After a 12 hour flight from Gatwick Airport in the UK our first glimpse of the small island of Mauritius was through the heavily misted windows of the BA airplane. It was just after 5.00 am and already the temperature was in the early 20's, but a heavy mist hung over the mountainous interior of the island and the sun was struggling to force its way through the clouds.
The airport terminal building was a huge surprise as it was ultra-modern and significantly bigger than I would have expected. It was a fair work from the plane to the arrivals area and I was particularly keen to get there as I had slept only briefly on the flight. Passing through passport control was very efficient and "painless" with the offices being polite and very cheerful. Having crossed that hurdle we then had to take another form to the representatives of the Ministry of Health and the Quality of Life. What a great name, I thought as I took my "yellow form" to the desk, for a government body and a real indication of the emphasis that this country places on its citizens. Once again we received a cheerful smile and then headed off down a couple of floors to the baggage retrival zone. This worked very efficiently for our luggage but our friends were less fortunate.
They've had luggage going missing on a couple of occasions so their anxiety was palpable as the number of passengers waiting for luggage reduced. Indeed even attempts to lighten the mood were difficult as the conveyor belt jammed and there was still no sign of their two cases. However, as if by a miracle the two cases emerged from the bowels of the earth. - the very last two items to stagger around the carousel!
With obvious relief the four of us headed off to customs and having passed through without any problems we set about looking for our transport to take us to the hotel. Our travel company was Hayes & Jarvis so naturally we were looking for a banner with their name on our own name on a hand held sheet. Nothing... We walked around the departure area both inside and out and saw no reference to the names previously mentioned. I'm not panicking because I have another thought and that relates to the name of the local representative of the company. "Funny you should mention that", said my friend who has all the travel documents, "but I think there may be a reference to that in the documents". Sure enough there was and there was not now a problem. The agents were waiting for us, as were the other people on the vehicle!
The bus set off a and we could now sit back and enjoy our early sights of the island on the one hour journey from the airport to our hotel. We passed by field after field of sugar cane and several small villages in which they seemed to have co-operative farming on a small holding basis. Already there were many people working in the fields and we were momentarily surprised to see farm labourers with a Chinese style hat to protect them from sun. That is until my wife reminded me that there was indeed a strong Chinese community dating back to the days when they were brought across as "forced labour" for the sugar cane industry. They are very much now part of zone community bringing parts of their own culture into the island.
Many for the villages that we passed through were linear in design with a single row of houses on each side of the road with the sea on one side & farmland on the other. There was no sign of tourism in the villages until we reached Belle Mare & then it was evident that this was an emerging economy on Mauritius, which will take off as othther destinations, like the Maldives price themselves out of the popular market.
As we drove along the narrow road that circumnavigated the island It seemed to us that the Mauritian population was very friendly to its visitors as our minibus was waved at and smiled uponn by the majority of locals who saw us on route. It certainly, on first impressions, seemed relaxed, happy and welcoming. It boded well for the next 14 days of our holiday on the island.