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A Seychellois lady, Lydia, who vacationed in Rodrigues late last month, texted the following greeting to her grandson in Mahe:

“Everything so quiet here. Shops close at 4 pm. No thieves. No drug addicts seen anywhere. No harassment at the market. No ti-men begging. The island is so clean.”
This message is very telling about the uniqueness of Rodrigues, an autonomous dependency of Mauritius- 540 km to the north-east.
Three of us, two Seychellois; Lydia, John and Mauritian Yvette, left Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam Airport on 17 October, for our first ever trip to Rodrigues.
While sipping a last cup of tea-before the I hour-20 minute flight- John, the journalist in the group, met Mauritius’ former Youth and Sports Minister Micheal Glover. He was heading to Rodrigues too, for a quiet holiday with his wife to get away from the noise and politics prevailing in Mauritius, in the lead-up to legislative elections on November 7.
Upon being informed that two of us were from Seychelles, Glover, who was minister when the 2nd Indian Ocean Island Games (IOIG) were held in Mauritius in 1985, as well as the 1st sporting jamboree on Mahe in 1993, got very interested. For the time being, like us, he was eager to enjoy the island, while it is still tranquil and unspoilt.
Glover enquired about his then counterpart, Sylvette Pool and also Hugues Adam, in his time CEO of the National Sports Council (NCC). He believes that when the larger airport is completed at Plaine Corail, to take larger aircraft from Europe and other tourism sources, Rodrigues stands to lose a lot of the charm which makes it so unique.
Yvette, once Deputy Mayor of Beau Bassin -Rose Hill, enjoyed talking to Glover about politics and the election campaign we were happy to leave behind.
After spending a week on the island- much too short- we give Rodrigues top marks for its pristine environment, welcoming people, safety, nice weather, tasty cuisine from fresh local produce and a variety of activities, one can do on the island.
It is hard to find a cleaner island destination than Rodrigues. After checking out in a small guesthouse in the island’s main town- Port Mathurin- we were told by Jacques, a Belgian born Mauritian settled since 30 years in Belgium, that we could leave out laptops in the lounge.

No cleaner place than Rodrigues, no thieves either!

“There are no thieves here,” Jacques told us, pointing to the CCTV cameras.
Jacques was carrying out a survey of tourism accommodation in Rodrigues. He told us there are some 150 establishments and these range from 4-star hotels to fully-furnished studio apartments, as well as guesthouses.
There are presently just over 1,000 hotel beds. As Glover fears, tourism is growing-presently 80,000 yearly. Half of the visitors are from Mauritius, 600 km away linked by aircraft to the island 5 times daily, and most of the rest from Reunion and France.
We opted for the cheapest, “Hebergement Fatehmamode” in Port Mathurin, which cost us a total MR 8,000 for a week’s stay. It is too basic, with most uncomfortable beds. However, internet was available in the reception area, unlike the guesthouse we stayed at in Rose Hill, on our return to Mauritius.
The more up-market establishments are pricey- ranging from MR 4,000 for two a day- including breakfast and dinner to MR 8,000. Such hotels offer various sports and leisure activities. Besides kite surfing and windsurfing, there is also big game fishing, diving and canoeing.
Another sporting activity is trekking overland. In August last year, two hikers walking well off the beaten track at St Francois, in the eastern part of the island, stumbled upon strange markings on some rocks, which on closer examination were found to be man-made.
This triggered speculation that a fabulous treasure, buried by corsairs, such as Olivier Le Vasseur, also known as “La Buse” was lying somewhere there. The Mauritian authorities sent members of the Special Mobile Force (SMF) to guard the supposed treasure site.
For several weeks, newspapers in Mauritius and elsewhere, including “The People” ran regular features on the legendary treasure. But until our vacation two weeks ago, nothing has been found, beyond some small pebbles laid in a circle and human bones!
It was while having lunch at a cosy restaurant at Baie Topaze, where Lydia enjoyed photographing the sheep and goats, that we met Roland Clair. Wearing the Rodrigues straw hat, he is a colourful musician, who has twice been to Seychelles – in 2015 and 2016.
Patrick Victor, Jean-Marc Volcy and David Philoe are all his pals. He had enjoyed playing with Patrick and Jean-Marc in Seychelles, Mauritius and Rodrigues.
Another Rodriguan we met was Mirella Lequinaus, co-owner of “Ti La Passe Restaurant” near the beach. In 2009, she took the “Cat Cocos” just after stepping of the Air Seychelles jet to vacation at Baie Ste Anne. She seems to have been everywhere on Praslin. Mirella runs the eaterie with her French partner, Thomas and the couple are blessed with a pretty baby girl, Zaia.

Rodrigues closely resembles Praslin- 30 years ago

Rodrigues, rather like Praslin-except that it is 3 times bigger, at 108 square kilometres, has a largely uneven terrain. A bus ride to the other side of the island is about 30 minutes. On the ride, one sees chicken and ducks foraging for insects and seeds, presumably maize. There are pigs tied to trees.
Most Rodriguans live off the land and the sea, as well as tourism. As we found from our bus rides over the hills to the beaches, much of island is still undeveloped. The main reason is the lack of water. There is just one river called “Camp du Roi “ flowing through Port Mathurin.
Other water sources are rain-not enough, underground springs and five desalinated plants- of which only 2 are functional.
Small backyard gardens grow enough fruits and vegetables to feed the 50,000 population, along with the visitors. There are over 100 beekeepers in Rodrigues.
That is more than Mauritius, Reunion and Seychelles combined. Honey from Rodrigues is pure and healthy and a great cure for cough, flu and other Ailments as John can testify.
There is not much to see in Port Mathurin, besides its market and good restaurants, filled at lunchtime, but deserted at night. That is because, unlike us, most visitors prefer to reside in the beach resorts of Mourouk, Baie Topaze, Baie du Nord and other places which boast a pristine beach.
Mourouk, is like Belle-Mare on Mauritius’ east coast, also a windsurfers mecca. At any one time, one can admire half a dozen coulourful sails in the blue sky above the bay.
At Port Mathurin Market, we are impressed by the finesse of the handicrafts. I meet Marie-May Lajoie, the lady feature in Air Mauritius’ in-flight magazine “The Islander”. She makes unique chutney from a particular seaweed. The algae is cleaned over several days to remove all coral and sand particles.
Another market vendor is Benjamine, who sells various handmade trinkets and souvenirs of her native island.
Rodriguan gastronomy, enriched by Indian, Chinese and European influence is mainly local produce, grown organically.

Authentic and Rodriguans ever cheerful

We had lunch at “Tirozo”, choosing from tasty dishes cooked from fish, octopus , crab and lobster. Dishes made from pork and chicken are of incomparable flavor. Hardly surprising, since their chicken are free ranging and not produced in coops and force fed on processed feed.
A typical Rodriguan meal is served with rice or home grown maize and red beans. No meal in Rodrigues is satisfactory without chutneys -made from seaweed, lemon, coconut and chilis.
We had a good lunch for three at “Tirozo” washed down by Phoenix Beer and water for just MR 700 (SR 250). In a bar of the main town, we had local spicy sausage washed down with Phoenix beer.
One cannot but love the Rodriguans, whose culture is authentic. At the Port Mathurin Market, there is no harassment, unlike Port Louis or other towns in Mauritius. There is no haggling over prices. Yet, the Rodriguan women are very cheerful and welcoming, whether one purchases their products or not.
It should be noted that the Catholic Church yields great influence in everyday and cultural life of Rodrigues. We attended Mass on the Sunday and everyone of us- albeit not regular church goers agree that it was the most animated and inspiring religious service they ever attended. There was a guitarist and a great choir, we were informed made up of hospital staff.
Authentically Creole, the Rodriguan culture is vibrant though the music, dances and cuisine of its people.
The music played at most restaurants, is a sweet blend of European melodies and African rythms. The saga tambour is the folk dance of Rodrigues.
 Women play an active part in the economic life of the island. Our visit coincided with the opening of the 4 month-long octopus catching season. Much of the octopus catching is done by women. They hang their catch and sell them fresh. The rest is dried for export to Mauritius.
A few days after our return to Mahe, there Darrel Green , chairman of the Praslin Fishermen Association On SBC TV, urging his fisherfolk not to fish in the bay of Baie Ste Anne when it is calm, to give the fish stock an opportunity to recover.
Darell noted that on a recent fact-finding tour to Rodrigues, he had found that since closing octopus catching for over half of the year, islanders, had been reaping record harvests- up to 18 tons in the opening of the season!
One afternoon, we heard something unusual in Rodrigues- a loud noise. Someone was speaking through a loud hailer and making enough noise to wake “La Buse” in his grave.
It was the main Opposition party, Mouvement Rodriguais (MR) whose leader is called Nicolas Von Mally, is a close friend of his Seychellois counterpart, Wavel Ramkalawan. They became acquainted when the latter studied for the priesthood in Mauritius in the early 1980s.
Jacques and I -out of curiosity- went to listen to Von Mally and his remaining stalwarts. The ground was decorated with green flags. But to our astonishment, there were more policemen than supporters. If Von Mally’s colour is green, his party symbol is a boat. It occurred to me that a one of the wooden boats- could take the whole lot of MR sympathisers for a ride.
It is a real pity that we missed other attractions, such as the big 200 square kilometer lagoon, surrounding Rodrigues, which looks amazing from the plane, when landing or taking-off.
Also not enjoyed yet is Ile Aux Cocos. It is in fact a natural refuge for colonies of seabirds rather like Bird Island in Seychelles. Ringed by a snow- white beach, it is just like its twin sister, Ile Aux Sables. They can be accessed only by boat.
We missed the bird refuge as we had planned to visit on our last day in Rodrigues. At the Last minute, we were told, those running excursions there do not take visa cards and we had to give it miss- for this year at least.

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