Last night, we made a quick trip a grocery store about 15 minutes away with a stop at my new favorite hamburger joint. Sometime during that journey, I realized that I now have a favorite hamburger joint on our new island home - how exciting! And even more exciting is that driving 15 minutes on the left side of the road no longer requires significant mental preparation, google maps, or a pump up rendition of Eye of the Tiger.
Having uprooted our lives a few times now, I can attest that there are some clear milestones that mark your acclimation to a new home. When most everything is new, it can take a while before anything feels ‘normal’. Add in some impressive jet lag and it can be quite exhausting initially. The one saving grace of moving to Mauritius from Hawaii is that both islands are 20 degrees from the equator and come filled with nearly identical plant/animal life (with some notable exceptions). So even though the language, culture, money, driving and buildings are quite different, at least the outside environment has remained constant.
But you aren’t reading this to hear about what is the same! Let’s talk about some unique qualities of our new home two months in. First, the culture (or should I say cultures) are quite fascinating. About a month ago, Michelle and I were on an evening walk after a day teaching at our Christian school. As we strolled past half finished concrete and cinder block homes with Hindu offering sites in their front yard, evening prayers from the nearby Muslim mosque could be heard in the distance. This island,
with no indigenous people, is truly a blending of cultures like no place I’ve experienced. The local food mirrors this multicultural melting pot with plenty of what I would consider Indian spices. Curry based burritos, called Roti, are popular around the island. Chili pepper mash is available with most every meal and there is no mild version so get ready to sweat (more so).
Speaking of sweating, there have been few days when we haven’t returned home without immediately needing to scrub off of multiple layers of stank on ourselves. Being in the Southern Hemisphere, we arrived just in time for the hottest summer months. Air conditioning is exclusively through single room units and is rarely utilized outside of major shopping centers. They say that the heat should break soon, but they also said that cyclones are rare (hurricanes are their Atlantic name). To date, we’ve endured two cyclones which reached a warning level of category 4. This means that wind gusts exceeded 120 kph and that we were only spared from a direct hit by the eye of the storm (category 5). Thankfully, my first cyclones have been mostly exciting to this point with relatively minimal destruction to the island.
Between cyclones, we’ve enjoyed snorkeling with tropical fish similar to those in Hawaii. Unlike the Big Island, much of Mauritius is protected by a reef 100m or so off shore. This absorbs much of the wave action and leaves peaceful shallows near the beach ideal for relaxing. There are many beautiful peaks that are begging to be hiked, but we’ve not made it there quite yet.
The clear highlight thus far has been the new apartment that we moved into two weeks ago. Our initial accommodations were booked for us before we arrived only a short distance away. They were nice enough, but just lacked a comfortable place to relax and was bigger than what we needed. Thanks to the still slumping tourism numbers in Mauritius, we were able to negotiate a nice deal on a newly renovated beachfront apartment that came available. Most properties here are walled in compounds with large gates to get in and out. It’s amazing how quickly something you never considered before, like a remote gate opener, moves up your priority list when you’re forced to hop in and out of your car multiple times a day just to pull open your gate.
Another thing that is unique (at least compared to the US) is the number dogs that freely roam about the streets. While typically chill around people, we’ve been woken up numerous times in the night to impressive territory disputes between packs. During the day, the dogs are just another potential hazard on the crowded island streets. With nearly no sidewalks or shoulders to speak of, driving here requires your full attention the entire time. It is not uncommon to swerve around people, bikers, motorcyclists, or fully stopped vehicles regularly (along with the dogs). Out side of the capital of Port Louis, roundabouts greatly outnumber street lights and bypasses are rare. Car brands are familiar, but I’ve never heard of any of the models.
Finally, there is the language barrier. And truth be told, I’m little disappointed with the lack of a language barrier we’ve had to face. I came with hopes of reengaging my high school French and mastering the language for the first time. In reality, a French creole is the primary language of Mauritius with proper French being a second language on equal footing with English. With a few exceptions, we’ve had no problems making our way without even attempting to use French. A coworker expressed his experience the same way, lamenting that it’s just easier to communicate with at least one person speaking their first language (me using English) than two people both using their second (French). Maybe as we get settled, I’ll take a shot at learning creole but I’m not excited about the opportunity at this point. For now, I’ll just have to settle for knowing a good burger place and remembering to drive on the correct side of the road.