Early morning, Sunday. The dogs and I drove to the South, intending to visit Riambel, about an hour from Beaux Songes. We stopped for a leg stretch in the sheltered corner behind Le Morne. This shallow backwater separates the mainland from l’Ilot Fourneau, it’s a breeding ground for sedentary sea creatures. The animals pranced in murky water, wagging tails, sniffing down crab holes, so I sat under a filao watching water birds and catching the breeze. A handful of fishermen were casting the seine for bait. You’re not allowed to seine fish between the1st of October and 28th of February because that’s breeding season; I wondered if two 10-litre buckets of baby trevallies a day could help to deplete Mauritian waters.
A school and public facilities hide in a cluster of trees. I came across two brightly coloured communal toilets and was thinking how festive when I opened the door. The latrine hurled itself at me, freshly replenished, buzzing with flies. I recoiled, held my breath: how does a communal utility achieve this level of decay without nauseating its users? Cheeks flushing, I shouted obscenities at no-one as I took up my camera. Thank God there are no tourists, I muttered and quickly glanced around to confirm I was right. Click, click. It was cold comfort that I’d found a couple of trophies for the ecology Facebook group.
I continued to walk on the coastal stretch and my mood eased as I imbibed its stillness. You’re aware of an unhurried busyness here, a slow determination to combat life’s struggles. Even on Sunday, fishermen were fixing nets and cleaning boats. Unkempt, baby on her hip with a child clinging to her skirt, the woman at the tabagie reeked of poverty. I whipped out Rs500, and, averting my eyes, told her to get a treat. She snatched the note. “Lazy drunks,” someone described Le Morne Villagers later, and I was sad.
As we travelled on, I stopped to capture the emerging postcard scenes, made luminous with the rising sun. I threw myself into La Prairie’s dazzling aquamarine and watched picnickers feasting on biryani while their children pottered in the water. But Le Morne Village had cast its shadow, I was restless. The peninsula’s luxury resorts employ hundreds. Do they actively recruit from the village? Do villagers have access to hotel schools? As I bobbed in the water, I thought of the cheerful children I’d photographed cycling to the beach, and I searched for answers. The country made a fuss about Le Morne, convinced UNESCO to list it as a World Heritage Centre because of its grim association with slavery, and got funds to promote it. These villagers are the direct descendants of slaves. Would they benefit beyond the crowing of politicians, and does anyone care?
To be continued.