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October 11, 2001
Life in Mauritius: halfway 'round (Russell)

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Downtown Grand Baie: "Sunset Boulevard"

Even though we are only two and a half months into our world trip, we have already reached a point halfway around the globe.  In fact, the tiny island of Mauritius is geographically almost exactly on the other side of the world from our home.  Our California friends are currently closest to us when they bend down to tie their shoes.

Mauritius ("L'île Maurice" in French) is 1,865 square kilometres, with a population of slightly over one million people.  (The island was once also populated by Dodo birds, but they were unable to coexist with European firearms.)  More than half of the population is Hindu, with a quarter Muslim and a quarter Creole or French.  Two percent are Chinese.  Although Mauritius has been British for the last 190 years, the French influence is still strong.  All school children are required to learn English, French, and an Asian language of their choice -- but the colloquial language spoken by all is Creole.

English French Mauritian Créole
How are you? Comment ça va? Ki manière?
I love you Je t'aime Mo content toi
Goodbye Au revoir Salam

Our villa is on the northwest of the island in Grand Baie, known for its beaches, shopping, and restaurants.  Here in the off-season, we know it for its wind and rain.  The heaviest winds subsided after the first few days, but it still rains several times every day, interspersed with surprising periods of warm and bright sunshine.  It is incredibly difficult to schedule time at the beach.  (Every time we ask the front desk if they've heard a weather report, they start laughing.)  We have also experienced intermittent power outages, usually in the middle of watching the British newscasts on TV.

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An attempt at the beach (it started raining one minute later)

We have spent the bulk of our time at or in the villas, except for a couple of trips into town to the Super U French grocery store for supplies.  (We were amused to see that all liquor sales were suspended for the two days before municipal elections -- try doing that in the States!)  As in Rarotonga, we rented a car for one day.  Other than that, our biggest adventure in the first two days was to move villas -- our first one was next to the pool and directly across from the live band past 11:00 every night.

Our villa package includes continental breakfast, which takes place in an outside covered patio next to the pool.  The chef is a little Chinese man who speaks French with a heavy Asian and Creole accent.  His main conversation with us Americans has consisted of repeating "Bin Laden!  Bin Laden!" over and over and laughing a lot.  Another new friend is our maid Madeleine, who spends two hours a day cleaning our villa, usually working around us.  Cameron acts as a translator between Gail and Madeleine.  (The boys also had the opportunity of being scolded in two languages, when they ran across the patio right after it had been covered with cleaning solvent.)

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The glider swing

There are many tours and excursions available, but the boys are so burned out on scheduled touring that they much prefer to hang around, relax, and play.  Due to the unpredictable weather, we haven't really made it to the onsite beach or swimming pool.  Cameron reads and writes.  Joss teaches himself card games and card tricks.  The boys also love the old wood and metal swing set which constitutes the only playground here.  Gail appreciates the relaxed schedule (the weather is playing havoc on her migraines), while Russell has tended towards restlessness with the sudden lack of activity (he has taken a couple of two-hour walks to town and back just to do something).

The only tour we have spent actual money on so far was October 11th (postponed from October 9th due to the weather), when we embarked on a Blue Safari Submarine ride out of Grand Baie into the coral reef.  It was the first time that any of us have ever been in an actual underwater submarine (not including Disneyland or the semi-submersible in Australia).  A small, ten-person sub cruises around for an hour at 35 metres below the surface.  The boys enjoyed the fish, coral, and "Star Hope" shipwreck, but they mostly enjoyed the fact that after 10 metres' depth they couldn't see the color red anymore (the seawater filters out color).  Our submarine adventure included taking the public bus and walking along Mon Choisy Beach to find our way back to the villa (it is very strange for us to see Muslim and Hindu women, covered from head to toe, sitting on the beach).

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Aboard the Blue Safari submarine

Other than that, we have needed our downtime in Mauritius because we have had to reconfigure most of our upcoming travel logistics.  Our original flight from Mauritius to Tanzania was cancelled by the airline.  We reluctantly made a final decision to cancel the Egypt and Turkey portions of our trip, a decision justified when we learned on October 9th that the US had begun to attack Afghanistan.  Telephone, email, and Internet access here are all expensive and unreliable (a package of medicines sent from the US more than two weeks ago has yet to arrive), but our US travel agent continues to do amazing wonders for us.

Our current plans call for us to fly to Europe one month earlier than originally scheduled.  We hope to settle in a nice quiet town somewhere in Southeastern France.  We're already getting getting accustomed to the French... and the rain.


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