Two ports in two days. Not as exhausting as three in three days, but fairly hectic nonetheless. Leaves no time for blogging, I assure you!
Mauritius first. We were moored in the container port. Again. Tiresome, isn’t it? And you’re just reading about it, you try living with it! Luckily, the container port isn’t far from town. Unluckily, there is a one-way system that means the shuttle bus has to drive all the way through the busiest part of town (read: solid traffic) to the other side to turn around to come back again to go into the waterfront area that can only be entered from one direction. Lovely bit of planning that, thanks. The purpose-built waterfront complex has a cruise berth, but there was a Costa ship parked in it. As far as I can tell from what I’ve heard from fellow passengers, Costa is basically similar to P&O (both owned by Carnival, of course), but with better parking spaces and terrible entertainment. So take your pick…
The waterfront complex is shops and cafes and stuff to please tourists, such as officially-regulated craft shops with labels saying “no child labour” and stuff. I bought my dodo and my t-shirt and postcards within minutes of arrival, which is nice, because it means I don’t have to think about it or remember to do it later (or forget, like I did in Burnie), I can just relax and enjoy the rest of the day. Got to buy a dodo in Mauritius (which is called Ile de Maurice by the French). Just got to. I like visiting a place called Morris. Sounds friendly. It IS friendly. They’re very nice people. They all learn English, French and Creole at school, so there are no communication issues whatsoever, which makes a VERY refreshing change, I can tell you. It’s a funny place though. The currency is the Mauritian RUPEE, I kid you not, there are 25 to the pound, roughly, and the writing on the bank notes is in English, French and SANSKRIT. Keep up here. They are almost all of Indian descent, they mostly speak French and they drive on the LEFT and all the road signs are in English. Still with me? The cars are even right-hand drive, just like the UK. Trust me, it’s all VERY odd.
Anyway, we pootled around the town a little and then it started to drizzle* so we dived in a cab and went to the Pamplemousse Gardens. Good idea. It’s raining? Let’s go to the most exposed and least sheltered place for miles around. Smart. Got SOAKED. Quite refreshing, though, after the stifling heat and humidity of the morning. It did clear the air a bit and once you got sheltered, it was still hot enough that we were virtually dry in a matter of minutes. The drive out to Pamplemousse was twenty minutes, which allowed us to see the real Mauritius, rather than just the capital city version. It seems like a fairly poor country, although there are modern-looking roads and schools and so on. Mauritius is an independent country, consisting, in fact of three islands, not one – the other two are Rodrigues and St Brandon. So now you know. The Dutch arrived, introduced sugar plantations, slavery and rats, killed all the Dodos and then left. The French used it as a base for attacking English ships, which, funnily enough, didn’t go down well, so the English booted them out and took over in 1814. They abolished slavery and introduced paid workers from India (hence the Sanskrit and rupees) and then in 1968 Mauritius became independent. The capital, Port Louis, was founded by the French Governor, Mahe de Labourdonnais. Did you spot that? Mahe (pronounce Ma -hay). As in the capital of the Maldives. See? It’s all linked around here. Everything is connected. His name will pop up again in Reunion, as well, have no fear. He got around. A LOT. English is the official language and they are the world’s third largest exporters of woollen knitwear. Like I said, it’s all VERY odd!
When we got back from the beautiful but rainy Pamplemousse Gardens, we stopped for a crepe (well, when in French-speaking countries…) which took ages and was STONE COLD when it arrived. It’s obviously called the Sunset Cafe because you order at noon and get your food at sunset. Seriously, I’m not a fan of hot food, I like tepid or cold food, always, but this was virtually refrigerated, it was so cold. Shame, because they were otherwise very nice indeed! The service at this place was shocking. When they can’t even be bothered to bring you the bill, you know you’re in the presence of the really apathetic. It took us the best part of an hour to order, eat and pay for two Oranginas, a Diet Coke and three identical plates of pancakes. If we’d ordered anything more complex, we’d probably still be sitting there! On the plus side, they allowed us to pay partly in rupees and partly in US dollars, so we reboarded the ship with no local currency left whatsoever. This is a Good Thing, because, whether or not you would LIKE to come back, you have to face the possibility that you won’t. Ever. So leftover currency is simply an exercise in futile clutter, and whilst I’m sure the RNLI** would appreciate it, none left is simpler.
I hadn’t realised how much the heat had affected me until after dinner, when I suddenly realised I was completely worn out. So I was in bed by 8.30pm. Slept til 3. Swore at the ceiling for an hour and then had some very, very odd dreams until my alarm went off at 7.30. Gotta get up. It’s Reunion!
I was booked on an excursion today, which is something we don’t often say any more! My parents just took the shuttle to St Gilles les Bains, the only deliberately seasidey touristy place. It was apparently very pleasant. Trouble was, due to the change in itinerary, this stop was bumped to a Sunday, and Reunion is a Christian country so everything was shut. But they had a nice time anyway. I got up at the crack of dawn to catch the tour bus to the volcano. There are two main volcanoes on Reunion, one which is extinct and one which erupts every year. A little bit. Not explosive or dangerous, but the lava flows in 2007 ran down into the sea and extended the island by 800 acres. So active enough, thank you very much. Piton de la Fournaise is, however, not the highest point on the island. This honour goes to Piton les Neiges, the extinct one, which is high enough that it snows on the top at night, but not high enough that it doesn’t melt in the morning! Apparently, you need another 2,000 ft before you can ski! We had the most wonderful driver (Fabrice) and the best tour bus guide in the world (Jean-Paul). He told us history, politics, civil service structure, exports, imports, economy, employment, religions, you name it, I now know it.
Reunion is a French department, which means that it is officially part of mainland France. And it is VERY French. They use the Euro, they drive on the right and they have that rigid thinking that I’ve talked about before, where if you don’t ask the right question, you don’t get the right answer.
For example, if, in England, for example, you asked a shop assistant, “Do you take US dollars?”, you’d probably get an answer along the lines of “No, but we can take credit cards, if that helps”. In France and Reunion, it’s just “No”. You then have to ask a fresh question “Do you take plastic?”, to which you will get a yes response. The French don’t volunteer information the way we do. It’s a funny feeling to be back in that way of thinking, although I was so enjoying being able to speak French all day, nothing could bother me.
The plains leading to the volcano and the volcano itself are completely barren. Nothing grows. The guide compared it to the surface of the Moon and it’s not hard to see why. It is breathtakingly beautiful and I would recommend that everyone goes to see it. This will please the Reunionais people, although the French like to keep Reunion as their own secret hideaway, so they’ll be none too chuffed if all my readers start descending on the place! But, seriously, if you get the chance, you MUST go. It’s not very energetic, physically, even though the air is a little thin at 9,000 feet, but do go. Really do. And if you hire a coach from Transports Mooland (I kid you not), ask for Jean-Paul as your guide. He’s hilarious. He tells jokes, he sings songs, we had the most amazing time. One of my favourite lines was when we needed to cross the road to get to the viewing platform. He asked us to be careful of the traffic, as he didn’t want us to get run over and damage any French cars. Brilliant bloke, can’t praise him highly enough.
We drove around virtually the entire island during the course of the day, only missing out the far south-east corner. We even went to the capital, Saint Denis, which, being a Sunday, was completely shut. Pretty colonial buildings, though, so it was an interesting drive. The island completely shuts down on Sundays. There aren’t even any markets! This surprised me greatly, as when I lived in France, I did my weekly shop on Sunday at the market. Here, there are no markets. Nothing. Luckily, this didn’t include our restaurant, museum or volcano gift shop stops, so I am fully provisioned as regards postcards and t-shirts! Had you worried there for a second! However, the price of stamps from here was extortionate (a quid each, seriously?!), so I won’t post them til South Africa. I may get home before them. Now there’s a sobering thought…
The fact is that the end is nigh, people. We are a week short of the three month mark and everyone is talking about going home. Swapping email addresses, talking about school or work or laundry or just how much they don’t want to be on the last stretch. I don’t envy Bobby Davro. He’s going to be playing to a bunch of seriously depressed people. They’re going to be a tough crowd. Some are even closer to the end. They’re getting off in Cape Town. Even if they’re doing an onward excursion for a week or two, they won’t be on the ship any more. Good grief, that’s depressing. I’m sitting here realising all the people I have to say goodbye to over the next couple of days. Granted, there are over 800 people doing the whole thing, but still, there are an awful lot of goodbyes to come.
Cruise friendships are powerful stuff. Somewhat similar to university friendships, in a way. You spend all day every day with someone. You go out to eat or clubbing or to the theatre together EVERY NIGHT for three months. That’s more than I see some of my best and closest friends in an entire year. Even if you skip the nights before ports(to be fresh in the morning) and the nights after ports (to recover), with 39 ports, that’s 78 nights lost (not all of which were, of course, otherwise I wouldn’t have been so hungover in Piraeus!). So even if you skip 78 nights out, that still leaves 26 nights out with your mates. How many people do you go out with 26 times in a year? I can think of people I HOLIDAY with that I don’t spend that much time with! And then there’s the daytime. You bump into people on deck, by the pool, in the restaurant, at activities, on tour buses. A cruise is a wonderful thing if you’re a sociable person. When I lived on campus at university, I used to have to build in extra time to walk from A to B to allow for stoppage time when I bumped into people, something I really miss in the real world. But on a cruise ship, the same rules apply. You need to be somewhere at 3 that’s a 4 minute walk away? Leave at quarter to. You might just make it on time. Maybe…
So saying goodbye to cruise friends is quite distressing and is often a terrible wrench. I still miss the friends who got off in Singapore 1, for heaven’s sake! You come from all corners of the globe, not just the UK. I’ve made friends from Australia, South Africa, Malta…You may never see these people again, even the Brits. The chances of me ever seeing the ones who live in Cumbria, for example, bearing in mind I live in London, are pretty remote, let’s face it.
So the goodbyes begin today. People are packing, planning, thinking ahead to real life, planning flights, paying bills. There is very little joy left on board. Like I said, when Bobby Davro gets on, he’s really got his work cut out.
Great, I’m SO depressed now, I think I’m going back to bed.
* Welcome to the tropics. Bring an umbrella.
** The Royal National Lifeboat Institution is the British charity that funds all the UK’s lifeboats without any Government help. They accept any amounts of any currency whatsoever, so if you see a collection box or boat, you can put in all your leftover currency and they will convert it into usable funds.