A whole new world down under

There are many challenges in moving to a new country, some you have no choice to face, others can be tremendous fun as I found out when I recently learnt how to dive. After all, crystal clear, turquoise lagoons, a coral reef that almost entirely circles the island and a sea temperature rarely below 25 degrees is quite appealing. So I signed up for the open water diver course and I discovered and experienced that Mauritius is a brilliant place to learn how to dive!

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Having parted with some rupees and filled in a few forms, signing away any personal liability, you get one of these manuals with  instructions to read and remember Section One (77 pages) and answer all the test questions at the end of each sub-section. The manual was a combination of physics, biology, fashion and plumbing.

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“Very important, don’t forget the rules!” I have never actually reached 50 bars let alone drunk in all of them.

The first lesson was in the pool at a nearby luxury hotel but I had to get kitted up first.

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I never imagined wearing rubber before, well unless it was shiny and red

You need a snug fit as the water seeps below the surface of the neoprene shortie wet suit and keeps you warm. Now the mask.

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Supersavers, Vision Express or Bailey Nelson it is not!

I had always had problems with leaking when diving before (from the face mask). The advice was that it should just stick on your face if you just put it there. I found one that did and did not have to strap it on as tight as I had put masks on before. Good tip!

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Hmm. Now have they got my size and favourite colour?

Size 43 blue fins now checked for size, time for that jacket thing. Good tip number 2, peel the heel of the fin back down, it is so much easier to put on.

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Waistcoats are in this year and black is the new black

The jacket, or BCD as they call it, was surprisingly comfortable. This is great, I thought, it will be easy to swim like this underwater. I had forgotten the most important part, the cylinder, the regulator (breathing system) and weight belt.

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Oh yes, this goes on the back

The golf ball is to make me stand out from the other qualified divers. That actually was not too difficult!

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This strap-on increased my weight by 3kg

And finally, the weight belt to counteract ‘positive buoyancy’!

I set off for the first dive in the luxury swimming pool to learn how to breathe and move underwater, get used to the equipment and manage some safety procedures in case of emergency. Walking the 100 metres to the pool, bent almost double with the weight of the cylinder and equipment was fun and I heard a few giggles from the tourists relaxing on their sun beds.

So, at last, into the pool and my first experience of scuba diving. Wonderful! Cleaning your mask underwater was a vital skill to learn. This involved letting some water in the mask, tilting your head backwards and breathing out through your nose being careful with my contact lenses. I repeated this manoeuvre several times as the two young bikini clad ladies swimming above me were totally unaware of the view they were affording me!

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After a dive, time to give it a thorough wash in clean water and let it dry

The next lesson was in the sea and really good fun where I felt the feeling of being almost weightless underwater, saw lots of colourful fish and coral and practised more emergency measures like running out of air and complete removal of my mask.

The third lesson had to be aborted at there was a terrific and persistent rainstorm. This is a tropical country and when it rains, it rains but it is not cold.

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You can’t go out when the visibility is poor and the sea is rough

Despite being ready and it not mattering that it was wet in the sea already, conditions were just too rough, too windy.

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Time for the first dive boat to come back … fast!
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It was too stormy
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Never mind, time for a nice expresso to warm your cockles

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Now some Mathematics to learn and to understand my ABT from my TBT!

..and after the training, the theory, the dives and the exam you get one of these!

..and finally, after the training, the theory, 244 pages of the manual, the dives and the exam, you finally get one of these! I am proud!

Thank you to everyone at EasyDive, Le Morne, especially the extremely patient Guillame, (..”Now this is very important..”) who helped me get this far.

I have signed up for the advanced course and underwater shots are promised for a future post!

A walk, a wrap and a shine

You never know who or what you are going to come across, even on a short walk at lunchtime. I had gone out for a chicken wrap, a juice and a shoe shine and came across a blast from the past. People wear replica football shirts across the world, predominantly Liverpool and Arsenal ones here, but I was surprised to see this well worn one at lunchtime.

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Also, the fabulous PEM, a local artist, was looking splendid as usual. He paints and also carves wood sculptures. He laughed out loud when I showed him a photo of Roy Wood, “Is that your Dad?” I asked.

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I wonder if he does drive a Porsche; the paintings aren’t cheap!

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The cobblers in the street today were busy but they had time to give me a good old fashioned shoe shine.

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First the nugget paste
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‘No polish, no shine. No polish, no shine’
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Then the brush. (Note to self: Don’t wash trousers and towels together).
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Strong fingers needed to stitch and repair
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All the tools necessary to repair shoes and sandals
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My foot was hot after a minute with the duster!

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Good job I brought my sunglasses, my shoes are super shiny now!

Mountains and Sugar Cane

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Mauritius is surely defined by many as an island with a beautiful lagoon and long sandy beaches but for me it is the people, the lush green sugar cane filled fields and the mountains. Your eye is drawn to the swaying green leaves of sugar cane, growing at up to 2cm per day under the hot sun.

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Every journey taken has a backdrop of the mountains, every swim in the sea has a range to look at. Some islanders take a walk or a bike at sunrise up in the mountains when others are asleep or sweating at the gym. When so many offices and homes are air-conditioned, it is a treat to get out into the fresh air before the day starts to heat up.

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Montagne du Rempart, the Mauritian Matterhorn.
Montagne du Rempart, the Mauritian Matterhorn with the last remnants of a rainbow

Walls of wisdom

There is always something interesting to see as you drive around the island, who knows what is around the corner. A rather weather beaten local school had let the pupils brighten the boundary walls with some colourful and educational illustrations.

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Not just with the name of their school, but with messages for all, young and old.

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Here are selection of some of the best.

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Maybe the students should be allowed to paint the school as well?

P.S. This must be catching on, at St Benoit’s School in Tamarin they have even painted the container permanently sited in the yard.

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It has stopped raining!

It has been raining hard for over five days. It turned into a torrential downpour on Wednesday morning when over 100mm of rain fell in 12 hours on the island, nearly 200mm in some areas like Pointe aux Canonniers in the North of the island. This caused flooding and landslides; houses, roads and crops were damaged. Over 300 people had to be evacuated from their homes and the Government wisely announced that all businesses and offices were to be closed after 11:00am. It was chaotic but now the weather has returned to normal.

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Phew! What a scorcher! It is hot again! 34 degrees.

Oh yes, diesel is 29.50 rupees per litre, equivalent to £0.57, €0.74 or $0.83.

The sun is highlighting the freshly watered vegetation on Mont Calme as well.

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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

Mo pe aprann koz Kreol Morisien

Well that was for my Mauritian readers!

So what do you do in Mauritius when it rains? Stay indoors is probably the ‘korek’ answer and you can do that at a shopping mall and on the way back from ‘laplaz’, the beach …

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Brief respite from the rain but not the wind

There was a big ‘Super U’ supermarket at Flacq on the East coast with some 50 or so smaller shops around it and dry inside.

On the mezzanine floor there were some small independent shops and, surprisingly, the simplest of museums.

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Early rulers did not have a hair problem with humidity it seems

It highlighted the early colonisation of the island and how it developed.

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Specialist shops on the island sell model ships like this, some much bigger, which get exported all over the world.

http://www.bobatoshipmodels.com/en/home.php

Dutch, French and English ships would have dropped anchor off the island  .. but their ships would have been a bit larger.

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Early settlers had well ventilated homes, essential due to the primitive cooking utensils.

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A farmer might have used an ox like this, hopefully not as thin, or sought an alternative job as a model for Abercrombie and Fitch.

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Well illustrated and written boards were educational, thoughtful and revealing
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Willian lookalike demonstrates that family life was pretty simple too

Un-leased shop space has been put to excellent use in the shopping centre, the Mauritius Museums Council should be congratulated for putting this exhibition in the heart of the community with free and east access so visitors can imagine what life was like for the early inhabitants of the island.

http://www.mauritiusmuseums.mu

Now back to my Creole lesson,

Mo Angle, mo sort Langleter’

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.