Each evening a schedule of the following day’s events is left in each cabin. For the most part this is of no interest, as the activities proposed range from bridge, mass, singles events, art, organised walks round the deck and origami to potentially more interesting events such as talks (rarely), trivia and the occasional show in the evening. The best joint activity is trivia and by the time we reached Mauritius we’d been to 2 of these and will do many more. From a social perspective the smoking section provides Helen with an interesting cross-section of humanity and birds present Andy with an opportunity to post bird photos on the Cunard Facebook page and meet the very small number of people who are interested in what can be seen from the ship rather than what can be done on the ship
By the 7th seaday the QM2 birdwatching team consisted of a retired GP and a lady from West Australia but we already had a significant sighting to our credit, a white-throated needletail which had spent hours gliding above the ship presenting a number of suitable photographic opportunities. These birds winter in east Australia and breed north of the Himalayas so quite why it was over our patch of ocean is a mystery.
The retired GP was a very keen birder and had already made a list of the birds we may see between Mauritius and Southampton. He had been a ships doctor in the 1970s and had some interesting Richard Gordonesque tales to tell, the best so far being the autopsy he had to perform on the back of the ship as there were no corpse-sized freezer facilities. It was during this that he realised that many seabirds find food across wide areas of the ocean by using a keen sense of smell…The deceased gentleman in question, in his 80s, had been dancing with some of the younger members of the ships guests at the time of his final waltz, perhaps a better way to go than the slow death of many of our fellow passengers…a number of whom are picked up from the ship and transferred to ambulances on port to port basis.
Finally, after 7 days sailing, roughly 3666 miles or the equivalent of a 6.5 hour flight, we reached the volcanic island of Mauritius.
Being so far from land most visitors to the island arrive by air and so facilities for shipborne visitors are rudimentary, requiring a shuttle bus or taxi to reach the capital proper, Port Louis. We’d booked to visit the Isle aux Cerfs (deer island), a beach resort on the east coast of the island, requiring a very uncomfortable minibus ride across the island, through the northern part of the island past numerous sugar cane plantations, followed by a short boat ride to our island. This place was a little too organised for us and quite busy with cruise passengers and honeymooning couples although the buffet lunch they laid on was superb with a good mix of creole foods.
We whiled away most of the day wandering on the beach and avoiding the sea urchins which littered the shoreline. The disappointing feature was that activities such as snorkelling were paid extra and in cash, which put us at a serious disadvantage in that we had none with us.
Back on board our regular dining room companions were very different. The American couple had been onboard since Southampton but had still failed to get their laptop working with the creaking Cunard wifi. Luckily we solved this very quickly for them and they were so grateful they paid for our drinks that night at dinner. On the other side the Australian couple, he a retired ophthalmic surgeon and part-time provider of charity eye-jobs across the Pacific Islands, were delightful company except when wine was taken after which they both turned into rabid climate-change deniers. However there was more to them than that as it turns out she trained as an artist after retirement and is now an established and sought after botanical illustrator and one of their sons, a radiologist, write screenplays and has produced a film.
Only 100 nautical miles away from Mauritius lies Reunion Island, geographically very similar but culturally very different. Whereas in Mauritius the populace benefitted from British occupation, on Reunion Island the primary influence was France. In Mauritius cars drive on the left and the opposite is true on Reunion Island. We took the shuttle bus to St-Giles-les-Bains on the west coast and exposed to the full force of the Indian Ocean. No surfing or swimming allowed, not due to the force of the ocean but due to sharks circling the bay.
This was so French that we could have been in France. Little cafes, independent clothes shops and bakeries lined the streets, it was a reminder of all that’s good about France. However, we weren’t there for fun, we had located the library and had some serious Netflix and iPlayer downloading to do ahead of our 3 sea days to Durban. Helpful library staff gave us their mobile phone number to allow us free Wifi access. Duly topped up with series and films, we returned to the ship for the onward journey to South Africa.