Welcome to my travel log! You will find here a lot more than in the travel reports, stripped from political correctness. Enjoy!
Aug 28, 2013 08:00 PM The Indian Ocean Extravaganza - Comoros Day3
It was time to relax a bit. Lazy morning, slow breakfast followed by even slower cups of coffee and walk along the beach. Just a few snaps on the iPhone. The big camera was also given a rest. I did originally plan to go for a trip to the eastern part of the island, however having seen already half of the island and the quality of sights, I had my doubts that I would have seen anything spectacularly new or different on the island. Comoros submitted an application to UNESCO to include on the World Heritage List a number of sights dating back to the times of the sultanates. Yet, the quality of the sights was so poor, it may never happen to them.
I chatted to a beach boy at the hotel (well, not a boy, a guy - he was 33 years old), who was also fishing for the hotel’s kitchen about the whales in the area. His name was Miki. He said that he saw some early in the morning. The dolphins also. He said he could take me the next day if I were prepared to leave early. He had a very small boat, so I was a bit conscientious. But it had a motor, so I agreed.
After he finished work, he took me to see his two year-old son and the place how he lived. It was very near the hotel and on the way to my daily destination, the Itsandra beach. His little boy was very sweet. He was struggling with a zipper on his pants, but would not let anyone help him. Eventually, we convinced him to change his pants and went to a local shop to get some biscuits. I let his dad choose for him. He got some chocolate and yogurt too, so there was a full bag. And he would not let anyone carry it. But he again struggled with it. It was a little too big and slightly too heavy for him. He almost had to drag it on the road. For the a few yards his dad pick him up, so it was easier for him and he could still hold on to his goodies.
Miki later wanted to keep me company as I continued to Itsandra proper. We chatted only a little on the way, as my French was insufficient for deep conversations and Miki did not speak any English. That evening the beach was again animated. We had a couple of Cokes and I asked Miki if he wanted to join me for dinner. I wanted to try the Paradise des Iles local restaurant - bar and bungalows in Moroni, just west of the Volovolo market. He knew the place and of course he wanted to join me. Earning just €150 per month, he would not miss on any freebies. We took a local taxi. The lady owner was very happy to see us there, as we were the only customers. We drank Coke and water, started with some peanuts while the chef was grilling lobsters for me and chicken for Miki. The was not yet completely down, but that did not stop giant bats flying around. They were spectacularly big. I do not want to exaggerate, but they looked as big as cats and I think their wingspan must have exceeded 3 feet.
Aug 27, 2013 08:00 PM The Indian Ocean Extravaganza - Comoros Day2
Second day on Grande Comore opened up with an extravagant 120 kilometre-long private taxi ride to the northern tip of the island, for which I think I slightly overpaid. There was about 50 kilometres from Itsandra to Mitsamiouli, the island’s second largest town. The road, although once paved, had many potholes and it was narrow, so driving was relatively slow. Between Istandra and Mitsamiouli there was absolutely nothing to see. And there was nothing of importance, either. Except the international airport, roughly about half way. Although slightly pushing it, one could find al large black lava flow from the last eruption of the Mount Karthala, which was cutting through the road. The road was since repaired.
Mitsamiouli had literally no sights at all. It had a large beach (rather unusual for the island), which appeared clean and hardly used by anyone. Disappointingly there was nothing to write home about.
A few miles farther along the circular road, there was lovely Maloudja Beach, perhaps the prettiest beach on the island. It once had a great hotel on it, which now felt into disrepair beyond recognition. A few bungalows were still operating and there was a large and airy restaurant, or whatever remained of it, but the place had no electricity and no running water. Now only locals used the beach and I saw a couple of families occupying the bungalows. It was a sad evidence of inappropriate policy of the government towards tourism.
About 200 yards clockwise along the coast were the Galawa Beaches. I would say there were on par with Maloudja, yet a bit smaller. Absolutely nothing remains from once a glamorous hotel that stood between the beaches. Not even foundations. If a hotel was still standing there, or once one is again constructed, it would have the best location on the island. Two incredibly picturesque crescent beaches with astonishing white sand and turquoise-emerald waters, contrasting with the black lava rocks, and both fringed with leaning palm trees. That was Shangri-La quality.
About 3 kilometres east along the coast, there was a place called Trou de Prophet, which was apparently visited by Mohammet. I did not visit it.
Ten kilometres east from Mitsamiouli was Lac Sale, an unusual feature on Grand Comore, but not terribly picturesque. It looked like the lake was formed in an ancient volcano crater, which might have been flooded by the ocean. Allegedly, the colour of the lake’s water changed daily from blue to emerald to green. When I visited it was green. There was quite a bit of open space around the lake, with a great potential for some tourism development, yet absence of sandy beaches nearby meant that it was unlikely anything would be established there. Instead of sandy beaches, there were white-coral-black-lava beaches, which was a striking combination. I thought there might be nice beaches slightly farther along the cost in the easterly direction, but the driver insisted there was nothing. I later argued this with a local, who came from a village near the Lac Sale. When he saw my pictures, he said that when I took them at high tide, the beaches were submerged.
Back in the south, I went to the Itsandra Beach again and see the action. The beach was even more animated than the day before. It seemed that a local school did their physical education there and the pupils played football. An hour or so later, after they finished, local boys and teenagers took their spot and kicked some football themselves. Some couples took a dip in the ocean, a few guys played some sort of badminton, and there were three teams played beach volleyball. The Sim Sim Bar and Restaurant was a perfect spot for the observation.
Weather in the afternoon improved and the clouds cleared off this side of the island. I went for a walk to Moroni. The capital was about an hour’s hike away along the busy road. For most of the part, there was no sidewalk, so one had to face the traffic. Not the most pleasant walk, a good exercise nevertheless. As I reached Moroni, there was a football match taking place on a pitch beside the Ministry of Education. It must have been an important match of some sort as the crowd was very engaged with the action.
Apart from the old harbour (now blocked by two large rusting wrecks) and its photogenic Friday Mosque, Moroni did not really have any other sights. There was a small square called Place Badjanani, right by the Friday Mosque, for which the authorities made an effort to look nice (there was also another, smaller mosque there dating back to 1700s), and local men used as a hangout spot. I took a short stroll in the old town of Moroni, which was a maze of narrow and dark alleys yet none of the houses there made any impact on me. It was just a terribly run down city.
About an hour before sunset, I walked back to Itsandra for dinner at the beach. I tried the local kari with prawns, which was rather disappointing. I am not sure what was wrong with it, but it just did not hit the spot with me. The commissioner from the Itsandra Cristal Beach Hotel named Azir, who spoke English, decided to show me the Comoran nightlife. He had to make enquiries about local bars that I wanted to see. And he was not very successful. We went just outside Moroni to MedResto Bar & Restaurant, which sold alcohol, but it did not have much of a local feel. It looked more upscale and people went there to have dinner rather than gather and chat over drinks. And since it was one of few places in Comoros where they sold booze, people came and went to buy their bottles to have them drunk at home. Not a place I wanted to see. We drove around a bit more. I told Azir that I did not have to have alcohol (in fact we did not have any at all) when I meant I wanted to see a local bar. Just a place where people gather to have Coke or Sprite, watch some football on telly, chat and socialise. But he still could not find a spot. We stopped a few times to enquire from young lads in the streets, but they did not know either. Eventually, we drove back to Itsandra and stopped at Les Delices, which was a local eatery, where there were a few people still. It was 11pm, so we did not stay long.
Aug 26, 2013 08:00 PM The Indian Ocean Extravaganza - Comoros Day1
The Air Austral flight from Reunion was bang on schedule despite some strong head winds of over 70 miles per hour. It was also a smooth ride. The airline needed some improvements to make regarding the security on board the aircraft. People were not policed to make sure they have seat belts fastened, bags too big to fit into the overhead lockers were left of seats impeding anyone’s exit, including mine, and passengers were right up their feet as soon the plane landed and taxied to the terminal. Food included a soft ham sandwich (an interesting approach given that Comoros were mostly a Muslim country), Yoplait yogurt, water, and a small Kit-Kat. But there was also coffee, tea, juices, lagers and wine as standard.
Moroni airport was a very basic airport. The arrival hall was chaotic at best. Yet, the luggage seemed to appear promptly, contrary to the immigration service that took their time to issue the €30 visa on arrival. I think I just might have had bad luck that their printer broke down and they had to arrange for a replacement.
There were few if any hustlers around. Not for the baggage and not for the taxi service. The airport did not seem to have a cash machine, but there was a bureau de change with rubbish rates and high commission. I was scraped from the baggage area by a taxi guy, who had the Itsandra Cristal Beach Hotel card. I originally quoted me €20 for the ride, as according to the hotel’s official rate, but I negotiated it down to €10, which was the usual price for an airport taxi. This translated to KMF5000, but online fora mentioned that one could easily make the trip for KMF4000. It only took about 10 minutes on a poor but sealed road to reach the hotel.
As I arrived at the hotel, there was a bit commotion at the lobby. The First Secretary for the Indian Ocean also arrived (on the same flight, actually), and he obviously brought a good number of people with him, excluding the security. The hotel tried to flog a standard room to me, despite me paying for a bungalow. I had to intervene. It took no hassle to have it corrected though. The personnel spoke some basic English, probably as basic as my French was.
The bungalow was actually rather nice. It was small, but clean and air-conditioned. It had a beach view right from the bed though a large window. And there was a small terrace with armchairs right in front offering the same view. The bedroom had a dark brown wooden floor, there was a small table at the window and dresser-come-desk above which a flat screen TV was hanging. The hotel also provided a small fridge, which came very handy for my bottle of punch coco, which I happily acquired at the airport in Reunion for the sole €7. The bathroom was tiny, perhaps 2 meters by 2 meters yet it had modern facilities including a glass shower cabin and light yellow terra-cotta tiles on the floor. A good selection of toiletries were provided, comb included.
After check-in, I took a stroll to Itsandra proper to have a look at its famous beach. Having passed through the main village, I can comfortably state that nothing remains from the glory of the Itsandra Sultanate. Most of buildings were concrete with a combination of the volcanic rock and the architects had seriously issues with their imagination.
The beach was great. Soft and tiny sand and hallow water gradually letting one to submerge. The beach got increasingly animated as the sun approached the horizon. The boys, exclusively the boys, started to play football and the beach volleyball. The footballers were rubbish, but the volleyballers were excellent. The best thing about the Itsandra Beach was the Sim Sim Bar, right in the middle of it, offering cold drinks from a long list of cocktails, snacks and proper dishes from a comprehensive menu, including seafood (KMF4000 - KMF6500), meats, burgers, pizzas and pastas.
I also had a peek at the capital city of Moroni. Just a quick one, so I will have to have a second look, proper look, go on foot into places, markets, harbours and savour the local dishes from a handful of eateries.
Aug 25, 2013 08:00 PM The Indian Ocean Extravaganza - Reunion Day2
Monday was supposed to be the helicopter day. However, the online reservation did not work and when I called yesterday, it was too late to secure a seat. So, I made a booking for Saturday. As I already had a whale watching trip booked for 10am, I had to pick a different, and more expensive, helicopter flight earlier in the morning. But since I was not planning to come back to Reunion, I did not mind to take a more complete tour instead.
Monday was also a day to get organised for the rest of the holiday. First, I had to find the Air Madagascar office and re-confirm all my flights. Then, I had to arrange a transfer from the airport to the Novotel at the other side of the island, given that all public transport in Reunion stopped after 8pm and I was scheduled to land at 8;25pm - and did not fancy paying €120 for the taxi ride.
So, with the help of google maps I found the Air Madagascar office. The pretty girl spoke English and I managed to re-confirm all my flights with them. It turned out that re-confirmation was still required, and Air Mad did change their schedules occasionally. And it already had happened to me on this trip, when they moved my flight from Morondava to Tana from 1pm to 8am! So the beauty took my mobile number and my email address and I was sorted.
Although I emailed the Novotel to arrange an airport pick up for me, they were slow in responding. In the meantime, I made a few enquiries about the taxis and other forms of transport, but it turned out that in the evening, after 8pm, taxis were the only form of public transport available on the island. The shuttle bus from the airport stopped at 6pm! The public buses in the town, including number 5 that passed by the airport, stopped at 8pm, and the intercity buses stopped at 7:30pm or 8pm. Some earlier than that. I called a couple of taxi companies and all of them quoted €120 for the airport to Saint-Gilles trip. I really did not want to pay that. I eventually called the hotel. They said that I needed to send the. an email requesting the airport pick-up. But I had already done that! I sent it again and followed up with another phone call. Then, they took all the details again and promised to confirm the arrangements by email later on. They were going to charge me €30, which I had to pay in cash directly to the driver. Not ideal, but it kinda worked. The hotel took 5 hours to send me a confirmation email! I was not impressed.
Then, I wanted to identify the stop for the airport shuttle bus, which was supposed to leave from Hotel de Ville. There were two stops at Hotel de Ville. One at the front of the Old Townhall on Avenue de la Victoire, and the other in the front of the new and ugly Townhall at end of Rue Pasteur. The latter was the right one for the shuttle.
For the rest of the day, I strolled around Saint-Denis trying to locate a number of venues for a night out. I had collected a number of details from several online travel pages and navigated the city. Several of the clubs did not exist at the addresses suggested and some appeared to have changed their names. At least I knew where to go.
Aug 24, 2013 08:00 PM The Indian Ocean Extravaganza - Reunion Day1
An early start - 'rise and shine' at 6:30am. The sun was just up and so was I. The car for the airport was booked for 7 o'clock to meet the flight departing at 10:45. As it was Sunday, the traffic was light, and I could have left an hour or so later than that. Also, in the meantime, Air Mauritius had sent an email invitation to check-in online. So, I did and the hotel kindly printed my boarding pass free of charge in their business centre. So, I really could have still saved about an hour in addition to the light traffic. The trip took about 45 minutes, but on a weekday one should plan at least two hours to make the journey.
Typically, as I was leaving the island, weather was super. There were few scattered clouds in the perfectly blue sky and the sun was heating up the air. I was having second thoughts about leaving Mauritius so soon, and I should have booked a flexible ticket, so I could leave in the evening instead. Particularly as weather was so bad the day before. There were at least 3 daily flights between Mauritius and Reunion, at least 2 in the morning and 1 in the afternoon. As I was scanning the departure board, I think there might also have been a flight mid day and on the day I was leaving, I think there were 2 flights in the evening.
Air Mauritius provided a massive Airbus A340-300 aircraft for this 35 minutes hop. The airline climbed to 16,500 feet (about 5,000 meters) for a brief moment, and then started its descend. The countless number of the cabin crew only managed to serve juice. The aircraft was probably 30% full, maybe less than that. It was curious why they provided such a big airplane for this short flight. Perhaps the plane was travelling long haul somewhere from Reunion.
The Roland Garros Airport terminal of Saint-Denis de la Reunion was small and it was not new. It was clean and the floors were highly polished stone tiles of some kind. A sort of terracotta, I guess. It was easy to maintained and looked good. The immigration procedure was relatively painless and no questions were asked, but the queue was moving very slowly due to a large number of arriving passengers and only two officers in the booth. As it was my turn, I might have spend about 5 seconds at the counter.
The arrivals hall was undergoing some work, so almost all of it was closed. This created a lot of overcrowding by the greeting relatives etc. There was a cash machine on the right hand side just as one leaves the outer door of the terminal, which worked fine. I took out my maximum daily allowance to build a back-up cash for Comoros and Madagascar, where cash machines were not so abundant and where they were available, they might not be reliable. A few feet beyond the cash machine was a bus stand for the €4 airport shuttle bus. But one has left 15 minutes before I arrived at the bus stop (at 11:45am) and next one was in 45 minutes, as the shuttle was departing approximately every hour or every 90 minutes depending on the time of day. Timetable details could be found at reunion.aeroport.fr or citalis.re which can be downloaded in a pdf format. The airport was relatively near the city, so I thought I would not wait 45 minutes and just took a taxi. OMG! This short, 5 minute ride cost me €31. But it was Sunday, so there was higher rate, but still that was not cheap, and a lot more than I expected. I would have waited those 45 minutes in an airport cafe or something, as I was not in a particular hurry.
I arrived at the Best Western Le Saint Denis Hotel right on the oceanfront by the city's famous cannons and next to the grandiose palace of the Prefecture. It was a far cry compared with the luxurious Le Meridien Ile Maurice, but it was just fine. It still cost €86 per night (a standard room at Le Meridien would be about €100, so less than 20% more expensive) for a simple, but clean room with tiled floors, air-con, and excruciatingly white walls with absolutely no art on them. The bed was nicely firm, comfortable and large. The bed linen was crisp and the bathroom was well scrubbed, although it started to show its age. The white towels were fresh and fluffy, but the toiletries were incredibly basic: two minute bars of soap enough for a couple of washes each, 2inch by 2 inch sachets of dubious shampoo and shower gel. Apart from toilet roll, that was it. For €86 a night, one would expect slightly more than that. But luckily I took some of the Cinque de Monde toiletries from Le Meridien. The room had a large corner desk, which was also used a stand for the 32 inch flat HDTV, but there was only one power socket at the desk (Continental European type) and one by the bathroom. Staying centrally had its perks, of course. One of the qualities was that one was close to the sights, bars, restaurants, etc. The other one was that it also meant lower number of taxi trips to see stuff and then come back to the hotel.
It was lunchtime. The problem with Reunion was that most eateries were shut on Sunday lunchtime, and those that were not shutting their doors normally were closed for private functions like weddings and kids' birthdays. The restaurant Le Roland Garros next to the hotel, as well as L'Oasis were too close and I did not fancy McDonald's particularly. But I walked and walked the eerie and empty streets of the capital and found not a single soul around. Perhaps mid day on Sunday was normally reserved to napping, I thought. Eventually, I found a small Chinese eatery called Ying Bin. It was full of Chinese people, so I thought I could not go wrong with this one. They squeezed me in. I had king prawns tempura (€7) and king prawn with Sichuan sauce and white rice (€10.50). It was filling, and from the benefit of a hindsight, I should have not ordered the starter.
After lunch, I went on a discovery of Reunion's capital city. It did not look very pretty on the first sight. The streets were completely lifeless, the buildings were very basic and the walls of any larger residencies were tall and rough. I started thinking that I should have not come here at all. I was getting really disappointed. But that was until I found the Cathedral, the Place Jean Paul II, the Old Townhall and a few Creole mansions around, and Rue Marechal Leclerc, full of pretty colonial buildings with their iron-wrought balconies. A few people appeared in sight as well. Mainly guys sipping their rum and getting drunk, calling me "'allo, monsieur photograph" as soon as they spotted my old and chunky camera. Rue Marechal Leclerc has since become my favourite place in the city. It was really pretty.
As the sun approached the horizon, locals started to congregate on the west-facing oceanfront, near the cannons. I stopped there, too. And then popped into Le Roland Garros Restaurant and Bar, took a small table outside facing the sunset and ordered the local brew - the Bourbon Lager (Bourbon was Reunion's former name). It came with free peanuts and spicy olives. I was lucky, as within minutes all tables facing the sunset were taken. I took my time, sipping my golden beverage slowly and the waitress did not mind. I think she did not enjoy her job that much, and did not really care how often her clients came and went. Two pints cost me €10, which was half of my designated drinks budget that day.
The sunset was pretty. The giant cliff of the island combined with the tiny vehicles going around it, right in the bottom of it gave the idea of scale, how massive the cliff was. There were a few clouds around creating a bit more dramatic sky.
After sunset I stopped at L'Oasis Bar & Pool for some punch coco. It was perfect and I eventually exceeded my allocated budget for drinks that day by €8! LOL.
Aug 23, 2013 08:00 PM The Indian Ocean Extravaganza - Mauritius Day3
When I woke up, the sky was blue. When I left the shower, it started raining. This is how, apparently, anticyclones operate. So, what does one do in Mauritius when it rains? There is no beaching, no botanic garden visiting, no strolling etc. Fortunately, it was not raining constantly. It was drizzling mostly with occasional shower.
I enquired the taxi drivers outside the hotel (not the hotel taxis!) about their prices and they were trying to take the gullible tourists for a ride. Just as well, if someone could afford to stay at Le Meridien, then they perhaps were also well enough to pay 30-50% more for taxi rides than what they should really be paying. So, I emailed taxismauritius.com and asked them for a quote to take me to Port-Louis, Pampelmousse and Grand Baie. They emailed me back within 5 minutes - MUR2000. Not too bad I thought and asked them to pick me up.
Port-Louis was dry when I arrived. I took a stroll at the Waterfront, along the the main avenue to the Government House and explored a few side streets. I peeked into a few stores at the street market. One guy turns to me:
- Hello sir. Would you like to buy a t-shirt? I have a new collection.
- OK, can I get a t-shirt just like the one you are wearing?
- Oh, sorry. This is a sample. I am modelling it.
He was a very funny and nice guy. It wasn't actually his shop, but his brother-in-law's. He did have a nice collection of t-shirts there, so I bought one for MUR400. A blue one with white motif. I probably would not have bought anything, but he was not pushy and smiled nicely. And it started raining and I was already standing there for a while, trying to wait it out. I snapped a few photos of him and his little cousin, who 'assisted' him in the shop, as an additional souvenir just for me and called my taxi driver.
I decided to skip Pampelmousse as it really started to rain badly at that point. So, I went directly to Grand Baie. Now, Grand Baie was considered a big touristy place full of boutiques, cafes, bars, restaurants and clubs. It sounded good to me! The taxi driver, who by then already told me the entire story of his life, gave me an overview tour of Grand Baie for orientation, and then parked the car by the fish market, so I could get off and stroll on my own. I went to see the Hindu Temple right by the beach and checked a few bars and clubs for later. I stopped at the Banana Beach Club, next to Kamikaze (formerly known as Zanzibar) for a shot of premium rum. I also checked the Sunset Cafe, which apart from fresh draft local lager (MUR135 for a small 0.33l jug with complimentary peanuts and crisps), also did breakfasts (from MUR180) and food from the nearby Paparazzi Restaurant. I think it was operating as an outlet for the restaurant. For the Sunset Cafe was closing at 8pm, so really soon after sunset. And I think the restaurant was opening at sunset.
Mauritius was still rather under developed and it looked a bit dull in the rain. One could get bored rather quickly. Of course for those with big bags or willing to buy and extra bag to take home, could shop at the factory outlets. And many of the fashion houses, apparently, had their original outlets in the village called Arsenal, including Boss. But I already had bought a t-shirt from the nice guy in Port-Louis and Le Meridien Ile Maurice also had given me a free t-shirt and those were going to stretch my cabin bag. I do have some clothes to give away to poor people, but I am not expecting to offload those until I reach Madagascar, and perhaps Comoros. So, no shopping for me on Mauritius.
For dinner I had crab gratin and three giant jumbo prawns, which were superb!
Aug 22, 2013 08:00 PM The Indian Ocean Extravaganza - Mauritius Day2
So, apart from Lovenut, there was another club in Victoria that played good music, perhaps nicer than Lovenut. It's name started with B. But the most popular disco on Mahé was next to the airport. Its name escaped me. Apparently it was the best one on the island. On Wednesdays they had ladies night, and the venue was at its best on Fridays and Saturdays. And if Friday fell on a payday at the end of the month, it was crazy!
Weather was still mixed on Mahe, when I was about to leave. After breakfast, a short stroll at the beach and a moment or two of relaxation at the beach pool bar and it was time to pack up and jump into the taxi. And as I crossed the mountains to get to the north-eastern side, the sun came out. Typical! But the taxi driver explained to me that during winter months (July to October) weather was typically better on that side. Yet, the fact that I managed to fly into the anticyclone (also affecting Mauritius) was not helping either.
By the way, just as I suspected that the SCR600 for the ride from the airport to the Grand Anse might have been a rip-off, the ride back from the hotel to the airport cost exactly the same. And it was a town taxi. The driver explained to me why there were so few taxis on the island. In Victoria, it was not too hard to flag a cab, but outside the town, particularly during the hours of darkness, it was an issue somewhat. Taxis on Mahe were not cruising (the phenomenon of taxi cruising might be unique to London, methinks - lol), and one would have to all one for a pick-up.
The Mahe airport could do with some investment. The terminal was showing its age and the uncomfortable plastic seats in the departure lounge did not look clean. Perhaps they were scrubbed well, but they were definitely worn out and they did not look good. The check-in area was poor and outside - no air-con. The security area, combined with immigration (so far, employing the hottest Seychellois I have seen to date) was minute. But both were efficient. The international departure was small and mediocre facilities - a handful of boutiques and shops and a very poorly stocked bar/snack bar.
The flight to Mauritius operated by Etihad was on time. It was an older aircraft than the one that brought me to Seychelles, but it was just fine. The food was slightly better on this flight, but the wine was still awful. I watched The Big Bang Theory and time flew nicely, just like the airplane.
Touchdown was right on schedule. It was 4:25pm, so about two hours before sunset. I was hoping to reach the hotel before then and have a sundowner at the beach. But it was not going to happen. The traffic on Mauritius was horrendous! I think the Mauritians should do something about it, because it ruins travellers' first impression. Perhaps the airport is on the wrong side of the island, but moving it now after the brand new terminal is about to open was not an option, I guess. To travel 45km it took me over 2 hours! So, I missed the sunset and the will to go out at the Grand Baie.
But when I arrived Le Meridien Ile Maurice, I was rather impressed. The lobby was large and airy, the welcome juice and a shot of iced espresso were a delight. I did not even have to stand at the reception. I was sat down at one of the tables in the lobby, almost disappearing in the plush armchair and a front office clark came to me to complete the formalities. I thought this was good for an experience of a guest with highest possible loyalty level at the Starwood Group Hotels like me, but this was not going to be over.
I was led through the grounds over to my suite. It was Le Meridien's Royal Suite. Not too shabby, I have to say. Perhaps the best suite I have ever stayed at, erm... we have stayed at. Our suite had two levels. Upstairs was the boudoir complete with a jacuzzi and showers, and a dresser. And the downstairs, connected with a little spiral staircase, was the living room with a terrace overlooking the Indian Ocean and the palm-fringed beach; it had a nice round table with four chairs, a three seater sofa, two armchairs and a coffee table, a bar, a kitchen, visitors' toilet, and a separate sitting area with two nice armchairs and a coffee table right under the staircase. There were a few lamp tables and enough room to throw a party for 200 people. Now, we understand that sometimes loyalty pays. A good one this is.
A quick shower to freshen up, and we were off to the main restaurant for some seafood buffet. Yum, yum.
Aug 21, 2013 08:00 PM The Indian Ocean Extravaganza - Seychelles Day1
The flight from Mauritius landed on time. It was coded as Air Seychelles (HM), but was actually operated by Etihad Airways (EY). It was my first time on Etihad (it would also have been on Air Seychelles), and I had mixed experience. I liked that there seemed to be more legroom than on most other airlines I had travelled before and the aircraft looked clean - it was a small A320, by the way. But the food was mediocre and selection of juices just two, wine was terrible and coffee really not too good. The personal entertainment unit had a jolly nice little screen at the back of the seat in the front, with rather good resolution, but many of the films and TV programmes were not loaded, despite what was advertised in the magazine. Oh, well.
Anyway, at the arrivals, the immigration procedure was swift and painless and not a single question was asked. I might have stood at the desk for about ten seconds and my passport was stamped. The customs procedure was even quicker. On approach, a rather good looking officer extended his arm to collect the customs form, grinned nicely and I did not even have to stop. As I emerged into the arrivals hall, I spotted a cash machine (HSBC bank) to right, placed inside the same wall as the door from which I emerged from the customs.
The taxis were right outside. Victoria, the capital, was just 8km north of the airport, so taxis were not very expensive if one wanted to go to Baie Beau Vallon, just west of Victoria, where many hotels were located. But I had to get to the other side of the island, and go over the mountains in the centre. The taxi driver demanded SCR600 (€37) for what on map looked like a short ride. But it was not short or easy. And it was during the hours of darkness.
The hotel, Le Meridien Barbarons, was expecting me. I had a letter from the General Manager waiting for me, a welcome drink, coupons for free internet access and a nice room ready. A two room executive suite with a kitchenette and a bar, plus two balconies overlooking the beach and the ocean.
After sleeping in a bit and a buffet breakfast, I jumped on a public bus number 11 going to Victoria, to check the city. The ride, and any single ride on a bus anywhere on the Mahe island was SCR5 (€0.30). The capital was small. It had few sights, but it was clean and safe. A few colonial and colourful Creole buildings made a good mix, but overall there was nothing stunning about it. So, I decided to check some of the beaches around the island that some travellers, or rather guidebooks, were raving about. My list included Anse Intendance, Anse Takamaka, Baie Lazare and others.
So, I jumped on bus number 5A to Intendance, all the way to the south of the island. The bus ride was interesting, and I saw a few extra beaches on the western side of the island, but there was nothing to write home about. And when I got the southern part of the west coast, the tide was so high that there was not even a sign of beaches. The only signs that I could see were massive warning signs that no-one should attempt any swimming due to dangerous currents in the winter months (until October). Anse Corail, Anse Intendance, Anse Takamaka were all gone. It was even hard to take a picture, because there was no place to put one's feet. And the waves were so big that they went right onto the coastal road covering it with sand and broken coral.
I walked from Anse Corail all the way to Baie Lazare. It was a long walk up and down as the road went inland occasionally, but an interesting one. I passed through a number of villages and I have to say that Seychelles is not all glamour, glitter and gold. The households were simple, corrugated iron dominated in sight and the houses were small and modest. Yet, the people were very friendly. Every single person, who met me on the road said hello. Every single one! Old, young, boy or girl. It was super.
As the sun set, I wanted to go back north. I thought that I could potentially just walk into the Kempinski Hotel nearby and order a taxi. But on the way, I stopped at Baie Lazare bus stop, which was the last stop of bus number 11. My bus to go back to the hotel. But I waited and waited. Over an hour and the bus did not come. Some other people were also waiting and when bus number 5 came, they told me to board it and then change on the way. So I did. Then they changed their mind and told me to continue on the bus to the other side of the island (yes, over the mountain!) and then take bus number 9 from the other side. So I did. There was a bus stop just outside the Hospital on Anse Royal. I waited and waited again. It took about 45 minutes to the right bus to arrive. I crossed the mountains again and got off just outside the hotel. Perhaps not the best use of such a short time I had on the island, but it was fun.
I had plans to visit one of the restaurants on Grand Anse, but I just could not be bothered anymore, as I would have to leg it there. Uphills! I checked the main restaurant at the hotel, which did buffet dinner for SCR600. I did not like anything there. The best thing they had was fish in maracuja sauce, but still did not look very appetising. I headed to the bar, downed a small bottle of local lager called SeyBrew, hated it and decided to check La Cocoteraie, the a'la carte restaurant at the beach. Ordered spicy carrot and prawns soup and the papaya-scallop-prawn salad, two glasses of fresh papaya juice and vanilla ice-cream. The manager of the restaurant treated me to a free glass of red wine. Nice touch!
Aug 20, 2013 08:00 PM The Indian Ocean Extravaganza - Mauritius Day1
With a layover of almost ten hours in Mauritius, the plan what to do required careful consideration before leaving London. A few clicks here and there online, and I found a taxi and tour company, who did airport collections and tours around the island (taxismauritius.com). I sent them an email and a few minutes later I had a response with quotes and recommendations. I sent an email back, they took my flight details and that was it. No online payment or credit card data. Simple.
When I emerged from customs into the arrival hall, there was a chap with my name written on a cardboard, and off we went. I wanted to see the Isle aux Cerfs (the Deer Island), Mahebourg and Chamarel. But it was early. The flight landed touched down at 05:35, taxied a little on the runway, the immigration procedure, the customs procedure and I was sitting in the car at 06:05. Mahebourg, which was on the way, just north of the airport, was still sleeping. Mind you, the sun was not rising until about 06:35. So, the driver suggested we continued to Trou d'eau Douce, where the boats for the Deer Island were departing. It took about an hour to get there, but it was still much too early for any activity on Mauritius. The nearby restaurants were not yet open for breakfast at 07:00. So, I walked on the public beach a little and at 08:00 one of the restaurants opened Chez Tino (literally 'At Tino's' or officially translated to the Tino Restaurant). Screaming kids on the airplane and a rather early morning activity required extra quantities of coffee. So two black coffees and a glass of freshly pressed guava juice (all for MUR150) later and I was discussing the boat transfer to the small island.
Contrary to some reports and online travel literature, there was apparently no regular transport from the main Mauritius island to the Deer Island. One had to organise their own transfer. But a few entrepreneurial people organise tours and transfers over. I paid a standard transfer price of MUR500 (€12) for a speed boat. The Deer Island was just fine, but nothing really that special at all. It had good sandy beaches and a small waterfall. It also had very nicely located beach restaurant and bar (terribly overpriced, where they charged MUR110 for a small cup of coffee!) and a hilltop Indian restaurant. A few lads hanging around offered a number of watersports, including parasailing. I spent a couple of hours on the island just walking around.
Then, I went to see a few sights around the southern island, a couple of waterfalls, gorges, cliffs, mountains, a Hindu lake with a few temples and statues and eventually the Chamarel - the Earth of Seven Colours, where entry was MUR175. It was a nice area, but the multicoloured rock felt a bit underwhelming. It was a fine natural feature (volcanic basalt rock subjected to sun and high humidity that kept breaking down the individual components of the rock, including iron), but the 'over-civilised' approach with the ticket gate and pathways seemed a bit awkward to me.
The site was about an hour's drive from the airport, so I had little time to go and see anything more, including Mahebourg, which I might or might not see on my next visit to Mauritius in a couple of days.
I could write a few more facts and features of Mauritius's airport, but it was literally about a week before a new and funky terminal was about to open, meaning that whatever I was going to write it was going to become obsolete before anyone actually manages to read the travel log.
Aug 19, 2013 08:00 PM The Indian Ocean Extravaganza - Departure
Gatwick airport, since it changed ownership, has been gradually improving but it has a long, long way to go to match standards of major international airports in Europe. The South Terminal, which was worse of the two, has received more immediate investment after the sale of the airport. The North Terminal, was not too bad is now lagging behind. Even the British Airways First Class Lounge is rubbish.
The flight left on time. I had relatively good seat. The selection of films on the entertainment channels was not great. I thought I might want to see Oblivion with Tom Cruise and Morgan Freeman, but decided against it. How good can this film look like on a tiny screen despite of its quality and plot? So, I listened to some music and snoozed. The flight was rather smooth. However, a bunch kids, who were running along the cabin were extremely annoying. One or two landed on my legs, as I tried to catch some sleep! Grrr!! And then, at about 2 o'clock in the morning, three of them decided to scream their heads off. That was not cool. Not cool at all. If one cannot control their kids or make sure they can travel comfortably, one should not be putting them on 12 hours flights! I felt sorry for the kids (somewhat!) and empathised with the fellow travellers, particularly those on a business trip, who had to be up in the morning and be conscious enough to go though their day of meetings, presentations, decision making etc.
The flight landed ten minutes ahead of schedule. And contrary to a number of reports and travel literature online, my experience at the immigration queues and desks was painless and swift. The immigration personnel was not the fastest working that I have seen in all other 160 countries, but the queues were moving just fine and I did not have to wait longer than 10 minutes to get through. As I only had hand luggage (of course!) and did not pick up anything from the carrousel, my bags were subjected to an X-ray scan at the customs desk. My shoulder bag containing the AirBook, iPad, camera, iPhone charger, computer power cable and camera battery charger attracted one question: "What do you have in that bag, sir?" So, I replied: "As you could see on the screen, loads of stuff". I handed my passport and after just one flick through, I was waved in with no problem at all.
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