Slow Voyage in the Indian Ocean: Rodrigues Island

One of my favorite things about Rodrigues Island is that the speed limit is 50 kilometers per hour. People living on the super remote southern Indian Ocean island (government part of Mauritius, but with autonomous status as of 2020) know how to live quietly. Visitors quickly learn to do the same.

In recent years, “slow travel” has become something of a catchphrase, known as a marketing term and an Instagram hashtag. But Rodrigues is the real deal – basically, not just in the literal driving speed sense. The island is a two-hour flight from Mauritius (itself a seven-hour flight from Dubai) and home to only about 42,000 people, most of whom work in tourism, weave beautiful baskets from palm leaves or catch and dry octopus for go to it. local curry. There is no need to rush.

What logically follows is that most international visitors come to sunbathe on the white sandy beaches and gaze at the wild turquoise waters of the island (sometimes with goats in the foreground). A particularly good base to do this is the simple and peaceful Tekoma Boutique Hotel.

The hotel opened in 2012 with 15 independent rooms on a hill overlooking the ocean. A recent renovation also added five new beachfront villas. When finished, there will be 12 more rooms on top of the hill, bringing the total to 32, plus a proper bathroom. (At the moment, they are offering very good massages in the guest room.) It is still small enough to maintain the cool atmosphere, friendly service and high quality of the food in the restaurant, which serves local and international dishes.

The dinners at that restaurant were great, but the lunch out was definitely better. The hotel arranged for a guide to accompany me on a walk to Gravier Beach for a perfect island lunch of crab soup, octopus salad, fresh fish, and grilled lobster—delicious!—overlooking the ocean. I’m sure the money changed, but it felt less like a real restaurant than a backyard cookout with friends. A few kite surfers flew by while we enjoyed our lunch.

Later, we went to the Francois Leguat Giant Tortoise Reserve, an impressive conservation project. When Portuguese explorer Diogo Rodrigues found the island in the 16th century, its turtle population was thriving—they lived in groups of 3,000 or 4,000, and people could walk on their shells without setting foot on land.

A few centuries later, a famine in Mauritius prompted settlers there to start using Rodrigues turtles for food. Surprisingly, after being exploited for about 100 years, they had almost disappeared. Things stayed that way until 2004, when a group of conservationists set out to rebuild the island and reintroduce the turtles. It took two years before the first child was born. Now more than 6,000 have been born here.

Once you see this, there is not much to see in Rodrigues. It’s the market in the “town”, officially the municipality of Port Mathurin, offering preserved fruit, dried fish and octopus, and beautiful wicker baskets.

You can get some adrenaline by crossing the Cascade Pistache Suspension Bridge, which hangs about 325 meters above the ground below at its highest point. It is fully supported by the overhead cables, which makes the transition quite sharp and exciting. As a former aspiring trapeze artist, I eagerly passed, but had second thoughts about the 100-foot pendulum jump. The climb out of the valley looked a bit tricky.

An easier source of adventure is Caverne Patate, which at 1,000 meters (roughly 3,300 feet) is the longest of some 30 caves on the island. A visit is a short but fascinating (re)orientation in a world of stalactites and stalagmites.

After the cave, there was lunch. Resto la Caverne is an extremely untouched place. Upstairs, the dining room is simple, with the best seats on the terrace and drinks waiting to be pulled from the fridge. The menu is extremely simple: octopus in many forms (fresh, dried, salad, curry) and conocono (snails), which are probably an acquired taste.

You forgot the food. What my lunch companion had to say about Rodrigues is more interesting. He pointed out that the island has no McDonald’s, no KFC. Its lagoon is clean. The vegetables grown on the island are almost entirely organic – not because it’s currently fashionable, but because the farmers have never known any other way.

And so, while the “stress of doing nothing” is apparently somewhat real, Rodrigues is a place that seems remarkably stress-free. It is not a commercial island. It’s just craft. And authentic, and tender, and thoughtful, and most of all, unhurried—from long before “slow travel” was a thing.

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