glimpses of Mauritius
After five days in Mauritius – three of which we spent waiting out a cyclone warning – we were beginning to feel more than a little stir crazy. As soon as the storm had passed and the meteorological service had lifted the cyclone advisory, we booked a car to take us around the island.
We had caught glimpses of Mauritius on our hour-long drive to the resort, passing colorful Tamil temples, verdant mountains, and the Aapravasi Ghat in Port Louis. One of two UNESCO World Heritage sites on the island, this complex served as the Immigration Depot between 1849 and 1923, during which time it processed half a million indentured laborers en route from India to plantations scattered throughout the British Empire.
The capital, Port Louis, counts with several other points of cultural interest, but after being cooped up for several days while the tropical storm had raged just off Mauritius’ coast we longed to stretch our legs. We decided to head to Black River Gorges National Park, whose vast expanse of rolling hills and dense thickets represents the last stand of the island’s once grand forests.
A paved road runs through the heart of the park, connecting various lookout spots and other points of interest. We had asked our driver to drop us close to the main entrance, where we thought we’d be able to find a suitable trail. Entering the park, our driver asked if we wanted to visit the Grand Bassin – a crater lake in the middle of which sits the island’s holiest Hindu temple. We waved him on, emphasizing that we had come to hike. He stopped again at a waterfall lookout point, and again we impatiently waved him on. It was only when we arrived at another well sign-posted lookout point that the truth dawned on us.
We had done the very bare minimum of research on Mauritius, and it turns out we had missed some crucial facts about Black River Gorges. While there certainly are hiking trails inside the park, our request to be dropped at the “main entrance” clearly had gotten lost in translation. This is because the park has four different entrances, none of them more prominent than any other. There is nowhere to pay a park fee, and the paved road not only connects the communities on either side of the park but also passes by all of the park’s main attractions. Had we not cottoned on to our mistake, our driver likely would have simply driven from one end of the park to the other, his perplexity at our refusal to get out to see the sights growing with every lookout point we passed up.
Fortunately, we caught our error and got out at the Gorges lookout point, which offered a stunning panorama view of the valleys that lend the park its name. Macaque monkeys were hungrily devouring mangos at the forest edge. Mist from a waterfall blanketed part of the lookout. Long-tailed tropicbirds made lazy circles over the tree-covered gorges. It was a beautiful sight to behold.
D spotted what looked like a trail at the edge of the lookout and we plunged into the forest, walking a little more than half a kilometer before the trail dead-ended into a turbulent stream that fed one of the waterfalls we had observed from the lookout. Next, we retraced our steps and visited the Alexandra Waterfall lookout, which offered views all the way down to the coast. A wide lane led through the forest and at D’s insistence we embarked on another stroll, which we had to cut short because Junebug gave unmistakable indications of needing a nap.
Our last stop of the day was the Seven Coloured Earths – a gimmicky attraction in Chamarel, right outside the park boundary. As you can see in our unedited photo, the mineral earth deposits at Chamarel are definitely multi-colored. The colors are a far cry, however, from both the Photoshop-manipulated images that plague the Internet and the very real vibrant colors we had observed in Death Valley and the Valley of Fire. The visit was not a complete loss, though, because the site also offers a great lookout point for the Chamarel Waterfall, which is easily the most striking cascade of the ones we observed throughout the day.
On our way back to the resort we did stop by the Grand Bassin, but decided not to linger at Lord Shiva’s temple. It was getting late, and the kids had clearly had more than enough adventures for one day.