MAURITIUS: IN SEARCH OF PARADISE

February 10, 2011 in MAURITIUS | Comments (1)

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Seeking paradise in the Indian Ocean…

Coral reef encircles Mauritius, with warm climate, white beaches and swaying palms. But this is not Robinson Crusoe island.  Mauritius has some 120 hotels (30 five-star), many of them occupying its best beaches. Meanwhile the small island country continues to create five star hotels, by renovating and rebranding old four star properties – or building new deluxe hotels on man-made beaches. There are no beaches left untouched by man…

Yet Mauritus does have some of the flavours of paradise.  I have been here 10 nights, in 8 different hotels and visited dozens more for hotel inspections.  I have enjoyed havens of peace and luxury, with imaginative cuisine, top spas, glittering pools, spacious lobbies, turquoise lagoons and white sands. But more remarkable than all that are the people.  This island nation is as vivid and warm as the climate.

In every hotel I have found them friendly, relaxed, serene, happy to talk. Never pushy. Never stuckup. And beautiful in a graceful natural way. All colours of the human rainbow from ebony to ivory, from gold to copper. Slaves from Africa, cane workers from India, French and British colonists, Chinese traders and textile workers, even Orientally spiced slaves from Madagascar,  have been blended into the cultural mix. With that come all tastes in cuisines and religions. The majority are Hindus, after which come Catholics (the rainbow Creole and a smaller group of French Catholic), Moslems, Buddhists. Many are both Catholic and practicing Hindu. I heard of weddings and funerals that were done both with Christian and Hindu rituals.

In fact there are no natives – everyone is an immigrant. Everyone, whatever their band of the rainbow, will talk to you and tell you their story, about their family, their origins or guessed at origins. Or unknown origins.  Three, four and five generations ago when their ancestors came, contacts were difficult to maintain. This gives it the flavor of an island adrift from the past. Though it suffered slavery and the semi-slavery of indentured labour, now there is freedom and it is treasured.

Being on Mauritius reminds me of being on a cruise. Cut off from our lives and restrictions back home, we talk to one another – as Mauritians do. Naturally, without  compulsion.

“We are all friends …  all of us … no separateness in the groups – though when it comes to marriage its not always so free. Hindu marriages are often arranged still, usually with Hindus, and the whites tend not to marry anyone except whites,” said one informant, though of course the rainbow demonstrates there are many exceptions.

A radiant Creole explained “We are together – all of us – Creole can marry whites, Moslem or Chinese. But not often Hindus.”

The Creole girls are in some way the most fascinating – for their lightness of spirit. Café Latte or gleaming dusky or coppery skin, stretched over carved cheekbones.  And wide white smiles. One of these graceful creatures was a dancer at a Creole evening. Another a singer. Another beside me on the plane to the Mauritian island of Rodrgiues. Yet another worked in a hotel shop. Others were in guest relations. But there are beautiful men and women of every colour.

We spent one night on the island of Rodrigues. There the mix is different – 85% Catholic and Creole, predominantly with background as African slaves. More about Rodrigues later.

Statistics from isla-mauricia.com:

The Mauritian population has its roots all around the world. People of Indian descent form the majority of the population (69%). Kreols, the descendants of the African slaves represent ca. 25% of the population, Christian Europeans ca. 3%. The religious beliefs of the population of Mauritius are as manifold as their ethnic background is: ca. 52% are Hindus, 30% Christians, 10% Muslims and 2% Buddhists. But there is one thing that all these people have in common: they see themselves as Mauritians!

Hotels

I came to Mauritius to see hotels, so why I am I talking about people?

Service is the final diagnostic feature of a luxury hotel, and the people of Mauritius are naturals who give the hotels their special warmth and quality.

 Of course the décor and architecture are also important. So is the food, the views, and beaches. We have been looking at that too on our 11 days on Mauritius.

Every hotel in my list of 4 and 5 star hotels has offered an abundance of fresh tropical fruit, even the usually expensive passion fruit (now in season) and the elusive papaya (flavoursome after ripening on the tree but thereafter hard to transport). There is also an abundance of fresh fish and seafood from the Indian ocean, included happily in half board and superb a la carte, with plenty of flair, fusion, Indian, Creole, Chinese and French. Mauritian authorities are protecting their resources and fishing offshore with nets is strictly limited – which means there will be fish for the forthcoming generations.

Beaches? They are soft white – or golden sands – many stetching for kilometres, while some of the newer hotels have industriously created attractive artificial beaches over former (mud)  banks. Lagoons – some the colour of radiant turquoise, others sensitive to floating sand and weed after rain rushing down the rivers.

BEST SERVICE

Four Seasons – which can hardly be a surprise, as they have Four Seasons to live up to. But talking to staff I found this explanation: “they  treat us well – best in Mauritius – we are happy so we give good service.”