Home away from home

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iol travel aug 20 nt maurituis . With its warm sea, sandy beaches and sugar cane, Mauritius feels familiar.

First, before you start to hate me, know that this is not a paid holiday. My husband, Anthony, was transferred to Mauritius for a work assignment, so we made the decision to pack up and move there. It wasn’t easy to leave my job, but it was something we couldn’t really refuse.

Our five-year-old son, Kallum, took our move to Mauritius in his stride. After an early departure of 3am from our home in Cape Town, a two-hour flight to Johannesburg, a four-hour flight to Mauritius and a one-hour drive across the island to our new home, Kallum made the rather simple but perfect observation: “Er, Daddy, Mauritius is a lot further than I thought.”

There are aspects of Mauritius that make it feel like home to me. For example, the sugar cane fields make me feel like we are living in Tongaat or Verulam.

The beaches are gorgeous. As a former Durban girl, I truly appreciate living on a warm coastline again.

But being in Mauritius for nine months is quite different from what I imagine a stay at a holiday resort would be like. You have to temper the need for familiar things with the excitement of trying new things.

Shopping was our first challenge. I felt so silly when I asked a stranger to tell me which bottle was the crushed garlic and ginger. He kindly helped me and then pointed out there were pictures on the bottles. Duh!

iol travel aug 20 nt L'abourdonnais_CITY_E1 Labourdonnais is more than 100 years old. .

Life on the island is laidback and increased physical activity is inevitable.

Recently, we were at the beach and within an hour we spotted a couple on a kayak, a windsurfer and two guys paddling standing up.

I love that we can walk around freely in our neighbourhood.

We have met really interesting people during our stay here, largely thanks to Kallum. He had mentioned a friend at school, Prem, several times when I received a phone call from Prem’s mom, Pann, to say Kallum had invited the family to come over the following day.

Prem turned out to be a sweet little boy whose mother is Thai and father is Dutch.

Pann’s family, who are based in the south of Thailand, have their own rice fields so she used to work in the rice plantation. We had an interesting discussion about how rice is grown and harvested.

iol travel aug 20 nt shiva temple Mauritius-Grand-Bassin_CITY_E1 The awe-inspiring Shiva Temple at Grand Bassin. INDEPENDENT NEWSPAPERS

I did a bit of research and found out that a Singapore-based company, Vita Rice, opened a 500ha rice farm in Mauritius in 2009.

At the time, Vita Rice boss, Graeme Robertson, said Africa was the fastest growing rice consumer in the world.

Generally the rice here is of poor quality compared to rice bought in South Africa. It’s quite dirty and has to be washed 100 times before it can be considered clean.

Still speaking of rice, I was excited to find a brand of rice with my name on it – and, yes, I did buy it.

I’ve always known my name (Neesa) was Arabic for “woman” – I found out this week it also means “lady” in Thai.

Anyway, back to Pann’s family. They later branched out from growing rice and planted rubber trees, so Pann used to work with the rubber trees too.

It’s fascinating to chat to someone from such a different culture and lifestyle.

Pann is a Buddhist and remarked on the fact that Hindus in Mauritius do not eat beef or pork.

She wanted to know if South African Hindus are of the same mindset, and I replied that, for the most part, they don’t eat beef or pork either.

She was surprised, because she said the Hindus she knows in Thailand eat both.

In terms of seeing things in and around Mauritius, we have been to L’Adventure Sucre (sugar adventure), which is a museum showcasing the sugar cane and labour history of Mauritius. After a tour of the museum, you can opt for a sugar and a rum tasting.

I’m not usually a rum drinker but, man, that coffee-flavoured rum tasted awesome.

We’ve also visited L’abourdonnais – a chateau that is more than 100 years old and has been restored. A walk through this beautiful home takes you on a trip through time as you glimpse what life must have been like for early settlers and sugar cane barons.

We took a drive down to the southern tip of the island to Blue Bay, where the waters have been declared a natural reserve and a trip in a glass bottom boat provided ample viewing pleasure. We gasped at the variety of coral, the beautiful fish seemingly oblivious to our scrutiny. The trip ended with a stop so we could snorkel in the ocean and swim with the fish.

Other places we’ve visited include the picturesque Seven Sands of Chamarel, the stunningly beautiful Pamplemousses Botanic Gardens, the dormant volcano and the peaceful, awe-inspiring Lord Shiva temple at Grand Bassin.

The aquarium in Mauritius is small and quaint – I have only good things to say because our landlord just happens to own it.

Mr Bouquet resides in London most of the time, but visits us for a week at a time every couple of months. His son, Jean-Paul, pops in when we complain about water problems, which happens more frequently than I’d like.

Most of the homes in Mauritius seem to use solar heating and our home is no exception.

The downside is that if you forget to switch the geyser on when the weather is overcast, you invariably end up in a cold shower. We’ve also run out of water a few times and on the last occasion, we were finally informed that our water comes from a reservoir in our garden.

Water issues aside, the other main thing you become conscious of in Mauritius is that you take your life into your hands every time you venture on to the roads for a drive.

Scenic as the island is, the driver has little time to take in any sights. Your attention is required 150 percent. You have to be wary of cars stopping at random points with little or no warning, for anything from five minutes to an hour, and pedestrians blissfully walking in front of your car apparently unaware of any danger to themselves (pavements are a luxury).

Not to mention the numerous cyclists and guys on motorbikes which often have mini-fridges loaded on the back, so they can stop to sell rotis, samoosas, pickles, fruit and curries.

Recently I gave a German couple on honeymoon a lift and I have to confess I was amused when the guy told me that he couldn’t believe I was so comfortable on the roads. Maybe it was his polite way of saying my driving style is as scary as the local drivers, ha ha. Well, when in Rome…

I have never appreciated South Africa more than I do today – living in a country miles away, with poor infrastructure and missing comforts that we take for granted. I miss South African water, I miss being able to drink water straight out of the tap and having a never-ending supply of clean water, I miss having hot showers every single day, I miss having a car at my disposal.

I miss the rainbow nation that is South Africa and the friendly smiles that greeted me at random times and places.

Here in Mauritius, I often look down at myself to try to find a reason for the suspicious, hostile glances I get from locals. Everyone says Mauritians are very friendly, and maybe they are when you stay in a hotel; but as someone trying to live here, I have found them to be unfriendly for the most part.

I finally got used to the frogs that croak me awake most mornings, the little bird that knocks on my bedroom window at about 9am, the chameleons and lizards in the garden that will invade your car to sun on the dashboard if you leave the window open (hey, it was hot!)… Now if I can just get that gecko to stop clicking in the bathroom… - Sunday Tribune

l You can follow Neesa’s blog, “Mummy, what’s a dodo?” at neesa17.wordpress.com

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