Some eight years ago, a couple of friends managed to talk us into going to Mauritius. My wife and I weren’t too keen at first. We thought the island was more of a honeymoon destination with sandy beaches and thought no more about it.
Our friends insisted, telling us we’d love the colours and the people and there’s plenty to do. I’m happy to say they were right and our change of mind turned out to be one of our best moves.
It’s a small island, but looking back it was worth the trip. I packed my Ricoh GXR with the 28mm module. I still have the body but I’ve swapped the 28mm (when I bought the GR) for the 50mm macro lens which I still enjoy using.
The autofocus on this camera was not always reliable and you may experience some colourcast. But the camera seemed to have enjoyed the sunny atmosphere and colours of the island and did the job pretty well. One of the advantages of those modules is that they are not prone to dust because the body and the sensor are attached (unlike the GR with its collapsible lens) and can be taken anywhere with no qualms at all.
A bit of history
The island was first a Dutch colony around 1598. It was then French from 1715 until 1810. The British took over in 1814 up to independence in 1968. Such regime change led to a compelling mix of different people and cultures. The French brought black slaves to work in the sugarcane fields and the English welcomed a large number of Indian settlers, mainly Tamils. The Créole and Indian communities live peacefully together. They are a friendly people, always ready to start a conversation in French or English, the two languages spoken on the island. Christianity and Hinduism are the two mainstream religions on the island.
This diversity of origin is amply reflected in the island’s food. You can enjoy Créole cooking, spicy chicken or fish as well as Indian curries and dals, samosas or a mix of both culinary cultures that awakes your taste buds to delicious and surprising flavours. The roadsides are full of small friendly food vendors where you can get excellent meals. We were lucky to have three of them near the place where we were staying and had many meals there.
There were no supermarkets where we stayed. We were near small shops that sold all the basic things you might need. Despite the ads for globalised brands, the Oscars went to the local rum and beer. That’s the place where locals go for a drink of rum. Apart from the rum, which was excellent, what we liked were the colours of those small shops.
Apart from some churches, Hinduism is the main religion on the island. You can find temples where people go for their puja (Hindu act of worship) all over the island in almost every village. There is also a sacred lake with a huge Shiva statue where people go on pilgrimage. The statue boasts that it is the highest in the Indian ocean. The atmosphere is quiet and, unlike temples in India or Nepal, there’s no restricted access to these places of worship.
This is the national botanical garden. It is not too big by our western standards but houses many indigenous species and boasts beautiful ponds with lotus flowers and huge water lilies. The various hues of bright greens are truly wonderful. We spent a long time in the garden and truly enjoyed the quiet atmosphere of the place. If my memory serves, this garden is mentioned in Amitav Ghosh’s trilogy of novels which concerns the British-Chinese opium wars of the middle 19th Century.
The beaches and the sea
This is what Mauritius is famous for. Many sandy beaches are lined with five-star hotels. Fortunately, there are plenty of places where you can avoid those places jam-packed with people. The local places are truly amazing and quiet. The colours of the Indian ocean are stunning at any time of the day and snorkelling inside the coral reef is a wonderful and “shark-free” experience. I just wish I had had a Leica X-U at the time to take pictures of the many-hued fish. It was probably better than a session with Disney’s Nemo.
Every local beach harbours a small fishing fleet which goes to sea daily and sells its catch directly next to the beach. We particularly enjoyed the one in Cap Malheureux where we often bought fish, especially marlin (makaire) and tuna. They were fresh and delicious fried in coconut oil with a pinch of curry.
Apart from using bikes and motorbikes, the best way to go around the island is by trying the local buses. Bus routes provide good public transport all over the island. One of the oddities is in the way they drive their buses at breakneck speed between two stops only to brake furiously a few metres before the bus stop. Once you get used to it and grip the handrail in front of you at the right time, the trips are fast and reliable despite the potholes that send you jumping up from time to time.
Port-Louis vegetables and fruit market.
This the biggest market in the island capital and I was captivated by the explosion of colours. The market is in the centre of the old town of Port-Louis.
Chamarel national park.
This is an area of beauty. Mauritius is a volcanic island with huge craters and a few mountain peaks which are, in fact, extinct volcanoes. The volcanoes also created the earth with seven colours. This phenomenon seems to be due to the mixture of volcanic sand with iron oxide. The soil is fertile around these volcanoes and produces all sorts of fruit and vegetables, including pineapple, which you can buy all over the island. You can also spot disused salt marshes not far from the national park.
The GXR system is no longer available. Apart from the two small-sensor zooms, plus a 16-85 16MP APS-C zoom, the system included three 12MP units, each housing a different lens — 50mm macro, a 28mm, and an M Mount module which was a cheap entry into the world of Leica because it accepted all the M mount lenses.
Performance, in general, was on par with the M8 sensor according to reviews. You can check a couple of reviews here: GXR-A12 Field Report and Ricoh GXR. The 28mm unit was my companion for a couple of years but the AF system and colour imaging was not the best.
I still own the 50mm module and use it for macro photography and portraiture despite its tendency to front and back focus while searching focus. It’s in no way a fast unit but the rendering is far better than that of the 28mm unit once you accept the limitations of the lens.