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Animal encounters

Living like a local in Mauritius

Kelly Ranson January 10, 2014

“We like to eat with our hands, so give it a go if you can.”

These were the words of my new friend Vish, the bar manager at the new Zilwa Attitude in Mauritius, who had welcomed myself and three others into his home to enjoy his mother’s homemade fish curry, pumpkin salad and chilli cakes.

I am pretty clumsy at the best of times, so eating a curry with just my hands was a challenge and a half – but I can proudly say I managed it (with the help of a chapatti) and polished off the whole plate of mouth-watering food.

The evening was truly wonderful – playing with Vish’s pet dogs, listening to stories of his childhood and family life, and even seeing his stash of cocktail mixers in his room that he makes for guests.  It was a finale to a trip that will have plenty of lasting memories – much more than just the suntan many people come home from Mauritius with after a week on the Indian Ocean Island.

New hotel, new concept
The 214-room Zilwa Attitude, which is located close to the fisherman village of Grande Gaube in the north of the island, opened its doors in November and is touting its 100% Mauritian concept.

For starters, it’s the first hotel on the island to have a Creole name – ‘Zilwa’ in Creole means ‘islander’ and all ‘family members’ (aka staff) are Mauritian. The relaxed atmosphere was noticeable from the moment I arrived - the family members offered welcome drinks before checking everyone in on iPads, rather than from behind the standard reception desks.

The cleverly designed welcome area has superb views, and after a 12 hour overnight flight it was a dream to lay my eyes on the infinity pool, the sandy beach, out to the ocean and Gunner’s Quoin Island.
The hotel bedrooms are modern with traditional touches – there are Creole slogans on the walls and shampoo comes in the form of a hard soap, as that is how the locals used to wash their hair.  In each room are ‘Dodo’ flip-flops – the complimentary footwear are worn by almost everyone around the hotel, and I have to say, I wore mine pretty much all day and they were beyond comfortable.

Islander life
The evening meal at the family home (costs £15 per person) was just one instance of local living and tradition courtesy of the Zilwa. 

Another fantastic experience was a very early (yes, 5:15am early) sunrise breakfast with a local fisherman (a cost of £6 per person). Bleary eyed, yet still bushy tailed, I boarded the small pirogue fishing boat to head out to sea. It was a such a peaceful experience – watching local fisherman out at sea (although it was a Monday which is traditionally the day the locals sleep in - sounds good to me!) looking for the catch of the day, divers hunting for octopus and local women paddling along the shoreline, all as the sun came up. After tea and a yummy breakfast on the beach, it was time to head back to the hotel. I was in my room before 7.30am and ready to start a refreshing day.

Other local experiences during my trip included playing ‘Sapsiway’, a game of keepie uppie, which was harder than our teacher Richard made it look, having a lesson in the Creole language on the beach, and making both Mauritian curry and Lycee rum with staff.

Outside of the hotel, I also went on a bike ride to another local village, Goodlands, where I explored an Indian temple, a model ship making factory and sampled some local street food, Dhal Puri, which was stuffed lentils in bread. My guide for the day, Jason (who is on the Zilwa’s entertainment team) said he and his friends eat around 10 of these, where three of us struggled to share one!

It may sound cliché to say, but the encounters with locals and the warmth of the ‘family members’ at the hotel really made this trip for me.

 ‘Mo kontan twa’ means ‘I love you’ in Creole – so it only leaves me to say, ‘Mo kontan twa Zilwa and Mauritius!