Uninvited guests

I have welcomed many visitors to my new home and also met some that have come in on their own!

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Gekkos are our friends; they eat mosquitoes

Most of the ones I have seen are light brown or bright green. They make strange noises at night, chirping like a cricket or even barking like a dog. Yes, really! The can walk easily up and down a smooth wall and have amazing pads on their feet that just stick. Strange fact. They have no eyelids, unlike lizards, and have to lick their eyes clean.

I saw a big sign for Rotring pens in Chinatown recently and went back to the shop to buy one. They were brilliant for drawing in A level Biology and drawing cartoons in letters as I was recently reminded. Unfortunately they stopped selling them in 1998 but the sign was covering a large hole above the shop door so they had not moved it. I must do some drawing one night.

Undeterred, one night I put some black ink in my fountain pen and looked at a pen and ink Christmas card for inspiration just as cockroach scampered across the floor. If you spray a cockroach with insecticide such as the appropriately named “Doom” you may be surprised by the cockroach indignantly sniffing it all in, turning round and flying towards you squeaking, “is that all you have got?” A flip-flop or sandal is more effective I have found and better value.

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Cockroaches can survive a nuclear explosion and may well inherit the world if things go bad

They tend to be the size of an adult male thumb, slightly brown on the back and pretty fast movers. You don’t see many during the day, but they are more active at night and can be disturbed wandering across the floor just as you turn a light on. Somehow they can survive without food or water for a month which in this climate seems amazing. They make a quiet sort of hissing sound but stop when flattened by a flip flop… like thisssssssss one.

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Next, something silent but stingy…

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The Yellow Indian Wasp hovers like a silent hang-glider

Now these little blighters are quite scary. Firstly, they are almost completely yellow, secondly they are silent and thirdly, they are bigger than the average wasp and the sting is severe to mind numbingly super painful. You can be relaxing quietly when you are suddenly aware of one hovering, ready to swoop silently on you. Beware.

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Not sure if it is a male or female mosquito

So I started with the Gekko which is our friend, can be slightly alarming at first, the barking chirp is mildly annoying after a couple of hours trying to sleep but they eat the evil enemy known as the mosquito, the deadliest animal family in the world. This drawing actually is the most scary of the three I have attempted and seems to have some of the menace they give out. It is the female that bites, the male doesn’t. I have also heard that the male makes a whiny noise, the female doesn’t.  So the next time you are falling asleep and you hear a mosquito close to your right ear, don’t worry, relax … but if you hear nothing, there could be a female just about to bite you! Useful? I hope so.

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!

Chinatown Food & Cultural Festival

The 12th annual festival in the Chinatown sector of Port Louis was held for two days and it was well worth attending. I had been promised that several live Chinese Lions would be attending. Pictures say 1,000 words and here they are!

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The crowds were huge, enticed by the street food, chinese lanterns, live entertainment and music. Now where is that lion? In the Mane Road perhaps?

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I thought you said “Lion Dancing”….

This Line Dancing group had come over with their cowboy hats from Reunion Island, 40 miles away. Quite bizarre to see them dancing to authentic Chinese music rather than Achy Breaky Heart! Now where is the Lion Dancing!

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The troupe may look bored but they had been playing for a few hours and had two more to go…the lion was enjoying it though but where is he?

Here he is!

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This was the first Chinese lion I saw, definitely the most animated, a sort of cross between Rod Hull’s Emu and Animal from the Muppets but bigger and yes, my head did fit in his mouth.

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These guys drummed and clashed cymbals for hours

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Not all the entertainment on offer drew the crowds. This band was really good too!

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The crowd were enthralled by the Magician and his card tricks ably assisted by his two young volunteers: translations supplied by the cheeky female clown below.

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She had been encouraging the crowd to go and watch the 7:00pm magic show,

“Hey, you’re English! Will you come and watch?” she shouted over the crowd at me.

“Yes, of course,” I promised!

“A man keeping to a promise; I will believe it when I see it!”

“It will be magic if I do,” I replied.

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Three princesses selling china. Royal Doulton, perhaps?

Anything and everything was being sold on the streets. No opportunity missed to sell to a packed crowd!

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It was so busy in places you just could not move. That was not bad at all because you could soak in the atmosphere and smell the food too!

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Those crispy things are very filling
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Lai Min restaurant offering their signature dishes for very reasonable prices

The aroma of barbecued pork and duck made me feel ravenous.

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Not sure what any of the snacks are called but they were delicious and I could only get four in my mouth without choking
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No time to haggle over the price, he has the tongs and is going to fill his bag. (A Chinese Tong?)
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Yeo! Naturally I chose to taste several of their excellent products!
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Tamarind is a sour and sweet fruit and a distant relative of the string bean. Surprised that Yeo do not sell milk.

Including this one as all the food had made me thirsty.

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Every home should have one! A painted chicken. I wanted a crispy fried one.

He had another 800 chickens in his checked bag but the Father Christmas dolls in his black bag were not selling well.

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“Anyone seen Chi Chi or the bamboo stall?”

It was so crowded, you couldn’t move at times in the main street.  You never knew who you would bump into, even a panda with a balloon.

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It would not be a Chinese festival without an inflatable dragon, now would it? This one was safely inflated in a quiet side street and reminded more of a Welsh dragon than a Chinese one.

Even mice were on sale! (You just have to go to a field to get one for free!)

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Mice to see you, to see you, mice

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No Norwegian Blues on sale, they are too rare, of course, beautiful plumage.  These colourful birds are also being advertised on Twitter

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Mutant Ninja Turtles taking it easy and waxing lyrical about life.

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No they are not slices of carrot!

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Also extraordinary how a shop that can sell general groceries can also suddenly sell handbags when there is late night shopping going on.

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A relief to get in to a quiet side street
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These balloons were on sale at inflated prices.
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Impossible to predict what you might find for sale on the street.
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If you can’t move, just look up at the lanterns
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Not all the side streets were quiet! Family gatherings and a place for a chat
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Great friendliness and good humour in a lovely atmosphere
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Several places to grab and ice cream or a sorbet; better than the ice cream van outside Chinatown still playing “Three Blind Mice”

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This ice cream vendor on a bicycle took the torch off his forehead so I could take a photograph!

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Every table taken for dinner in one of the many Chinese restaurants open. Fortunately, there was a free table in this one!

Having really enjoyed the evening, I set off home and just outside Chinatown I almost fell over all the street traders selling all sorts of things to passers by.

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T shirts for sale. Any size you can find!

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Another street trader outside the Chinatown festival not missing an opportunity

This was a really happy festival, lots of fun, food and festivities celebrating Chinatown, the local community and its heritage. “Zhùhè!”

I look forward to next year.

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!

Maha Shivaratri

On a Thursday in early March I noted that Monday the 7th was a public holiday for Maha Shivaratri. I wanted to understand what it was for and its significance. There were signs for it all over the island sponsored by local industries.

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It is a Hindu festival celebrated every year in reverence of the God Shiva. There are twelve Shivaratris in the year with the Maha Shivarathri being the most holy.

I was told that in Mauritius Hindus from all over the island will head for the Grande Bassin, the crater, where there is a lake now seen as their major Hindu prayer site.

 

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Pilgrims set off as early as Thursday to walk to the lake where they pray and collect water to bring back to their village.

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Time to carry the flip flops as fresh rain cools tired feet!
Walking during the day was hot work
Walking during the day was hot work

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Many walk in the early evening or at night when it is cooler and even more carry idols of the God Shiva, some blocking the road and causing the odd traffic jam. This could be a 40 mile round trip, and half of it uphill.

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Difficult to overtake on a mountain road !

Some of the structures carried by the pilgrims were amazing. Walking with some of them for a while was a gentle and moving experience.

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This  group had a support car in front playing quite loud music
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Pole essential for moving branches and live cables out of the way of the structure being carried

Along every pavement, through every village, there were people offering food and drink, shelter to sleep, rest, pray or just encouragement to carry on walking.

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Every temple was decorated and open to all visitors with lots of chairs to rest on. Incredibly, almost everyone was walking in flip flops.

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Not a walking boot in sight

Even those caught in traffic jams were offered refreshment to take whilst they were delayed.

 

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Major, minor and village roads were all filled with pilgrims carrying structures to and from the crater

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I was offered enough fruit to open a greengrocery shop when stopping to take photographs in Vacoas.

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What started for some on Thursday finished on Monday night at midnight. Remember, they walked all the way there with their structures and took them all the way back.

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This was a festival that I found very moving and genuinely happy to have experienced a bit of, what a lovely atmosphere.

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Thank you to all the bystanders who gave me food, drink and snacks whilst I watched, photographed and walked. To all those who made it to and from the crater, many congratulations. Next year, I shall walk more, much more… but not in flip flops!

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

At the Barbers; The third cut

A haircut always makes a person feel fresher, cleaner and more awake. Heat, sun and humidity does the opposite. What happens when you combine them? Read on!

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The same person has cut my hair for many years whilst running his award winning salon with maximum effect, so it was with some trepidation that I visited my first hairdresser (or barber as I am told, ladies go to hairdressers). In the heart of Port Louis, my ears throbbed to loud club music as my head was firmly pushed backwards into a black basin. I was asked what colour I wanted in my hair.

‘Pardon?’ I replied. He repeated the question several times as I was not only being deafened but unprepared for the question.

‘Nothing!’ I said. Apparently many men ask for black hair dye, which explains the colour of the sink. After the wash a peppermint smelling, scalp tingling rub was massaged into my wet (undyed) locks and I was led to the chair to be cut, Mauritian style!

‘Is that short enough?’ he enquired having run something borrowed from an Australian sheep shearing farm up the side of my head.

‘Well it is a bit late to ask me now!’ I replied, my right ear looking like a giant dried apricot stuck beside of my now shorn head.

‘No shorter, please‘, I stated firmly, a slight tremble in my voice.

Within seconds and array of different electric razors, chain saws and scissors attacked my hair from all sides. Minutes later there was more hair on the floor than in a Hollywood actors’ wig factory. Walking out later, feeling lighter and like my head had been squeezed between two lift doors it looked so narrow, I resolved to invest my £8 somewhere else next time.

The second, third and all subsequent haircuts were very good. I went to The Gentleman’s Emporium Barber Shop in Black River.No thumping music, good humour, no industrial shearing equipment and excellent two guys who really knew what they were doing.

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A throne to have your hair washed in, interesting things on the walls with an Irish theme and a wall for first timers to sign their name on.
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Walls have ears but in Barbers’ they have mirrors
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Feeling clean and tidy again … but where has my other ear gone? On the wall perhaps?

They have also opened a new shop in Caudan Waterfront next to the Labourdonnais Hotel.

https://web.facebook.com/damosgentlemansemporium/?_rdr

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