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The pearl of the Indian Ocean: Mauritius

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The Indian Ocean is studded with small beautiful islands, but there is one that has inspired the poets, writers and European naturalists that, in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, traveled along the routes of the East India Company: Mauritius. Mark Twain after seeing it said that “God created Mauritius and then the earthly Paradise” and you certainly can not prove him wrong admiring the wild nature and the harmony of colors that dominates this stretch of land in front of the coast of Madagascar. Where the wind caresses the huge plantations of sugar cane have found refuge artists and botanists, but also adventurers, slavers, colonialists and traders.

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The island was discovered by the Arabs in the ninth century and later with the landing of the Dutch settlers in the sixteenth was named Mauritius in honor of Prince Maurice of Nassau. During their stay on the island the Dutch beat the ebony forests and were responsible for the demise of the dodo, which later became the symbol of the animal species at risk of extinction and the global battle for the preservation of biodiversity. In 1715 the French invaded the island and renamed it Ile de France. In 1721 the Governor Bertrand-François Mahé de La Bourdonnais established Port Louis, which later became the capital. Under the auspices of the governor, the island was a prosperous French colony and an important stopover for direct European merchant in the Far East.

In addition to transform Port Louis into a permanent naval base, the Count de La Bourdonnais had built roads and build bridges. He was also responsible for the construction of the Government House, and of the Barracks which housed sailors and soldiers, and of the Château Mon Plaisir in Pamplemousses Botanical Garden. Even today, a statue of La Bourdonnais is visible just a short walk from the port of Port Louis. In 1814 the island became English, however, the Treaty of Paris recognized to the local population the right to preserve the language, religion and legal system introduced by the French. This explains why French is still widely used, although the British have ruled the island for 158 years. In 1835 slavery was abolished and Indian, Chinese, and other ethnic groups arrived on the island and began to work in the plantations of sugar cane and in the commerce. If the island became a republic in 1992, it is also due to the figure of Sir Seewosagur Ramgoolam that was elected prime minister in 1968,and for which Mauritius became independent.

In the island’s northern coast, in Grand Baie, there are numerous restaurants and nightclubs, but also the charming church with a red roof and views on the lagoon at Cap Malheureux. The interest of travelers is also for the Botanical Gardens Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam (SSR). This was renamed in 1988 in honor of the beloved Prime Minister Ramgoolam, who 20 years earlier had led the country to independence. Today is one of the most visited tourist attractions in the north of Mauritius area. His fame is due in particular to the Victoria Amazonica, the giant water lilies with leaves of up to three meters in diameter, and the Talipot, a plant that blooms once every 30-100 years; also in the garden there are specimens of mahogany trees and rare palms latania Madagascar. In the Pamplemousses district whose name derives from the grapefruit tree in French “pamplemoussier”, there is not only the beautiful botanical garden, in fact, this town with an important historic heritage has many interesting places to visit, including the old cemetery, the Church of St. Francis of Assisi and the eighteenth century Aventure du Sucre, a fascinating museum that tells the history of the sugar industry, while offering a glimpse into the life of the island in particular the period of slavery and production rum.

The south of Mauritius presents a landscape different from the rest of the island with cliffs overlooking the sea where crashing the waves that are formed in places where the coral reef leave the coast exposed to violence in the Indian Ocean. In the west off of Tamarin Bay or Flic en Flac, in the direction of Ile aux Benitiers, you can spot dolphins that reach these waters to rest. The Morne Mountain, the mountain overlooking the sea, where in the past they took refuge the fleeing slaves, is one of the symbols of this region, as well as the elegant hotels that offer the opportunity to enjoy water sports of all kinds. In the inland, near the Chamarel hills , you can visit the rum distillery to discover all the secrets of the liquor symbol of the island and taste some of the elite productions.

On my trip I explored this part of the island and admire the breathtaking views of the Black River Gorges National Park. These national park is spread over 16,680 acres in a area that houses some of the plant and animal species at risk of extinction. A real journey in the green, where you can see well 311 species of native and endemic plants flower and 9 species of birds that live only in Mauritius. Another leg of my journey have been the colored hills of Chamarel. No one has yet been able to explain why these rolling hills, similar to dunes, changes the colors. Some argue that it is the result of cooling of volcanic ash deposits at different temperatures, with a consequent formation of seven layers of soil of various shades. Others believe that the color can be attributed to the different amount of mineral oxide contained in each mound. Especially in the morning, when the sun is brighter, the colors are more intense.

During the journey my curiosity has been repeatedly captured the mountainous profile of Le Morne. In past centuries the cracks in the basalt rock overlooking the 556 meters the Le Morne peninsula were often used as a shelter by runaway slaves. Many of them, escaping the English and be free, they found the death by jumping into the sea. Today the mountain is visited not only for the impressive rocky mass, registered in the World Heritage Site for its turbulent history, but also for the three miles of virgin beach at its foot.

You can admire the best of Mauritius at nightfall. When the sun kisses the sea and the sky turns red the island shines in a thousand colors. These are also present in the national flag: red, blue, yellow and green. They represent not only nature, but also the different religions and ethnic groups on the island. The red corresponds to the Hindus, the Christians blue, yellow and green to itamil the Muslims. As well as the nations also the different religions live together in harmony in Mauritius. Among the most mystical and fascinating places is certainly the Lake Ganga Talao. Those who venture beyond the freshwater basins of La Marie and Mare aux Vacoas meets the Ganga Talao (or Grand Bassin), a natural lake arisen in an extinct volcanic crater in the highlands region. His fame comes from the fact that it was selected by Hindus on the island as their sacred place. In fact it is an important place of pilgrimage for Hindus in Mauritius that there come to pray the god Shiva. The island’s volcanic origin can be noted also admiring the Trou aux Cerfs. This is actually the crater of an extinct volcano located at the center of a plateau at the foot of which lies the town of Curepipe. And ‘high 85 meters and culminates in a natural lake. The panorama from the top is outstanding, not only for the beautiful view of the major cities, but also the surrounding landscape, from the north-west coast to the wild mountains around Moka Town.

Mauritius also has a poetic and romantic side that you can appreciate in the book that has become an icon Mauritian “Paul and Virginie”. Written by French Bernardin de Saint-Pierre in 1787 is a poignant and romantic story of two children grew up together in a tropical paradise, far from the social injustices of French society. Become boys, Paul and Virginie fall in love, but their mothers separate them. A love impossible, a cruel fate, a story written on the eve of the French Revolution: on the background racial problems. During the travel in this island, which not only offers palm trees, beaches and the sea, the plot of this literary and human history is evident and wins the hearts of those who know how to look that beauty.

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