Pamplemousses, Mauritius

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Like Réunion, the island of Mauritius has gone through many name changes: Ilha do Cirne (Island of the Swan, Dodo bird was mistaken for a swan,) Isle de France, and Mauritius, as control passed from one European country to another, Holland to France to Great Britain. At the end of the war between France and Great Britain for control of these islands, Réunion was awarded to the French and Mauritius to Great Britain.

Named for Prince Maurice van Nassau of the Dutch Republic, the island gained its independence from Great Britain in 1968, and became a republic in 1992, including the island of Rodrigues, with only about 400 citizens. Sir Seewoosagur Ramguolam became the first prime minister of the newly independent Mauritius. The botanic garden that we visited later in the day was named for him.

The island was uninhabited until Europeans landed here. Now, it’s home to about 1.2 million people. Mauritius was the home of the Dodo bird, which became extinct within a few years of sailors stopping here for food. The Dodo was a flightless bird, thus easy prey. In the early days ebony was exported, but due to its very slow growth, taking between 60-200 years to mature, it was soon nearly wiped out.

We were greeted by dancers as we left the ship this morning.

Mauritius was hit fairly hard by the tropical cyclone and suffered some damage throughout the island. We could see cleanup continuing in a number of areas, and there are still some flooded fields. Mauritius has been suffering from drought for about ten years so this rain was truly welcome. The island is surrounded by coral reefs that protect it from tsunamis.

We went to the town of Pamplemousses, which means pomelo, a citrus fruit that looks a bit like a grapefruit. Our first stop was St Francois D’Assise Church, constructed in 1743, one of the oldest buildings of Mauritius. It serves the oldest parish on the island.

From there, we crossed the street to the  Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam Botanic Garden, established in 1736, the oldest Botanic Garden of the Southern Hemisphere. We saw giant water lilies, beautiful lotus flowers, many palm trees, including the Talipot palm, which flowers only once in its lifetime of 30-80 years and then dies. The garden is home to quite a few fruit bats, the only mammal that is endemic to Mauritius.

The giant water lily pads live about three weeks, but the blooms live only 4 days. On the first day the flower is white, on the second day it is pink, the third day dark pink, and the fourth day it dies. The pads have thorns on the underside to protect them from predation.

We were fortunate to be able to visit the lotus pond which was inaccessible yesterday because of flooding.

Our final stop was L’aventure du Sucre L’aventure du Sucre (Sugar World Museum, ) which chronicles the history and production of sugar here in Mauritius. It rained fairly hard while we were there, but it’s a warm rain, so we didn’t mind too much.

We sampled a few types of sugar, from light to very dark (full of molasses,) as well as a few rums. Now we have to find room in our already overpacked suitcases for a few bottles of rum and packets of sugar. Oh well, I suppose I can throw out some useless shoes!

Speaking of packing, we have to have our bags out the door by 11pm. Every time I think I’m almost finished, something else shows up in the closet. I think the few items left there get busy reproducing when I turn my back.

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The Peak of the Furnace

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Welcome to France! The island of Réunion is an overseas department of France. It’s a small island, only about 970 square miles, with a population of over 800,000 people. The island is one of three Mascarene Islands, including Mauritius and Rodrigues. It has a relatively young coral reef, only about 1,000 years old.

The island was first discovered by Europeans in the early 1500’s when Admiral Pedro Mascarenhas of Portugal was exploring in the area. It has had a few different names over the centuries: Santa Apolónia, Mascarenhas, Mascarin, Île Bourbon, Île Bonaparte,  Île de la Réunion, and now La Réunion by the French. Encouraged by King Louis XIV, the French sent settlers to Réunion in 1665 to establish plantations. These plantations were soon producing spices and coffee, followed later by sugarcane. Today, the island produces about 180,000 tons of sugar each year.

Many of the people here call themselves Creole. The term originally indicated mixed race, but it has come to mean people who were born on the island.

Réunion suffered some damage from the tropical cyclone that passed through these waters in the past week. Earlier in the week, our captain mentioned that we might not be able to dock here. Fortunately, the weather cleared up and we docked this morning. There was indeed some damage and shore excursions to the northern part of the island were cancelled. Ours was to the south, so we got on a bus yet again to explore Réunion.

We rode along the Tamarind Road on the east side of the island. The beaches are beautiful. Waves were still high today, and we didn’t see anyone out on the water.

We then turned west toward Piton de la Fournaise, the Peak of the Furnace. Scientists estimate the age of this volcano at 530,000 years. It is about 8,000 feet tall and is among the world’s most active volcanos, experiencing three eruptions in 2017. The eruptions are mild, with lava oozing out of the volcano, causing little devastation. On our way to the caldera, we drove through a huge sand field. When a fresh layer of lava is laid down, the sand washes out beneath leaving some interesting terrain. Also, nature is continually reclaiming the area, with plants growing in the middle of the sand and lava. It’s important to start out early in the morning because the clouds start moving in around noon, completely fogging the caldera.

Like Hawaii, the islands here are slowly moving away from the hot spot in the ocean bed. The old ones are slowly eroding and sinking, while new ones are growing to replace them. Also like the Hawaiian Islands, Réunion has a dry side and a wet side.

We stopped for a typical Creole lunch at a restaurant in Plaine des Cafres. Rice factors heavily in their dishes, topped with beans or meats. We also sampled a spicy peanut sauce which made us sweat. Yummy!

After lunch, we visited Volcano House, a volcano museum. Although we’ve visited other volcano museums in Hawaii and Iceland, it was still very interesting, very well laid out. We can still learn more.

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Cruising the Indian Ocean

Tuesday, – Friday January 16 – 19, 2018

We have four sea days with no scheduled stops. The original itinerary included Madagascar, but that stop was removed because of plague. That’s right – plague! The outbreak began this past August, and spread quickly. Madagascar has a “plague season,” usually involving bubonic plague which is spread by the bites of fleas from rodents. This outbreak is far more dangerous because it is pneumonic, that is, it can be spread by breathing in the airborne droplets from a plague victim.

Even without scheduled stops, there is plenty to do. Anyone who gets bored is simply not taking advantage of the lectures, classes, movies and live entertainment that are available. Today we listened to John Hare, a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society talk about a remote area of the Gobi which is home to about 600 (out of a total of only 1,000) wild camels. From Ambassador Scott H. DeLisi, we are learning about the impact Africa is expected to have globally – both politically and economically.

On the lighter side, the ship presented its Grand Gala Buffet on Tuesday, an opportunity to showcase their culinary creations. It’s hard to say no to all of these delicious items. I try to stop before I feel full, but asThomas Jefferson advises in his Canons of Conduct, “We never repent of having eaten too little.”

We are cruising along the west side and then around the north side of Madagascar. The route to Réunion, our next stop, would be shorter if we went around the south side, but there is a tropical cyclone in those waters. Winds up to 40mph plus rain and thunderstorms are projected. Even on our current route, we lost the sunshine on Wednesday, and encountered fog and rain on Thursday.

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We’ve enjoyed some wonderful performances, from singers, pianists and dancers. Thursday’s show was exceptional. Michael Bacala is a young violinist from Poland. His repertoire includes modern as well as classical music, and he plays with visible emotion. He actually brought us to tears twice during his performance, once with “Danny Boy,” and again with “Time to Say Goodbye.”

The fog cleared up, the waves got a bit bigger overnight, a few items got tossed to the floor. On Friday morning, we could see small rainbows that were created when the waves from the ship met those of the sea. The waves continued to be high throughout the day, and one of the song and dance shows was postponed rather than chance any injuries to the performers.

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Maputo, Republic of Mozambique

Monday, January 15, 2018

Formerly called Lourenço Marques, for a Portuguese trader believed to be the first European to explore the area in 1544, Maputo acquired its current name in 1976 following Mozambique’s independence from Portugal in 1975.

Responding to the state-wide discrimination by the Portuguese, the Mozambicans initiated a war for independence that lasted about ten years. Education of the native populations was focused on teaching them the Portuguese language and training them for what was considered suitable employment. After the war ended, most of the Portuguese fled the country, leaving a significant brain drain. They had not received the kind of education that would prepare them for self-government.

The first president of Mozambique was Samora Machel, who was supported by the communist regimes of Cuba and the Soviet Union. Machel died in an airplane accident in 1986.

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Just two years after independence was won, anti-communist forces started a violent civil war that lasted fifteen years, until 1992. The country has operated as a democracy since 1992, but is still experiencing political turmoil. The economy is very poor here which contributes to political instability.

We took a walking tour of Maputo in the morning. Our first stop was at the beautiful Central Railway Station, constructed in the early 1900’s in the Beaux-Arts style. It has been recognized by a few publications as one of the most beautiful train stations.

Near the railway station is a statue commemorating Mozambican soldiers who fell in the First World War. Popular legend holds that this statues of of a woman who had
killed a large snake that had been terrorising the local population, dropping out of a tree and then attacking the villagers. The woman prepared a large pot of boiling porridge that she carried on her head. She stood under the tree where the snake was in residence and stood there until it dropped into the pot and was killed.

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We stopped at a local market, the Mercado Municipal, that has many stalls devoted to fish, meats, spices, fruits and vegetables as well as clothing and crafts.

We also visited Fortaleza da Nossa Senhora da Conceicao, a Portuguese fort built in the mid-1800’s to protect the town from pirates. The structure is used as a museum, primarily to teach about Ngungunhane, the last Emperor of Gaza, now part of Mozambique. He rebelled against the Portuguese in the late 1800’s, and was exiled to Lisbon, and then to the Azores, following his defeat. Some years later, his remains were returned to Mozambique and are now buried in an ornately carved coffin at the fort.

On our own, Mark and I visited an artist’s market, FEIMA, or Féria de Artesanato, Flores e Gastronomia de Maputo. I really did want to purchase some kind of memento from Mozambique, and there were some beautiful wood carvings of interest, but there was so much repetition that I had to question whether these vendors had actually created the items. Also, I really hate being pestered by everyone who has something to sell. I know that’s how it works, and they really are just trying to earn a living. It was just too hot to have to deal with today. I do feel guilty for not buying something to help the beleaguered economy here.

The longest suspension bridge in Africa, almost two miles, is being constructed here in Maputo, the Maputo-Catembe Bridge, which will cross the Maputo Bay to connect Catembe with Maputo. Currently, the only connection is by a 40-60 minute ferry ride. It is a beautiful structure that stretches three kilometers. The $725 million project was expected to be complete by December, 2017, but is not yet finished. It does look like it’s close to completion, though.

 

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Shakaland Village

Sunday, January 14, 2018

We docked this morning in Richards Bay, South Africa, and had signed up for an excursion to Shakaland Cultural Village. It’s part of a set for the mini-series, “Shaka Zulu,” which was filmed in the mid-1980’s. Shaka kaSenzangakhona, or Shaka Zulu was a strong leader who united several African tribes under his rule. As a warrior, he changed the method of battle from only using spears from a distance to also using daggers for close combat.

On the drive to Shakaland our guide tried to teach us a few words in Zulu. I think I can remember one – yay bo – which means yes. The Zulu language uses lots of clicks so it’s impossible for us to actually pronounce many of their names and words. Our guide’s name was Tomsana (or something like that.) He explained that a person’s name is based on what happens on the day of your birth, maybe a reflection of the weather or of your parents’ relationship or how they were feeling on that day. You don’t want to be born on a day when your parents are fighting with each other.

In the Zulu culture, you can have as many wives as you want, that is, if you can pay the dowry, which is eleven cows. The first cow is for the girl’s father, so it must be the biggest and best; the second is for the girl’s mother, and is the second best; the third for the girl’s virginity, and is the third best. The other eight cows can be smaller than the first three. A good cow is worth $800-$1,000.

There is a lot of sugar cane grown here. When this area was being developed by Portugal, the Zulus would not work for hire, so the Portuguese brought in Indians to work the sugar cane. Over the years, the government instituted a tax on cows which could only be paid in cash. That proved to be an incentive for the Zulus to work for hire in the urban areas. Unfortunately, as a man earned more money, he could afford more wives and have more children, and the growing population of Zulus was seen as a threat to the British, who had defeated the Portuguese for control of South Africa.

When we arrived at Shakaland, we were greeted by “villagers” in Zulu attire. They guided us into the site and offered some beverages, much appreciated on this hot day (about 90 degrees.)

While we were waiting for the tour, I saw several colorful insects flying around. I noticed one person run away from one of these insects, and thought she was being silly. Mark did comment that colorful insects are often poisonous. I looked it up – he was correct. It’s a CMR Bean Beetle, a variety of blister beetle. A blister beetle has a defensive secretion called cantharidin, a poisonous chemical that causes blistering of the skin, and is used to remove warts. The beetle was given the name “CMR” because its colors were the same as that used by the Cape Mounted Riflemen of the 1800’s.

We first needed to get permission to enter the village from the chief. We were treated to demonstrations of leather processing, wood carving, beer production, spear throwing, and more. There were shopping opportunities here, of course.

An unmarried Zulu woman wears a short skirt. When she marries, she wears a long skirt and a red hat that she never takes off. To take it off is the same as getting a divorce. Even when sleeping, she wears this hat, and we got to see the wooden “pillow” that a married woman would use to keep her head up.

Following this, we enjoyed a singing and dancing demonstration. There are several styles of Zulu dance, the most dramatic of which includes high kicks and foot stomps, and occasionally falling backward to the ground, landing on the rear end.

Lunch, then a bus ride back to the ship just in time to meet with customs people as we departed South Africa.

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Mark with his dance mates, Thee Legacy.

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Where’s My Maitai!?

Saturday, January 13, 2018

We decided we were thirsty for maitais, but when we asked for them, we were told the couldn’t be served while we were in port in Durban. We asked several people why this was, even searched the internet for a reason, to no avail. Finally, we found a bartender who could give us an answer. The open bottles all had to be sealed and counted for tax purposes. Once we left the port, they could be opened up again. We haven’t encountered this in any other port, so it must be pertinent only to this area.

A friend sent me the following message the other day. I think it’s only right to pass it on. I wish I knew who to credit for it as I really don’t want to commit plagiarism.

“MY TRAVEL PLANS FOR 2018

I have been in many places, but I’ve never been in Kahoots. Apparently, you can’t go alone. You have to be in Kahoots with someone.

I’ve also never been in Cognito. I hear no one recognizes you there.

I have, however, been in Sane. They don’t have an airport; you have to be driven there. I have made several trips there, thanks to my children, friends, family and my retired military family.

I would like to go to Conclusions, but you have to jump, and I’m not too much on physical activity anymore.

I have also been in Doubt. It is a sad place to go, and I try not to visit there too often.

I’ve been in Flexible, but it was very important to stand up right and firm

Sometimes I’m in Capable, and I go there more often as I’m getting older.

One of my favorite places to be is in Suspense! This place really gets the adrenaline flowing and pumps up the old heart! At my age I need all the stimuli I can get!

I may have been in Continent, but I don’t remember what country I was in. It’s an age thing. They tell me it is very wet and damp there.”

I’d like to skip Continent for sure.

We took a bus tour of Durban this morning. My newest resolution is to never take another bus tour if I can help it. If you can see out the window, you generally miss the building/park/statue/whatever that the tour guide is pointing out to you. If you’re seated anywhere except in the front, you’ll be lucky to hear the monologue. When you have 15 minutes to get out of the bus for a photo op, it will take 10 minutes for the passengers in front of you to disembark. Then, one of your fellow travelers might ask the guide to take a poll of the group because she isn’t interested in one of the stops, and, if she isn’t interested, surely nobody else is either. Seriously!? OK, that’s enough whining for today.

Although not as large a port as Richards Bay, Durban handles 65% of all of the cargo that is shipped in and out of South Africa. Durban’s local hero is Dick King, who saved the town in 1842 during the Boer Wars. The town was under siege, and King rode 600 miles to Grahams Town for help. Most of the black people living in this region are Zulu. In fact, this region is called KwaZulu-Natal, or “a place of the Zulus in Natal.” The original name was Natal, Portuguese for Christmas, because they first landed here on Christmas Day, 1497.

Our first stop was at the Victoria Street Market, an indoor market with over 170 stalls where vendors sell spices, trinkets, clothing, arts and crafts, fish, etc. Open air markets were first establish in the 1870’s by the Indian population here. We had 30 minutes to experience the market, not nearly enough time to even see what was offered there. I loved the spice kiosks, with so many types of spice blends, including several hot ones named “Mother in Law.” Before getting off the bus, we were warned to stay away from the outside kiosks because of pickpockets on the streets. Really, that’s true almost anywhere, and this market did have a security presence.

Back on the bus, and our next stop was at Durban City Hall, a beautiful neo-Baroque style building built in the early 1900’s. Five minutes to take a photo and be sure to hang on tight to your camera. Also, there was a statue of Queen Victoria on the grounds commemorating the 60th year of her reign (it was a mere shadow of her normal self.)

Next stop was Durban Botanical Gardens, a lovely garden where we were allowed 60 minutes, still not enough. The gardens were developed in 1849 and are free to the public. We saw several groups meeting there, including a yoga class. We enjoyed the orchid house, the cycad garden, the ferns, the water lily display and all of the other lovely trees and plants there. By the way, this was the stop that the poll requesting traveler wanted to skip.

We then took a driving tour of the city, with a stop at the soccer and rugby stadiums, which are located next to each other. Kings Park Stadium was built for rugby; the Moses Mabhida Stadium, for soccer, is far more impressive, especially from a distance. The soccer stadium was built for the 2010 World Cup. It’s possible to take a rail car ride to the top for some amazing views of the area. Unfortunately, it wasn’t operating today, not that we would have had time in the 15 minutes that was allocated.

More driving around the town, but by this time, we were both feeling drowsy and had stopped paying attention. NO MORE BUS TOURS! (Oops, I did it again! Whine, that is.)

 

 

 

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South African Birds of Prey

According to my smart phone, today is Thursday, January 11, 2018

We’re sailing to Durban today, will dock tomorrow morning. The day is warm and sunny, also windy. We tried to walk on the Promenade Deck, but were blown so hard that it was difficult to remain standing. At one point, I was running, not intentionally. Yikes!

Friday, January 12

The countryside around Durban is beautiful, lush and green, as we could see when we drove through the farmland and mountains of the area. Sugar is big business here. The government has discouraged the automation of sugar harvesting, wanting to keep more jobs for the residents. On the other hand, the government decided last year to import chicken from South America, thus putting many local chicken farms out of business. I have to wonder if bribery was involved in the decision to import chicken.

The city of Durban was established in 1824, and was named for Sir Benjamin d’Urban, the governor of Cape Town at the time. It has the busiest harbor in South Africa, mostly because of its proximity to Johannesburg. We saw some wildlife on the drive, including kudu, wildebeest and zebra. By the way, while we from the US pronounce zebra with a long “e,” the South Africans pronounce it with a short “e.” Sounds like Debra with a “z.” I guess that must be correct since the debras, I mean zebras, are native to this country, so the South Africans named them.

We visited the African Bird of Prey Sanctuary, a few miles outside of Durban. The sanctuary opened in June, 2006, and cares for over 150 birds of prey. South Africa has 81 species of raptor, and about 1/4 of them are threatened or endangered.

Some of the birds rescued by the sanctuary can be released to the wild once they are healthy, but many cannot, perhaps their injuries have not healed properly, perhaps they have been kept as pets and thus think that humans are their family. Some of the birds that live here permanently are used for education purposes. There are 36 enclosures, containing one or another type of bird, such as vultures, buzzards, eagles, hawks, falcons, owls and kites.

We were treated to a short demonstration and education about five different birds: long-crested eagle; spotted eagle owl; yellow-billed kite; wood owl; and peregrine falcon. We learned that: eagles are the only raptors that have feathers on their legs; owls have 14 neck vertebrae (humans have only seven;) the peregrine falcon has been recorded at 242 miles per hour, the fastest creature on earth (take that, cheetah!)

Belinda demonstrated a feeding session with four Cape Vultures. She gave them ten pounds of horse meat, which lasted about 60 seconds. The vultures squabble with each other to get a good position, and also work together to tear the meat apart. Noisy and smelly!

After the tour, we visited Ushaka Beach and walked along the promenade. It was so windy we almost lost our hats. In spite of the high waves, the beach was full of people enjoying the sun. Some folks even waded into the water, it would have taken some strenghth to try to swim. I had expected to see some surfing, but the sea was too turbulent for that.

We enjoyed a show tonight by a local group called Thee Legacy, five young men who danced and sang. The group was formed in 2009 and it won The Sing Off South Africa 2015. Two of the members are related to members of the group Ladysmith Black Mambazo. If you are a fan of Paul Simon’s work, you may remember that he performed with Ladysmith Black Mambazo on his Graceland album. In fact, Thee Legacy performed one of the songs that was on that album: “She’s Got Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes.”

Thee Legacy’s singing style is termed Isicathamiya (or a cappella,) which originated with the South African Zulus. Towards the end of the show they looked for volunteers to come up on stage – they volunteered Mark, and I thought he did very well following their moves, which were quite energetic.

 

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