October 22, 2010
Being harried by a constant 30 knot wind in the Cocos anchorage gave us an inkling of what we should expect for our trip to Rodrigues, and unfortunately, we were right. What a horrid passage! The first 3 days were just uncomfortable and then BOOM! Nothing less than 25 knots for the rest of the time with squalls of up to 40knots on one of Rijk’s watches. The seas were huge with waves coming from all sorts of directions, and uMoya did her best to slip, slide and surf down all of them. I sat in the companionway for most of my watches, the sight of the grey, turbulent and wind frothed sea too much for me, not to mention the waves sloshing wetly into the cockpit, the beanie & sock inducing cold and the general bleakness of the scene. Rijk spent most of his watches in the semi-comfort of the stuffy, fetid saloon and Jay donned his oilies, lashed himself to the boat and just enjoyed the elements. 12 days after leaving Cocos, we were blown into the tiny, semi- sheltered bay of Port Mathurin, Rodrigues. Even coming into Rodrigues was tough- it was raining, the land looked bleak and uninviting, I was in the dumps, Rijk was overtired and Jay was worried that he had missed “Oppurtune”. We had 30 knots to contend with while trying to pull down the main and our lazy jacks were broken. All together very trying. We had radioed our yachtie buddies for arrival info on coming into Rodrigues and found out that “Oppurtune” had been in port for a week and was planning on leaving that very day. Happy days indeed when we bumped into Mari on the dock as we tied up, and in a matter of minutes uMoya had acquired another crew member!
After the very pain-free check in formalities (always a welcome start!) we went a-wandering through the streets of the tiny town and discovered that it was market day! Just what the doctor ordered- the sun came out, everyone was smiling, laughing and bonjouring us all over the place. Nothing like a vibrant Saturday market to chase the blues away! Piles of bright purple aubergines, shallots, dirt covered potatoes and crayon coloured peppers vied for space with huge bundles of fragrant coriander, oreganum and mint, while on other tables lemons, plums and pears were for sale, as well as cardboard boxes of fluffy yellow chicks and beautiful looking papaya jam tarts. Not to mention the handicrafts! Woven baskets of every size and shape beckoned to me while crotched dolls peered out from in between lampshades and tissue box holders made of shells. We were tempted by the Rodriguan speciality (and staple food), sun-dried, fly covered salted octopus, but restrained ourselves, and instead made do with buying a few jars from the rows upon rows of home-made atchar. Baskets laden with goodies, we returned to the boat, happy little chappies all, to get ourselves ready for an early dinner. We walked the 20 metres to an outstanding restaurant, which, happily, was to be our experience of Rodriguan cuisine. Having not eaten at a restaurant since leaving Darwin (a good 3 months of boat food- good, but somewhat repetitive!) we fell on the steak frites and mushroom sauce with lip-smacking gusto and I managed to force down 2 (!!) portions of incredibly delicious amaretto soaked ice cream. YUMYUM!
The next night’s dining was another wonderful experience. This restaurant didn’t have English explanations to go with the French, so I tried my best to work out what exactly was on the menu (apart from the always tempting steak frites…. Have to try something else we said!). Our waiter was lovely and was trying his best to practise his English. Me speaking appalling French, him replying in appalling English- a recipe for disaster.
What is the cono-cono ( I say in French)? Hmmm… eeet ees fish (he says in a heavy Creole accent).
Me: Ah, poisson? (miming swimming).
Him: No. Inside (miming.. hmm,, hard to tell. Possibly peek- a- boo but not too sure).
Me: Dernier? (this might mean backside, so no wonder he looks concerned)
Him, after a frantic look around the nearly empty restaurant: Eees gooood. (smacking of lips and general nodding and face-splitting grins from our side)
Me: Il est grille? Frieed (in a French accent)? Cuite (hoping this means cooked, but think it might be a word I made up)? Chaud? Froid? (I definitely ace those two).
Him: Attendre. He rushes off in the direction of the kitchen and brings back what looks like a chestnut on a small saucer.
Me: Ah, merci! C’est pour nous? (waving my arms round the table in a Is this for us to eat- kind of motion)
Him: Oui oui. (Huge grin)
I then take up my knife and fork and attempt to cut the offering up into 4 pieces so that we can all have a bite. A moment’s appalled pause as I register that it is frozen and the waiter registers pure panic.
Him: NO! NO! Arrete!!! (More frenzied french babble as he snatches the plate away.)
Embarrassed silence. Me, flaming face, sputtering apologies.
Voice from under the TV: It’s a type of conch.
Anyway, luckily we all managed to get past that little incident and our partially mutated cono-cono was delivered to our table in salad form, as well as an octopus salad, all on the house. Then, just as our spoons were scraping the unfortunately empty ice cream bowls, two guys wandered past us holding guitars. A gravely, grated, Skatman voice erupted from the back room. We moved ourselves to the back room tout-suite, sat at a table, bought the guys a beer and listened to some of the best reggae I have ever heard. One of the duo was smooth as silk, hair of an R&B artist and the high voice of a crooner. He was Rodriguan, hosting his friend Nigga, a Rodriguan singer living in Mauritius and back for a 2 week holiday. Nigga had a shaven bald head and huge diamonds glinting in each ear. He was powerfully built with a huge voice of gravel, whisky, cigarettes and late nights. They were strumming their guitars for the hell of it, two friends enjoying their jam session, a wonderfully spontaneous live performance just for us.
Peter and Agata flew in the next day to spend a whistle stop week on uMoya. We met them at the airport and commenced a day of drinking cocktails and eating in various glorious settings before squeezing them into their cabin and introducing them to uMoya’s favourite pastime- poker. We also hired a car and explored the island. Rodrigues is a tiny island, part of the Mascarene archipelago, with a population of 38 000 people. The Dutch touched the land briefly in 1601 but it was only colonised by the French in 1691.The British took possession of the island in 1809 and encouraged the agriculture of the island to the extent that it became known as the “attic” of Mauritius, to which is was linked with by telegraph in 1901. Rodrigues was once heavily forested, a haven to a wide variety of endemic flora & fauna. The emblematic, flightless solitaire bird and the land tortoise were massacred to extinction in the 18 century, either providing food for ship’s pantries or succumbing to the alien wildlife brought by said boats, including dogs, cats and rats. There are many species of plant which are on the endangered list but wide scale conservation and reforestation efforts are yielding promising results and nurseries of critically endangered trees exist on the island. The Golden Bat is a victory for the conservationists as it has been snatched back from the endangered list and has been reinstated in its natural habitat.
Rodrigues is now a very dry island, looking more like a version of Greece than any of the islands that we have visited. It is beautiful though- a lagoon of impossibly varied blues circles the island like a halo and, unlike other islands where the lush vegetation gets in the way of viewing the sea, the vistas as we drove the windy hill roads were exquisite. Much of the lagoon is very shallow and the cream soda colour of the water quite took my breath away. A lot of the island’s appeal as a holiday destination lies in its water activities- wind surfing and kiting are huge, traditional pirogue regattas are part of the island’s culture and there are many dive spots around the island. The coast is a riot of bougainvillea, the colours hot and deep, which when viewed against the startling blues of the lagoon make for a visual overload. There is a small mangrove ring that at low tide creates a cradle for the pirogues which leaning drunkenly on their sides, waiting for water. Come high tide, the pirogues are poled out into the lagoon and silhouettes stand motionless, long stabbing spears in hand, waiting for an octopus to appear. At dawn we could track the octopus by the fishermen walking across the reef, far out to sea, spears clutched in hand, catching dinner the same way as they have been for hundreds of years.
The inland of the island was higher and cooler, with occasional cloudbursts of rain and tendrils of mist clawing across the rock strewn fields. The houses up there were more basic and goats roamed the countryside, walking delicately on the hundreds of foot paths criss crossing the landscape. Tumbled walls of black volcanic rock brought order to the windswept land where people in huge straw hats laboured in the wind and fierce sunlight. I had the feeling that if I had travelled here 100 years ago, not much would have been different, and that, in an ever changing world, is something to savour and to treasure. Rodrigues beguiles with its timeless, relaxed and friendly charm.
Port Mathurin turned out to be an unexpectedly rich shopping ground for us girls as the handicrafts are superb and very inexpensive and all the shops seemed to be having sales. What more could we ask for! Possibly there could be questions asked as to how many colourful baskets one person needs, or whether buying cute homemade dolls for as yet unborn (and unconceived!) children was absolutely essential, but there you go. There was also an excellent bakery that provided not only baguette and chocolate brioche but also delicious breyani for lunch. And then there were the multiple deep fried snack vendors. Why oh why do I love the deep fried snack so much?? Luckily Agata shares my belief that something fried a day keeps the doctor away. Everyday brought me closer and closer to my deep fried limit until finally, on our last day, after eating 3 battered aubergine slices, 5 batter balls and a piece of deep fried battered bread (I mean really! Where is the need!), I admitted defeat and swore not to eat any more until Mauritius. Such restraint!
We put Pete and Agata on a flight to Mauritius and promised that we would try our best to make use of their hotel suite when we got there- (yes, very noble of us), and got ourselves ready for the exhaustive 3 day sail to Mauritius. Rodrigues is definitely on my list of to-return-to places!