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 …
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.
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.