Hey folks, here am I again. Oh, it’s been a while. Are you still around? Well. Sit back and relax as I write from Rodrigues some 600 kilometres to the east of my homeland. I’ll bring you to the “Hill in the Sea”, as it has been named in the text book Geomorphological Analysis of Mauritius. It’s from here that I’ll be blogging for the next six months.
OK. I arrived by a domestic flight on Monday 4 in the afternoon; and still getting settled. The wobbling of the tropical storm “Ivan” about 400 kilometres in the north created some inconvenience. It is now moving away westwards, although winds of 30 to 40 kilometres per hour are blowing from the east gusting at 70. This is the result of the combined influence of Ivan and an anticyclone to the south.
I got my personal effects and foodstuff (via maritime service) on Tuesday 12, when I enjoyed my first home-made food in the evening; lentils, preserved fish and fried potatoes, all with rice. I’m not a perfect cook; but solo cooking is not much of an issue. I had fresh lemon juice, pressed right from the fruit, as soft drink (beer you said? No thanks, not my thing) and local jack fruit as dessert. I expect my car on Friday with the arrival of the next boat.
Of volcanic origin Rodrigues offers a splendid view on the sea from its steep hilly lands. The highest point is about 400 metres above sea level and the land area is about 100 kilometre-square. Some 40 000 people live in this smallest Mascarenes Island where they grow maize, onions and other agricultural products; they rear cattle (not so much for the milk as for the meat), goats, poultry and pigs in open grounds; and they rely a lot on fishing for their living.
It’s not my first stay though. I was here five years ago and have been coming on mission often since 1976 when I first stopped over while proceeding to Agalega by boat. It’s not the same. The main road from Sir Gaetan Duval airport (brand new facility inaugurated few months ago) at Plaine Corail in the south to the seaport and capital Port Mathurin to the north has been improved to a great extent. Buildings have mushroomed in the capital and there’s every sign of growing business and commercial boost up.
I was reminiscing with one of the front office staff of Escales Vacances, a small hotel at Fond La Digue in the periphery of Port Mathurin where I stayed for four days before I was allocated my official quarters. The pace of infrastructural and socio-economic development seems phenomenal. From motor cycles to the ever-increasing four wheelers more adapted to the hilly and curvy terrain, I saw a number of brand new motor cars, strange in an island where people walk through long, narrow, bushy, hilly, rocky, soily and at times muddy paths to reach their homes on the hill tops or deep down the valleys.
From what I experienced on Friday last I can tell you it’s not a pleasure when the sun is on top of your head, literally roasting you. I walked 204 steps up (yes, I counted them patiently) and 204 down hill three times, in the morning, at mid-day and in the evening from hotel to office and back. But it’s a good physical exercise for those who want to drop some weight. I have resolved to throw at least 4 kilos by July (fat overgrowth in tummy) so I make it a point to do it as a daily chore when I set out footing for another 3 kilometres. En route there’s couple of 50 extra steps up and down. Is it a perfect test for a healthy heart?
Public transport (buses and taxis) is available the whole day; previously they closed at mid-day and the island stood still in the afternoon.
Way back people were excessively courteous and friendly; they used to greet everybody on the way. I’m not so sure whether this mannerism prevails nowadays. Things are changing and the situation may be different with the ever growing trading community. You could avail of du miel (honey – best from eucalyptus tree) and piments confits (preserved small – hot- chilly) free; today if you don’t pay heed you may end up buying these commodities (sometimes adulterated) at exorbitant prices. Market stalls have grown all along the main road in Port Mathurin.
Gone are the days when you could leave your doors open any time of the day or night, care free. With precarious employment opportunities and improper control of delinquency matters can worsen. I have no intention to scare the prospective visitor. Rodrigues is a beautiful island. It is safe, much safer than mainland. You can still wander around without being troubled, unlike mainland which is becoming very insecure. The relief of the island offers magnificent panoramic views for nature lovers. The economic activity is based mainly on agriculture, animal husbandry, fisheries and lately tourism. I love the relatively stress free environment, far from the hurly-burly of the mainland life.
Rodrigues is an integral part of the Republic of Mauritius. It is often referred to as the 10th district. But it operates in a different manner. It might appear a bit complicated for the novice, but this small island is under the Ministry for Rodrigues which is at present under the umbrella of the Prime Minister’s Office.
Budgetary allocations are made from Mauritius and administered locally by the Rodrigues Regional Assembly headed by a Chief Commissioner. While districts and towns in mainland Mauritius have regional or municipal councils, this island has a unique system of government, quasi-autonomous, with its own executive, and commissioners who seem to have some sort of ministerial status.
Well, that was a glimpse of my first 10 days’ stay here. Exceptionally long post (sshhh… to cover my long absence…).
Cheers from Rodrigues.
Mauritian residing in Rodrigues, Amanoola Khayrattee (pen name Alfa King) is contributing writer and journalist to La Gazette Mag de l’océan indien and This Week News Mauritius.
Retired, former meteorological cadre, trade unionist and OSH consultant, Amanoola has written for in-house union and other journals, publications and magazines. He runs two blogs since 2007: “Alfa King Memories”, and “Le Journal d’Alfa King”. When he is not reading or writing, he is on a 10+ km daily hike in anticipation of his monthly trails.
Amanoola may be reached at [email protected].