06:30. As I run alongside the highway, there’s a smell of manure emanating from the open fields flanking the road. Having grown up in the Swedish countryside, I can’t help but feel at home. Sensing that same smell every morning, year around. The misty air, the slow drizzle from a cloudy sky, the sound of aircraft coming in to land at the nearby airport. The sound of my feet hitting the wet asphalt underneath. This is all so well known to me. Traversing mile after mile while watching the sun slowly rise over a new place, must be the ultimate moment of solitude I think to myself. In the morning hour, In the borderland of night and day, I could go running to infinity.
Mauritius, I’d never have thought…
We’re sitting in the hotel bar when we fall into a conversation by chance. ”For the last 13 years we’ve returned to this island”, the older gentleman tells me. His German accent is strong, and he coughs tenaciously as he puffs his cigarette. His name I don’t recall as I write this down, but his stories are as vivid as the moment he told them. He comes from the generation who likes to tell, I from the one who enjoys listening. He talks about a country where change is gradual and doesn’t happen overnight. A place, where things have a tendency to move at a pace of their own. ”Even though the island attracts a lot more tourists nowadays than when we first sat foot here, it’s still got its soul.” I think of the experiences I’ve accumulated, and try to discern what he means. The small bumpy roads, the rampant sugar cane fields, the stray dogs rummaging through the sidewalk garbage, the old utility scooters making raspy, buzzing sounds as they drive pass. Little things. Big impressions.
I learn from my conversations that despite being a country that attracts by the scenery, Mauritius is a country of very few natural resources. And as such, the government has invested in its primary asset; it’s people. A fascinating reality in a place where people come to escape their own reality. Free education from pre-primary to tertiary level, as well as free transport for all students. Mauritians are a proud people, and you can tell in the way they speak about their country, being not only engaged and committed but acutely aware of its history, it’s present situation, and it’s future. And they love to tell their stories. The drivers, the maids, the vendors at markets, the sales assistants in the souvenir shops, they all have stories. Big stories about a young nation’s journey from a developing country to a developed country. Small stories about horse racing on the weekends, hidden sanctuaries tourists won’t go and about treating yourself to the very best in life, because life is too short not to. To some, the very best is drinking only the finest Scotch, and to some, the very best is just a moment of doing nothing. Their stories are equally different and equally captivating.
But much as I love to both talk and listen, there are times and places where words are redundant. And Mauritius is a place where silence is perfectly fine, being a country of strikingly beautiful scenes. Standing on top of the Citadel in the capital Port Louis reminds me of this once again. Far beyond the serene backwaters and the hypnotizing sun rises, the off-white beaches and the gangly palm trees, but in the midst of a different beauty, man-made beauty. Flanked by mountains lays this small city, who seduces by being low key. The old colonial houses, the small sidewalks and that quaint spirit I so passionately can’t get too much of. Strolling along the waterfront makes me think of a smaller version of Cape Town. The repurposed boathouses now used as boutiques, the sound of the flags fluttering in the wind, the mixture of tourists and locals loitering on the cobblestoned quay. No one’s in a hurry. Even in the fresh produce market a stone’s throw away where the sound level is so high people have to out-yell each other, and the aisles are so narrow people have to jostle one another physically, it’s like time doesn’t matter. It’s chaotic, and it’s not. It smells of thyme and coriander, soil and sweat commingle between the makeshift stalls, where all the vegetables are perfectly lined up and so vibrant with colors they look like gemstones. And except for the overly priced vanilla pods, everything cost next to nothing. Oh, Port Louis.
As always, thank you for having me. It’s been a pleasure, and I’ll see you shortly