“The (Rodrigues) people take time to enjoy life and let time have its way with them…”. Quote from Rodrigues Tourism website.
Well I’m certainly letting time have its way with me! How relaxing it is in Rodrigues!
Rodrigues is a small hilly volcanic island – only 8km by 18km – with over 40,000 inhabitants. It is well away from major shipping routes and the main island of Mauritius is about 350nm to the west. Port Mathurin is the main town and filled with colourful shop fronts and a mixture of French and English signs.
After our bumpy voyage, our reward at this latitude is cooler weather (can actually sleep under a blanket type of weather). The sky is blue most of the time and the sou’easter blows in differing strengths, sometimes sending squalls and light rain to wash down the salt.
Blue Heeler is berthed alongside a dusty concrete wharf along with eight other vessels from around the globe. Every couple of weeks a supply ship from Mauritius requires the dock to unload so all yachts have to leave temporarily until the ship leaves the next day.
Due to the location and testing conditions to sail here, not many yachts actually get to visit, tending to experience a longer but more importantly less stressful sail to Madagascar or the Seychelles. The isolation makes Rodrigues a very special place to visit indeed.
Officials attending to our arrival were courteous and friendly. Immigration, Coast Guard, Health Inspector and Port Control visited our boat in turn finally granting us clearance. As we arrived on a Sunday, we had to pay 2000Rs in overtime and the Health inspector was 1804Rs for his time (total around $100). There are no additional fees to stay at the port so it’s actually quite reasonable.
As usual in a new location, the first week is spent washing clothes, cleaning the boat and familiarizing ourselves by zig-zagging through the grid of streets. The town of Port Mathurin is small and easy to navigate, with plenty of locals in the streets each day. The people are welcoming, friendly and enjoy a way of life that many would envy. Although upon speaking with a local shop keeper, she said that we see only “one side of the coin”, and perhaps don’t see the other side. She was referring to those that live in poor conditions elsewhere on the island that most tourists don’t see. Our way of travelling allows us to spent more time in a place and really get a feel for it, and maybe a better glimpse of the other side of the coin.
Although the official language in Mauritius is English, the locals speak French and Creole although many also speak very good English. All government and official signs are in English, whereas shop signs may be in French.
Australians aren’t known for speaking anything but coarse English, so as not to embarrass ourselves amongst the European sailors here with us who do speak either fluent French or at least some phrases, we have set ourselves the challenge of learning French. Of course it is necessary for us to learn French, particularly as we plan to be in the region until we arrive in South Africa in October. Plus we will visit France sometime later and other French speaking countries in the Caribbean and Pacific too.
Each morning the delicious smell of freshly baked croissants and baguettes wafts through the open hatches teasing our senses. During breakfast we familiarise ourselves with some key French phrases; counting out money helps. Understanding genders and verbs is similar to Spanish, which I learnt some time ago. The killer is the pronunciations. We are having trouble believing that oeuf, un, ou, are actually different words as they sound pretty much like someone stubbing their toe (‘ugh’). It’s a shame I took Miss Irwin’s years 7 & 8 Indonesian class years and did not learn French. C’est la vie…
While we fumble our pronunciations over coffee, the locals start each morning by 7am with chatter and movement at the port. Sounds of laughter, children playing and music fill the clean streets, while local women of all shapes, sizes and shades, wear bright coloured clothes emphasising their womanhood with tight jeans and high-heel sandals.
A visit to the bustling Saturday market to buy chicken, beef, mutton and pork, and a good selection of vegetables and fruit. Local purveyors of honey, chillies and woven baskets line the walkway outside the main market. A reduced version of the market is open most days so veggies are available. There are a couple of supermarkets – one on Rue Gordon just outside the port, plus Super Cash, on the same road but about a kilometer further on. Each sell a good variety of groceries, beers and wines from South Africa.
During our stay the locals held an expo to support World Environment Day. Plastic bags are banned here so you must take your own shopping bags and containers to the stores and markets. A wind farm on the eastern side takes advantage of the strong sou’easters, while rainwater tanks and desalination plants support the limited supply of water. The island is an impressive example of sustainable living.
A local man with an enthusiastic interest of visiting yachts called by the port one afternoon. James Waterstone – a descendent of Irish ancestors – has a hobby which is to catalogue each visiting yacht and have them complete an entry in his visitors book. I suppose he’s a ‘yacht spotter’! At age 75, James says perhaps 20 boats visit on average each year, so we feel privileged to write a few lines in his book. Of course he was keen to visit Blue Heeler and other yachts and tell us all about his family history. Many of his family reside in the south eastern suburbs of Melbourne, Australia, not too far from where we used to live.
There’s plenty to explore here. I’ll write more about Rodrigues soon.