Where to even begin!!! Our team recently spent the last two and a half weeks on the paradise island of Mauritius (known as Ile Maurice to the locals which speak French and Kreol), which is just east of Madagascar and off the east coast of Africa. The Kestrel Valley team have spent the last year putting an ambitious and inspiring conservation project together and it was time to officially launch the project. Prize winners and agents from around the globe got to experience a week of pure conservation which introduced our group to all the conservation activities that the project will run with the volunteers. These activities include: monitoring the endangered Hawksbill turtle, coral farming to restore the reefs damaged by climate change (high sea temperatures) and boating activities, and assisting their Mauritian conservation partner, the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation with their incredible project of monitoring the endangered Mauritian Kestrel, which was brought back from the brink of extinction. Kestrel Valley is proud to be home to some of the nesting boxes on the island where safe and protective breeding of this endangered species can thrive under the watchful eyes of our volunteers. Kestrel Valley is also starting their very own nursery where endemic plant species will be planted high up in the mountain range at the top of the property and alien vegetation will be removed to allow the endemic species to have a chance to grow and repopulate the area which has a massive impact on the endemic fauna and flora on the island which is vital for all life on this island paradise!
This tropical island is made of volcanic rock and life is literally pushing out of every crevice on the island and along its crystal water reefs! The Dutch landed on Ile Maurice 400 years ago, you can still see the Dutch influence in the architecture of some of the buildings. The Dutch unfortunately couldn’t sustain their dietary needs whilst on the island and unfortunately, the famous flightless Dodo bird and giant tortoises were eaten to extinction and the last known sighting was in 1662. The Dutch abandoned the island around 1710 when weather conditions, pest infestations, and illnesses from lack of food started taking their toll. The Dutch did, however, introduce sugar cane plants from Java and today, sugar cane farms cover most of the island. The Dutch also were responsible for clearing massive areas of Ebony bark, which the island is famous for, for its strong dark wood used for furniture.
The French sailed into Ile Maurice in 1715 for a short rule of the island, where they farmed peppers and cinnamon. After the French domination of the island, the British soon followed.
The island has a lot of history with slavery as slaves were shipped from Africa and Madagascar during the French occupation of the island, slavery was abolished by the British on the 1 February 1835 and Mauritius finally became their own Republic in 1992.
It is important to have an overview of the island’s history as it can be quite confusing when you land on the island as you are exposed to so many different cultures, languages and the most amazing array of foods! Of course, we tried a little bit of everything, and the street food is AMAZING and of course really budget-friendly. The architecture varies around the island, with local homes being built from any material that can be found, and brick and mortar homes which are unpainted and unfinished (this is a story on its own) to quaint colonial-style homes and villas, to modern sky rise buildings and resorts.
The ocean changes around every corner, from white sugar sandy beaches and crystal-clear water to brown, darker sandy beaches with trees for shade and darkish warm water that runs into a freshwater lagoon with the most dramatic mountains backdrops that truly take your breath away! The roads are narrow and very simple to follow as there is literally one main road around the island which we estimated to take you about 3-4 hours to drive around. We drove from the mid-east coast to the mid-west coast and it took us one and a half hours at a slow pace. We had to stop and take photos wherever there was a safe stop to take in the scenery and of course to stop and get some fresh coconut water out of a coconut by a skilled coconut tree climber… the local sellers on the sides of the roads and at just about every beach are really friendly and very talkative but be sure to know the prices of the goods you want to buy. If you can, please avoid buying anything that will have a detrimental effect on the island and its beautiful fauna and flora as A LOT of the souvenirs and locals goods are made from shells and sea creatures that have been taken from their homes and it is evident when you go snorkelling as the number of shellfish life is low near the shoreline. Imagine what the reefs’ could look like if shellfish stayed in the ocean and how much better the sea life would be if we preserved it instead of taking a piece of it home with us, only to sit on a shelf or as a fridge magnet? The local crafts, vanilla products, tea’s and other locally produced goods are perfect gifts and help the local economy and people thrive without harming the sea and land life we are trying so hard to conserve. The prices for goods start from around Rs100 (Mauritian Rupees) upwards. I decided to spend my pennies on the conservation island of Ile aux Aigrettes where they have a wonderful range of souvenirs and merchandise that supports the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation which works hard to educate and conserve the endangered species on the little conservation island of Ile aux Aigrettes which you will get to visit with Kestrel Valley on your volunteer placement.
For your weekends off at Kestrel Valley, here are some travel tips, tried and tested by our team:
Local taxis are expensive but if you need a reliable ride to and from the airport, then this is the best way to go! If you have a few days to travel, a hire car is really affordable and the roads are narrow but navigable (with a hint of patience and hypervigilance) as there are loads of bicycles, electric scooters and motorbikes on the roads, all day, every day! We managed to hire a car for around Rs2000 (Mauritian Rupees) and a full fuel tank will cost you around Rs2200 for an entry-level car, you will probably only need a full tank if you want to drive around the island and do some sightseeing, we only used half a tank and covered a fair amount of the southern half of the island.
If you are looking for reliable accommodation on your weekends off at Kestrel Valley for exploring, we can certainly recommend two great options for each side of the island. Alpinia Guest House in Black River on the West Coast and La Case Mama in Pointe D’ Esny on the East Coast which is hands down the most beautiful stretch of coastline with white sands and crystal waters with the most amazing snorkelling just a meter off the beach! The local kiteboarding specialists, Specialised Kiteboarding, is literally on the same site as the accommodation so you don’t even need to venture far for some ocean fun. These guys also come with a wealth of local info and are extremely passionate about saving our oceans! All our accommodation was booked safely online via Airbnb which you can download on your phone for easy booking whilst travelling! *tip: always book properties with reviews, this way you have peace of mind that you are getting the experience you are paying for.
If you are interested in a guided tour of the island, please do ask the project manager or project volunteer coordinator for advice as they will have a list of reliable guides and taxis for you at the Kestrel Valley office.
I know one of the biggest questions volunteers and their parents ask us when enquiring about foreign and unknown destinations, is the safety of the area. As we covered most of the southern half of the island, I can honestly say it was as safe as any other country I have visited in Europe. Wherever you go in the world, you just need to have your wits about you, always keep your passport and money in a safe place and don’t go off with a stranger, stick to the public areas and don’t walk alone at night. We never encountered a single issue on our travels and the locals were very friendly, very happy and really helpful, in fact, there is just no anger on the island, I can honestly say it is one of the happiest places I have ever been!
Vitamin Sea and Nature Therapy while making a real impact Conserving the Biodiversity of Mauritius at Kestrel Valley has changed my world and I hope the island and all its critters both on land and in the ocean will change yours too!
If you would like to experience a true conservationists paradise and make a real impact by signing up for a conservation experience in Mauritius, please follow this link to apply directly online (We’re offering a 30% opening discount for 2020 travel): https://worldwideexperience.com/apply-online/, send an email to email@example.com or follow Worldwide Experience on social media for the latest news and updates from the project and volunteers:
by Claire Paton