You’ve seen the video, now here’s the story. Georg Pfarl from Austria sent us this fantastic story about his cycling trip to Maritius:
Panting and sweating I jump off the bike and lay down in the grass. The sun has reached its zenith and is burning mercilessly down on me from a blazing blue sky. Around me some palm trees and banana plants give some poor shade and from a nearby mango tree dozens of screaming birds seem to mock me. It is the last day of the year 2010 and I am lying next to my cyclocross bike on the highest point of a pass in the central mountains of Mauritius, an island at the 20th southern parallel off the eastern coast of the African continent in the middle of the Indian Ocean.
I left Austria on 23 December to spend the Christmas break in warmer realms. The luxurious hotel Le Victoria at the northwestern coast is not only a good place to relax but also an excellent starting point for cycling routes all over the island. Some interesting routes are provided on the official website of the Mauritian Cycling Federation. These together with the routable open source maps I had uploaded to my Garmin Edge made orientation and navigation a no-brainer. First tour on my agenda is a combination of the routes ‘Grand Baie’ and ‘Pieter Both’ going straight south to the mountains, then following the east coast to the northern tip of the island and back along the west coast with a total distance of about 100 km. Getting used to driving on the left side of the road takes some time especially when turning right. Traffic, mainly consisting of rumbling motorcycles and subcompacts, can get quite dense in the villages but drivers are surprisingly considerate – for example every passing manoeuvre is signalised with a short honk. There are some cyclists too, riding antique and rusty mountain bikes which are overburdened with bags and baskets – the bicycle being a means of transportation and not recreation. Only once I meet a gruppetto of road cyclists – half a dozen of tourists led by a professional looking Creole.
Northwest of the capital Port Louis the first mountains start to build up in front of me. The most distinctive and with a height of 825m, the second highest peak of the island is named ‘Pieter Both’ after a Dutch governor from the 16th century. On its bizarre top a huge boulder is balancing and defying the laws of gravity. As long as it stays up there Mauritius is doing fine – they say. In spite their low height the mountains are steep and cragged, a reference to their volcanic origin. The country roads are lined by endless fields of sugar cane, a heritage of the Dutch who after the Portuguese, who had discovered the island in 1505, used Mauritius as a base on their sea route around the Cape of Good Hope. Today sugar cane is cultivated on the entire island in mono-cropping and processed to sugar and rum, along with textiles and tourism the main income of Mauritius. Following the small river Tombeau on a steeply rising road I reach the little mountain village of Crève Coeur. Here the asphalted route ends and I have to ride out of the saddle and even carry the bike on a small path which leads through bamboo thicket and banana plants to the highest point of the pass. The long and cooling descent to the east coast over a winding road through fields of rustling sugar cane rewards me for my labours. Following the coast road I pass lovely villages with colourful houses, ornate Hindu temples and mosques. The streets are lined by palm trees, hedges of Bougainville and blazing red Flamboyant trees. Once two barking stray dogs chase me but in the end I safely reach Cap Malheureux, the northernmost point of the island, named after the unfortunate castaways washed ashore after their ships had sunk in one of the gales that frequently hit the northern shores. In 1810 the British landed at Cap Malheureux ending the French reign which had lasted for almost a hundred years. Mauritius became part of the British Empire until its declaration of independence in 1968. Today a little wooden church with a blazing red roof marks the spot and is probably the most emblematic landmark of Mauritius. Following the west coast southwards I reach Grand Baie, a swanky bathing resort also called the Saint Tropez of the tropics. From here it is only a short way back to the hotel where the beach and an iced Phöenix, the excellent local beer, await me. On the next day I am southbound along the west coast. Even on a bank holiday, cycling through Port Louis is no pleasure. I am grateful that my Garmin leads me swiftly through the capital‘s busy streets which are full of traffic dangers and exhaust fumes. Apart from the cathedral there is not much to see anyway. After a monotonous stretch through sugar cane fields I reach Albion a little seaside village famous for its old lighthouse. After a short break on the rocky shores I return to the mountains, part on asphalted part on dusty unpaved roads. A little detour leads me to the Maison Eureka, a beautiful French mansion in the colonial style of the 19th century. Shortly before I reach the hotel a tropical downpour brings a welcome cooling down.
In the days to come I cover more than 500 km exploring the whole island. Once again the bicycle proves to be the ideal means of travelling, fast enough to go far and slow enough to apprehend what is going on to both sides of the road. The cyclocross bike was a good choice because not just once the road went from blacktop to gravel to dirt. The somewhat higher rolling resistance of the ‘cross tyres was a small price to pay for the fact that I did not have a single ?at tyre. And of course my Solo gear excelled in style and function. I was really glad that I had brought along the retro cap as some dumb-ass at Vienna Airport had managed to virtually destroy my indestructible expedition duffel along with my bike helmet.
Was it not for the long long way to go there, Mauritius would be a perfect destination for cycling in wintertime. Cycling, although still an exotic sport in Mauritius, is on the upswing. The Mauritian Cycling Federation tries to lure cyclists to the island by staging road and mountain bike events the whole year long and by inviting international celebrities like Eddy Merckx, Richard Virenque and Laurent Jalabert. For more detailed information on cycling in Mauritius visit the Federation‘s website: www.cyclo-tourism.com. Open source maps can be downloaded at http:// garmin.na1400.info/routable.php (routing) and http://mapcenter.cgpsmapper.com/maplist.php? cnt=149 (topographic).