Sunday 18 July 2010

Mixing it up

It looks as though the culture in Mauritius is going to be really interesting and colourful (thanks, Lonely Planet). Turquoise sea and jungly volcanic peaks I've seen before often enough, but the mixture of Indian, Chinese, French and Creole is unusual and promising. I'm expecting bright colours, lively music, zingy food.

The only time I've come across Creole culture before was in Peru, with people of Spanish descent (in Mauritius they're African) in Nazca, where we'd gone to see the amazing lines in the desert.
It was a long day that began with an early start in a big jetboat out to the Ballestas Islands where they used to collect the metres-thick guano from the millions of birds that nest there. Pre-artificial fertiliser, this stuff was like gold dust, and ships taking it to Europe were often attacked by pirates. In those days they would have had less delicate noses than we do now - because boy! that sure is a powerful stink.
Great bird life, though - pelicans, boobies, penguins - plus sealions, and dolphins cruising round the brightly-painted fishing boats when they were swilling out their holding tanks. And the islands were pretty spectacular too: great arches and cliffs of black and orange rock streaked with white, and deep blue ocean surging into the pebbly beaches.
Then we headed south along the Pan-American Highway and Peru's arid zone (the brown bit, as opposed to the blue strip down the middle - the Andes - and the green on the other side - the Amazon). We stopped at a classic, literal oasis in amongst the sand dunes where a pretty little town, Huacachina, was built around a palm-fringed lake.
We got into a sand-dune buggy with wide tyres and roll-bars, and hooned up onto the dunes for some silly fun, roller-coastering around and stopping to do a bit of sand-boarding. That was simple, childlike fun going down, but it was heavy, grown-up work toiling back up to the top.
And then we drove to Nazca, where the sky was constantly busy with little planes flightseeing over the mysterious lines in the desert. We took our turn and were amazed despite the horrendous airsickness caused by all the aerobatics involved in making sure everyone had a good look.
Finally we had dinner out at a touristy restaurant with a huge cactus growing in the middle of the dining room under an open roof with the Southern Cross showing. After the obligatory El Condor Pasa and Guantanamera (no trip to Peru is possible without hearing both these tunes at least once a day) some Creole people treated us to their music and dance: lots of hips and arms, swirling skirts, energy and sensuality, and lively music involving box drums and a donkey jaw with rattly teeth. It was great.

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