Exploring Île aux Aigrettes

It was a struggle to get out of bed this morning due to the 4-hour time difference (it felt like 3.45am) but we nevertheless got up and went out on our balcony, which was already very hot and sultry after the coolness of our air-conditioned room.  The deck was wet in places, however, so there had obviously been some rain overnight.

I decided not to go to breakfast, instead making the most of the tea and coffee-making facilities and the fresh fruit basket in our room, enjoying some grapes and a juicy pear for breakfast.

Once we were ready, we made our way to the Neptune Lounge where we only had a few minutes to wait until our bus (#4) was called, so we happily went down the gangplank.  The sun was beating down as we walked across to the line of waiting coaches, even though it was only 8.30am.  😊

We boarded our air-conditioned coach and set off through the colourful villages, interspersed here and there with lush tropical vegetation and now and then a tantalising glimpse of the sea.  The journey took about an hour and passed the airport on the way, where we saw aircraft taxiing to the runway and taking off, soaring into the distance over the mountains.

Eventually we arrived at a small jetty, and the coach parked up to allow us all to alight.  One by one we boarded the waiting motor-boat, then off we went for a short but exhilarating ride across to the natural island, Île aux Aigrettes, situated in the Mahébourg Bay, approximately one mile off the south-east coast of Mauritius.  Île aux Aigrettes is home to the last remnants of dry coastal forest, which were once ubiquitous around Mauritius.  Like the mainland, however, Île aux Aigrettes was affected by tree logging and land clearance, and the introduction of exotic animal and plant species almost destroyed the native flora and fauna.  In 1965, the island was declared a nature reserve and the immense conservational efforts of the locals and the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation has resulted in the restoration of the forest and the reintroduction of rare species that had long since disappeared from the island and were close to extinction.

It’s worth remembering that the Dodo was native to Mauritius, and it was under Dutch occupation that the bird was over-exploited and eaten by the Dutch, leading to its infamous extinction, which led to the well-known phrase “as dead as a dodo”.  ☹

Arriving at this fascinating and picturesque island, we all disembarked the boat and set off into the forest, watching our footing on the uneven ground, which was formed of limestone and coral.  It was gorgeous in the woods, shaded from the hot sunshine whose bright light filtered in through the treetops and leaves and created dappled effects on the ground and tree trunks.  We could see small lizards, about 10-12” long, darting along the lower branches of the trees and on the ground; you had to keep your eyes peeled so you didn’t accidentally step on one.  We learned that the lizards are called skinks and had been brought back from the edge of extinction.

We came to a small sanctuary where there were a number of baby tortoises, and well as some large fruit bats hanging upside down, their leathery wings folded tight against their bodies as they hung on with one claw.

Continuing our leisurely walk through the winding paths of the forest, we arrived at a small nursery where the local plant seeds are carefully collected and preserved for later planting.  There were also some pieces of black ebony wood, as well as dried seed cases and pods, which were used for decoration.  As we were walking along, someone looking through the trees spotted one of the Aldabra giant tortoises.  We weren’t allowed to approach him so couldn’t get a close-up photograph, but we learnt his name was “Big Daddy” and he was approximately 100 years old.

After about an hour exploring the island, we made our way back to the small landing stage and rejoined our boat for the return journey to our bus.  We set off once again, through the colourful streets; it seemed that large, opulent dwellings rubbed shoulders with ramshackle buildings and no apparent town planning was in evidence, but this added to the charm and character of the place.  The only complaint I had was that we were still jet-lagged, and at times it was difficult to stay awake and concentrate on our guide’s excellent commentary.

After a spot of scenic driving along the coast, the coach pulled up at a restaurant called Jardin de Beau Vallon and we all went in, some making a beeline for the toilets.  The restaurant looked lovely; it was open-sided and was situated in lush gardens and had a swimming pool.  We sat down at a long table and shortly afterwards were invited up to the buffet table to collect our starters.  The food was all local dishes and I enjoyed fresh salad, cold meat and cheese, followed by an array of grilled or barbecued chicken, seafood skewers, lamb steaks and cheesy mashed potato and more fresh vegetables.  This I washed down with some well-chilled tropical fruit juice and water.

To finish with, I had a platter of fresh fruits accompanied by almond ice cream and washed down with a cold Phoenix beer, which is the local ale. (We’d passed the brewery yesterday on our way to the port from the airport.)

Thus sated, we boarded the bus once again (and I tried not to fall asleep!) for our last stop, which was to the Naval Museum.  Located at the entrance of Mahebourg village, the Naval Museum was inaugurated sometime around 1950 and specialises in the history of Mauritius relating to the sea; sea battles, ship-wrecks, naval war items etc  This was very interesting indeed, and contained parts of ship-wrecks, including cannons, a ship’s bell and a partly-reconstructed ship, as well as other artefacts.

Then it was back on the bus for the return trip to the Boudicca after a very interesting day.

We arrived back about half-four and had time for a short nap before lifeboat drill at 5.15pm.  We had a mission to accomplish; one of the entertainment staff on board is called Daniel Venton and it just so happens that his mother, Julie Venton, teaches us ballroom dancing every Wednesday back home!  We have been attending the weekly class since September, and when Julie discovered we were going on the Boudicca, she gave us some Christmas cards from herself and Dan’s girlfriend, as well as a small comedy gift, for us to take out to him.  We were sure he’d be delighted to receive something from home over Christmas, when he was thousands of miles away from his family.

After lifeboat drill we returned to our cabin (suite!!) whereupon I went straight into the shower and stood under the hot water, washing off the day’s grime and shampooing my hair.  Then I got dried off, did my hair and makeup, and changed into a navy flocked floral dress with a fluted hemline and silver sandals.  No-one on our table could comment about our appearance tonight!  😊

As ever, we enjoyed the usual scrumptious meal in convivial company, as we regaled each other with tales of what we’d been up to today, and past cruises and voyages.  We experienced a fantastic sunset over the Indian Ocean as the Boudicca put to sea to start our voyage.  Then Trevor and I made our way to the Neptune Lounge to try our hand at some ballroom dancing.  We got up and did the cha cha cha and the social foxtrot (badly!), then it was time for the evening’s entertainment to begin.  This featured Rick Green, a magician, who had apparently received “three yeses” on the TV programme Britain’s Got Talent, although I don’t remember seeing him.

The show was very entertaining; at one stage Rick borrowed Trevor’s right shoe and poured a glass of (what looked like) rosé wine into it.  Then he poured the wine back into the glass again and tipped up Trevor’s shoe, which emptied out a shower of confetti.  Of course, it was all an illusion and Trevor’s shoe was perfectly dry; all very clever sleight of hand and we enjoyed the show very much.

Afterwards we finished off the evening by going along to the Lido Lounge for the quiz at 10 o’clock.  This time we were joined by a couple of blokes sitting at a nearby table; a third one joined shortly so we had a team of five.  It didn’t do us any good, however, because we didn’t win anything tonight.

We then got a (free!) drink each to take back and enjoy on our balcony, relaxing and listening to the gorgeous sounds of the sea, and some crickets who had hitched a ride on the Boudicca chirruping loudly and adding to the tropical atmosphere.  This is certainly the life!

Tomorrow we were due to arrive at Réunion, and we slept very well.

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