Diving Around Rodrigues Island: Everybody Was Kung-Fu Diving!

You’ve never heard of Rodrigues island and have no clue where it is? Well neither did I. It’s not the furthest point you can get to from Montreal, but not by very much. Montreal to Rodrigues island is just over 15 000 km as the crow flies (one dedicated crow), while the antipodal point is roughly at 17500 km. It sits in the middle of water, 1500 km west of Australia. So you know, same oceanic ball park. A picture is worth a thousand words yes?

Whooooooop there it is! Rodrigues island.

We were planning to see Mauritius and Rodrigues popped on our radar, and to be honest, there’s rarely been a remote location that I passed on seeing given the opportunity. People (the internet) said Rodrigues was like Mauritius 30 or 40  years ago, I’d say more like 50. That’s the charm or the rub, depending on where you stand.

A propeller plane delivered us to a tiny airport after putting on the breaks HARD. Short runway I guess. I had the foresight to buy some beer at the duty free upon arrival (interesting concept for internal flights). I bought two six packs of the ubiquitous Phoenix beer just in case. Wise move. Never pass up the opportunity to buy sustenance, because you never know where you might end up.

Yup, good move. Very drinkable brew.

Our prearranged taxi was waiting for us, and charged us 1000 Mauritian roupies for the ride, about 40 bucks, he said it is 800 in the daytime (funny). Those are the legit prices we later found out, the driver was not taking advantage, neither would anyone on the island. We arrived at night. It is not the best of ideas to arrive at a remote and rustic location in the dark, because, frankly, as I said to my sister, everything looks like a bucket of shit. And it did. However, as this has played out many many times over the last few weeks, we held off until the morning for any kind of rash move, but I will point out that the bathroom door was a curtain. Also cold vapor was the only thing coming out of the shower, but no big, we had tepid beer.

We were diving the next morning, why waste time, so after a very tasty meal provided by our host, named Merlin, I kid you not, yes I was enchanted, we hit the sheets. Not just any sheets.

Damn right we slept well.

Next morning, after an hour long walk along the beach, with all our dive gear, originally advertised as 20 minutes (the best time we ever managed was 40 minutes), we arrived at the dive shop and met the owner/operator/dive master. And then everybody was kung-fu diving.

Years ago, when we started on this rather wild ride of travel and diving, one of my instructors explained that for the French diving was a sport, not, as for North Americans, a hobby. The difference you might ask? You push yourself in sports, you seek out hardship to improve, you compete, even if only against yourself. A hobby is more of a stroll in a park type of thing. Lou-Lou-Lou, should I paint the hull of this miniature ship red or blue?  Well this was well beyond sport, this was diving as a martial art.

Decompression dives? Check.

Negative entry back rolls? Check.

Hanging on to anything you can, flat against the bottom in heavy current with waves crashing above you in zero visiblity? Check.

A sidebar for non divers:

-Decompression or just “deco” is when you exceed the safe level of nitrogen accumulated in your body that allows you to go up without a decompression stop. PADI certified divers are taught not to do this. Opinions vary…

-A negative entry is jumping into the water and going straight down without stopping at the surface. As a recreational diver you always drop into the water, wait for the rest of the team, perhaps adjust your gear a little, and then everybody submerges at the same time. Negative entries are frowned upon in some quarters (hello Chris T.!) because of the stress they put on your ears etc. I’m sure Navy SEALs do it all the time.

-Hanging on for dear life. My “generation” of divers were taught not to touch anything ever under water, not animals and especially not coral. Here grabbing hold of the rock (I hope it was rock) was routine and needed, the currents were just two strong. BTW,  I notice that European divers seem very touchy (of the seascape I mean), something I still try to avoid at all cost. For me it’s a sign of poor buoyancy. I think I got a little judgy with it…

But.

Yeah, it was pretty cool, it was kung-fu diving. There are no pictures of the “best” moments because, well, staying alive basically.  However the barrage of bubbles from crashing waves on jagged corals (can’t go up) looked like a blizzard of silver spheres. Just hang on to the rope and move between waves. The experience also made us realise that we can dive through a shitstorm and keep calm. The dive that doesn’t kill you (or give you the bends) makes you a better diver.

There is no mass tourism, no cruise ships, no big hotels, on Rodrigues, the coastline is 98% wild. As far as I know there are only three hotels around the island that are built on the beach, and there is a fourth in the principal city of Port Mathurin. That’s it.

Typical semi isolated beach set between cliffs. They dot the eastern part of the island.

Accommodations for the overwhelming majority are guest houses. Our host, Colin Merlin, was a great guy and fed us well. As for eating with strangers, well, it’s like a very dysfunctional family gathering, every night. Funny in its own way. Mostly characters from a Wes Anderson movie.

Anse St-François where we stayed, not exactly crowded. Picture taken from the only superette in the area, inexplicably high up on a cliff. We stayed at the far end of the beach behind the trees (and turkeys).

Groceries are very rudimentary on the island, talk to locals for fish and fruits if you plan to cook. Stock up on beer (if that’s your thing) because stores are few and far between. There are buses on the island, they cost pennies. We rode on the Prince of Love.

On one trip to the market the driver was blarring Bryan Adams’ greatest hits. I think I amazed the whole bus by singing most songs outloud. I know Gen was super proud and happy, beaming even (not).

Since we didn’t cook (no kitchen corner in the studio) we had lunch by the road.

Fried things at Koki Boner, a parrot fish at la Kabane, or octopus stew at Madame La Rose, I ate a lot of octopus.

I wish I could find a cool name for my restaurant, how could I possibly name it?
Farm animals were walking around.  Some peeked through the door, some came in. A rooster, a flock of geese, some chickens, the turkeys stayed out back with the cool kids though.
Octopus stew, green mango salad, squash and rice. Fancy.

Octopus is something of a staple on the island, they sell it dried in the market and people keep it more or less year round in their freezers. The local word for it “ourite”, probably came into Créole from the Malagasy. On Réunion island they call them “zourite”. On the morning of the opening of the fishing season, we got up early to see people walking in the lagoon hunting the tasty cephalopods. Then they were hung out to dry horror movie style.

It’s a bit of a shock to come face to face with one of those fellows.

Sausages also got the same treatment, so it’s all fair. 30-35 degrees C will cure/slow cook everything.

Sausages hanging outside in downtown Port Mathurin. Health Canada inspectors would loose. Their. Minds.

In the end we really loved Rodrigues island. The slow pace, the different standards, the doors without locks, the nice people. Island time really kicked in.

And there was some kung-fu diving.

I wanted to work in rising from ashes and phoenix beer comment but I can’t without being overly wordy, and I feel like hitting the pool.

Here’s a picture instead.

Talk to you soon and be well all of you.

 

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