Rodrigues, I am here!!
Having only just disembarking, the surrounding breathes of serenity and charm at first glance.
It’s 8.35pm at Plaine Corail airport of the island. I was tired from the travel and yet, I had a ‘spirited’ excitement of discovering the new surrounding.
That is a small welcoming airport with few people waiting for the little number of passengers coming with the late flight from Mauritius.
I felt disoriented as I was having an unusual warmheartedly feeling about the new place from the very first moment.
I was so immersed in my thoughts I didn’t even noticed 2 people waiting for me at the airport, Beatrice and Arnaud. Only when almost everybody else had left, we found each other.
They work for the Tourism office and they were talking to me in French, and so I was….despite an unmissable Italian accent. We drove quickly to leave the luggage in “La Giraudière”, where I was staying for the night. Meanwhile I went to join Patricia for dinner; the lady from the Tourism office met at the WTM in London last year.
Dinner with her, the husband and Kisna was lovely, even though I wasn’t really conscious yet of what was happening around me.
Local dances and food, and an introduction to people from the island was the theme for my first few hours there.
Rodrigues is a Creole island that surely loves music, apparently everybody likes to sing, play an instrument or dance. The music is dense of traditions, from a fusion of the different musical backgrounds of Africa, Madagascar and Europe. The Sega tambour is the most ancient style that is considered to be the authentic folklore music and dance of the Rodriguan people, but not only.
Dinner was a buffet from fish, meat, vegetables and dessert. Later on I will learn that the delicious Creole cuisine tasted that night is one of Rodrigues’s main attractions.
There is pork, beef – and my most loved octopus from the lagoon, typically served in a vinaigrette salad with chives. But the staple food is fish, basically all tropical species with meaty white flesh. Favourite cooking methods for fish and meat are a kind of casserole, with tomatoes (rougail) and curry (cari) with ginger and garam masala. Watch out to the spices……Personally I could not take as much pigment: a paste, made from crushed green chillies, that is a misleading shade of avocado green but as piercingly hot as wasabi.
I was taken back to La Giraudière leaving my imagination free to envision the surroundings in the darkness of the route.
The roads were almost empty with one, two cars or motorcycles at the most. I started to be captured by a feeling of serenity, that was beginning to transfuse its ‘spell’ on me….from my very first night!
No artificial lights, and silence: the highlights on the ecolodge.
It was about 10.30pm that for the island’s lifestyle is incredibly late. Life in fact starts very early morning, with people busy with cropping, fishing or taking care of the garden (which they love!).
A sweet lady, Dolaine came to welcome me at the entrance.
The ecolodge is really the story of a couple, Dolaine and Thierre from Mauritius and France respectively; their love story starts in Mauritius 15 years ago till they moved to Rodrigues to leverage their passion of welcoming people. The name of the place comes from the farm the couple was used to live in, at 200 kilometre south of Paris named La Giraudière.
The lodge is built in perfect harmony with the hilly inclination of the ground at Montagne Charlot in the north of the island next to Port Mathurin.
My first night was asleep, certainly not because I wasn’t comfortable- far from it!
I was just too excited and impatient to uncover all the secrets of what seemed to be a forgotten paradise.
There aren’t many places left in the world so very remote and little known. My impression is of being in another era where time has paused, a haven of peace where there is a serenity in the little things…… The night was framed by the loudest silence, only interrupted here and then by some barking. I am positive in saying that it was the first time in my life that I was standing under such a bright carpet of stars; together with the moon, this was the only light I could spot from my window.
If the stars were my night’s delight, the view from my balcony was the morning’s sweetest surprise.
Got up even more excited than the night before and went to breakfast at 7am on a lovely patio facing the sea.
Four rooms in total, a swimming pool for a refreshing dip and overall a very familial atmosphere. Dolaine made me a fresh drink with lime, citronella and ginger. She added the ginger because I am a ginger addicted:-), having told her!
She also introduced me to carambola: a five-angled star fruit, that grows on a small, bushy evergreen tree. She showed me how to eat it.
The ecolodge has its own organic plot, and its practices reflect the philosophy of Dolaine and Thierry very mindful about the environment. The island’s volcanic soil is ideal for vegetables: they are practically organic, since farmers here cannot afford expensive imported pesticides.
During breakfast I met an American guy also staying at the lodge: he was the only other person there. We had a short chat, then I warmly thank Dolaine and joined Arnaud waiting for me at 8.30am sharp outside.
My first activity sets the scene: it was scheduled at the start of the day to probably build the adrenaline …..My task: jump from a wooden bridge long 128 meters and suspended at 40 meters heights, overlooking a breathtaking canyon.
When looking down, I was somehow intimidated by rough rocks, ‘comforted’ by so much nature and astonished by a stunning lagoon.
The Ponte Pistaches is the place!!!
I was told by the competent and friendly staff that making the jump would be a renewal of my inner self….and so it was ♥ !
It was definitely an experience and my first jump from a ravine:-)
Left Cascade Pistaches, Arnaud took me to Anse Quitor for the the visit at Francois Leguat Giant Tortoises and Cave Reserve. The drive to get there was just unbelievable and at that time I started to realise that each drive would be distinguished by an unique and yet, very different scenery for the next 7 days.
Another thing that I started to observe… it was more common to cross path with cows than cars on the road:-)
It took us about 15 minutes to the reserve, due to the rocky road; the island is made by rocky coasts covered with grass yellowed by the drought and hilly mountains engraved with terrace cultivation.
Its surface is 18km by 8 km, therefore the longest distance is something like 20 minutes!
The interior of the island is made by a chain of mountains which is 398 metres at its highest point (Mount Limon) and which crosses nearly the whole of the island from West to East. Once arrived, I was given a warm welcome in a small bar where I had my first lemon water that I ended up adoring! It is made by the island’s succulent limes with a seducing odour: a treat for the senses!
The reserve is an Eden for three species of giant tortoises, over 2000 in number at the moment in the reserve. An amazing breeding program and the plantation of more than 186,000 endemic & indigenous species were the key practises that repaired past human exploitation and extinction.
There are definitely giant tortoises, but also tiny ones. You can familiarise yourself with the sole indigenous mammal under conservation too, the Pteropus rodricensis….the ‘golden bat’!
I started a guided tour to get to know these friendly reptiles, which I loved since when I was a little girl. The tour is divided in two parts: the giant tortoises first, the Grande Caverne then.
The guide was a young guy very competent and passionate about conservation; when I was chatting with him, he confessed to be very passionate about photography. 2 creative minds exchanging views:-)
I met 2 ladies from Mauritius and another one from India that were part of the tour with us.
And obviously I made other friends too; learning that they literally LOVE FLASHING COLORS exactly like I do, which was why my feet were so attractive to them!
Never seen so many tortoises around me-it was my dream as a child becoming a reality!
Why specific species of tortoises were brought from Madagascar- I was asking the guide. I often questioned myself about the role of such slow animal in our perfect ecosystem. As expected, it represents a key ring of the chain: it is essential for the vegetation in the island. Their movement and grazing rejuvenate the vegetation and the seeds of many plants need them for dispersal and germination. Despite being so imperceptibly slow, they can traverse long distances along the route to the caverne…
Plants have also developed a defence mechanism: a different leaf forming at specific heights on the same tree. The leaves at the bottom are the inedible ones for the tortoises.
How fascinating is the earthly perfection of nature….
After the surreal interaction with my new friends, we walked for 20 minutes to reach the cave. A stunning view once again is the frame of the walk. Essential is water and sunblock to take with you.
The Grande Cavern is a 500 meters long cave that is the only one that equipped with lights inside for a very special experience.
The route beneath the surface of the reserve ‘gives light’ to spectacular stalactites and stalagmites with plenty of geological history and fun anecdotes. The expert guide points out to us quirky rock shapes, such as the tibia bone of a solitaire bird coming out from the stone ceiling.
After a diverse morning, me and Arnaud stopped for a quick bite at Le Grand Lagoon. Little family restaurant surrounded by breathtaking views. Delicious quick lunch with a vegetarian choice for me.
Apparently this is the only restaurant where you can eat a yummy specialty: chinese noodle with fresh seafood ‘fondue style’. Reservation is a must if you want to taste it.
Back on the road, in 15 mins we are at Caverne Patate. Yes I spent part of my day wondering under ground:-)
The previous visit was still on so we started picking some plums from the tree, a perfect way to end lunch.
Thus I could not resist from wondering around.
Great job that I did…for views NOT TO MISS!
Caverne Patate is in the southwestern corner of the island: an underneath surprise 1057 meter long, and up to 45 meters under the ground and 8 meters under the sea level…with a shape resembling to limestones that were once exposed to the atmospheric ages, such as wind, sand during the time of glaciation (2300 million of years ago was the first one). Only inside the cave patate it is possible to see the stratification on these rocks where you can spot the first layer of sand sedimentation posed on the land.
A competent and funny tour guide takes me along a ‘dark’ journey where the imagination leads the way. I have seen them all, a dodo, Buckingham Palace and even Winston Churchill without his cigar or hat.
Furthermore you may well be the lucky one to spot the treasure that pirates have hidden in a legendary past.
Nearly at the end of my first day in the island…
We drove to the south east marine protected areas as I was supposed to go for snorkelling to explore a 90 kilometres-long coral reef, surrounding the island and protecting a shallow lagoon.
Along the drive, I notice something curious so I asked Arnaud……
…we met three guys in SEMPA to move the appointment for another day because it was too late.
All three guys gave me a kiss on the chick to say Hi. I was surprised as they were the only ones that greeted me this way; thus I was wondering what is the actual “rodriguans way”. Being Italian, a kiss for me is very familiar … When I went back to the car, Arnaud explains that kissing on the chick isn’t very common during first introduction. Oh well, I was happy that there was an exceptions to it:-)
It was the time for me now to head to a different place for the night. Another dense programme waiting for me the next day with more adrenaline, and nature.
The unique charm of the island is its strongest feature after only one day. There is a calm and harmonious lifestyle that can be spotted easily. Discretion, touching kindness and simplicity are the principal traits of the Rodriguans. Excited ….