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The Dodo Rides Again

Republic of Mauritius

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Mauritius, in the Indian Ocean, is one of the most beautiful and popular cruise and vacation destinations in the entire world. It lies, along with its dependent island Rodrigues, off the south east coast of Africa, a few hundred miles from the mainland of Madagascar.

These days Mauritius is most famous for its tourism – it’s an especially popular destination with Europeans, and also vacationers from the Indian subcontinent. Although the island’s people are derived from a great mix of nationalities, the Indian influence is strong: as Indians are fond of saying, it’s not called ‘The Indian Ocean’ just because India lies nearby, but because Indian culture dominates the whole region, extending its influence many thousands of miles from the subcontinent’s shores.

The other claim Mauritius can make to fame is that it is – or rather, was – the home of the legendary dodo. These large, clumsy birds (the name means ‘dummy’ or ‘simpleton’ in Portuguese), although not hunted by early settlers for food, were easy prey for their dogs and other domestic animals. The last dodo was probably killed around the end of the seventeenth century, and was then largely forgotten for a couple of hundred years. The bird – and the famous expression ‘as dead as the dodo’ – sprang back into the public consciousness when a Mauritius dodo featured as a character in Lewis Carroll’s children’s book, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

Your ship will make landfall at Port Louis, the island’s capital and only port. As Mauritius is quite remote, the chances are that your cruise line will arrange for you to stay for at least a couple of days on the island, and Port Louis is well worth a little exploration. One of the main areas you should check out is the main city market on Farquhar Road. This market sells everything from meat, fish and vegetables to locally-produced handicrafts and other souvenirs. However, even if you don’t buy anything, it’s fun to wander around and simply soak up the atmosphere.

If you can, take the chance to eat in Port Louis – the chances are that whatever you find yourself dining on in local restaurants will have been purchased from the Farquhar Road market – and probably very recently, given the island chefs’ insistence on the finest of fresh ingredients in their food. Because of the significant cultural influence of the Indian population – and the fact that the colonial British always loved Indian cooking – the main dishes you’ll find on the island are rice and curry-based. Local curry tends to be relatively mild, and is often flavored with yoghurt and coconut milk to give it a distinctive tropical taste. Curries are typically served with white basmati rice and roti or nan bread – in a curious way that’s not so dissimilar from the Pakistani balti style of curry that has its home many thousands of miles to the north in Pakistan, Afghanistan and northern India. Whatever you decide to dine on – and you’ll find western-style cooking everywhere, too – you can be sure that you’ll be served very high quality, fresh ingredients by some of the friendliest waiting staff in the world.

Further afield, one of the most interesting spots on the island to visit is the small town of Moka. Although it’s only a few miles away, Moka feels totally different from Port Louis, sitting as it does among forested, craggy hillsides. There are a couple of places worth visiting around Moka. Eureka House is a former colonial mansion, now open to the public and functioning as a museum of the island’s life in times gone by. It features items, maps and paintings from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and even an early type of shower, used by the island’s governor and his assistants for keeping clean and cool in the tropical climate. Another fine house in the Moka region is La Reduit, which was at one stage the home of the British governor of Mauritius.

Of course, the biggest draw of all on Mauritius is the island’s wonderful beaches, which are simply out of this world, and easily comparable with the very best of the Caribbean. Most of the best ones are an easy bus or taxi ride from Port Louis – or you might find that your cruise ships takes you on a trip around the island, dropping you off at some of the best (and least) known beauty spots.

Mauritius is one of those cruise destinations that could, with some justification, be called ‘heaven on earth’ – tropical islands don’t get much better than this. Mauritius is also an outstanding example of a well-governed small nation – the reception you can expect from the residents is likely to be very warm and friendly. Mauritius really is the island that has it all!

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