Friday, December 4, 2009

December 1, 2009 – Vance, Bobbi, and Glenn off Flic en Flac, Mauritius, my dives #937-938

After driving down from Trou aux Biches and Grand Baie, we ended up in Flic en Flac, a town off the west coast with tacky beach scene appeal. All the coastal areas had public beaches with dirt roads and parking lots and ubiquitous Italian ice cream trucks playing snippets of familiar tunes over and over again that must have driven the drivers bonkers. My memories of Mauritius are permeated by the jingling tunes from these trucks, plus the sounds of birds sweetly singing. The beaches had sparse lawn patches above the sand and a variety of trees, including baobabs and cedar pines.

We parked at one of the beaches and went on foot in search of accommodation. One hotel apartment complex recommended in LPG was full but the landlady suggested we try in the recently built villas in the grid of streets just back of her hotel. We found plenty of choices there but declined the first ones because there were still clients in some of them or the owners had brought their kids down for the day to let them splash in the pool and the villa was over-run by kids who had to be removed so it could be cleaned. Eventually we got a villa just a block off the beach and liked it so much we stayed three days.

The villa cost 2500 rupees a night, about $75, and had 4 bedrooms on two upstairs floors. It was quiet and spacious, fully equipped kitchen, two baths, and had a nice pool outside. Other guests seemed to spend all of their time eating and drinking at tables on the lanais off their apartments. Where Glenn slept the first night the sun woke him up at 5 a.m. so he simply moved upstairs and had the whole floor to himself, with a big double bed in the bed room facing west over the courtyard. So he had one floor with two bedrooms and Bobbi and I had the other, nice.

We used this abode as a base for hiking one day in the Black River park, and the next day we dived two dives with the nearby Ti-Cabo divers. The instructor there, Fadi, had lived in Oman and took a liking to us, and showed us the best diving possible there. Our morning dive was at Serpent Reef. Unfortunately vis was not great, and the underwater scenery was essentially boulders, but the life in the rocks made for interesting diving. There were leaf fish for example, sea snakes, many kinds of eels, several really large scorpion fish, a small torpedo ray, sea slugs, and other things we would not have spotted had we gone there unguided, but Fadi seemed to know where each animal lived. The second dive at Aquarium was more of the same, and the two dives we did there we simply let our eyes follow where Fadi pointed.

Impressions of Mauritius

We were not so enthused to want to spend a second day diving there, so we moved over to the east coast, Trou d’Eau Douce, and then down to Mahebourg for our flight home. Overall we were quite pleased with our Mauritius holiday. It was easy to go without bookings, except we had arranged for a car and a first night in Mahebourg (to facilitate hook up with Glenn, but we could have done without that and just selected what appealed to us when we arrived in town). Accommodation was plentiful in all price ranges and excellent value, food was delicious with creole accent, beer was cheap, the islanders were relaxed and unhurried, it seemed to be a safe place, small enough to get around the island on a single tank of gas ($40, but we only needed the one fill). The weather was great, mostly sunny, sometimes windy, and the misty rains that came occasionally were short and welcome. The scenery was strikingly reminiscent of Hawaii, we enjoyed all the diving we did, and we’d like to go again to Rodrigues next time, and after that to Reunion.

Like a certain Captain Flinders who sailed his British ship to Mauritius at a time, unbeknownst to him, England and France had gone to war, so he was detained on arrival and spent six years in a French gaol, we were captivated by the charm of the island (though put off where traffic was too much for its narrow roads, which compromised the ambience of many small villages). Driving there was like playing a computer game, anything could be walking, pedaling, stopping, or crossing in the narrow roads, where lanes often dropped without shoulder into the sea, and cars coming at you were swerving into your lane to avoid their own obstacles, plus driving on the left, all combine to keep drivers on their toes there. But I was talking about diving, how did driving come up?

November 28-29, 2009 – Vance, Bobbi, and Glenn off Trou aux Biches, Mauritius, my dives #934-936

We weren’t sure what to expect about diving in Mauritius. We had the impression from reading up that the best diving would be off the islands in the far north and we could have gone there if we had left Mahebourg early after sleeping over there our first night on the island, where our son Glenn flew in from Qatar and joined us at Le Bambou Guest House. It’s a small island, and if you rent a car you can reach almost anywhere in an hour, unless you get behind a cane truck, in which case allow an hour and a half (you’ll likely encounter several cane trucks, so better allow two hours).

But we lingered the following morning in Mahebourg and had crossed the island on the trunk road to Port Louis but had only reached Grand Baie by 11:00 next day. That was a tourist town in the north with lots of dive centers. Our Lonely Planet said the dive centers had moved a few kilometers away to Trou aux Biches at the northwest corner of the island so we gravitated there. Somehow we ended at Pro Dive where the aging owner Kevin, with luxury boat and frizzy blond hairdo, convinced us there hadn’t been sharks on the north islands since the last tsunami and the best diving was right there off Trou aux Biches. To top it off he got us a remarkable deal at the Casuarina resort where he was based. He quoted us a price so low we had to argue it with the manager, since Kevin had mentioned a very special group rate, but eventually the hotel honored the quoted price, which included breakfast and dinner plus free use of kayaks, paddleboats, windsurfers, and laser sailboats at times we weren’t diving. So we got to stay a couple of days at a luxury resort at a price so low I had to promise the manager I would not divulge it, and because we were guests at the resort we got discounted diving as well, $400 for the nine dives Bobbi, Glenn, and I ended up doing, fully equipped (with new 5 mm wetsuits, much appreciated, since the water temperature was 24 degrees at depth).

The diving was decent. We really liked the viz off Trou aux Biches. Our first dive was a little odd simply because we had been briefed for a wreck dive between 21 and 25 meters but ended up with a divemaster and a beginner and told to follow them, so we dived a shallow reef called Japanese Gardens, in the vicinity of the wreck that everyone else was diving. It wasn’t a bad site. We saw a cowtail ray in the sand and garden eels, and lots of the usual reef fishes. The beginner had trouble descending (ear problems) and the divemaster, Vivian, was testing a mask with a camera mounted on it, and both of these caused some delays as we meandered on the same part of the reef waiting for the student to join us, and for Vivian to take test photos.

Twenty minutes into the dive we had only reached 11 or 12 meters, far short of the 25 meter depth we were expecting, so we were a little confused. No telling what was happening exactly, but I had mentioned the day before when we were discussing possible dive sites that I was not impressed by wrecks per se, and I guess they wanted to check us out and needed someone who wasn’t that keen on wrecks to dive with the beginner. In any event, because of the odd outcome of our morning dive, for the afternoon, they reversed their groupings and took Bobbi and Glenn and I to the wreck while the others did their second dive of the day on the shallower Japanese Gardens where we had dived in the morning.

The wreck 'Japanese Trawler' was a nice one. Due to the great vis the wreck loomed at us as we approached, about 8 meters tall at the bow. At the stern we found another cow-tail ray, and in one of the funnels there was a green moray we were all encouraged to pet. The cargo holds were open, I dropped in to one (being sure to keep overhead clear so as not to technically penetrate) and the engine room was similarly exposed. Again it was full of fish and made a very pleasant dive. Glenn was somehow unable to switch his underwater camera from video to still photo mode and so videoed the entire dive, which we he's finally put up at YouTube.

The following day was a Sunday but because there were others who wanted to dive Kevin opened his shop for a morning trip to Coral Gardens, a site with gorgon fan corals off Club Med. The dive here was interesting at first, there was a big green momma moray we could stroke, being careful not to disturb her baby in the process, just as toothy as her momma. There were lots of scorpion fish and other small things hidden in the boulders, but eventually it became cold and redundant, and I was glad to surface and be on our way.