When I was an exchange student, I was made aware of the Norwegian fascination with syden—the South. Being from sunny California, I never quite understood it. But since moving to Switzerland, I’ve learned that waiting out the end of winter, especially in the Alps, can really test your endurance. So this year, I took up the popular practice of flocking south with a couple of friends. Destination: Mauritius.
Way down in the Southern Hemisphere, to the east of Madagascar, far away from the noise of the rest of the world, floats a little piece of Eden.
Home to endemic species of flora and fauna found nowhere else in the world—the most famous of which was indubitably the doomed dodo—Mauritius was uninhabited until the 1600s, when it was colonized first by the Dutch, then by the French, then by the British.
The French brought slaves from continental Africa to work on sugar plantations. When slavery was abolished in 1835, plantation owners started importing indentured laborers from India. Around this time, many Chinese also arrived to the island as contract workers. Mauritian culture is thus a veritable blend of European, African, and Asian heritages.
We spent our first two days in Pereybère on the northern coast hopping from beach to beach, with the goal of soaking up as much sun as possible.
After all, what better way to recuperate from an eleven hour flight than long naps on the beach?
When hunger hit, we dipped our tongues into the local flavors at one of the many beachside food shacks. The culinary highlight? Discovering rougaille de crevettes, a Creole specialty of shrimp cooked in a deliciously kicking tomato-onion-chili sauce.
Other Mauritian classics include mine frite and bol renversé. Mine frite is the local equivalent of chow mein. In fact, both mine and mein are phonetic variations of the Chinese word for noodles, miàn (面). Bol renversé—French for ‘overturned bowl’—is a popular meal of rice, veggies, and fried egg served in an upside-down bowl over a plate. Who would’ve thought dishes with Chinese origins and French names could be so, well, Mauritian?
Further away from the beach, street food vendors sell tamarind juice and faratha, fragrant curries wrapped in flatbread. At mere pennies apiece, you can easily make a whole meal of them for only a couple of dollars. (The vegetarian ones are apparently also vegan, so even those with dietary restrictions can feast cheaply.) And in times of smaller hunger, freshly cut pineapples or coconut-sprinkled ice cream will do the trick.
Day three saw us head towards the south. On our way, we stopped by the village of Saint-Pierre, the starting point for hiking Mauritius’ third tallest mountain, Le Pouce. Named ‘The Thumb’ by the French due to its shape, the mountain even drew Charles Darwin to its summit with its allure. On the day of our hike, we were joined at the top by some fellow Americans.
Le Pouce rewards its climbers with some of the best panoramas in all of Mauritius. To the north, one can get a great view of the capital, Port Louis. But the most stunning view is definitely of the rest of the mountains in the Moka Range. The hike up Le Pouce is not particularly difficult, but a great workout nonetheless. Chests puffing with adrenaline and hearts capitivated, we descended and continued onwards to our new home at Grande Rivière Noire to the south…