Mau­ri­tius by Moto

Mau­ri­tius may be a mo­tor­cy­clist’s par­adise, but it is not for the faint-hearted; as Jim Free­man found, rem­i­nisc­ing with old friends while ex­plor­ing the is­land; driv­ing down the mid­dle lane …

Road Trip - - CONTENTS - Story & cap­tured by Jim Free­man

There is a pop­u­lar say­ing on Île

Mau­rice – Mau­ri­tius to the rest of us – that when the French ad­min­is­tered the is­land from 1715 to 1810, peo­ple drove on the right-hand side of the road; when the British took over, they switched to the left and, since in­de­pen­dence 50 years ago, they have been driv­ing down the mid­dle …. I can con­firm that driv­ing in Mau­ri­tius is not for the faint-hearted, nor for those who suf­fer from road rage. It is, how­ever, a mo­tor­cy­clist’s par­adise.

Last month I rode the is­land for the third time. On both pre­vi­ous vis­its I had rid­den on a Har­ley-david­son Sof­tail Slim pro­vided by my good mate, Paul Wren, and I had loads of fun fright­en­ing dogs and chil­dren. Deep down in­side me, though, I han­kered to ex­plore Mau­ri­tius on an ad­ven­ture bike. This time, Paul – hav­ing left his job as owner/dealer man­ager of Har­ley-david­son Mau­ri­tius to start Re­vival Cus­toms and Clas­sics – was again able to come up with the goods; a BMW F650GS twin fit­ted with an 800cc mo­tor.

I picked up the bike at Paul’s shop in Ar­se­nal (named af­ter the first French gov­er­nor of the is­land, not the foot­ball team … Mau­ri­tians only sup­port Liv­er­pool and Manch­ester United) and fol­lowed him back to Shangri La’s Le Touess­rok Re­sort and Spa at Trou d’eau Douce on the East coast.

With few ex­cep­tions, the roads in Mau­ri­tius are nar­row, one lane in ei­ther di­rec­tion af­fairs with lit­tle or no shoul­der. Drivers stop willy-nilly and it is up to their fel­low road-users to get around them in the face of on­com­ing traf­fic. This can get

some­what un­nerv­ing, es­pe­cially since the roads are gen­er­ally windy with plenty of corners made blind by tow­er­ing stands of sugar cane on ei­ther side.

‘ONE HOUR’

When you ask peo­ple how far away they live from a given spot or how long it will take to get from Point A to Point

B, the usual an­swer is “one hour”. This might sound strange on an is­land with a max­i­mum length and breadth of 65 and 45 km re­spec­tively, but it all comes down to traf­fic; most of the cars look as if they have been bat­tered by trop­i­cal cy­clones … to say noth­ing of the mo­bilettes.

Th­ese are the putt-putt mopeds that are to Mau­ri­tian life what minibus taxis are to South Africa. There are about 1.2 mil­lion peo­ple on Mau­ri­tius and, it seems, the same num­ber of mo­bilettes con­tin­u­ously weav­ing in and out of traf­fic – often laden to the gun­nels with pack­ages and shop­ping from fresh-pro­duce mar­kets. It takes us, un­sur­pris­ingly, one hour to get from Cus­tom Re­vivals and Clas­sics to Le Touess­rok (it would have been much quicker, but Paul was driv­ing a Land Cruiser Prado) where we set­tled down to the first of sev­eral Phoenix draught beers be­fore mov­ing on to Green Is­land rum and coke – a Mau­ri­tian favourite.

“You know, this is where I met my wife Carmela,” he says look­ing around, “though it was very dif­fer­ent then.” In­deed, Le Touess­rok un­der­went a ma­jor (and fast) re­fur­bish­ment in 2016 to the ex­tent, as one British news­pa­per put it, it be­came “a fives­tar es­tab­lish­ment with seven-star ser­vice”. “Carmela was the lead dancer in the res­i­dent dance troupe, but she was clearly in a re­la­tion­ship with the drum­mer and I had to ‘set­tle’ for one of the other dancers.” So things went on for a good cou­ple of months, un­til the evening of the fi­nal of the Miss Mau­ri­tius con­test of that year: Paul’s girl­friend was one of the fi­nal­ists as was an­other of the troupe. With the con­test on the other side of the is­land (prob­a­bly an hour away) and be­ing in pos­ses­sion of a dou­ble-cab bakkie, Carmela asked him if she could ride along. “Long story short,” re­calls Paul, “my lady was sec­ond run­nerup and the other dancer was crowned Miss

Mau­ri­tius. Can you imag­ine how I felt rid­ing home with those two and Carmela! “Much later that night, my lady said to me ‘this is not go­ing to work be­tween us’, got out of bed and walked out the door. She re­turned with Carmela a few min­utes later and said: ‘You two be­long to­gether’.” Paul made noises about her be­ing with the drum­mer and was dumb­founded when they both laughed and said the drum­mer was Carmela’s cousin. “Ap­par­ently, Carmela had been eye­ing me al­most from the mo­ment I spot­ted her!”

A HAR­LEY TRIP

Twenty-some­thing years later, Carmela Françoise-wren is still danc­ing, but also runs al­most a dozen dance troupes that per­form con­stantly at the re­sorts of the is­land.

Two morn­ings later, Paul ar­rives at Le Touess­rok (where he has al­ready be­come pals with über-chef Luke Dale Roberts of The Test Kitchen, South Africa) on a Har­ley­david­son FXDWG 1 584 cc Dyna Wide Glide run­ning a set of Vance & Hines Stag­gered Shortshot pipes. It is loud and it is brash. We headed North through Trou d’eau Douce – “well of sweet wa­ter” – and fol­lowed the coast first to Belle Mare, Post de Flacq, Post Lafayette, and Roches Noires with the azure In­dian Ocean rarely more than a cou­ple of hun­dred me­tres from the road. From there we cut in­land to­wards Good­lands and Grand Baie, where we stopped at The Beach House, run by for­mer Spring­bok rugby player Cabous van der Westhuizen be­fore head­ing back to Paul’s shop.

This time we did not ride through the moun­tains of Mau­ri­tius, which I thought would be per­fect for the BMW, but I im­me­di­ately noted the dif­fer­ence in rid­ing style from the Har­ley. The nim­bler Beemer can take a much nar­rower line around the corners; if you try to do this on a Har­ley, you dis­con­cert­ingly scrape the footrests on the road sur­face. At Paul’s place we switched the bikes for a 5.7-litre Shelby Co­bra and head back to Le Touess­rok – a bel­low­ing ex­pe­ri­ence with heads turn­ing wher­ever we passed. The trip took longer than an hour be­cause the Co­bra threw its fan belt in Trou d’eau Douce. But that is an­other story that is re­served for a big bot­tle of Green Is­land.

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