Kristine wanders

The musings of a wanderer......

Month: August 2019

Mauritius

So earlier this week Boobae and I returned from a week long trip to Mauritius. Now I know people are always saying they left their heart in some random exotic locale, but honestly guys, I really think I left a piece of mine on the eastern shore of Mauritius. Was it the sugary unlimited cocktails? The lulling sound of the waves hitting the rocky shore? The wind blowing through my hair? Or the ever changing shades of blue as I gazed at the Indian Ocean? High chances it was a combo of all of them. Mauritius I’m pretty sure we will meet again.

Some of you reading this might be asking “hmmm, where the heck is Mauritius?” Up until a few months ago I would’ve had a hard time pointing it out on a map, and would’ve just drawn my hand in a circle from India to Sri Lanka, to the entire coast of Africa and been like “it’s somewhere in this spot.” So to be a little more specific, the island country of Mauritius lies in the Indian Ocean and is part of the continent of Africa. It is about 2000km from the mainland of the continent. Mauritius is south of the Seychelles and east of Madagascar. I know that as my Pops is reading this he’s likely pulling out his atlas to get a clearer idea. The closest island to Mauritius is the French island of Reunion, which is about 200km away.

Mauritius was an uninhabited island until it was discovered by the Portuguese in the early 1500’s. For me it’s hard to imagine the island being uninhabited because it looks like the setting of a real life Jurassic Park, and I can totally envision native island people roasting boar on a beach, but I can’t dispute history. The Portuguese didn’t stay long. The Dutch landed there in 1598 and then abandoned it in the early 1700’s and then the French moved in pretty much right after. French history of the island is important as people still speak French. English is the official language, but most Mauritians we heard were speaking French or Creole. Anyways, back to history lessons by Kristine… back in 1814 the French gave Mauritius to the British as part of what is known as the Treaty of Paris, and Mauritius remained under British rule until its independence in 1968.

Slavery was abolished in 1835 and this led to the labour experiment called indentured labour. Basically between the late 1840’s and 1910 nearly 500,000 labourers arrived in Mauritius from China, the Indian subcontinent (many from India), Southeast Asia, Yemen, and from Madagascar and other parts of Africa. To be an in indentured meant that these labourers had a contract and had supposed freedom over their lives, but in reality the work conditions were harsh and they had little rights. These labourers were brought over to work on sugar estates. Afterwards about two thirds of the indentured labourers remained and today 70% of Mauritians are ancestors of those workers. The “experiment” in Mauritius was viewed as a success, and led to the migration of more than 2 million labourers around the world. If you visit Mauritius you should make a point of visiting Aapravasi Ghat a UNESCO site in Port Louis (the capital) that pays homage to this historical period and the labourers.

Some of the indentured labourers.

Ok, so now that you know where Mauritius is and a little about the history, let me tell you about what Boobae and I got up to. I wanted this trip to be equal parts taking in the sites and relaxation/day drinking. We had 7 nights on the island and I basically broke them up so that we stayed 2 nights on the west coast, 3 nights on the north coast, 1 night on the east coast and 1 night in the south. Most travelers to Mauritius just stay in one place and opt to do day trips from there. I’m not most travelers though and I like to plan my own itineraries.

We flew Saudia from Riyadh to Mauritius. My Saudi peeps have a couple options to get to Mauritius pretty easily. From Riyadh you could fly to Dubai and then fly direct to Mauritius, or you could take Saudia with a stop-over (you don’t get off the plane) in Jeddah. For us coming from Riyadh it was about 9hrs of travel time to fly to Jeddah- wait for the plane to board the Jeddah passengers- and then fly to Mauritius. Saudia is a decent airline, however; both our flights were delayed, and unfortunately that bathroom on our flight back to Saudi was the worst I’ve ever seen on a plane. Let me rephrase- it was the worst airplane bathroom I’ve seen in 79 countries of traveling. But anyways....

We arrived in Mauritius, collected our bags and got dropped off at Villa Anakao, which is about 20min south of Port Louis. The Villa is like a 3 star small hotel which more than met our needs. We checked in and were offered beers and sat on the balcony taking in the gorgeous pool area and ocean. We had already decided that we would visit the Flying Dodo brewery nearby for dinner so we went inside to freshen up. Boobae unzips his suitcase and pulls out a ladies flipflop. Yes a ladies flipflop. Oh shit. Identical black American Tourister suitcase. After a few comical minutes of figuring out what to do, the Villa helped to call the airport to tell them of the mix-up, and arrange a taxi to take us back to the airport to exchange bags.

We stayed in the yellow room.

So the taxi comes and the drivers name is Kalam and he’s super chatty and telling us about Mauritius and naturally I’m equally chatty and asking him questions about his family on the way to the airport. We get there and the bag exchange goes down without a hitch and Kalam is driving us to the brewery and he’s telling us about “baby” who was sad and wanted to come to work with him. And so I’m like is “baby” a boy or girl and how old are they? Kalam corrects me that “Bebe” is a boy and he’s a bird. And “sometimes” he comes to work with him. And I’m now super into this bird. And so Kalam calls home on speaker phone and his wife answers and he tells her to put “Bebe” on. And “Bebe” starts squawking and I’m on a speaker call with a bird. Could Mauritius get any better?? Well just wait….

So we got to the brewery and Boobae gets to try some craft beer and I have some wine and then Kalam comes back to get us, and BEBE IS IN THE CAR. He’s perched on his shoulder riding shotgun and I’m so damn excited. I don’t even like birds, but I’m bigtime crushing on Bebe. So we get back to the Villa and Kalam tells me to put my hand out and he covers my hand with his and then kisses his hand. But Bebe thinks he is kissing my hand and gets jealous AF and starts making these jealous bird noises. But in the end we made up and he perched on my finger for a hot second.

“BEBE” is a bright green parakeet.

The next day we had Kalam take us into Port Louis. We visited the Citadel from the 1800’s that has amazing views of the city. We then walked down to Aapravasi Ghat as I’ve already mentioned- a must do if you are in Port Louis. From here we walked over for lunch on the waterfront and headed back to the Villa for some relaxation and pool time. And to sip wine while watching a spectacular sunset. Kalam picked us up and took us to the nearby village of Albion for dinner and dropped us back. About 15min after he dropped us off he urgently called me to come outside quickly. He had Bebe. And Boobae was like a little irritated and told me that “weird things always happen when I’m with you.” And I ran outside to see Bebe and we got our picture taken with him and it was the best. And Bebe even kissed me on the cheek. Swoon.

On top of the Citdel.
Sunset views from Villa Anakao.
Hello Christmas Card 2019. Also Boobae never smiles in pictures, but he is clearly digging Bebe as much as I am!

The next day we had a driver take us to the north coast where we checked into an all-inclusive hotel. En route we stopped off at the botanical gardens in Pamplemousses. If you are into gardens then check it out- if you’re not then give it a pass. The main reason we were in Pamplemousses was that I had seen pictures of this abandoned orphanage and I was super keen to check it out. As in it was at the top of my Mauritius bucket list. But as it turns out the orphanage was fenced off and you needed special government permission to visit it, or risk getting arrested. And since Boobae is far too pretty for jail we just drove by and I took some sneaky pictures from the window. We also visited Chateau de Labourdonnais which is a restored plantation house. It is quite beautiful and included in the admission is a rum tasting which was basically all you want shots of rum. Turns out I do not especially like shots of rum so we didn’t get very much bang for our buck. We ate lunch at the restaurant on the Chateau property called Le Table du Chateau which was delicious but quite pricey. The lobster with vanilla butter was especially good.

The Botanical Gardens.
The abandoned orphanage that I wanted to visit, but sadly couldn’t.
Chateau Labourdonnais.
That lobster was the bomb.

We arrived at the all-inclusive. I’m not a big resort traveler. In fact I’ve only done all-inclusive one other time in the Maldives so that’s what I compare it to. We decided on three nights of doing nothing. I won’t name the resort we used, because I wouldn’t recommend it. The service was shit, and the food was pretty much on the same level as a buffet at your cousin’s wedding. The drink menu was on point though, and we never had to fight for chairs at the pool or beach. Our days there consisted of breakfast buffet. Getting another coffee from the bar. Finding 2 open lounge chairs. Reading/wasting time on social media. “Oh hey it’s 11am.” Direct to the bar. Now to be fair the bar opened at 9am but we are respectable day drinkers so 11am was go-time/show time. Then lunch. Bar. Pool. Bar. Read a bit. Bar. Catch the sunset. Bar. Back to the room to get ready for dinner. Dinner. And back to bar for some type of live music and to bed by 11pm. Next day- identical repeat of the previous day.

Love me a slushy fruity boozy drink.
Amazing sunsets on the north coast.
Boobae posing with my Lensball.

After the all-inclusive we booked a driver to take us to the east coast. This was the place I was most excited about staying, but because during July and August the trade winds are strongest to the east coast we decided to just stay one night. This was the only regret I had on the trip- I wish we’d canceled the all-inclusive and just stayed at the hotel we booked. Upon my research I found a hotel that opened last year. Salt by Palmar is environmentally conscious and everything is locally sourced. They provide a paperless check-in and get this….your phone opens your room. Mind blown. The attention to detail is impressive. The hotel is a total Instagrammers dream, but staying there is an experience. The hotel offers a variety of activities that are more culture oriented allowing you to visit markets, or learn a skill with locals. They don’t have single use plastic products and all guests are given a reusable water bottle that you can fill up at water stations around the small resort. And if you are a foodie like me this will be heaven for you. Every meal we had was interesting and they menu features a map with the names of the farmer who they get the produce from and the fisherman who provides the fresh fish. The entire concept was amazing and I would recommend it. It’s not a cheap hotel, but for me it was well worth it. We also got couples massages which gave us the chance to try their “Halotherapy” room, which is a room filled with Himalayan pink salt crystal and soft changing lights. It’s supposed to balance the flow of energy and calm your mind.

This was the best cocktail I’ve ever had. My favourite dessert is orange gelato and this was like drinking one.
Crab and tuna tacos.
Inside the salt room.

At dinner that night there was an Asian family seated next to us. A mom. A Dad. And their rambunctious toddler. The mom was exhausted and ended up falling asleep on a bench at the table, and the little boy wandered over to us. He didn’t speak much English but for the next 30 minutes I became his impromptu babysitter. We played a game I like to call hide behind my chair and tickle me. And the old school favourite of let me use your phone and take pictures of random things. He was super cute and while sometimes (often times) I’m not a huge fan of kids running amuck in nice restaurants, his parents looked exhausted so I made an exception. In the end their meal finally came. They had ordered the salt baked whole chicken which takes an hour to prepare. We had thought about ordering it but had opted not to. The kiddo at this point was in a highchair and the dad turned him around in it and slid him over and they handed us half the chicken. It was such a sweet gesture, and even though we were stuffed we ate the chicken, and it was delicious. In the morning the kiddo and I exchanged waves like we were old friends. I love travel interactions like that!

After sadly checking out of the hotel Salt we met our guide and started our tour to the south of the island. We visited Ganga Talao a sacred place for Hindu worshipers. The translation of the name means “Lake of Ganga” which refers to the Ganges river in India. There are several different temples and statues dedicated to the different Hindu gods. The island of Mauritius is very green and tropical and lush. There is an odd mix of vegetation with fir trees mixed in alongside tropical palms. As I mentioned before it was hard to look at the scenery without thinking about Jurassic Park or the mid-2000 TV show Lost. After Ganga Talao we went zip lining. You’re probably wondering how for someone who claims to be scared of heights how it was that I found myself zip lining for the second time this month. Well this was Boobae’s bucket list item and I’m a mostly supportive girlfriend, and I wanted prove to him that I wasn’t chicken. So I did it. And I’m not keen to do it again. We then checked out the scenic viewpoint of the Black River Gorges and stopped off for a fresh seafood lunch. More lobster? Yes please. We then drove to Chamarel to learn about rum production and to visit the Chamarel waterfall and the nearby Seven Coloured Earth. The Seven Coloured Earth is a geological field consisting of seven different coloured sands that separate into different layers based on their volcanic composition. The result is a portion of the landscape that looks like a watercolour painting with the various hues of brown, red, purple and yellow.

At Ganga Talao.
Chamarel waterfall.
Seven Coloured Earth- the hues are more defined after it’s rained.

From here we drove further into the hills to the Chalets Chamarel which I had booked because of the insane view the chalets give of the southern tip of the island below. And the views were even more impressive in person than I had seen online. We sat out on our balcony until the last bits of sunlight had faded and the summit of Le Morne was just a shadow. It was equally picturesque as the sun rose on our last morning in Mauritius.

Le Morne in the background.

So that was kinda lengthy summary of our time in Mauritius, but I’m sure that pictures can make you understand how I left a piece of my heart there….

On another note, it’s been a busy summer. I was home in Canada and the US for almost a month and flew back to Saudi worked a bit and then flew to Abha to attend the AlSoudah Season festival with fellow blogger Laura from Blue Abaya, and then later that week we flew to Mauritius. In about 3 weeks Boobae and I are spending a weekend in Dubai and then I’ll be adventuring solo in Armenia for a week which I’m really pumped about. Happy adventuring to you….

AlSoudah Season

This past weekend I flew to Abha to visit the nearby AlSoudah Season festival. It’s part of the new Saudi initiative called “Saudi Seasons” by the Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage which aims to put Saudi on the map as a travel destination. The month of July was dedicated to Jeddah Season and August features both AlSoudah and Taif Seasons.

AlSoudah Season takes place in the Asir region of Saudi Arabia which is south of Jeddah sharing a small border with Yemen. The festival is held on AlSoudah mountain which is about a 40 minute drive from Abha, the regions capital. The mountain elevation is around 3000m making this the highest festival ever held in the kingdom.

There are direct flights from Riyadh and Jeddah on either Saudia, FlyNas, Saudi Gulf Air or Flyadeal. Saudia currently is offering a discount code to get 20% off flights- you can use code ABHA19 to take advantage of it. Book tickets soon though as many flights are selling out.

From Abha you could either rent a car or take an Uber or Kareem taxi to AlSoudah. With good traffic it takes around 40 minutes, but allow up to an hour for travel time. The weather in Abha is much cooler than Riyadh and much cooler in AlSoudah because of the elevation, so pack accordingly. If you will be there in the afternoon or evening make sure to bring a coat. Think temperatures in the mid 20’s C but cooling down to the mid teens (15C). The weather also changes very fast. Views are better in the morning before the clouds roll in. Afternoon rain is common and the fog can get very thick. I especially loved the rain and fog as it was such a surprising change from the sweltering heat of Riyadh.

Entrance tickets to the festival are 40sar for the 12years and older crowd, 10sar for kids 4-11 years old, and free for those kiddos under 4. You can buy them online here. It’s important to note that the festival site is quite spread out so wear good walking shoes and bring a stroller for the kids. There are free bikes that you can ride as an alternative to walking.

The festival events includes many adventure activities like bungee jumping, sling shot, zip lining, paintball, and a zip line course. There is also paragliding although I didn’t see it while I was there. I did try the zip line which for someone scared of heights was terrifying, but I’m glad I did it! There are hiking trails for both beginner and advanced hikers. Tickets can be purchased at the above link. You can also buy tickets at the “Hub” center which has food trucks, swings, seating areas and a kids zone. Timings and other information can be found on the AlSoudah Season website here. Please note that not all of the info is in English so you might need an Arabic translator to get the whole scoop!

There are three restaurants if you prefer coffee with a view or a sit down meal. They are Bayat, Serafina (same as the Riyadh restaurant) and Meraki which is a London restaurant. They will be opening a Meraki restaurant in Riyadh in the New Year. I only ate at Meraki which is Greek- I highly recommend it. The food was really good- try the chicken as it is the moistest chicken I’ve ever eaten. Sit outside on the terrace for perfect valley views and watch the zip liners go by.

Misk Art also has an ongoing exhibit at the festival that I would highly recommend seeing. It’s about the history of the Asir region featuring clothing, music and dance. I’m a huge fan of the Misk Art Institute and try to visit their exhibits whenever I can. There is also traditional dancing outside the exhibit in the evenings. And a night time shisha area with music.

There are several accommodation options. I stayed on the festival site so I can’t vouch for the following list but they were recommended as options. Maybe check tripadvisor before booking. In downtown Abha there is Abha Palace and Blue Inn. AlSoudah Tourism Resort is closest to the festival. Mirage Hotel and Bayat Hotel are in neighbouring Khamis Mushait. Bayat Hotel is considered to be the best hotel in the Asir region. Shatha Hotel, KNF Abha Hotel and Abha View Hotel are smaller apartment hotels.

The festival has 17 luxury RVs that can be rented. It’s pretty much like luxury camping with the option of ordering room service. The RVs are managed by the Intercontinental Hotel so it really is 5 star amenities and mine had the softest towels I’ve ever used. It is still an RV though so showering is possible but with limited water. There was an electric fireplace, Nespresso machine, and flat screen TV in mine. You can see the pricing for the RVs here.

The other thing that is taking place in the month of August about 30 minutes from AlSoudah Season is the “Flowerman Festival” which takes place August 12-31. The festival is held in the historical village of Rijal Almaa and highlights the flower headbands men from this region wear. The village is set in a valley about 2300m below AlSoudah- the road to get there is a series of switchbacks so for those of you like me who suffer from motion sickness just be aware. There is also a cable car that takes you down the valley, but I didn’t experience it. It is much hotter on the valley floor so drink lots of water while exploring.

The village of Rijal Almaa was a trade route between Yemen up to Mekkah. It’s currently on the tentative list of upcoming UNESCO sites and consists of about 60 palaces made from stone, clay and wood. I’ve never seen anything like them in all my travels and found it really fascinating. There’s a museum there and you can see examples of the traditional wall painting the area is known for called Qut. It’s made up of mostly primary colours and has a geometric style to it. Laura from Blue Abaya and I spend part of an afternoon exploring the old abandoned parts of the village. Late afternoon is the best time to visit- the village photographs perfectly during the golden hour.

So that’s a little about the Asir region of Saudi Arabia. I didn’t have much of a chance to see Abha so I likely will go back as I’m sure there’s much more of the region to explore. Enjoy the adventure of AlSouhad Season should you go!

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