Finding Solitude...and Lunch

We had dedicated a couple of days to boat chores and so I didn't feel guilty about negotiating another day for seeing more of Ile Rodrigues. I'd read of two endemic birds that seem to hang out in the early morning near the Forest Station in the tiny village of Solitude, a quick bus ride from Port Mathurin. We confirmed what bus to take and were on our way by 0745. When the bus stopped at a tiny bus stop in the middle of nowhere and the conductor pointed to a path through the forest, we were a bit skeptical, but we got off and headed down the steep path. Sure enough, after a couple minutes on a heavily rooted, dirt track, the path merged with a road and we spotted a bright pink building down the way which turned out to be the Forest Station.  

forest station


We were looking for the Rodrigues fody and the Rodrigues warbler. No, we're not really twitchers … birdwatchers, although we enjoy identifying birds. But there's something about seeing endemic animals that occur nowhere else in the world that's kind of a thrill. The Forest Station guy wasn't really interested in talking to us (could be my terrible French!). We asked the best place to spot fodies and he said “in the forest”. No kidding! We continued along the road, two tracks of cement with mud in the middle, up a steep hill with forest on both sides. We saw a warbler. No pic, but we saw him.


forest road


We walked for several kilometers and saw lots of goats, a dead mouse, more huge spiders than I care to acknowledge, several feral chickens with chicks, several Madagascar red fodies, scads of ubiquitous mynahs and house sparrows, a sleeping pig, banana trees, several odd looking flowers and plants, but no Rodrigues fody.


collage of stuff we saw


When we spotted the Majestic King Lion Nightclub at a small crossroad, we figured we'd reached downtown Solitude. There were several rudimentary houses scattered here and there up the hill and the ground level of the nightclub seemed to offer some basic supplies like CocaCola and Phoenix beer and junk food.


majestic king lion night club


We retraced our steps back to the Forest Station, standing under the dense forest cover during intermittent showers. We found the ranger guy again and lamented not seeing any fodies. He blamed it on the rain and gave us an “oh, well” shrug. We did spot some common waxbills, which actually weren't common at all to us and finally left Solitude, deciding to walk the two klicks back into town.


common waxbill


Our walk down the very steep, switch-backed road to Port Mathurin was a bit dodgy. There are no sidewalks and the roads are narrow and quite busy at this time of the morning. At one point, we climbed down a bank to avoid walking across a very narrow bridge with no place whatsoever for pedestrians. We had seen a lookout platform high above the town and found it on our way back. The views were terrific. We could see Nine of Cups at anchor and the whole town spread below us like a colorful mosaic.


lookout view


It was mid-morning and we were back in town. Surely, this shouldn't conclude our day. What to do? Another cruiser had mentioned the tiny beach town of St. Francois. He had gotten there on a motorbike, but thought perhaps the bus went there as well. We checked, it did, and we boarded the next bus out of town. The bus chugged up the same hill we had just descended and finally headed towards the east end of the island. The views were great and different from what we'd seen on our way to the Tortoise Reserve.


view with a goat


We arrived in St. Francois just around lunch time. Our friends had bragged about a little thatch-covered beach resto that served fresh-caught grilled fish, lobster, chicken … whatever was available for their oil-drum-cut-in-half grill. We spotted Robert and Soulange's little place about a kilometer or so from the bus stop. They only had about six tables and, lucky for us, one was available.


robert and solange resto


The place was charming. We sat in plastic chairs at a plastic table, our feet planted in beach sand. The sun was shining and we could hear the sound of the surf not far away. Small sparrows peeked from the bamboo rafters of the thatched roof and swooped down every once in awhile for bread crumbs in the sand. Soulange put a fish on the grill for us, while Robert hacked at coconuts for other guests. The meal was excellent … grilled fish and chicken, salad, bread, drinks, espresso and a coconut tart … all for 500Rps (about $17US).


robert and solange resto


We walked along the beach afterward. It was high tide and there wasn't much beach, but the view was stupendous on such a glorious day. We reluctantly headed back to the bus stop. It was a long walk back to Port Mathurin if we missed the last bus. All in all, a terrific day exploring a bit more of Rodrigues. And now, unfortunately, it's time to move on.




And lest you thought we forgot … Happy Hallowe'en everyone!

Francois Leguat Giant Tortoise and Cave Reserve Pt. 2

Anse Quitor, Ile Rodrigues

While we were in the museum, a reasonable group of people arrived and so what we thought would be a small intimate group tour became a rather large crowd. The guide was bilingual. He would provide a long dissertation in French and then about a sentence in English. Sometimes the French was easier to understand than his English, but we got the gist of what he was saying. We were provided with hard hats for the cave portion of the tour and headed out, en masse, along a rocky trail.


setting out with hardhats


We climbed down a large flight of wooden stairs onto a boardwalk which wound through thick foliage. Our first stop was a close-up view of several of the rare “blonde bats” (pteropus roderiensis) that are endemic to the island. They were on the verge of extinction back in 1970 when only 120 remained, but intense conservation efforts and captive breeding has increased their numbers to near 3,000 now. Looking at their little faces, you can see why some folks call them flying fox.


rodrigues blond bat


We entered the wide expanse of Tiyel Canyon with high limestone walls all around us and there, before us, were the tortoises. There are purportedly over 2,000 individuals here, comprised of two different species: Giant Aldabra and Radiated … neither of which are endemic to Rodrigues, but are endemic to the other Mascerene Islands particularly Aldabra Island in the Seychelles. We've seen giant tortoises in the past … the Galapagos, for instance, but certainly not as many and certainly not as active as these guys.


two species


We were encouraged by the tour guide to pet them, especially stroking under their long necks which they seemed to not only tolerate, but to enjoy. The oldest and largest tortoise was Henri … estimated to be 110 years old and about 550 lbs (250kg). I'm not sure petting a tortoise ever appeared on my bucket list, but I'm glad I got the chance to do it.


petting tortoises


We wandered around amongst these gentle old giants, stroking some and observing them as they ate and hauled their huge shells to shady areas to relax. It was a Jurassic Park sort of feeling.




We climbed another long flight of stairs out of the canyon and looked down from the rim for a more expansive view of the tortoises below, then headed to the Grande Caverne. Quite honestly, we've seen and toured many caves, so we weren't all that enthused about seeing more, but there was no alternative. After tolerating the bright, hot sun for over an hour, the cool temps of the cave were quite appealing.


cave entrance


The tour guide prattled on in French, with an interspersed phrase in English once in awhile. We had planned on an hour tour and we were over two hours at this point, very ready for a sit-down. On we trudged, through narrow passages, ducking to avoid hitting our heads. I'm glad we had on hard hats, because I bonked my head several times en route with a very loud thud. The tour guide did the obligatory spiel on stalactites and stalagmites, then shut off of all the lights to show how dark it was in a cave and then we proceeded up the stairs to bright daylight and hot temps once again.


cave view


Back at the Reserve Center, we found a bench and shared some water and apples before we began the long trek back to the bus stop. For some reason, the return trip always seem shorter and easier and there's always something new to see. When Joshua Slocum visited Rodrigues back in the 1890s, he remarked about buying a whole sack of pomegranates. We noticed a tree with pomegranate fruit on it on our walk back, but we hadn't seen any in the marketplace.




One of the “hope to sees” on my list was the Rodrigues fody and the Rodrigues warbler … both endemic species and endangered. I wasn't quite sure what I was looking for, but when I saw a bright scarlet bird in a tree, I was pretty sure it was a fody. Well, it was, but it was a Madagascar red fody, not a Rodrigues one, and quite common, it seems. We'll continue our search for a Rodrigues fody and warbler another day.


madagascar red fody


The bus schedules in Rodrigues are interesting in that they are “suggestions” of times rather than actual schedules. We knew what time we were dropped off, but we weren't sure what time the bus was returning. When we had asked, the answer was every 40 minutes. “What time in the afternoon at this particular stop?”, we queried. “40 minutes after the previous bus”, was the answer. In other words, we had no idea what time to expect the bus. We saw a young lady with a parasol walking at a fast pace in the general direction of the bus. We kept pace with her and as we neared the main road, we could hear the heavy-duty engine of the bus approaching. She ran ahead and flagged down the bus and we tromped along behind her. We were glad for a seat and a rest for the one hour ride back to Port Mathurin, although after our estimated 20km (12miles) of walking, we were a bit stiff when the bus arrived at the port and we still had a ways to walk back to the boat. Another ibuoprofen evening, but a day well spent.


port mathurin


Francois Leguat Giant Tortoise and Cave Reserve Pt. 1

Anse Quitor, Ile Rodrigues

There was nothing in our 2006 version guide book about a tortoise reserve on Rodrigues, but other cruisers had mentioned visiting so we inquired about it at the Visitor Center. The Francois Leguat Giant Tortoise and Cave Reserve was open daily and located on the southwest end of the island and, yes, a bus went nearby (maybe a little walk). We checked at the bus station, confirmed departure times and made plans for an early morning departure. The buses here are similar to those in most third world countries. They're old, rough-running, brightly colored and have endearing names like Lover's Choice, Prince and New Roshni Princess. We reconfirmed we were on the right bus and sat back for a cross-island adventure.


bus queue


We asked the money collector fellow to let us know when to get off the bus. He was very pleasant and accommodating as he collected our 31 Rps each (about a $1) for what turned out to be a 1:05 hr ride.

The narrow paved road out of Port Mathurin was all up. A series of switchbacks had the bus chugging loudly and laboriously up above the port. The views of the sea below, even from our bus window, were beautiful.


sea view


Bus stops were frequent and it took significant effort for the little bus to get moving again up the steep incline. We stopped in several little towns … Mont Lubin, Petit Gabriel, La Ferme, La Fouche. It was a school day and all the kids were in uniforms getting to school.

After about 45 minutes, I glanced at him inquiringly and he nodded “Just a little longer.” Finally, we saw a sign for the Reserve, the bus stopped and the conductor motioned us to get off and pointed towards a rather narrow road up a hill. “It's about a 20-25 minute walk”, he said.




We walked … and walked … and walked … up hills, down hills, around corners, up more hills. We were walking at a reasonable clip and after 25 minutes, we kind of expected the Reserve to be right around the corner. It wasn't. We saw another sign … at least we were heading in the right direction. One thing about walking, you get to see lots of things you'd miss if you were whizzing by in a car. We saw small houses and lots of goats and cows. The earth is bright red and there were lots of flowers and a few gardens along the way. The land was rocky and not very arable. Some industrious folks had terraced the land to make it as useful as possible.


goats and terraces


PVC water pipes lay along side the road like black snakes, sometimes crossing above the road to get to the desired destination. We met a few people walking along and they all smiled and wished us a “bonjour” as they passed. One remarkable sight was the number of gigantic spiders in huge webs between utility wires and tree branches. Not just one spider, mind you, but we counted as many as 17 in one massive web. I learned later that these are red-legged golden orb-web spiders (Nephila inaurata), native to several Indian Ocean islands. They're non-poisonous, but even birds and bats get caught in their huge, strong, sticky webs. Evidently, they normally string several webs together to form enormous "homes" in order to cover as much surface area as possible. Great to know, so I can avoid them at all costs.




About 45 minutes into our “little” walk, we saw another sign announcing 500m to the Reserve. The entrance road was dirt … uneven, rough and rutted. Volcanic rock poked up in the fields alongside the road, but up ahead, it looked like maybe we had arrived.


entrance to the reserve


We pay our entrance fee of $295Rps ($10US) and looked for a place to relax for a few minutes. There was a guided tour leaving immediately. We begged off in favor of a cup of coffee in the pleasant little outdoor resto (restaurant) and booked ourselves on the next tour. In the meantime, we sipped our Nescafes and watched our little piece of the the world go by. As we sipped our coffee, a very unexpected turkey hen gobbled by a few feet from us, with her brood close by. You just never know what to expect.


turkey and chics


We were invited to visit the little museum while we waited. No one else was around and it was dark when we entered. Motion sensing lights popped on as we moved from one small room to the next. One room was dedicated to the discovery of the island and its volcanic origins. Displays of early maps decorated the walls. A larger room displayed the flora and fauna of the island and was quite interesting.




The island was teeming with native wildlife when the Europeans first arrived. Tortoises by the thousands roamed the land. Birdlife was plentiful including the“solitaire” (like a dodo bird), but all were traded or eaten to extinction in a period of of about 50 years. Now only one fruit bat species is all that remains of endemic mammals. There are only two endemic bird species still around and they are considered endangered.


solitaire bird