Mauritius - not just another volcanic island
Far from home, but somehow not really?
The Kingdom of Denmark lies towards the north of Europe and far from Mauritius. Mauritius is blessed with tropical climate and is surrounded by kilometres of golden and sandy beaches. There shouldn't be much in common between the two countries. But there might just be anyway...
The day I disembarked the "City of Xiamen" was also the day I met Navin. Navin works for the Mauritian Red Cross and we had been in touch even before I left Madagascar. He's a great guy with more than 25 years of experience within the Red Cross. And Navin immediately became central to my visit to this little island in the Indian Ocean. I say little, but in spite of its moderate size it hosts 1.3 million Mauritians who get along well in spite of being extraordinarily diverse! The bulk is made up of people of Indian decent who came to Mauritius many generations ago. They are generally Hindu or Muslim. The Arabs are also predominantly Muslim. Then there are the Chinese who are mainly Buddhist and likewise have a long lasting heritage on Mauritius. The Christians are predominantly of various African decent and then you also have those of European decent who are mainly Christians. So that's a lot of diversity within culture, appearance, religion, tradition etc.
If you were to believe that we cannot coexist, then Mauritius should be a war zone, but it's not. It has undergone a rapid development since the 70s and ranks as one of the most developed and peaceful countries I've come upon in a long time. Education and healthcare is provided by government along with a social structure that supports those who slip. Take THAT world!! Chances are that Mauritius is better BECAUSE of its diversity and not in spite of it!
Mauritius is the kind of country where you can get anything!
Navin picked me up at the port and told me that he had been looking forward to my visit. Together we would cooperate in promoting the Red Cross and especially try to boost the number of volunteers which had been declining. Navin set me up with wifi and a cup of coffee at a café. Then we proceeded to fit me with a simcard so that we could stay in touch. He left me at Caudan Waterfront which is a top modern shopping mall near a marina in Port Louis. That's the capital by the way...
Turning on your wifi is a good test to tell how modern a country is. This indicates: severely ;)
I called Merethe who is a Danish Dane from Denmark who lives in Mauritius with her husband and their 6 year old daughter. I had been put in contact with Merethe through a good friend who has helped me several times before. Both Merethe, my friend Mette and several other ladies share a Facebook group as women expats. Merethe's husband Jeppe has signed a contract to work in Mauritius for a few years and Merethe had agreed to meet with me and host me for a few days.
Pure Viking fuel!! :)
An hour later Merethe showed up with her daughter Bianca and Bianca's great grandmother Birte. We immediately proceeded back to their home at the beach to devour some traditional Danish rye bread with Danish toppings. Good stuff!! And quite a coincidence as only the day before I had written an email to someone else describing how I miss 4 things from home: my girlfriend, a run in my neighborhood, the taste of Danish milk and the smell of Danish rye bread. Well, that took care of 25%! :)
So, this is was Navin met me with. It was however only some of my activities and appointments!
Before Navin left me he handed me a detailed schedule over my activities from the day I arrived until I would leave. It had been meticulously planned out with appointments and arrangements which involved private companies, Rotary, Mauritius Tourism Promotion Authority, the Red Cross and much more. As it turn out the plan didn't even include everything which had been planned for me! And in addition to the plan I still had all the normal stuff I needed to attend to. Needless to say: I've been quite busy!
My girlfriend makes the front page ;)
I spent the first night in Bianca's room while she slept with her parents. The next day Merethe, Bianca and Birte all joined me as I was slowly swallowed into the plan. We started out by meeting Navin at Bagatelle which is also know as "mall of Mauritius". It's a very impressive mall which fits a very impressive capital. Inside I met Emmanuel who is a prominent businessman in Mauritius. He owns 4 stores inside Bagatelle. The first interview followed and then we proceeded to see his stores. Afterwards we enjoyed lunch together at a high end restaurant called Opium. It sits on top of an Audi dealership and you need to walk through the prominent showroom to get to the restaurant. Quite a combination and I think it works well! ;)
At Emmanuel's garment factory (Citadel) www.citadel.mu
We then proceeded to see Emmanuel's factory where he's household brand Citadel is produced. It's predominantly t-shirts, pools and dresses in high quality, which are packed and exported around the world. Emmanuel is in love with Mauritius and is a phenomenal advocate of Mauritius being the best country in the world. He has even produced a short video to prove it: https://youtu.be/9dorlAImguU
The day continued with a press conference and I once again had to ask myself: "How did I become a person who could ever be the center of a press conference?" It wasn't my first and it won't be my last. But I have no trouble remembering, when I was just a young boy climbing trees like everyone else. That night I went out to eat with Merethe and her family.
The next day Merethe and the others followed me again as I was giving a talk at Aberystwyth University. It was my last day together with Merethe and the family as they were all heading on vacation to Madagascar. After we returned from the university we were all packing and getting ready to leave. But then as we were about to part Merethe and Jeppe called me into the bedroom. They wanted to propose something extraordinary!! "Hey Thor, how about we give you the keys to the apartment and then you can look out for it while we're gone?" Can you comprehend the amount of trust that goes with that?!? This family had only just met me! And that's as you know a huge point within the Saga: A stranger is a friend you've never met before! :)
They left me with a car as well! So I guess you can say I was well set from thereon and out.
This pretty much blows the top off the cuteness scale!!
The day's continues and the Tourist Ministry took over. They have the MTPA (Mauritius Tourism Promotion Authority) which keeps itself busy with many things. One of these things involves structuring introduction trips for journalist, celebrities, bloggers and apparently people like me. Jean-noël picked me up the morning after Merethe and the family had left. I was told to be ready at 09:00 and he was there 08:55am! When you get to warm countries and especially islands then time becomes...less important. Islands often have what we refer to as "island time", but that doesn't seem to be as prevalent in Mauritius and certainly not with Jean-noël who is a very kind and very professional employee at MTPA. He has 2 sons and on weekends they head out together hunting for Pikachu with their smartphones. Oh yes, Pokémon Go has reached Mauritius too...
The Aldabra Giant Tortoises easily grow to be a hundred years old. This one is in www.lavanille-reserve.com which is definitely worth a visit.
Mauritius doesn't naturally have crocodiles, lions, tigers, rhinos, hippos, camels, giraffes and long list of other animals, I would see over the coming days. And at first I though it was silly to import them. But then I realized that we have done the same in Denmark for our nature parks and zoological gardens. And as that though entered my mind I suddenly started to realize how amazing Mauritius really is! Apart from the spectacular beaches and crystal clear waters of the Indian Ocean, Mauritius can also boast some spectacular views of a dramatical volcanic creation. All of that was provided by nature. But in reality Mauritians are very good at ceasing opportunities and making the best out of them. At this point Mauritius can offer you sun, sand and the Indian Ocean on par with other countries. But even moreover they can also offer a modern society and an almost endless amount of activities on par with Iceland! By keeping this up many people around the world may very well be questioning why they should go anywhere else for their holiday?
On my quad just above the many colors at www.lavalleedescouleurs.com
Ready to "fly" down the worlds 3rd longest zip line and getting "saved" at the end ;)
Feeding a Pygmy Hippo at www.caselapark.com who have specialized in offering personal interaction with animals.
"Swimming with dolphins" - this picture speaks a thousand words.
The massive botanical garden is well worth a visit! Good luck with your guide ;) www.ssrbg.govmu.org
The worlds best submarine pilot! Rastaman style!! :) www.blue-safari.com
The Suger World museum includes a rum tasting and is an ABSOLUTE must for anyone who wants to undestand the history of Mauritius. It's brilliantly set inside the old sugar factory: www.aventuredusucre.com
Mauritians basically all speak at least 3 languages. Creole is their common tongue while French and English are inherited from the colonial days, where English was the later. Historically the Arabs found the island first, but the Dutch were the first to colonize it only many years later. And seemingly only to exterminate the famous Dodo bird which apparently tasted horrible. Anyway the Dutch left and the French arrived followed by the English, which is why everyone in Mauritius is driving on the wrong side of the road ;) That by the way, demanded more of me than I initially thought it would. But thinking back I've only driven a few times during the past 3 years, so adding that half the car is on the wrong side of me created a small challenge for me. However I managed not to kill anyone and that's apparently an important part of maneuvering a motorized vehicle ;)
It's called the RIGHT side of the road for a reason! And no Khadeeja, just because I'm sitting on the right side of the car doesn't make it right ;)
Oh yes! Mauritius is modern! Modern, modern, modern! But can the people, the soul and the spirit of the country keep up with the rapid development? Yes actually - I believe they can. But it's not easy for everyone. I'm a visitor and I see a formidable country which boast some spectacular scenery!! But many Mauritians have told me that they have gotten used to the scenery by law Bing in it everyday. That reminds me of Denmark. Throughout 2011 I was working in Bangladesh and didn't see Denmark for a full year. When I came home to Denmark I saw the sun shine through the green leaves above me while the light danced upon a nearby lake. A few tears appeared as I had forgotten how beautiful my own country was. And as the Mauritians, we too grow accustomed to the beauty around us and it fades within our eyes. I wonder which poison we all took? Because I recently visited the Seychelles where so many people were eager to tell me how beautiful their country was.
Regarding the development I can understand a certain detachment from elements of society. Most people shun change and resist it to a certain extent. Some find it hard to keep up as a modern world imposes higher prices and makes life more expensive. Some feel that they are developing slower that society. And some are... But change is the only thing we can be absolutely sure of. And as far as that goes the change Mauritius is seeing is pushing in the right direction. Most Mauritians I've spoken to have said the following of their country: "We are a diverse population that gets along well with each other. We have beautiful beaches and lots of sun. We are friendly and easy to speak to". And in addition to that many are happy to benefit from multiple holidays from multiple religions ;)
Getting a street Roti can make the sun shine ;)
I have felt a change within the Saga lately. It is such a pleasure for me to see how many have started embracing this project, which took its beginning nearly 3 years ago. Perhaps it's something which will pass as I leave the Indian Ocean or maybe it's here to stay? But right now I see how people, companies, organizations, media and the Red Cross have embraced the Saga like nowhere before. I can understand why it can be hard for some to understand the Saga as it is a complex, deep and broad project. But in general terms it includes 3 distinct areas:
1) Complex logistics
2) Promoting the Red Cross Red Crescent
3) Promoting the good in every country
When you look at it like that then it becomes more clear. Overall the Saga is in place to inspire, entertain and educate. And I think we're doing pretty well ;)
Girija invited me for dinner with her family. Great stuff! :)
My deepest appreciation to everyone I have met, everyone who has helped, everyone I have spoken to, everyone who has shook my hand and all who have looked me in the eyes. I apologize for not being able to include everyone and everything within this blog. But I'm not writing a book...not today ;)
Mr. Torbjørn C. Pedersen (Thor) - in second gear
"A stranger is a friend you've never met before"
Once Upon A Saga