Wednesday, April 15. Mauritius. Arrived and anchored off Port Louis 2 A. M. Rugged clusters of crags and peaks, green to their summits; from their bases to the sea a green plain with just tilt enough to it to make the water drain off. I believe it is in 56 E. and 22 S.—a hot tropical country. The green plain has an inviting look; has scattering dwellings nestling among the greenery. Scene of the sentimental adventure of Paul and Virginia.
Island under French control—which means a community which depends upon quarantines, not sanitation, for its health.
Robert Cooper (p 261) notes that Twain observes the island "was a British possession, 'but there are few English people and many French; so the French have everything their own way -- and the French was is seldom a good way in this world.' Most of the population was not French, reported Clemens, but East Indian. When the British took over the island from the French in 1814, they permitted the French to keep their laws, language, and property. French was the chief European language and French Creole the lingua franca. When slavery was abolished in the 1830's, the British imported Indian indentured laborers, mainly Hindus, to work the sugar plantations. They remain the majority, and because Mauritius is a democracy, Hindus dominate the government. If the Franco-Mauritians, now a minuscule if rich minority, no longer have everything their own way, French is still the dominate European language and Frech Creole the lingua franca."
Thursday, April 16. Went ashore in the forenoon at Port Louis, a little town, but with the largest variety of nationalities and complexions we have encountered yet. French, English, Chinese, Arabs, Africans with wool, blacks with straight hair, East Indians, half-whites, quadroons—and great varieties in costumes and colors.
Took the train for Curepipe at 1.30—two hours' run, gradually uphill. What a contrast, this frantic luxuriance of vegetation, with the arid plains of India; these architecturally picturesque crags and knobs and miniature mountains, with the monotony of the Indian dead-levels.
Curepipe (means Pincushion or Pegtown, probably). Sixteen miles (two hours) by rail from Port Louis. At each end of every roof and on the apex of every dormer window a wooden peg two feet high stands up; in some cases its top is blunt, in others the peg is sharp and looks like a toothpick. The passion for this humble ornament is universal.
Apparently, there has been only one prominent event in the history of Mauritius, and that one didn't happen. I refer to the romantic sojourn of Paul and Virginia here. It was that story that made Mauritius known to the world, made the name familiar to everybody, the geographical position of it to nobody.
"Many copies of Paul and Virginia are sold every year in Mauritius. No other book is so popular here except the Bible. By many it is supposed to be a part of the Bible. All the missionaries work up their French on it when they come here to pervert the Catholic mongrel. It is the greatest story that was ever written about Mauritius, and the only one."
April 18. This is the only country in the world where the stranger is not asked "How do you like this place?" This is indeed a large distinction. Here the citizen does the talking about the country himself; the stranger is not asked to help. You get all sorts of information. From one citizen you gather the idea that Mauritius was made first, and then heaven; and that heaven was copied after Mauritius. Another one tells you that this is an exaggeration; that the two chief villages, Port Louis and Curepipe, fall short of heavenly perfection; that nobody lives in Port Louis except upon compulsion, and that Curepipe is the wettest and rainiest place in the world.
April 23. "The first year they gather shells; the second year they gather shells and drink; the third year they do not gather shells." (Said of immigrants to Mauritius.)
Population 375,000. 120 sugar factories.
Population 1851, 185,000. The increase is due mainly to the introduction of Indian coolies. They now apparently form the great majority of the population. They are admirable breeders; their homes are always hazy with children. Great savers of money. A British officer told me that in India he paid his servant 10 rupees a month, and he had 11 cousins, uncles, parents, etc., dependent upon him, and he supported them on his wages. These thrifty coolies are said to be acquiring land a trifle at a time, and cultivating it; and may own the island by and by.
The Indian women do very hard labor (for wages running from 40 one hundredths of a rupee for twelve hours' work to 50 one hundredths of a rupee.) They carry mats of sugar on their heads (70 pounds) all day lading ships, for half a rupee, and work at gardening all day for less.
The camaron is a fresh water creature like a cray-fish. It is regarded here as the world's chiefest delicacy—and certainly it is good. Guards patrol the streams to prevent poaching it. A fine of Rs.200 or 300 (they say) for poaching. Bait is thrown in the water; the camaron goes for it; the fisher drops his loop in and works it around and about the camaron he has selected, till he gets it over its tail; then there's a jerk or something to certify the camaron that it is his turn now; he suddenly backs away, which moves the loop still further up his person and draws it taut, and his days are ended.
Another dish, called palmiste, is like raw turnip-shavings and tastes like green almonds; is very delicate and good. Costs the life of a palm tree 12 to 20 years old—for it is the pith.
Another dish—looks like greens or a tangle of fine seaweed—is a preparation of the deadly nightshade. Good enough.
The monkeys live in the dense forests on the flanks of the toy mountains, and they flock down nights and raid the sugar-fields. Also on other estates they come down and destroy a sort of bean-crop—just for fun, apparently—tear off the pods and throw them down.
What there is of Mauritius is beautiful. You have undulating wide expanses of sugar-cane—a fine, fresh green and very pleasant to the eye; and everywhere else you have a ragged luxuriance of tropic vegetation of vivid greens of varying shades, a wild tangle of underbrush, with graceful tall palms lifting their crippled plumes high above it; and you have stretches of shady dense forest with limpid streams frolicking through them, continually glimpsed and lost and glimpsed again in the pleasantest hide-and-seek fashion; and you have some tiny mountains, some quaint and picturesque groups of toy peaks, and a dainty little vest-pocket Matterhorn; and here and there and now and then a strip of sea with a white ruffle of surf breaks into the view.
That is Mauritius; and pretty enough. The details are few, the massed result is charming, but not imposing; not riotous, not exciting; it is a Sunday landscape. Perspective, and the enchantments wrought by distance, are wanting. There are no distances; there is no perspective, so to speak. Fifteen miles as the crow flies is the usual limit of vision. Mauritius is a garden and a park combined. It affects one's emotions as parks and gardens affect them. The surfaces of one's spiritual deeps are pleasantly played upon, the deeps themselves are not reached, not stirred. Spaciousness, remote altitudes, the sense of mystery which haunts apparently inaccessible mountain domes and summits reposing in the sky—these are the things which exalt the spirit and move it to see visions and dream dreams.
The Sandwich Islands remain my ideal of the perfect thing in the matter of tropical islands. I would add another story to Mauna Loa's 16,000 feet if I could, and make it particularly bold and steep and craggy and forbidding and snowy; and I would make the volcano spout its lava-floods out of its summit instead of its sides; but aside from these non-essentials I have no corrections to suggest. I hope these will be attended to; I do not wish to have to speak of it again.