L O G B O O K - by John Philp



CRAZY SHOPKEEPERS ON RODRIGUES

TUE 5 OCT - It is ten days since we left Coco’s Island, on our way to the Mauritian Island of Rodrigues. The wind dies almost to nothing and a rolling swell remains. The motion of the yacht is causing the sails to flog unnecessarily, so we haul them down and for the first time on this passage revert to the motors. Tau motors on into the night. At midnight we are 15 miles from Rodrigues and slow down enough so that we don’t arrive in the dark.

WED 6 OCT - Daylight arrives and we proceed onto Port Mathurin.The coast guard allows us to come along side the main wharf to clear all formalities. We have time now to walk around town, eat a meal and plan the next few days.

Portuguese explorer Don Diego Rodrigues was the first European to sight Rodrigues in 1528, although Arab traders had known of it since the 10th century. There were no indigenous peoples on the island. In 1691 Huguenots escaping religious persecution in France became the first settlers. In contrast to the main island of Mauritius, the locals today are more African than Indian in origin and most are Roman Catholic. Many of them are descendants of liberated slaves. Fortunately for use most of them speak English though they prefer French, or their first language - Creole, which is an informal parlance that developed much like pidgin in the Pacific and has many words in common with French. Rodrigues is 18 kilometers long and has a population of 37,000.

The main town of Port Mathurin is exotic and busy. The streets are narrow, congested and dusty. Most of the signs are in French. Scooters and cars zip by miraculously missing pedestrians and street vendors. The vendors spill out onto the pot holed roads selling trinkets, souvenirs, fruit, and fast food.

During our stroll around the Port Mathurin we meet Mahmood - the local grocer, who offers us the use of his internet connection, but asks that we come back the next day when his son returns from school as he is the only one capable with the computer. Mahmood was fascinated by the fact that we were Fiji Islanders and asked what our home phone number was. We were like hmnn.. ok here it is (very puzzled but figuring it would do no harm). He dialed it and Michelle talked to our house girl Vono for a few minutes. What a crazy, fun guy! Then he discovered that we had a satellite phone and wanted to dial that as well. Oh boy! Unfortunately the call wouldn’t go through. I explained that perhaps Mauritius Telecom wasn’t signed up to this new phone system but Mahmood wouldn’t accept this. He called Mauritius Telecom and spoke to them at length, then proudly announced to me that, yes - he could call Inmarsat satellite telephones and every other system in the world but not this new one just yet. In my mind this episode reflected the Mauritian character. They have a positive, ‘It’s not so difficult - we can do it’ attitude. Nothing is too hard for them and new technology especially is a source of both curiosity and pride.

THUR 7 OCT - Today we shopped in Port Mathurin for souvenirs and relaxed. The outstanding discovery of the week was the young man in town with a curry and roti stand set up on the back of his bicycle. We also found that we could scoot ashore in the dinghy every morning for fresh baguette and croissants.

FRI 8 OCT - In the morning four of us hired scooters to explore the island. The man renting the bikes was ultra casual. I’d left my driving license at home and taken along my passport instead, all the time expecting him to hassle me about it. Instead the rental transaction took exactly five seconds. He said, “Ere is ze helmet. Au revoir!”. No license, no rental agreement, no deposit, no nothing. Cool!

The ride around the island was a laugh. Rodrigues has no coastal road. Most of the beaches and towns on the coast are joined to each other by roads intersecting in the center of the island. After we visited one town we would race up a winding road to an intersection in the hills then try to figure out which way to go next. All the towns looked the same, even the locals hanging out on the road sides looked similar.

We visited a limestone cave called Caverne de Patate that you descend into and walk along in pitch black darkness (save for the light of torches) for 1,267 meters and up some stairs at the other end. Later I went to a nearby shop for cold drinks. The African shopkeeper and I got to talking and he proudly told me he had fought for the British in the Second World War, and knew some Fijians during his six year tour of duty.

Afterwards we rode to Trou d’Argent - the best beach on the island. We parked the scooters at a gate and walked a kilometer through a forest of pine trees, winding through the trees softly treading on pine needles. A delightful walk to a stunning beach. There was not a soul in sight and the beach looked untouched by humans save for some names scratched high on a limestone wall.

SAT 9 0CT - The ladies visit the market at six thirty in the morning to reprovision. We weigh anchor and left town before lunch headed for the main island of Mauritius.

No sooner had we left the lee of the island than we were buffeted by a South Westerly of 25-30 knots. We had a reefed mainsail up and tried setting the Staysail but were too slow and it flapped around madly. After a couple of minutes Captain yelled at us to take it back in and wait until the breeze abated before trying again. The breeze didn’t slacken and it wasn’t until the next day that we could put the second sail up.

SUN 10 OCT - We’re at sea beating towards Mauritius. The wind is a steady 25 knots gusting forty at times from the SSW.

MON 11 OCT - Tau arrives at the capital Port Louis in the early morning. Time to deal with the port bureaucracy! The Coast Guard, Customs, Immigration, and Port Authority all have conflicting instructions on what to do and where to dock. A couple of frustrating hours later we untangle ourselves from them, and moor at the grand Le Caudan Waterfront complex.

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