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 (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.