A far-flung dependency of Mauritius, the island of Rodrigues combines Creole charm with one of the most alluring settings in the Indian Ocean
By Kate Eshelby
While I sit comfortably on the veranda of Villa Mon TrĂ©sor, gazing at a palette of Indian Ocean flora, Marie-Louise Roussety, my host, hands me a rum punch. a freshly plucked hibiscus bloom pokes out of the glass, and the scent of citrus fruits wafts up the garden path.
Unlike Mauritius to the west, Rodrigues, the smallest and remotest of the Mascarene Islands, is quietâ€”and I have come to sample local life by staying at a few of its guesthouses. Whereas Mauritius bursts with glitzy five-star resorts, Rodrigues offers a homier brand of comfort, with more than 40 maisons dâ€™hĂ´tes yet only a handful of hotels. Six hundred kilometers from the Mauritian mainland, tourism is in its infancy here. And thatâ€™s just as well. As one fellow visitor tells me, â€śIn Mauritiusâ€™s big hotels, theyâ€™re friendly because itâ€™s their job to be. But here, itâ€™s genuine.â€ť
Villa Mon trĂ©sor is at anse aux anglais, or english Bay, the place where British troops and east India Company sepoys landed in 1809 to snatch Rodrigues from the French. Out front, Marie-louiseâ€™s garden explodes with fruit treesâ€”lemon, fig, passion fruit, and avocadoâ€”while the house itself is homely, yet exotic, with bright colors and terra-cotta pots full of plants. â€śI like a house to live,â€ť she says. After a breakfast sweetened with homemade preserves and Marie-louiseâ€™s awardwinning honey, I walk to the weekly Saturday market in nearby Port Mathurin, the capital. Home to about 6,000 peopleâ€”less than 20 percent of the islandâ€™s predominantly Catholic populationâ€”itâ€™s a compact town, with low-rise buildings that recall Wild West saloons set among huge banyan trees. On market day the streets are lined with basketwork and pandanus handicrafts and tables of homemade pickles, chutneys, and tourtes rodriguaisesâ€”a thick-crust pie with a jammy filling of coconut and papaya.