Thursday, August 1, 2013

Mauritius exploring: month 2

It is easy to relax and have fun in Mauritius. Beyond the beaches and resorts (enough of those for a small island), a few car trips inland took us to other lovely and interesting places.

A dormant volcano, Trou aux Cerfs  (about 600m high, 80m deep and 300m diameter) with a well-defined cone and crater actually had Rolf walking around the lovely crater rim! No doubt he would have called it off as a high-risk activity if he had known it “could become active at any time within the next thousand years” (Wikipedia)!?
Another reason to get up here is the spectacular views.

Also in the high central areas of Mauritius is Grande Bassin (Ganga Talao), a crater lake about 1800 feet above sea level and very chilly in winter!

This is the most sacred Hindu place in Mauritius and it must be astounding to be here during the annual pilgrimage.

Driving through the Black River Gorges National Park (where we debated hiking, but one of us suggested deferring this fun to another day), we looked down at the sight below, and decided we should take Ketoro to that small island, Ile aux Benitiers, inside the reef.

So to get closer to that goal, first Black River lagoon (Grande Riviere Noire) saw us dropping anchor a while later, and the calm and quiet with the backdrop of the Black River Mountains was a very pleasing contrast from Grand Baie and Port Louis.
Going fishing
It is not only the local fishermen going fishing: this is the main base for big game fishing and marlin boats go out daily.

So now we had to get Ketoro from Black River to Ile aux Benitiers, as we had promised ourselves! 
After a reconnaissance trip with GPS, fish finder, iPad, beer (this is becoming routine with us!!) we found that there is a deep channel going in, and it was easy to get near to the island if we followed our iPad track carefully.
Safely in the channel but very aware that the chart detail is about to end abruptly
Blue dot in the channel is us
View south from Ile aux Benitiers anchorage
 Ile aux Benitiers island is flat and low and dry, but a good break from the boat.
We were captive in this anchorage for many hours, however, as gales came up and we did not dare take on the narrow, winding channel with the forces of wind and waves waiting to make mischief.

Leaving there finally, we sailed north up the west coast towards Port Louis and Grand Baie again - beautiful, distant views of emerald sugar cane fields at the base of the mountains.

Up close on land, the sugar cane was flowering…
After harvesting, the remaining plant material is evidently burned at the power station and great clouds of black ash sweep over the island…. settling mainly on all the white boats!!

Patrick and Sandy came to the boat for 5 days and experienced rather grumpy, windy, thundery weather. But friends will always have fun together, and happily they know us and the boat and the folly of fixed plans when sailing.

So it was that one day, trying at least to fulfil our promise of a trip to a nearby island, we experienced, in this order and in the space of 40 minutes of leaving the Grand Baie anchorage: the water-maker died; the predicted 16knot winds were actually a 35knot gale; the port engine overheated in a cacophony of engine alarms as we approached the rocky island.  We battled to hold course against wind and current on one engine, but when it was quite obvious that the cliffs to leeward had joined the conspiracy and were moving towards us, we were too close to try to sail out of trouble and had to abuse the starboard engine in hard astern for several long minutes to keep Ketoro off the rocks (or start up and really cook the overheated port engine).

In the subsequent discussion on whether to press on (after repairing the port engine) our friends understandably voted for drinks back in Grand Baie, where we remained to contemplate the bloody water maker while sending them off on the dinghy to explore ashore.

It was clearly not a turquoise-water day, and they just managed to scramble into a restaurant to sit out the rain-squall before returning “home”!
Much of our entertainment comes from watching the fun activities of tourists to the island. It is actually very easy to spy on others when their activities are water-based and whizzing around our boat. 

So we watch the water skiers: the expert ones (very few) confidently slalom and jump the wake with panache; the learners (frowning with fierce concentration, arse out, shoulders forward) try not to fall. The learners fall. The learners flip, tumble and shriek. The learners hit the decks.

And we watch the windsurfers: they all seem to be expert here, and the colours are brilliant.
And we watch the parasailors overheard. They generally shriek initially and then become speechless – unfortunately we are too far to see their expressions; awestruck, dumbstruck or rigid with fear? Sometimes they too are novices and the winds are strong; this is a bad combination, but handled well by the speedboat drivers: they go slowly. Sometimes the winds are very strong and the boats go…. Well, slowly: backwards.

And the dinghy sailors usually get great and challenging winds here, and this lot raced us into the bay…

And when the wind dies, they contemplate the horizon and wait for the breeze!

Then also, we watch the odd assortment of inflatable stuff being dragged behind speedboats: bananas, armchairs, boards… always with lots of shrieking.

Grande Riviere Noire provided a new twist: tiny jet-engined rigid inflatable boats for hire… they move as a fleet with their own lead / security boat. Watching from Ketoro: the powerful security boat goes out, stops ahead of us, and with a variety of energetic hand signals tries to communicate to testosterone-laden jet-boat drivers to spread out and remain behind him. Time passes as we watch the drivers with their nonchalant lack of co-operation barge around in their new-found toys. Eventually order is restored, the hapless passengers’ white knuckle grips relax, and they race off to nowhere and back after about 30 minutes.
Heading into Ile aux Benitiers channel, they appeared like a line of skirmishers!

Now that Sandy and Patrick have gone, what are we up to?
Preparing for more fun.
Irene finds prehensile toes are a boon working with baby netting in the wind!
Baby net!

So this is what sunset looks like from behind the safety net. Beautiful!