Sucre – The Sugar Thing

The main thing you notice when driving around Mauritius is that, as far as the eye can see, the landscape is densely green. A green jungle filled with lots and lots of sugar cane using up about eighty five percent of arable land on the island. Left, right, front and back, there they are, with white flowery feather-like tops dancing in the wind. It is winter and there can be a lot of wind. Can be…whoo-oosh! The flowers are beautiful and only appear at this time of the year because they’re ready to be harvested. Yep, that’s nature for you. You struggle to grow up, then just when you all sweet and pretty, you get the chop. Sugar cane is actually a type of grass, just fatter and juicier. The island is known for its sugar industry, and also for its rum. That’s where we tumbled in, right into the rum door…uhm…many rum doors 😝 but more about that later. Below left, sugar cane by day and right by sunset.

At first we wanted to learn more about this delicious plant, so we visited the Sugar Museum in Pamplemousses, called the “L’Aventure du Sucre”. This is definitely a MUST DO MUST SEE. There’s a guided tour where you will learn about the history of the island, hear interesting details about the sugar industry and get to nipple on a few rums. Jumping for joy…oops! There’s also a restaurant to ease those hunger pangs. Before the tour we took a walk around the grounds (pics below) and then had some lunch where we chose to eat the Mauritian food on offer. It was very tasty.

The tour, as mentioned, was very interesting. Amazing is also that nothing of the plant is thrown away. They use every bit of it, for juice, sugar, fertilizer, rum, bio ethanol and the fibres, the so called “bagasse” are burnt to generate at least sixty percent of the electricity needed to power up the whole island. Here you can also taste some of the many varieties of sugar produced (see glass bottles). Don’t mind the pink cow…

A rum tasting can be done after the tour as an optional event for an extra price. All the rums and liqueurs on offer for the tasting including those for sale are made by the Grays Distilling Ltd distillery and marketed under the brand name “New Grove”. We would have liked to do a distillery tour but it was not possible from their side. The tasting includes only rums from the standard range with very little poured into a small glass. The more exclusive single and double cask bottlings are not offered and cannot be purchased at the shop either. Other than rum and liqueurs there are also sugar goodies, souvenirs, textiles and some arts and crafts that can be bought if you wish.

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We also loved the paintings on the walls on some of their buildings.

We ended off our day with a “not-really-there” sunset at our resort that was still pretty, and lots of dancing afterwards. Yep, we did the twist again đŸŽ¶

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Grand, Grand Gaube…

Believe it or not, but there is nowhere in this world that is too far away to travel to energise your soul. This time we are on the amazing island of Mauritius, and so far, five days in, we’re having the time of our lives. Staying in one of the most luxurious hotel resorts we’ve ever been to (and we’ve been to quite a few) makes it soooo easy to let our hair down and simply just relax. That’s it. Relax! Well, almost 😜

We were welcomed by a very large and bright rainbow, while we were still in the air. As soon as the plane broke through the clouds while descending to land, there it was, in all its glory! It seemed to say “welcome to paradise”. It took very long before we were allowed off the plane, and even longer before all our suitcases appeared on the baggage carousel, but so what, the friendly smiles everywhere made us feel good. Our driver had a long wait but was very patient and kept on assuring us to “take-your-time-no-problem” when we needed to exchange currency and “undress”. It was humid! He was also quite informative and the landscape en route to the resort was also interesting, with lots and lots of sugar fields as far as the eye can see. Oh, and another rainbow winked at us! So far we’ve seen four!!!

Our resort hotel is WOW! Before our driver stopped, two staff members came to greet and welcome us. One took care of our luggage and the other did all the necessary and stayed with us until we were in our suite. We’re not new to such an experience but it’s still amazing every time it happens. The service here is fantastic. Nothing is too much to ask for and everything is done with a smile. Let’s not talk about the free bubbly and the bottle of local rum as a welcome gift. Did I mention the cocktails??? Slurp-Slurp-Yummy! There’s also a Rum Tree! Yep, a Rum Treehouse set in a very old Banyan tree.

 

 

Talking about the Banyan tree. Every night just before the sun sets, all the birds gather in the Banyan trees, the most in a tree right in front of our suite. You should hear the noise! Beautiful chirping, tweeting, singing, and so loud it’s almost deafening. It sounds like there are millions and millions of birds in there! Absolutely amazing! A story related by an elderly Indian man says that the Banyan tree is a sacred tree where the birds come at night as souls to meet and renew themselves for the next day. Whoa! Just LOVE this spiritual meaning ❀ ❀ ❀The Banyan is also the national tree of India.

 

 

 

 

Soooo, in the last four days we’ve already had one of our complimentary Spa treatments, sat in a steam bath, did a bit of sauna, bubbled in the jacuzzi, got beach sand between our toes and ate a lot of ice cream. A LOT! We’ve seen many sunsets and had short bursts of rain at least once a day, (very short, like whoops, no time to run, so you get soaked from head to toe and dried up after five minutes). We’ve walked the vast resort (almost like a hiking trip 😆) and lazed at the pool! We’ve had delicious breakfasts with fruits so sweet and fresh, lunch on the beach or supper at the pool. OMG, the hips! Whateverrrrr!

 

 

Live bands have been entertaining us almost every night so what else to do but loosen those limbs and dance. We slow danced, did some hug-me-tight-moves, a bit of boogie-woogie, some disco and lots of jump-jump! Dem bones, ooh-na-naaa!

We’ve already ventured out on our own, driving on the “other” side. It was uhm…okay hahaha. No Oops! or Sorry! or WTF! just OMG! but we got back in one piece. We needed a sip or two of some nerve juice hahaha…We’re really enjoying our sundowners too…

 

 

 

Oh, and here are a few local birds that we’ve seen so far…

 

 

 

… Green-Backed (Striated) Heron, Mauritius Common mynah, Yellow-fronted canary

 

 

 

… Red Whiskered Bulbul

 

 

 

There is still so much to do! Tennis, Badminton, Snorkelling, Yoga, Zumba and many, many other activities offered free of charge here. We’re also going to explore the island on our own, with a bit of hiking too. Watch this space!

 

 

The Garden Route: Penguins, Whales and a fantabulous Sunset

Day eleven: Eleven is a good number. We woke up early, more due to excitement, packed our bags and sniff-sniffed our teary good-byes. We were leaving the comfort-zone of a very warm and wonderful family, where we were spoilt rotten and entertained beyond measure, to embark on a two week road-trip adventure. This was a spontaneous decision and we had no time to plan any details as to what and where. So with a “local-but-not-so-local-anymore” woman in the driving seat and a German GPS reader sitting next to her, we pointed the rental car towards the highway and drove out of the bustling city towards the coast. We were now excitedly beginning a memory-making trip along one of the most beautiful coasts in South Africa, the wonderful Garden Route. No strategy, no blueprint, just drive, stop where we find it to be interesting and find somewhere to sleep before it gets dark. Simple, methinks 😇 It was not even an hour before our first stop. Well, more like a “OMG this is so WOW, where can we…there, over there…quick…STOP!” If it was possible we would have pulled the car over every ten metres or so, that’s how impressive it was, but the verge of the road was very narrow and no stopping allowed. There were one or two nice parking spots before and after Gordons Bay though, and as you can see from the following four photos, we were rewarded with wonderful and breathtaking sceneries. Click on pics for info…

 

Stony Point Nature Reserve at Betty’s Bay

It’s only a 30-minute drive between Gordons Bay and the little coastal town Betty’s Bay, but with a few more “ooh-aah” stops in-between and getting seriously lost trying to find the Penguin Reserve (yes, it’s a village and yes, it is possible to get lost in it), it was almost mid-day when we reached Stony Beach. It was also very windy and the air a bit nippy. No matter, because there they were, welcoming us with curious eyes, the Dassies (Rock Hyrax). They were nearer to us than those on Table Mountain and so cute that one had the urge to pick one up for a little cuddle. These are wild animals and their environment should be respected, especially when their babies are around, that is why we kept our distance. Zoom-zoom!

The Nature Reserve is more known as one of the biggest breeding colonies of the African Penguin in the world. Not only the penguins, but on the outlying rocks, three species of Cormorant birds also breed here. You will not find anywhere else where you are so close to the Penguins in their natural habitat. It’s also not crowded with humans so one can enjoy the natural sounds of crashing waves, braying birds (they sound like donkeys) and oinking bird calls. Simply amazing! Oh, and believe it or not, the reserve was previously a whaling station which stopped operating in the mid-1950’s. Two African Penguins chose this site to breed, and the rest, as they say, is history. Nature happened and won. Also keep your eyes open, as there are “pooping-in-flight” seagulls (plop!), sneaky lizards and other crawling thingies too. Enjoy the photos!

 

Hermanus

Here you can have a whale of a time hee-hee. Seriously, Hermanus is a beautiful bustling coastal resort enveloped in mountains and where one can do whale watching without a boat. Yes, the Southern Right Whales come here every year (July to December) to breed and to rear their offspring. Nowhere can one sit on a rock or bench to watch whales that are often as close as only ten metres from the shore. Please don’t worry about missing a whale sighting. Go ahead, browse in a tourist shop or have coffee and cake, BUT keep your ears open. When you hear the sound of a kelp horn, stop what you’re doing and run to the shore. Hermanus has the only Whale Crier in the world! No, not the sobbing kind, but a man with a kelp horn and a good set of lungs. This whale crier “tradition” started as a publicity stunt in 1992 to alert the public when whales were sighted. It has become a tourist attraction and is part and parcel of the whale watching season. We were there in January, so did not see any whales 😞

After some lunch, freshly caught fish of course, and a long walk around the town, we set off towards the south. Driving through a few amazing nature reserves, we headed for the Danger Point Lighthouse near Gansbaai. We were too late, entry was closed, and soon it would be dark. Time to look for overnight accommodation. It was easy. A phone call later and we had a room. The only thing is, it was an hour and a half away. We agreed to drive without any stops…but…

…as you can see below, the sun was already setting. We just had to stop! Added to that we were forced to drive a major detour route because a lot of roads were washed away by heavy rains in the weeks before. Fortunately we were getting nearer to our lodgings in Struisbaai. We were also hoping to see more of the sun setting.

Sunset at the R319 close to Struis Bay, Western Cape, South Africa

AND WE DID! After motoring at full speed (legal of course…okay, just a bit faster…shh) we reached the coast. Stopping with screeching tyres and spitting gravel, and an excited GPS man almost falling out of the car, we had thankfully arrived just at the right moment for him to take these fantabulous and amazing sunset photos at the southernmost tip of Africa. Oh. What. A. Day!

ps: Without stops and all that nice stuff, the journey would only have been about three to four hours. It took us the whole day, from sunrise to sunset, and we enjoyed EVERY single minute. We were pooped and so ready for bed! Tomorrow is another day. ZzzzzzZ!

 

Rock hopping in the Burren

After three days of cliffs, whiffs and singing Irishmen, we set out on the next leg of our road-trip, to Enniscrone. We will try to get there before midnight, wink-wink…not an easy feat though, because there is so much to see on the way. It was such a lovely time so far, and we managed to stay on the left side of the road, even gave way to a sheep or two…

The Burren, what an amazing rocky landscape! This area really brings out the child in you. It was such fun hopping from rock to rock, scrambling up or down, thereby trying not to fall into a crevice. We could have done this the whole day!!! All the above photos were taken at the famous headland called Black Head. “Some-one” translated it this way, because the Irish name actually means Burren Head…apparently…

This Dolmen is also in the Burren, and is called the Poulnabrone, which “some-one” again, apparently, “wrongly” translated as the “Hole of Sorrows”. The translation seems to have stuck though…We must also add that there are much nicer and more interesting Dolmens than this one…but this one is in all the travel books, go figure… 

And just in case you think that nothing grows in the Burren, here is proof that there are really pretty flowers to be found. The left are Orchids, and the right are blue Gentians. There’s a famous song in Germany about these…okay, so it’s an OLD famous song… “Ja, ja, so blau, blau, blau blĂŒht der Enzian …” or something like that…No, no, not translating it…ja-ja-ja-ja…tra-la-laaaaaa.

Okay, there are not only sheep in Ireland, hee-haw-hee-haw-hee-haw! Kiss me cutie-pie!

 

After visiting the Dolmen, we ignored the Sat-Nav, and took what we thought would be an interesting road. A few metres and the knees started shaking. Not a good thing if you’re the driver, but try to get a big red car up an ultra-narrow, super curvy and extremely steep road. See left photo…So steep that all you can basically see on your way up is the shiny bonnet of your complaining hire car. Added to that, there are high stone walls or big fat hedges on both sides. So yes, PRAY that there’s no oncoming traffic, not even a sheep, cow or rabbit. After a few expletives, we reached the top, and halleluja! we were rewarded with the the most fantastic views of all the green fields below. There is a God!

After a hearty meal to soothe our shocked nerves, it was all downhill from there, smile. The photo on the left was taken of Bell Harbour, which appeared immediately after we exited a sharp curve. Sea-level at last!!

It took us only nine Angels Travelling hours to get from Doolin to Enniscrone, also driving through the wonderful Connemara. Good timing we would say, seeing as we purposely avoided the three hour direct route on the highway. We would not have had so much fun otherwise, not so? Another thing that has to be said is that driving through the Connemara is definitely recommended for those who are sleepless in Seattle, as there are sheep everywhere. Left, right, front, back, one, two, three, four…ZZZZZ
MÀÀÀÀÀ and the little lambs were just too cute! We arrived in Enniscrone just after 8pm, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed (we’re not one of those sleepless people) GOT LOST (even though there’s only one main street, but still) then booked into this marvellous Boutique Accommodation. And the glossy red number parked next to it is ours…but only for three weeks…

Aaaaaaahhhhh! BIG BIG HAPPY SIGH. This was our amazing sunset welcome.

Day 13: Dykes and Divas in Darss

This tour was one of the most beautiful we’ve done so far. The area, a peninsula on the mainland, is called Darss (Darsser Ort). It has a wonderful National Park (Vorpommersche Boddenland), which, apparently, due to a very dynamic sedimentation process, grows by ten metres every year! Bet Holland would like this! Darss is also an old Slavic name roughly meaning ‘Briar’. Yep, thorns and other prickly things! The peninsula is also connected to the mainland by the two Meiningen bridges, situated next to one another, one older (ca. 1908), and the newer one, built in the 1980’s. The fascinating part is that the older one is a pivot bridge, and the other one a bascule bridge, or simply said, a drawbridge. As we approached the crossing, bells started ringing and red lights were flashing, which meant that a ship was on its way. Well, it was actually a boat, but nevertheless, we still had to stop. It was interesting though, to see the bridges moving, making way for the little man and his fishing boat.

Pier in Prerow - Peninsula DarssPier in Prerow. This little town was the starting point of our long walk to the nature reserve, and used to be known, long long looong ago, as the Majorca of East Germany. And sssshhhhh!…it also has one of the largest nude beaches in Germany.

Prerow Beach…there were quite a few children trying to fly their kites. It was very windy, but one or two managed to soar up in the air. Nooo, not the children…tsk…tsk… 😄  Whoosh! but the wind was really strong. The picture on the right is just amazing. Woman, man, dog. All lined up behind one another, with the boat adding a little oomph to this pic. A good eye, a better instinct, and snap! the right moment is captured. Priceless!

Birds…Birds…Busy birds! There were so many and they were all so tiny! The birdie amateur thought they were ‘aaah-oh-how-cute’ babies. The cameraman nearly dropped his jaw onto his zoom lens. They are Stints (Calidris minuta) and Dunlins (Calidris alpina), he patiently explained, looking at me over his glasses. Oh, and over there are Sandpipers. Okaaaay! Whateverrrrr. 😝  They were still cute. We were now on the northern coastal part of Darss.

   Dig. Dig. Nibble. Nibble. And what do you know, a seagull too! (right)

The Ruddy Turnstone. Yep, that’s what it’s called. Nope, this is not a biology lesson…

Nationalpark Vorpommersche Boddenlandschaft - Nordstrand von Darß

That’s what’s so wonderful about nature. Even in the middle of nothing, flowers can grow.

The wonderful coastal area of the nature reserve. The weather was not so great, even raining a bit, but that did not spoil anything for us. It is a very quiet and almost serene area, and, as captured in these stunning pictures, sand and water as far as the eye can see. Almost like clouds meets land…

Ostseehalbinsel Darß - Hafen am Ottosee

The tiny little harbour of Ottersee, with a wooden bridge, which we had to cross. Shiver-shiver-shake! There were NO railings on either side, so it was almost like walking on a tightrope…Oooohhhrrrrrrrr…

…after safely ‘landing’ on the other side of the wooden bridge, we entered the protected area of the national park. This wooden ‘runway’ is one of many, and it serves as a secure walkway, because the ground is very soft and mostly mushy and wet. We also heard and saw quite a few deers. Some were also fighting! Like divas protecting their territory…  😌

Strand an der Ostseehalbinsel Darß

…another brilliant picture of the coast, with a washed up log, all by its lonesome self…We also looked for the famous amber stones, to no avail…again…

…here another example of how nature works. This tree is almost dead, yet a beautiful flower still manages to grow in it…All together now. Aaaahhhhh!Harzgewinnung zu DDR-Zeiten - Ostseehalbinsel Darß…and then comes man…Almost all the trees in the park have these ‘patterns’. During the East German (DDR) reign, they were periodically milked for their resin. What a shame…

Villa in Prerow - Ostseehalbinsel Darß

A lovely villa which we saw on our way back to Prerow. From here on we walked all the way on a paved dyke, with the tree-lined coast to the left, and lots of cute little houses on the right…

Boats and ….boats…We were driving back home, when we spontaneously decided to do the boat thing in Prerow…a boat tour specially to see the cranes…We were glad we did! It was quite chilly though, but that was solved by drinking HOT ‘Sanddorn’ juice, and a hot chocolate with lots of cream and something Russian…or was it Jamaican…Whichever. It was toasty!  â˜ș  The one on the left was our boat, and the one on the right was a Mississippi steam boat which we encountered on the way…The boat sails on the Prerow river right up to the Meiningen Bridge, then anchors for an hour or more, until most of the cranes have flown by, or until the sun sets completely, whichever comes first…If you do not want to go by boat, parking near the bridge is possible. Get there early, as parking spaces are limited,  and it gets really full.

GraugÀnse bei Prerow vom Boot aus

…many many grey geese which we saw from the boat…

…and then the best part…Cranes, cranes everywhere. There must have been thousands of them flying over our heads, all returning to their resting ‘quarters’ for the night. Wow! Awesome. Incredible. Marvellous. If you look closer, you can see two of them bumping into one another. Crash bang birdies! No, they did not fall down, and with so many birds flying overhead, nor did any of their ‘droppings’ fall on our heads…or open-mouthed faces 😝

…see this breathtaking view of the starting nightfall, with the noisy cranes overhead…

“There’s never one sunrise the same, or one sunset the same” Carlos Santana

Our wish for you is that the sunsets in your life be always as beautiful as this. As the day comes to an end, the stars start to glisten brightly, and the moon shows its shiny face. Aah, how wondrous it is, knowing that the day has ended as colourful as the dawning of a new day promises to be. Yes, with new hopes and happy dreams. Smile. I know we are 😊

Day 1: Arrived! Where??

After a stopover in Berlin, we arrived in the somewhat windy, yet sunny, island of RĂŒgen. It is one of the many islands that Germany has. Yes, Germany has islands! That also means that one has to travel from the mainland, from Stralsund to be exact, over a very HIGH bridge, which for some people could be scary. Rollercoaster scary. A very fitting start to our much needed holiday. As the sign above says, we were ready for the funny farm…uhm…island. The island of delightful pleasure…Welcome!

This is our house for the next fifteen days. Centrally situated. When I mean central, it’s not near anything or anywhere. I mean it’s smack right in the middle of a lot of farmland, as far as the eye can see. Beautiful! Quiet! and uhm…well…central…

After doing the usual checks of the house interior (toilets flushing, hot water working, HEATING), we explored the big, football field big, garden. To our amazement, there were many of these black topped mushrooms, just waiting to be eaten. Okay, so we were quite hungry by this time, but eat them? No way! Or maybe?? Hmmm…The caretaker mowed them down the next day anyway, so dilemma solved.

After exploring our surroundings, we decided to go farther afield to see what lies beyond farmfield one, farmfield two, fields, fields and lots of fields…A few driving minutes away, we stumbled upon these wonderful cranes. What a sight! Of course it is not possible to go too near to them, as they are very shy, and at the slightest movement or noise (in other words, humans) they will simply all just fly away. It helps to have a car with good brakes, as you find that you mostly have to screetch to a halt, because the passenger excitedly screams LOOK and the driver shouts WHERE! Screeeeetch!!! Most of all though, a camera with a zoom lens is a must. Nope, not one of those eeny weeny digital ones, a 100-400mm zoom lens. Please notice on the photo on the right that there is a youngster among the two that have just landed. Amazing, not so?

After ooh-ing and aah-ing, in silence, at the cranes, and after thousands of photos (okay, only hundreds) (oh, okay, only a few), we drove over to the island of Ummanz. Yes, another bridge. This one is between the village of Mursewiek and Waase. It is only 250 meters long. No rollercoaster! As you can see, the absolutely best sunset ever, taken from the harbour of Waase! More oohs and aahs, with the volume turned up! Spectacular does not even decribe it. IT WAS AMAZING! After all this excitement, our tummy’s were starting to growl. How convenient that there was a fish restaurant right on this small harbour. Yummy! Fresh fish! We had a platter for two with FOUR different kinds of fish. Washing that down with some refreshing white wine rounded up a wonderful and exciting first day.