Shanda Moorghen seeks out the familiar in his homeland of Mauritius but finds adventure and new experiences
The thought of being a stranger on my own island was a scary prospect. As I landed in the far-too-shiny new airport and took my first breath of steamy Mauritian air after years of British weather, my sense of belonging was shaky. “I know this place inside out,” I told myself. “No surprises.”
After a few hours of mild dislocation, I was finding solace in the local food. As a former French and British colony with ancestry going back to Asia and Africa, the one word that comes to mind when thinking of food in Mauritius is ‘eclectic’. There’s no national dish but if there were one, it would be dal puri. This yellowy flour wrap, when filled with some of the finest local curries, exudes Mauritian flair. Dal puri is available everywhere on the island for less than a dollar.
Mauritius had not stood still for the past few years, waiting for me to come back. Since I’d been away, the first Subway restaurant had opened on the island and new classics were available elsewhere I looked, including the ubiquitous ‘Mauritian rice salad’. The red peppers, the eggplant slices, the sweet corn, the green peas; as close to the Mauritian flag as a dish can get.
After a few days of soaking up the sun on white-sand Flic en Flac Beach, Bhooshan, an old family friend and cab driver, convinced me to join him on a road trip in the southern part of Mauritius.
For a long time, sugar was the backbone of the Mauritian economy. Machines have taken over most of the manual work but we still saw the odd group of labourers, with hunched backs and bags full of sugarcane, looking for shade where there was none on the dusty paths.
At the end of the fields was a cliff, La Roche qui Pleure, whose remote location makes it a tricky spot to get to. As the splendour of the ocean mesmerised us, the crashing of the waves on the rocks created the illusion of a weeping man. Bhooshan loved this place. It was so peaceful.
There was still so much to discover in my own home but there wasn’t enough time. As I prepared to head back to the grey UK after a couple of weeks, everything started feeling familiar again — the places, the people, the food, the heat and the sense of wonder. I just couldn’t get used to the disconcertingly modern airport, though. It was too soon for that.