once!

http://metservice.intnet.mu/probabilistic-forecast.php

 

 

A walk in the country

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Is this the real Mauritius, I thought as I walked through glades of fir trees, stepped over cones and pine needles forming a soft, spongy mattress and out into a brilliantly sunlit clearing?

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I had come to walk in the South on a baking hot day (or should that be a barking hot day?)

The wide open spaces gave no refuge from the unforgiving sun beating down. After climbing this hill it was back amongst the trees again.

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It was so cool and refreshing to walk here, picking our way carefully downhill.

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Cool streams of water tumbled over rocks reflecting the green canopy above.

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Mushrooms occasionally sprouted from the undergrowth.

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Now this actually did look like a real Christmas display at last!

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The water was crystal clear and the air so fresh.

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A few geese were getting disturbed on the walk

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Each of these seeds will grow a palm tree

Near the exit, there was a simple house with a small garden and …

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… a redundant tank for prawn cultivation! They kept climbing out and going for a walk in the night, allegedly!

You never know what you will find exploring Mauritius!

 

Racing at Champ de Mars

 

Champ de Mars and Signal mountain in the background
Champ de Mars with Signal mountain in the background and Port Louis city centre to the right

It was a real surprise to discover that one of the oldest horse race courses in the world is in Mauritius; who would have bet on that? Just on the edge of the city, the Mauritius Turf club was founded by the British in 1812. I was delighted to attend the last meeting of the year.

www.mauritiusturfclub.com

The Grandstand was packed well before the first race
The Grandstand was packed well before the first race

I got there early, was allocated a parking space next to the grandstand by two nice policemen who even asked me for betting tips. ‘Don’t bet on what I bet on’ was my advice. Then I realised that my ticket and members lounge access I had left at home.

Not much use on the table back at the house
Not much use on the table back at the house

‘They will let me in without that, ‘ I reassured myself, ‘Oops!’ I am sure Colonel Draper never had to show a pass.

Colonel Draper promoted thoroughbred horse racing on the course, even riding on some of his own horses!
Colonel Draper promoted thoroughbred horse racing on the course, even riding on some of his own horses!
The cleverly planted trees have grown well to keep everyone cool

You can bet down here, buy refreshments and watch the races on tv but if you go up one flight of stairs you can watch in style from here…

A grandstand view of the course on the left, drinks and food served from the back of the lounge and betting on the right. Perfect!

Yes, they did let me in. The staff could not have been more helpful and gave me a replacement badge.

Rules and traditions were well respected and fortunately I had not forgotten to wear a suit and tie because then I would definitely have had to watch from the stands!

Whilst studying the form and trying to look knowledgeable, I heard the Mauritius Police Band marching on to the course. I went for a look and listen.

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The excellent band played some highly unusual selections including ‘Mama Mia’, the theme from the film ‘Rocky’ and ‘Sex Bomb’

I returned, due to the heat and the need for liquid refreshment wondering what Mousse T and Tom Jones would have thought of the last song played.

Time to go and place my bet but it was slightly confusing, maybe it was the heat?

What on earth is a 'swinger'?
What on earth is a ‘swinger’?
The winning ticket? ‘Non!’ My horse was placed 6th
I would have understood this more if it had been upside down!

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Several more lost bets later, it was now time to go to the paddock and study up-to-the-minute form…and not just the fillies!

This stand was in front of the paddock where the horses were paraded before each race and it was absolutely packed!
This stand was in front of the paddock where the horses were paraded before each race and it was absolutely packed!

You could also look from here for the next winner.

Everyone was hot but the horses looked strangely cool ... even after their race
Everyone was hot but the horses looked strangely cool … even after their race
'Its behind you!' This jockey seems to have lost his horse.
‘Its behind you!’ This jockey seems to have lost his horse.

So I backed this one ‘Evergreen’.

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‘Come on, Number 7!’

It was a thrilling race…

In the Members' Lounge, the men were more interested in the racing than the ladies ... unless they won, of course.
In the Members’ Lounge, the men were more interested in the racing than the ladies … unless they won, of course.

…And Evergreen won! I didn’t do quite so well in the next race.

The one I backed is just out of the photograph ..  about half a kilometre to the right
The one I backed is just out of the photograph ..  about half a kilometre to the right

The sounds of music from a Bollywood film echoed loudly across the course so I went for a look.

You don't get this at Royal Ascot!
You don’t get this at Royal Ascot!

I wasn’t the only one looking for a tip.

The form and odds offered were keenly studied in all parts of the course
The form and odds offered were keenly studied in all parts of the course

I got back just in time for the next race and my second winner!

The one I backed is out of the photograph .. to the right
All the races were keenly contested

It was a great day, faultlessly put on by the Turf Club and I am thoroughly looking forward to next year already.

Porlwi by Light

Space ship landing?

For three nights in early December, from 7:00pm to midnight, the main streets of Porlwi (Port Louis in creole) were traffic free and the city illuminated with colourful displays.

The streets and roads were jammed with people and it was difficult to move. The more patient and polite amongst being forcibly barged onwards by some of the chubbier locals!

Not easy to move to the beat … or Give Way!

Pedestrians could wander amongst street entertainers, market traders, shops and cafes whilst admiring buildings, trees, statues bathed in light and shaking to music.

Sax and tugs and rock n' roll
Sax and tugs and rock n’ roll

Even the yachts, catamarans and ships joined in; the cruise liner in the background just had all its white lights on.

Small boats, seemingly unmanned, circled noiselessly in the port
Small boats, seemingly unmanned, circled noiselessly in the port

Old buildings were given a new lease of life in technicolour as their foundations shook to a heavy, loud disco beat. (Does anyone say ‘disco’ anymore?)

 

not sure

Going home by car was a challenge with most of the streets still closed until midnight.

Getting away was very slow (but lovely to sit in air conditioned comfort)
Getting away was very slow (but lovely to sit in air conditioned comfort)

A great way to showcase the city with a free exhibition with much to see and enjoy.