Rodrigues Island Stories and Tips

Mascareignes Islands

Rodrigues Island is located in the south of the Indian Ocean, at 2,500km from continental Africa, 3,500 from India, 5,000 from Australia, and 5,000 from Antarctica. But it is worth the effort to get there if you are looking for unspoiled places.

The islands of Rodrigues, Mauritius and Reunion form the archipelago of the Mascareignes. They are of volcanic origin and surrounded by coral reefs. Arabs and Malaysian navigators visited them regularly as from the X century. The Portuguese, under Pedro de Mascareignes, used them during the XVI century as calls in their journeys to India and the Spice Islands. Portuguese navigator Pedro Rodrigues named the smallest of the three islands. Then came the Dutch, and at the beginning of the XVIII century they were occupied by the French. After the Napoleonic Wars the English took possession of them but finally returned the island of Reunion to the French, who still keep it, while Mauritius and Rodrigues received independence in 1968. The population of Mauritius Island (about 1,300,000 inhabitants) are mainly from India brought to work in the sugar cane fields for a derisory salary, and profess Hindu and Muslim Faiths, but in Rodrigues (36,000 people) practically all are Catholic and Creole, or Blacks mixed with Europeans, plus the unavoidable Chinese businessmen. I also met natives from Chagos archipelago that were expelled from their islands when the British ceded the atoll of Diego Garcia to USA Army to erect a Military base. The Rodrigues natives are so different from the Mauritius’s that in 1967 they all voted against the independence from U.K., at the contrary than in Mauritius Island. In Rodrigues people speak French and English, although they use among themselves a special Creole and a French patois. Many natives are illiterate and sign with the fingerprint. Creole language is simplified French, funny and easy to understand. It reminded me the Papuan New Guinea pidgin: "Missie" is Monsieur. "Sa pa fini" (instead of Ça n’a pas fini) means not yet finished. "Mo content toi" means I love you, etc. Rodrigues is cheaper than Seychelles and Reunion, and its beaches are great, but the island is not so mountainous as Reunion or Comoros. In general, people are generous.

Rodrigues is a pocket island (104km²) and everything is at a stone throw. You can hire a bicycle or take a bus around the island stopping in the small charming villages by the beautiful lagoon and eat fresh octopus with the fishermen. The imposing Cathedral Sacre Coeur, the greatest stone building of the island, with a capacity for 2,000 faithful, in the village Saint Gabriel, constitutes a fine visit (I was so lucky to be there the August 15, 2005, a especial holiday, and in the service played accordions). The women assist to the Mass wearing "retro" and showy sombreros evoking Scarlet O’Hara in the film Gone with the Wind. The best beaches are near the capital Port Mathurin, in Anse aux Anglais, where there are many tourists’ activities, as for instance diving and snorkeling. Rodrigues is not crowded with hordes of tourists; there are not even backpackers.

In Port Mathurin I stayed in a hostel that in Spanish we describe as having the three "B", or "Bueno, Bonito y Barato" (Good, Beautiful and Cheap): CIEL D’ETE, a pleasant colonial house with lovely gardens at 100m from the bus station, ruled by a gentle Chinese couple. A single costs 400 rupees (1 euro equal to 35 rupees) and a double 600 rupees, including a copious breakfast. In Mauritius Island I stayed in the famous tourist resort of Grand Baie and found an inexpensive room in VILLA NASSER, in Route Royale, at 50m from the beach, where I paid 500 rupees for a single with TV, air condition and enormous bed, but no breakfast. The town of Mahebourg, near the airport, is very convenient to spend the last night if you have an early flight next day. Try the Catholic Mission, which acts as a cheap hostel. In Reunion the cheapest option is the Youth Hostel in Saint Denis, and a moderated one is the HOTEL DU CENTRE, starting as from 25 euros a single, in rue Marechal Leclerc, 272

Sega is a characteristic musical style from Rodrigues and Mauritius alike. It was created by the slaves torn from Africa, mainly from Madagascar, using "ravanes" or large flat drums, "bobre" or a kind of guitar with a single string, "maravanes" or a sort of rattle consisting in a frame filled with seeds or gravel, the triangle, and other basic instruments, although sometimes they also play accordion. In the British era singing or dancing Sega was taboo and punished with the whip. The colonial administration aimed to cut off the Africans slaves from their roots, but they, especially the nights with full moon, played and danced in secret before a bonfire by the seaside. At that time Sega was the expression of their sufferings, but the blues has finally given way to rejoicing rhythms and is present in all the weddings and other social activities. The sensual whirling and twirling of the flowery skirts of the dancing girls is an overwhelming spectacle and reminds the Spanish flamenco.

There are three wonderful restaurants in Port Mathurin: the best is LE QUAI, near the pier, where the friendly owner serves fresh fish. Second option is LE DRAGON D’OR, which is much more elegant than LE QUAI, on a second floor with terrace, but a little more expensive. Third choice is LE CAPITAIN, where they also sell food to take away. In Mauritius Island you should try PATRICK RESTO, in Mahebourg, with Creole food and original and delicious desserts with ice creams. In Grand Baie I had a wonderful and cheap seafood lunch with Creole lively music in LA VIEILLE ROUGE, and for a romantic dinner by the seaside go to CAFÉ DE LA PLAGE. In Port Luis you have hundreds of choices; just in the waterfront you will find dozens of excellent restaurants and a patio where customers from about ten stalls around sit down after buying local food. Restaurants in Reunion are so expensive that there I ate mainly baguettes with fromage that I bought in the supermarkets, and cuscus to the Muslim community.

Rodrigues people live according to natural laws; after 5pm, when darkness falls, everything is closed, the central market and the shops, and the streets deserted. At 10pm everybody is in bed sleeping to wake up with the sunrise. Locals might lack agitated night life, but in compensation they have a rich day life and gather very often. In Rodrigues I met several happy French expatriates living there forever, not wishing to go back to the Western World anymore; they just spent their time enjoying the Nature of the island, fishing when they were hungry, and their souls were fed by the impressions of the beauty, by its nectar and ambrosia.

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