Le Morne Brabant

Mauritius is a beautiful island filled with many things to discover and enjoy but nothing could have prepared me for two mornings hiking on the West of the island. The first trip was to climb up Le Morne Brabant and the second, to hike up the Tamarin Falls and swim in some of the seven cascades. Nothing could have prepared me for two of the most enjoyable days I have spent on the island in the last ten months.

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Le Morne from the sea on the West coast. The hike was from the left to right and the summit

This blog will deal with Le Morne Brabant. It forms an important part of the history of the island and is a now world heritage site.

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The entrance to the heritage site, opposite the beach and car park, showing the terrifyingly steep cliffs from the top

In the early 19th century, slaves would escape to Le Morne and hide in the many caves on the mountain. When slavery was abolished in February 1835, the police went to mountain to tell the slaves they were now free. They were not believed and many tragically jumped to their death, fearing the consequences of recapture.

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The view half way up Le Morne Brabant with the West and South coasts in full view.

Le Morne beach is one of the island’s most beautiful and is a peninsula on the South Western tip of the island. There is an aerial view often used in travel brochures of the lagoon looking a little like a waterfall and an opportunity to see both the South and West coasts from the top of the mountain. Public access to the mountain had only recently been granted and a new road had been laid for access.

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I wanted to learn more about Le Morne and its role in the history of Mauritius so I chose a guided tour with Yan, the founder of Yanature. His company has permission from the Gambier family, the owners of Le Morne, to take visitors across their land and on the mountain. This was an excellent decision.

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Having met opposite the Paradis hotel, we drove a short distance from Le Morne to the main coastal road and then through a private access gate across some fields and up a rocky unmade road suitable for 4 wheel drive only. The weather was perfect. Around 15 of us, all ages and build, listened as Yan and his colleague Zack gave us a brief introduction to the walk which was expected to last around 3 to 4 hours.

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The first part was a walk up a gentle slope in the early morning
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Some pretty wild flowers to spot on the way up

The sun was making it difficult to photograph the West coast view but the South coast was looking amazing.

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A stunning view which has to be seen to be truly appreciated

Yan gave us a short talk on the what we might see on the way up the mountain, some safety advice and some tips on how to manoeuvre the tricky parts of the climb.

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Time for a water break and words of wisdom!

The weather was improving by the minute, sunny, warm and acres of blue sky. Beautiful.

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Some of the hike was like taking a walk along a country lane

You need to be reasonably fit to do this hike and walking boots or shoes are very useful! On the steeper parts of the climb you have to go slow and work out where to put your hands and feet. There is are ropes in places to help as well.

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This hiker has just passed the national flower of Mauritius on his right

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The view up can be daunting. Staying close to the rock and spreading your hands and feet gives good anchor points. Believe me!

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The views of the South coast as you climb are superb
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Sometimes you have to stop to let people go the other way
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Trochetia Boutoniana (Boucle d’Oreille)

This is the only place you can see the National Flower of Mauritius in the wild. It flowers from June to October.

It had taken us about 90 minutes to get to this viewpoint over looking Le Morne and the coastline used by hundreds of kitesurfers each week.

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The bottom left hand quarter of the photo usually is filled with kite surfers. Either having breakfast or not enough wind! This is the view of the illusion of waterfall as seen from the air

The last steep climb seemed to take an age and it was frustrating to see people already there.

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Nearly there. “It is easier coming down!”

And so, two hours after starting the climb, we are at the top, 1825 feet above sea level.

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No sign of Julie Andrews anywhere
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Time to take a rest on the edge … if you are not frightened of heights
It had to be done
It had to be done

So after 15 minutes admiring the views and getting our breath back, we started to descend. It really was easier going down with your back to mountain rather than facing it going up.

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It does look a bit steep going down!

It only took 80 minutes to get to the base of the mountain and it was much easier with the rope.

This is definitely a hike to do with a guide and I could not recommend Yan and Zack from Yanature enough. They were great company and great fun to have an unforgettable morning with.

http://www.facebook.com/yanaturemauritius

http://www.trekkingmauritius.com

 

Amuse-bouches

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The view from the top of Le Morne Brabant

I have not posted a blog for two months now but I have been busy photographing and enjoying so many things that Mauritius has to offer. Here is a little selection of images to whet your appetite for the many blogs that will follow.

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Tamarind Falls
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Cane fields at Souillac
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Quatre Bornes Saturday Market
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Red whiskered bulbul in a coconut palm on the beach
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Pont Naturel
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Lord Shiva at Grand Bassin
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An offering at Grand Bassin
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Idols at Grand Bassin
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Kestrel Valley
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Crystal Rock
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Dolphins at Tamarin

It has been amazing!

Domaine des Aubineaux

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Pooches on the porch

This colonial house was built in 1872 and is now a museum at the start of the Tea Route in Forest Side, near Curepipe. Yes, there is tea produced on the island.

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The house was the home of the Aubineaux family and originally built in wood.

The guide sends you into the attic via a circular staircase. There is a very casual display of, well, things you would find in an attic in the 1950’s including camera equipment and wind-up gramophone.

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State of the Ark photography and The Joe Loss Orchestra on 78rpm

On the ground floor, you can explore the main parts of the house.

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The house is filled with original period furniture, paintings and photographs.

It was extended and refurbished years ago adding, amongst other things, a wide central corridor by taking space away from the main rooms; this was very unusual at the time. The house was also the first in Mauritius to have electricity installed which must have been a shock.

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The bed was harder than the floor but the room light and airy
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Original wallpaper and some lovely rosewood furniture

The house and its contents give you a very good idea of what life was like in those times on the island.

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They knew how to entertain in those days as this extending table displays

Some of the wood used in the decoration and construction of the house came from shipwrecks.

It has been a long time since these ivories were tinkled
It has been a long time since these ivories were tinkled
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The local Philharmonic Society would play music at the house. (Gramophone was clearly not loud enough).
Plenty of rum from St Aubin distillery to choose from
A great selection of aged and flavoured rums from St Aubin distillery

The stables have been transformed and include an essential oil distillery.

Nice to have a small distillery in the back garden
Nice to have a small distillery in the back garden, this one produces flavours
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South facing side of the house over looking the stables and the stunning garden
The shop has tea and gifts on sale
The shop has tea, rum and other gifts on sale

The Floral Park has many trees endemic to the island and some exotic plants too; well worth a stroll around.  These palms looked amazing, the trunks so neat and tidy.

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Palmier Royal or Roystonia Regia

I will continue the Tea Route at a later date: it may be a bit of a rum do.

http://www.saintaubin.mu/larouteduthe/

Casela Nature and Leisure Park

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This was originally a bird sanctuary and has gradually developed to become a major tourist attraction on the West Coast between Cascavelles and Tamarin.

With over 250 hectares, Casela is home to 1,500 birds as well as white lions, Bengal tigers, cheetahs, hyenas, camels, pygmy hippos, white rhinos and giant tortoises amongst others. There are also zip wires, mud karting and other activities.

Having enjoyed African safaris I was only really interested in the giant tortoises and the birds.

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Loose ruck practice
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Time for a nap after eating a leaf

It is amazing how fast these tortoises move when there is food around.

The birds have so much colour, it  comes from the most unbelievable paintbox.

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Latino Lovebird
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An impressive display
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Scarlet Ibis
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Fischer’sLovebird. Just impossible colours!
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Not a Norwegian Blue but wonderful plumage
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Blue Indian ring-necked Parakeet
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A very large canary
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A pair of ducks going for a swim
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Mother hen preventing chicks from getting too clucking close
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Guard duty

It was enjoyable to see the birds at close quarters with such amazing colours.

A very successful enterprise but give me a game park, everytime.

Casela Nature and Leisure Park

Views and Blues

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Sugar cane covers almost all of the island and, as it is cooler, has just come into flower. It will stop growing, ripen and be harvested over the next six months.

Everyday I find myself looking at the sky and the sea and appreciating the various shades of blue. Blue is the colour, of course. The mountains and sugar cane seem to be in almost every view of the island and look stunning illuminated by the Indian Ocean sunshine.

I drove to Grand Baie in the North for an early meeting; the sea is a very special of shade of blue there, almost metallic, it always surprises me.

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The East side of Grand Bay, the early morning sun reflecting on the sea

The second photo was taken a few minutes later, having turned to the West.

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Just after sunrise in West side of Grand Baie

This is a fishing area and the hull of the one behind was being worked on by five men, it had been damaged by coral.

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It took a while to get the right angle to photograph this as the men kept standing up to see what I was doing!

The next morning I was up at dawn to go dolphin watching.

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Early morning winter sunlight is not so spectacular on the West coast.

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The dolphins were feeding deep in the water for a change
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Mother and child

Many more boats started to appear with tourists eager to go swimming and snorkelling among the dolphins.

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It was getting crowded and so we decided to head for home.

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Returning to Black River an hour after sunrise, I was stunned by the blue of the sky, the green of the vegetation and the reflection of both in the lagoon.

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It was like a mill pond; beautiful.

Dragon boat racing

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Caudan Waterfront in Port Louis harbour is often used for displays and exhibitions as it is usually well supported. The Chinese Dragon Boat Festival was no exception.

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The Waterfront was looking splendid in the Winter sunshine (yes, it is really Winter). The coastguards had to move their boats to clear the racing area.

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New shiny flags have appeared in Place d’Armes overlooking the harbour
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The latest Bollywood film was a big distraction to many
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A crowd gathered in the sunshine around the Caudan arena to watch Chinese Lion dancing and other displays. It was not raining.
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The Yoo Sin Boat dance
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Horse tail swishing
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Not now Kato!

The first race!

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A clear winner and three tying for second place.
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They all had to turn around, not easy, and bring the boats back for the next teams to race.
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The drummer is vitally important for the rhythm and the dragon for good luck.
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Multi national crowd waiting for the second race
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The four dragon boats are in position … or are they?
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No, not quite. Back a bit.

Yes they were but no sooner than three boats were touching the wall, the fourth would drift away!

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Ready with a starting pistol and a fan

Seconds after this, the Officials’ boat had to be moved away from the wall delaying the start by another twenty minutes.

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And finally they are off!
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Fuelled by desire, spirit, dim sum and chow mein they sprinted to the harbour entrance
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Next stop, Hong Kong!

I love you Sugar Kane

 

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The title of this art exhibition unsurprisingly piqued my interest. I remember this was the name of the ‘dumb blonde’ character that Marilyn Monroe played in the film ‘Some Like It Hot” but it was the reference to sugar as well as a painting in an advert that made me walk to the gallery in Port Louis.

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The entrance was almost prison like with shutters and padlocks covering some windows and doors. Not knowing quite what to expect, I went in, was given a handout guide and was warmly welcomed to the free exhibition.

 “No form of violence can ever be excused in a society that wishes to call itself decent”

Nelson Mandela

The curator’s written introduction wiped the smile off my face, this was more serious than I had expected. She wrote in the notes,

“Violence spoken, and violence underneath the skin are two themes around which the exhibition turns”.

I am not a student of art but know what I like and don’t like, (boats and ships I hear some say!) It does interest me to a degree to know the deeper meanings of a painting or what an artist is trying to represent but here, without the curator’s notes, I would have been completely lost amongst the 23 exhibits.

'The Wolf's Theme'. Simon Gush (b. 1981, South Africa)
‘The Wolf’s Theme’. Simon Gush (b. 1981, South Africa)

The first exhibit. Now what is all this about? I came here to see paintings! Confused? Oui! Now what do we have here? Music stands,  the score from Prokofiev’s ‘Peter and the Wolf’ and some rope. In Prokofiev’s 1936 musical fable, the wolf is represented by the horn section and swallows Peter’s friend the duck. He is caught bravely by Peter who also, despite warnings, catches the wolf with a noose made of rope.

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I could not see a duck in any of the horns

The wolf is seen as a threat in Mauritius and so relates to the shape-shifting werewolf, ‘loup-garou’, which has been sighted on the island after a devastating cyclone.

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‘Untitled Installation’. Prajakta Potnis (b. 1980 India)

This may represent stress and violence erupting from a surface of domestic calm? Others will have their own views as to whether it is art or not. I did actually want to wash my hands before realising it was an exhibit but now I was starting to take this all seriously.

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“Double Date” by Mawande Ka Zenzile (b.1986, South Africa)

This was the artwork used in the advert for the exhibition. It was textured with cow dung and oil paints. Really. It reminded me of the film, “12 years a slave”. Shocking.

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‘Shame’. Penny Siopsis (b. 1953, South Africa)

The shades of red and orange in the faces that make up this hand stamped print have layers and layers that are not obvious in the photograph above. The word ‘shame’ is spelt out over 100 times in the lower right hand corner.

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‘Isililo’. Zane Muholi (b. 1972, South Africa)

This stunning, blackly veiled self-portrait made me stop and look for many minutes. The white of the eyes and the vertical stripe, the contrasting textures. The image stayed with me for days. It commanded my attention, even now as I type this blog. I wanted to know the story behind the photograph and even more about the photographer who I researched later. Maybe you will too.

Walking back to my car whilst pondering ‘what is Art’, I realised how little graffiti there is anywhere in Mauritius. I had hardly seen any and then by chance I came across a small area that had been painted for last year’s PORLWI by light festival.

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A three walled car park had this on the left hand wall
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This was the central colourful exhibit
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A panoramic photograph of the right hand wall

The black and white painting of Mauritian structures on the right hand wall is so clever, amazing street art. Look closely how the bricks and windows blend into the painting.

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Extraordinary street art

Time to drive home. Wait a minute, there is street art everywhere!

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A cheesey photograph!
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Another cheese advert; even the cow is laughing at the photographer

Some of the best advertisements are on buildings; posters don’t survive long in the sun, heat and humidity.

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Even the buses have a bit of art about them

This building gives a clue to what is in the nearby forest, over 60,000 deer.

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Over 60, 000 deer live in the forest in the south

Driving past the turning for Tamarin beach I spotted this on the side of a convenience store wall.

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Tamarin is home for some goats and dolphins.  It is also a good spot for surfing and bodyboarding as this shows!

And finally, this is the art that nature exhibited just a few minutes walk from home.

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Sugar cane flowers, silvery golden in fading sunshine

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Art is everywhere, you just have to open your eyes.

http://www.icaio.org

Wish you were here

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The local newspaper, Le Mauricien, and some free magazines like Kozé are a good source of what is happening on the island. As I am not on Facebook, I was not aware of the local advert for a Pink Floyd tribute band playing at Le Morne Fishing Club until the night before the concert.  I had high hopes of getting a ticket. The venue is only a mile from my home and not surprisingly next to the beach. I never knew it was there and thought the best way to get a ticket is to go down and buy one; “Allons-y!”

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Security was tight!

It was surprisingly well hidden behind the Black River Police Station and I had to work hard at persuading the “Jobsworth” gatekeeper to let me in without a members’ car park pass. “Hey you, over here!” he barked at me with paranoid eyes. Having been guided to park, surely moor, in between two large boats, I walked into the spacious clubhouse bar and enquired about a ticket.

“Sold out completely two days ago, 450 tickets,” I was told firmly by Seamus the barman, “No chance of a ticket for love nor money; the guitarist is as good as Gilmour.”

Seeing my obvious disappointment, a member came over and said I could stop, stay for a drink and watch the rehearsal. I said thanks and I did. If only I had been on Facebook!

The band’s crew were erecting an impressive stage, video and lighting set and the band were getting ready to rehearse. I was really surprised at how professional the whole setup was and felt more than a little sorrow that I was not going to see the show.

I chatted to the member about the fishing club, it’s history and stayed for about half an hour by which time I had not heard a single note of music, only a few dogs barking on the beach. I had watched enviously as the set was built for the next evening’s concert by the sea under a clear night sky not obscured by clouds, a fat old sun or an eclipse.

“Well, you have stayed for half an hour so, well, I know Frederick has a spare ticket, would you like it?”

Agreeing with this obvious logic, I replied “Yes!” Frederick came over and said, “Do you want to speak to me?” “Yes” I replied, “what’s, uh the deal?” I bought the ticket grinning broadly for the princely sum of 450 rupees (£8.33 at a pre-Brexit exchange rate).

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I arrived at the club, parking outside the wall, not quite sure to expect; I was in for a real treat. You had to buy tickets for drinks and food. A few hundred people were already outside in front of the stage having a good time chatting and catching up. Some familiar faces said hello, the ones who could remember me, and introduced me to their friends, even someone’s Mother, but I felt a bit of a lost sheep, one of the few expats there. The bar area was pretty full too resonating to the sound of laughter and the clink of wine glasses.

Clouds of smoke were coming from the food area, I don’t know how the chef could breathe. Chicken, burgers and Boerwors (but no pigs) were being expertly cooked on a flaming BBQ a.k.a. braai. I must do a braai one of these days.

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Fed and watered, there were no empty spaces in the arena in front of the stage.

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Stage lights on, cheers from the crowd, the band walk on, here we go!

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The show was superb, it was just like seeing them in the flesh.

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I was lost for words but not for the songs I knew.

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He is over there on the left, in front of the two backing singers

The lead guitarist was brilliant, fearless, modest and note perfect.

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The sound quality was clear and loud but not so loud to get brain damage and no echoes. The audience loved it, some comfortably numb probably due to the Johnny Walker Red Label on special offer!

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Watching groups of friends, arms around each other, having a great time singing along with the band to songs I know inside out, 7,000 miles from home and where most of Pink Floyd’s music was composed.

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‘Hey Teacher….!’

It was strange I was loving the music but I could not remember a day when I felt more homesick than this. The stage in front of me, the ebb and flow of the sea lapping at the shore to my right, the gentle breeze a pillow of winds, marooned in a sea of happy people to my left and I felt strangely alone in the surreal atmosphere, almost poles apart from the locals.

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The stage was lit with paint box colours, any one you like, competing with the night light, some of the original Pink Floyd videos playing at the back of the stage and the audience rocking along with the band.

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I walked back to my car wishing that one of these days I will get a bike, drove the short distance home, nobody home or signs of life except the odd mosquito but Pink Floyd joined me instantly as I put the ipod on and blasted those so familiar songs again looking out over my balcony at the dark sea. Black River is no Saint Tropez, it is so much better than that and has a saucerful of secrets just like the fishing club.

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Question. How many Pink Floyd song titles did you recognise in the blog?

Answer. 46.

Tropica Dingue at Mon Tresor

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There are so many things to do outdoors at the weekend in Mauritius but the first Tropica Dingue to be held on the island grabbed my attention. It was at Mon Tresor so I went along to see what it was all about.

But where is Mon Tresor? It is on the southernmost coastal plain of Mauritius, a natural landscape in the South East, close to the airport and earmarked for a sustainable urban development project. A combination of countryside and seaside against a backdrop of undulating sugar cane fields, the Christiane Vallet forest and century old trees near Mare aux Songes, where bones of the dodo have been found.

Tropica Dingue, or Tropical Madness as it translates, is a mix of trail running/walking/climbing  with obstacles to get over, under or around, for teams in fancy dress who are prepared to accept the challenge against a backdrop of sun, palm trees, beach and a lagoon.

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‘Are you Rrrrrreddddddeeeee Mow-rish-us?’

I headed for the excellent Holiday Inn, drove past and turned right towards the old Mon Tresor sugar factory. It was easy to find as most of the competitors had arrived early and were getting warmed up by the enthusiastic, cheerleading trio on stage.

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‘Put your hands in the air, crouch down, say Aaah!’ It was like being being arrested by a dwarf doctor (think about it!).

Muscles were stretched and warmed as the competitors followed the keep fit/dance routines as jubilant and frenzied tunes pumped from the DJ tower overlooking coconut lawn as much as the adrenaline.

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One last chance for a photo and more encouragement from the excellent DJs who wanted to get in on the act

The starts were staggered as this was all about participation and not a race. The sun came out just as the first teams left the start.

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‘3,  2,  1, GO!!!’ Armed only with smiles, the assault course awaits!

First, the tyre obstacle challenge.

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These excellent convicts showed their skills at escaping

There were some fantastic costumes ranging from Superheroes to Neon Pink keep fit outfits.

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Two of the braver outfits to tackle the course in. They were wise to bring orange scented nappy rash cream with them.
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The ‘Panama Papers’ costume was a very clever idea
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You could not miss this team!

The promised backdrop of sugar cane fields was truly stunning, the cane flowers blowing in the breeze coming from the sea.

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The sugar cane harvest starts in June and lasts for nearly six months

The coastline was looking particularly blue with frothy, snow white surf soaking the black rocks on the shoreline. Perfect for a bit of fishing.

Stunningly captivating coast line

What a beautiful sandy beach to walk along, just as nature intended it.

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Half way along the beach, the competitors had an obstacle to get under. Can you see them in the distance?

The sand was warm and soft as competitors scrambled under the nets no doubt tempted by the sea lapping at the shore.

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Hey! No time to build sandcastles

Plenty of photo-opportunities for Enrico, the official photographer.

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…and he took lots!

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Hot work to do this in wigs, madness actually. Tropical Madness.

For some the sea was just too tempting and the opportunity to cool off for a bit and enjoy the view.

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Escape from Mon Tresor!

Having had a drinks break, there was a nice walk/run before a big challenge loomed up ahead. Most stopped running when they saw it!

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You had to pull yourself up and over, sliding down the other side. For some this was easy but for the more gravitationally challenged, they needed a lot of assistance, slings or a JCB.

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‘Pull the rope!’ ‘Push my feet!’

Gloves, dry trainers and a hefty shove definitely helped.

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A fantastic team of volunteers assisted on all the obstacles and could not do enough to make the day enjoyable for all the competitors.

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‘Put the soles of your feet on the slide, bend your knees and LET GO!’

Not wishing to pull the obstacle over, some chose to walk around it. Wise.

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Feeling tyred

Dragging a tyre by a rope along the dusty ground around an obstacle took some determination.

The final obstacle was a water slide, not for those scared of heights or muddy water.

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‘Come on it, the water is lovely’
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The slippery slope to success
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A bigger splash

The end now in sight, competitors pulled themselves out of the pool and headed for the finish.

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The Finish!

Clutching a few sugar cane flowers, another team finishes the First Mauritius Tropica Dingue, happy have discovered where Mon Tresor is, enjoyed a fun couple of hours and looking forward to some dry, clean clothes and lunch!

Many congratulations to the organisers (especially Marvellous Melanie de L’Estrac), all the sponsors and the team from La Reunion who put on the event. It certainly showed that the 1,400 Mauritians who took part not only have a great sense of humour but also tremendous spirit as they wholeheartedly threw themselves, literally, into Tropica Dingue.

I would like to sign up for next year before it is sold out.

 

Official movie

http://www.montresor.mu

http://tropicadingue.mu