A sojourn in Mauritius

DSCF6185

The spectacular mountains of volcanic Mauritius

Eagle-eyed readers of this blog will have noticed a bit of tumble-weed blowing through its environs recently. No I haven’t given up altogether (although exciting ventures elsewhere have been keeping me busy) but one of the reasons things have been so quiet is that we have been on holiday.

On holiday, I hear you cry. Isn’t life as an expat in South Africa one long holiday? Well yes you have a point, we do get to travel a lot while we live here – and hell, if you lived in the most beautiful country in the world (trademark) wouldn’t you do your best to see as much of it as possible?

However, travelling and holidaying are two different concepts and what we really needed was a proper break. A time to be able to do nothing, to not move an inch from the sunbed should we chose, to totally re-charge our batteries. Unfortunately we do of course have two very active pre-teens so this total relaxation was never going to happen. But all the same, we wanted to get away somewhere really beautiful and life-enhancing for a fantastic fun-filled family vacation and Mauritius fits the bill completely. It’s also only 4.5 hours flight from Johannesburg, which of course helps!

DSCF6204

There’s nothing like a sun-drenched beach to lighten your mood.

Mauritius is one of those countries that most people simply associate with holidays and little else – a bit like one of the many Caribbean islands dominated by resorts geared up to doing nothing more than sipping rum and dipping the occastional toe in a pool. However, just like many of those Caribbean islands, dig a little deeper and there is actually a fascinating history to this island involving pirates, runaway slaves, a mish-mash of cultures which altogether add up to a very unique identity, a famous now-extinct bird (the dodo) and a man called Peter Pepper (yes, really!). But we weren’t really here for the history and culture, fascinating as it was – we were here for the sea, sun, sand and (remember, kids involved) snorkelling!

20160425_0255550

Under the sea…is where we want to be….

It is hard to chose a resort on an island like Mauritius because there are so many of them and most of them looked fantastic. I know people who have gone rogue and stayed in self-catering houses on the island and this also looks like a lovely option for some real rest and relaxation. However for this, our official “breather break” from South Africa, we wanted to stay somewhere where we really didn’t have to lift a finger. In the end we settled on the Ravenala Attitude, part of the Attitude chain and a newly refurbished hotel.

The Ravenala is not paying me for this review (unless they wish to do so retrospectively….contact me tab above….) so I can say anything I like but in all honesty it was a fabulous resort. There were issues and you can read my review on TripAdvisor, but the pluses far out-weighed the minuses and I would both recommend it and return to it. In particular, the staff were outstanding and made us all (especially the children) feel as welcome as it is possible to feel. Clientele were a little mixed – we were out of season so there weren’t many families, with honeymooning couples taking up most of the room on the sun-loungers. But this mattered not a jot, we were still treated like royalty by waiters, bar-staff, room cleaners, the dive crew and sports guys as well as pretty well everyone else we met.

DSC_0029

Sun-loungers waiting for the childless honeymooners to arrive…

The main reason we picked Ravenala was because it offered us as a family what we wanted – a family suite so we didn’t have to book two rooms (which would have racked the cost up considerably), lots of activities, and good choices of restaurants. As well as snorkelling, we spent the week on the sea on various vessels including a glass-bottom boat, kayaks, pedaloes, stand-up paddle boards, water-skies and lasers (small sailing boats which capsize easily….). On the land we played badminton, beach tennis, petanque and table-tennis (ish). When we fancied a dip we had both the ocean and several large pools to chose from. And of course there was plenty of choice when it came to needing a drink to quench that thirst – although this being a sugar island, that choice mostly revolved around rum for the grown-ups.

DSC_0044

Rum shack!

Our favourite activity though was under the sea. I learnt to dive more than 15 years ago and reached over 100 dives before our five year break in the UK (where diving was off the menu thanks to a non-tropical climate). Having completed a refresher course here in Pretoria a couple of weeks before our holiday, dusted down our wetsuits and polished our masks we were ready to go. The hotel has a new dive centre attached so it was super easy to book a package of six dives shared between me and my husband, plus a couple of try-dives in the pool for the kids. Which turned out to be a great success because our 10-year-old daughter went on to do not only one but two dives in the sea and loved it!

20160426_0413190

Daughter number one on her first ever open water dive.

The reason this was such a huge success for us was because, despite living on a Caribbean island as a child, she has never liked beaches or salt water which has been a bit of a struggle for the rest of our sea-loving family (my younger daughter, at eight, is still too young for a sea dive but snorkels like a pro and enjoyed her dive in the pool).

Diving, for anyone who hasn’t tried it, seems like a faff while you are above water but as soon as you get below the surface can be one of the most relaxing things you can do. I liken it to a session of yoga or meditiation – you drift around looking at beautiful things with just your thoughts for company (you do of course dive in a group or with a buddy but as you can’t talk it can feel very peaceful). On some dives the excitement does rack up with sightings of sharks, large rays or other “big things” but the coral reef diving we did around Mauritius wasn’t that sort of dive. Lots of fish life and plenty to look at but it was never going to be one of those “Top Ten” dives. Just very relaxing, very beautiful and very de-stressing.

20160429_1003100

Wreck dive

Sadly all good things come to an end and after a week of indulgence we settled in for one last evening on the beach, rum cocktails in hand. And luckily for us, the island decided we deserved a fabulous sunset on our final day – watching this spectacular show was a wonderful way to end our week away and will stay in our memories for years to come.

DSCF6219

So now we’re back in South Africa and I am trying to catch up with everything, I hope to be able to get back to some sort of blogging routine soon. Which, if everything goes to plan, will include a new link-up for expat bloggers in Africa – so watch this space!

TravelathomeTingNewBlue

Show your world: The Beautiful Florida Keys

We’ve just returned from two weeks in Florida and I’m still suffering the affect of jet-lag (so apologies for any mistakes in this post – my brain and my fingers aren’t joining too well at the moment). It was a wonderful, fun-filled week in the theme parks followed by a slowed-down relaxing few days by the water on Key Islamorada. Just the perfect anecdote to all that roller-coastering and non-stop walking in the blistering heat. I can’t recommend Islamorada highly enough, it really was a beautiful, calming and suprisingly un-commercialised place.

La Jolla beach motel, Key Islamorada

La Jolla beach motel, Key Islamorada

We stayed in a small, up-dated 1950’s motel called La Jolla right on the water front and from the moment we got there we were entranced by the wildlife in and around the sea surrounding the site. Nurse sharks, sting ray, flocks of parrot fish, jacks, groupers, snapper and many, many more types of fish swam around in front of the dock where we would sit swinging our feet out over the crystal clear water. Pelicans. seagulls and other birds came by for a visit, while in the trees above huge iguanas slept peacefully in the warm sun.

DSCF1880

But best of all, in the early misty light of the day, coffee in hand, we watched first manatees and later dolphins swim gracefully past our front door. The motel had kayaks free for guest use so once we knew roughly what time these beautiful creatures were due to visit we lay in wait, then grabbed a paddle at the first tell-tale sight of either the  bubbles emerging from the lolloping manatees or the distinctive blowing sound and v-shaped ripples of the dolphins. To kayak alongside these animals as they swam playfully past, below and away from us was a magical privilige.

Kayaking, La Jolla resort. Key Islamorada. Florida

Kayaking, La Jolla resort. Key Islamorada. Florida

Another highight of our stay were the evening sunsets – truely magnificent, whether at the end of a clear, blue day or on a moodier evening, when the dark clouds backdropped against the blood-red sky. The morning light, too, was breathtaking and even on one of those cloudy days the slate grey of the sky reflected in the water gave an eerie, other-worldy quality to the scene.

DSCF1856 DSCF1953 DSCF1971 DSCF1959

11109287_10152938054145808_7739729893916263724_n

As well as swimming, snorkelling, kayaking, sun-bathing, relaxing, beer-drinking and sunset-watching, we did manage a few trips during our stay in the keys – including right down to Mile 0 at Key West and on our last day, a memorable trip to the Everglades. But I think I’ll save those for another post!

This post is part the Show Your World series on Tiny Expat’s blog.

show your world

My Travel Monkey

Show Your World: Snowdonia

Fellow blogger Tiny Expat’s series Show Your World invites you to post about a place that you have visited, whether it be close to home or a distant destination. A few months from now I figure I’ll have plenty of “exotic” destinations to post about, whether it be South African safaris, Namibian deserts or Mozambique beaches. So I thought I would show off a place a little closer to home, but a place that’s just as worth visiting. It may not have the guaranteed sunshine or the wild animals but there’s still plenty to recommend about Snowdonia.

Best known as the home to Wales’ tallest mountain, Mount Snowdon, Snowdonia has become a magnet for adventure tourists wanting to climb the mountain, canoe, kayak, rockclimb or just walk in the surrounding area. We were actually there for my husband to zoom down the zipwire at Zipworld, apparently the longest zipwire in the country:

Can you see him?

Can you see him?

But while we were there we took the opportunity to soak up the gorgeous scenary

DSCF1391

Which included a walk up the Great Orme of Llandudno on a stunning blue day

DSCF1427

History seeps from the veins of Wales and round every corner we found a castle. Here is the castle at Conwy, a beautiful example of what so many of the now-ruined fortresses would once have looked like

DSCF1422

DSCF1421castle

Finally on the last day, we went deep into the forest for a tree-top adventure which, I think, was the highlight of the holiday for our two daughters:

DSCF1433

show your world

My Travel Monkey