We have been travelling for six months now and in the process have learned a thing or two about finding good places to stay. We use several different methods. AirBnB, booking.com, Ms. Google, recommendations from the dude in the café and signs in windows have all worked. Unique, charming and funky are what we hope for. Clean, affordable and a primo location are what we need. These methods don’t always work out perfectly. You may find this helpful when booking your next travel agenda. There’s so much pressure to find just the right spot isn’t there? So, in chronological order, our six diverse Mauritian abodes.
When we first arrived we needed a stop-gap place for two nights until our apartment was available. We found an affordable room in a little guest house in a small beach town near the airport with the alluring name of Blue Bay. Don’t believe the press release. Well, the Bay is blue but it was a stinky place. The guest house, not the Bay. This isn’t necessarily a problem. Many places in the tropics have a certain funky odor because it’s just so relentlessly hot and damp. We’re not divas but we do have standards. We found the Chantavent Guesthouse through booking.com. They are normally a solid source but not this time. Lyla was given a thin mattress on the floor. Which was great because it was so much easier for the millions of bugs to crawl all over her that way. The water was cut off for several hours each evening making it tough to brush our teeth or cool off at the end of the day. Water cuts are not unusual because there is an H2O shortage but most hotels have a reservoir they fill to get their guests through the dry hours. The furniture was mouldy. When we mentioned to management that the rusty old fan didn’t work he said…”yes, it doesn’t”. Blank stare. Though I did appreciate his positive use of the negative. Remember, it’s 37 degrees with 100% humidity. Oh well, we can tolerate just about anything for 48 hours. We were forced to accidentally stumble into the Blue Bay Hotel across the street and spend a few hours by their lovely pool to dull the pain.
Our next stop was a monumental improvement. I’ll tell you right now, I love AirBnB. Every place we have booked (and there have been many) through this groovy social media/shack-up site has been a two thumbs up winner. We have never been over-promised or jerked around and have often been completely delighted. Multiple photos give you a true sense of the homes and you can read honest reviews from previous guests to get a feel for not only the house but the host and the area too. You can also ask questions of the host before you arrive and they are usually far more flexible than hotels when it comes to arrival and departure times. The hosts are typically friendly, generous people who also love travelling and are champions of their home towns. They are happy to give you local tips and insider info on great things to do. Most are private homes so come with well equipped kitchens which helps a lot with our budget and our eating habits. I was a little worried because we had committed to 28 days in this place. What if it was another smelly dump? We didn’t know it yet but in Rivière Noire we were about to have a wonderful stay and make some new friends in the process.
The apartment was perfect. Whew! It was perched on top of Georgette and Keith’s meticulously cared for house and had a panoramic 180 degree view of the gorgeous blue lagoon of the south west coast. The pad was within our budget, spacious (Cam and I actually had our own bedroom. Wooopie!!!), breezy, well equipped and spotless, with a lush mature tropical garden and even a refreshing swimming pool!! Cha-ching!! The apartment turned out to be a huge blessing as this would be the haven where we would hunker down for Cyclone Bansi. Our kind and generous hosts toured us up, down and around the west and south coasts in their truck telling us about the people, their villages and life in Mauritius. We enjoyed evening cocktails together facing west to Madagascar while the sun dipped into the Indian Ocean and tropical birds swirled overhead. We were given a cell phone to use during our stay and invited to dinner. We were even included in Keith’s fancy Birthday lunch. It’s unlikely any of this is happening at the Hilton.
Next we moved to the ‘The North’ as it’s called to explore, well, the northern part of the island for a few weeks. This is the more built up sector of Mauritius with all kinds of big flashy shops for tourists, restaurants for tourists, bars for tourists and voila a lot of tourists. We wanted to split our last few weeks into chunks to experience some different vibes. To choose our first place I snooped around on google maps to locate an ocean front hotel and then scanned the net to cross reference their websites. It’s a sneaky form of espionage I’ve come to enjoy. Kind of like travel-spying. This occasionally backfires. Maybe it’s karma for cutting out the middle man to save a few bucks.
Photos of Seapoint Bungalows looked pretty good (they were old) and the price was right but there were mixed reviews on TripAdvisor about the place being a little rundown. A ‘little’ rundown we can handle and I find some people who post on TripAdvisor are just plain grumpy and overly negative so we decided to give it a shot. The staff were very sweet. The office manager Ishika even hand drew some lovely mehndi artwork on Lyla’s back. But the apartments were terribly dilapidated. The cupboards were falling apart and someone named Akaloo had scrawled his name on the wall in big letters. Nobody cared enough to wash this off. Another mysteriously foul smell emanated from the entrance to our room. The shower would fill up with 10cm’s of nasty water, there were no lamps by the beds just a bare lightbulb on the ceiling. We feared we may be sliced in to sashimi in the night by the clanking filthy ceiling fan when it finally fell off it’s wobbly moorings. There’s more but why waste time bitching, you get the picture. The view was fantastic and it was a great location so we held our noses and sat out the week spending very little time in the apartment. We did meet some lovely French people who invited us to their fresh fish BBQ and sang us old patriotic French songs which was a blast.
After the downer (yes, I know, first world problems) of that week we decided to splurge on a nice hotel. We chose the Casuarina Resort and Spa in Trou aux Biches. The first and probably last time we stayed at an ‘all inclusive’. This is not generally how we roll. We loved it!! Our daily travel budget is normally broken down into three areas. You’ve heard of ‘Eat, Pray, Love?’ Ours is ‘Bed, Food, Fun!’ Just like a corrupt government we can steal from one department to beef up another. Sometimes we eat on the cheap at roadside food stands so we can do something expensive like scuba diving or buying a new bathing suit. Everything has to be accounted for if we want this big wheel to keep on turnin’. So after a family meeting we justified that if we spent the whole works at once and didn’t ante up a penny more we could afford it for one week. Plus, I wouldn’t have to cook! Ding, ding, ding!
The Casuarina (which is an indigenous Mauritian pine tree), was a great choice for our family. The staff were delightful and plentiful. Our ‘groovy baby’ 2 bedroom bungalow was clean and bright with a shagadelic 70’s feel and there was a delicious nightly curry buffet. We also took full advantage of all of the water sports offered. We sailed, kayaked, peddle boated and water skied our little hearts out. The best part of this week was friends we made, especially Lyla. She bonded with a delightful french girl her age named Inez who spoke just enough english. Together with Lyla’s french they adapted a form of ‘Franglaise’ that seemed to suit them both just fine. Our last night was spent together dancing to the 80’s soft rock stylings of a local Mauritian cover band.
We had a quick one night stop in a private little pink guesthouse on the beach in Trou d’Eau Douce on the east side of the island which turned out to be a sweet little gem. The lady of the house, Patricia, was a sweetheart who was interested in learning all about Canada and actually teared up when we left. Watching the fishermen pull their boats out of the water with tractors was highly entertaining. After nearly seven weeks it was almost time to leave Mauritius, but first we had one more stop. It would prove to be the best.
Otentic Eco Tent Experience is the most amazing place. But it’s way more than just a place. The luxe camp of twelve safari tents is set on the sloping south bank of the Grand Riviere Sud-Est just upstream from the vast blue lagoon of Île aux Cerfs and a short kayak or SUP paddle from a gushing 4 meter waterfall. Otentic is Mauritius’ first and only eco tent lodge. With a philosophy of sustainability that you can see in the reclaimed building materials and solar powered hot showers, a desire to hire local workers who share a genuinely warm Mauritian experience and a big dash of European rustic chic design Otentic charmed us from the moment we arrived.
We were shown to our large elevated platform tent with recycled pallet beds, crisp white linens and private open air bathroom. I loved this room! The floor was gravel with paving stones and the vanity was constructed from an old door and a carved burl wood sink. Totally design magazine worthy. We were then led to the self-serve honour-system bar by the pool under the thick canopy of trees and instructed to just mark down what we drank in a little note book on the counter. We mingled with a friendly international clientele and were invited to hop in the back of the 4 x 4 pickup truck just before sunset for a windswept ride through the sugar cane to a viewpoint overlooking both the east and west sides of the island.
Jerome our charming host told us a lot about the people and history of Mauritius while he poured the cold rosé and passed around the olives. Franky, I think he made some shit up but he was highly entertaining. The owner Julian with his wife Edvige and their three lovely children spent the first evening playing cards and games with Lyla. She was so happy to have some non-adult company again. There is a very communal feeling sitting around the fire in the evening chatting and racking up the ticks on the beer balance sheet while shooing away the mosquitos. There were very interesting people staying at Otentic from Switzerland, Austria, America, France and a few Mauritians taking advantage of one of their many national holidays.
After a cozy night’s sleep with the tropical rains drumming the roof of our tent and the chants from the local mosque dancing on the breeze we awoke to tempting smells emanating from the small but capable free-standing kitchen. Healthy delicious food is tops on my hit list and we were treated to well defined fresh meals cooked with love by the talented local kitchen team. None of that overcooked Creole mush here. Dinners included piquant crab soup, smokey grilled tuna and crisp salads with zesty herb vinaigrette by lantern light. Desserts of gooey high-grade chocolate lava cake with fresh coconut ice-cream and mint from the herb garden. Lunches were a vast and colourful array of curries and chutneys all home made.
Breakfasts of savoury omelettes with french breads, house made yogurt, artisanal pineapple preserves and fresh squeezed juices fuelled us for the active days ahead. We jumped on the daily free boat shuttle down the river and out to Ile aux Cerf where we walked the white sand, collected shells and swam for the last time in the 30 degree Indian Ocean. The camp is also equipped with mountain bikes and can guide you for wonderful hikes and bikes through the lush local hills carpeted with dense sugar cane. Our second and last morning Lyla and I paddle boarded across the river with some slices of apple to feed the family of monkeys. What a wild and wonderful way to end our diverse seven week stay in Mauritius. We should have come to Otentic sooner and stayed longer. There would have been mountain biking, hiking and more exploring of the area. Oh well, we’ll just have to come back. Indeed, we saved the best for last and any earlier disappointments have already been forgotten.