Mauritius 1

Where Next?
Bob Williams
Fri 4 Oct 2002 21:06
Fortunately my adventures in Mauritius abated somewhat, at least for a while. My limited cruising budget had taken a hit from Aldine and Co but nothing too serious, and life in Mauritius was to prove relatively cheap. The fruit and veggie markets were a short walk away with an excellent selection of high quality produce. They even sold red capsicums imported from Australia, expensive but desperate for a home made pizza I had to buy some. Unfortunately, like Rodrigues, fresh mushrooms seemed impossible to acquire so I had to settle for dried ones.

I spent six days in Port Louis. I came back one morning from the shops and found Will from Shandoo causing major mayhem. Apparently a swell had invaded this corner of the harbour and set everyone bouncing all over the place. Will's boat being hard chined and beamy was particularly effected, she rolled heavily and damaged her topsides against the concrete wharf. Unfortunately I was berthed outboard of Will and also copped some damage from a stud that stuck out the side of his hull, the stud was there to hold his sheer legs when he wanted to careen, a very good idea but definitely anti-social to other boats. Well Will was pissed off, he had cleared out with the authorities and was heading straight for Le Reunion. While I was ascertaining these scant facts all the other yachties who were helping Will to get away from the wharf were also getting rather hot under the collar. It was obviously not a great situation so I decided to shut up and help out.

Will was soon on his way and I was secured back alongside the wall. I was glad I was not on board when the kerfuffle started, Sylph had suffered some damage to her paint work but she needed touching up anyway so I was not too upset. Undoubtedly if I had been on board at the time I would have ended up pretty stressed as well.

I decided to stick with my original plan and leave Port Louis the next day for Black River Bay, 21 miles to the south. I had noticed that while Will's boat tended to roll quite a bit when waves invaded, Sylph and my neighbor Pamda Bear, seemed only to bob up and down so I thought the risk of a repeat incident unlikely.

My visa was due to expire in two days time so I went to Customs to seek an extension and after waiting around for a while was told that there was no problem as I had 31 days gratis and did not need an extension. Happy with the lack of formality I got underway at 7.30 Wednesday 8 October and enjoyed a pleasant sail down the coast, the changing mountain scenery keeping me well interested en route.

At just after 12 I made my way around the reefs guarding the entrance to Black River and dropped anchor in three meters of water out from a number of moored fishing boats and motor launches. The bay looked peaceful and scenic and I congratulated myself on my decision to leave Port Louis. But a mere fifteen minutes after dropping anchor the Coast Guard came out in a RHIB asking to see my papers. They checked my passport and noted that my visa expired on Friday, two days hence, and advised me that if I wished to stay longer I must have it extended. "But Customs told me ." I protested. "Not a Customs job," they replied, "You must see Immigration." Damn! They suggest I catch a bus back to Port Louis and gave me the address for the Immigration Office in Port Louis.

Thus at 8 a.m. the next day I headed back to Port Louis via a little town called Bambous where I had to change buses. The trip provided me with a passing view of the countryside of Mauritius. The dominant feature of the landscape, other than the mountainous interior, was the sugar cane fields. I read later that Mauritius has the fourth highest percentage of arable land in the world, at 49% and over 90% of it devoted to sugar cane. One of the major products is rum, and it is cheap, 65Rp ($4.20) or less a bottle! A Coast Guard officer from Black River recommended I try some and I have to say that I found it quite palatable. With the circumstances that were to follow this was not to prove a good thing.

On my trip to Port Louis we also passed stone floored salt pans with people sweeping the salt into large piles to be bagged, a patchwork of pastel townhouses interspersed amongst ramshackle corrugated iron dwellings, an ornate Hindu temple, a number of soccer grounds with stadiums also in pastel shades, flat rooved two storey dwellings under construction in grey concrete, and a woman hoeing a small patch of vegetables in the corner of a cane field. What wasn't covered in cane fields or concrete was largely red dirt. Very few houses were landscaped, even the neatly laid out graves in the cemeteries were surrounded by the same harsh red. The water is obviously kept for drinking and irrigating the cane fields.

Eventually we hit Port Louis morning peak hour to cover the last five km or so into the city centre. I found my way to the Immigration centre where the sign on the door told me I had an hour to wait before they were open for visa extensions. Fortunately I had brought a book to read so I sat and waited. The office promptly opened at ten and the official advised me I needed a letter requesting the visa extension and a photocopy of ships papers, passport and crew list.

So out I went to complete the requirements. By about 2.30 all was in order and I popped down to the harbour to see how my fellow cruisers were going. It turned out they had experienced a large oil slick the previous day so I felt fortunate I had left when I did. After a little socializing I caught the bus back to Black River.

Over the next few days I spent my time catching up on some essential boat chores, varnishing and repairing the damage which Sylph had suffered while in Port Louis. This took five days by which time, with no other yachts about and not a lot happening ashore, I was feeling lonely so I decided to head up to Grand Baie where I knew there would be some other cruisers I could socialize with. Ironically I was to find out there that Pamda Bear had headed down to Black River that same day. Our paths must have crossed without us recognizing one another. A shame as they are a very nice couple.

Over the course of the next few days my world as I knew it started to come unravelled. I had received an email from Ann back in Sydney saying she had settled into life in Sydney, had found the independence she had been seeking and would not now be joining me in Cape Town. Please call. I also received an email from a friend she was staying with suggesting I should find a "dusky maiden". Something was not right and I suspected the worst. It took me another two days to contact Ann by phone. In the meantime I kept my daily routine going, continuing some maintenance and going for short walks around town, trying not to dwell on imaginings. Stupidly during this period I managed to drop the lazarette hatch on the back of my head, it is made of steel, is heavy, and gave me a nasty cut. Fortunately one of the nearby cruisers, Amie on Iwalani, was a veterinarian and she cleaned me up and pronounced that I would survive.

On Thursday 17 October I at last got through to Ann, she told me she had had enough and was not coming back. Ann's illness, the reason she had returned to Sydney, it seems was largely stress related. Now that she was off the boat, and away from me she was feeling better and happier. This of course is not a great compliment.

Now we all know that relationships, especially ones of 22 years, do not end without warning, nor is the fault ever with only one party, so I will not pretend any such thing here. I will only say while I was not entirely surprised I was devastated. In fact over the course of the next few days I was surprised at how painful I found it. I suspect the grief of losing my partner was exacerbated by the fact that I was effectively in the middle of nowhere with no friends or family to share my pain with, except by email which is an entirely unsatisfactory way of crying on somebody's shoulder.

After a few days of total lassitude I started to try to come to grips with the reality. I had made a few more calls to Ann but her resolve was firm. I had written in my journal on leaving Christmas Island that while Ann is not here in person I knew she was in spirit. "Her presence is everywhere felt in our small boat which we took such pains to renovate together and have shared so intimately over the past four years." Her spirit everywhere was adding enormously to my grief and I decided I had best start taking steps to lessen this if I was in time going to move on, so I started trying to sort through Ann's stuff. This in itself proved emotionally exhausting. Item after item evoked past memories. I found one of our cruising books she had given me as a present. In the front she had written, "To Robert, With Love from Ann. Hoping this will be step 1 towards our dream, Dec 1989." I also reviewed something I had written on leaving Young Endeavour in mid 1997, "The Dream goes on. Only now I am wise enough to know that it will be nothing like my childhood fantasies. None the less dreams must be lived out or life is unfulfilled, and anyway it is all just another opportunity to learn. There truly is no such thing as a mistake or failure, perhaps just missed opportunities.." Well the price of this dream was proving exceedingly high and the lesson the most painful of my life, but I had not changed my mind. I knew that if I had not attempted this voyage my relationship with Ann would have foundered anyway. In hindsight it seems that it was not our dream after all, I think she had been trying to live my dream with me out of love, and I guess in the end it was not enough. On the other hand I was uncompromising and the result is where I am now at, very much alone, wondering what possible point is there in going on.

In my troubled state I actually proposed to Ann that I sail directly back to Sydney, a distance of 5,500 nm, I reckon it would have taken me about six weeks if I went non-stop, but after pretending to consider it for a few days Ann rejected my proposal. In many ways I am lucky. she still wants me to pursue my dream of sailing around the world, only she is not able to accompany me. For now I know not what else to do but to press on. I feel to give up and turn back would lead to lethargy and the death of my soul. To go on has lost a lot of its meaning but this is clearly my path for now. So tomorrow I clear out of Mauritius, my next destination Le Reunion. I can hear the call to prayer from the mosque starting up. It is 7.40 pm on Sunday 20 October 2002. My arrival in Mauritius had started so blissfully and I am reminded of a passage from the Sufi:

Look to this day, For it is life, the very life of life.
In its brief course lie all the varieties and realities of your existence;
The bliss of growth, the glory of action, the splendour of beauty.
For yesterday is but a dream and tomorrow is only a vision,
But today well lived makes every yesterday a dream of happiness
And every tomorrow a vision of hope.
Look well, therefore, to this day, Such is the salutation of the dawn.

And that was written in 1200 BC.

Overnight I had a dream. I was in that half awake state when dreams are often at their most vivid. I sensed that Ann was alongside me, more than that, her body was coexistent with mine, only her head was off to one side looking at me, smiling. She looked beautiful and serene. She said, "Can you see your shadow self now?" Then I felt myself exhaling, a long, long slow outgoing breath. I felt myself struggling to wake up so I could breathe. Ann's body moved out of mine. I awoke and could sense a blue aura in front of my closed eyelids. I felt I had just lost something very precious. I knew that Ann's spirit had reclaimed that part of itself it had given to me over our relationship.

Then the call to prayer from the mosque started up again. It was 4.30 in the morning.