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May 11th --> 19th, 2006

Arrgghh!! We missed our flight from Windhoek, Namibia to Johannesburg, South Africa because we didn’t confirm our flight with Air Namibia. Yes, very much our fault (and a very good lesson), so we can’t blame anyone else.

But we still blamed someone else and we’ll continue to do so.

The fact that we missed our flight is alleviated by the fact that we’re in such a tiny airport that they:

  1. know about us (those problem Rousseaus!!!)
  2. know that we missed the flight that was moved three hours earlier from 12:30pm to 9:30am
  3. were able to change us to another flight that was only 1:15 hrs. later than our original flight with no additional charges (how’d THAT happen?!)
  4. actually helped us because we were looking at a 9 hour layover in Johannesburg airport. Now we’re only looking at a 7.5 hour layover in Johannesburg airport!

It’s an easy flight from J’burg to Mauritius. Unfortunately it starts at 11:30pm and ends at 5:30am. Of course there’s a 4 hour time zone change, but it’s a tough flight anyway. This violates the Rousseau First Rule of Airplane Travel:

Try to book flights that won’t interrupt your children’s sleep patterns. Anytime you must travel past your children’s bedtime, it’s a losing proposition. If you think they’ll sleep on the plane, they won’t; if you think they’ll make up the loss of sleep the next day, they won’t.

JBurg Airport
Dominique reading

Nicky had pre-booked us into a guesthouse in the Southeastern portion of the tiny island of Mauritius. I guess the proper name of people that live in Mauritius is “Mauritians,” but I like to call them, “Martians.” Mostly because Nicky doesn’t think it’s appropriate and who can pass up the opportunity to bug their spouse, especially when we’re together 24 x 7 for the next 12 months...

We pre-booked a driver from the guesthouse to meet us at the airport. Once we cleared customs and we had all our baggage, we headed out to meet the pre-arranged driver section. He had a hand-drawn, “Rousseau – Chantemere” sign that’s an 8” x 11.5” paper with pen drawing. To put this in experiential terms, we were very tired, had a lot of bags to carry, and we see someone with a postage stamp size paper that has scribbled our name on it and is waving it in the air in such a manner that it’s impossible for us to see it unless we’re about 2 inches away.

I kid. He was there on time and he was very friendly. His name is Fasil, and he was to become our great friend for our stay in Mauritius.

They speak Creole in Mauritius. Isn’t that weird?

Mauritius is the typical beautiful Indian Ocean Island with white sandy beaches and blue clear water. Palm trees abound. I kept saying that, “Mauritius is Delicious,” mostly because that irks Nicky. But in reality, although Mauritius is very beautiful, it is not very delicious because it’s not edible. I know because I tasted it and got some stuck in my teeth. And even if it were delicious, it probably wouldn’t be any more tasty than any other Indian Ocean Island, nor any other tropical island (Tropical island defined as any island that is situated between the Tropic of Cancer (23.5 degrees North) and the Tropic of Capricorn (23.5 degrees South)). You have your white sands, your blue, clear waters, your palm trees that are in perpetual breezes. It’s easy to become complacent in Nirvana.

Annette computer

Unfortunately, Mauritius Nirvana did not come with air conditioning. So picture Nirvana, without air conditioning. And without cable TV. Or pizza delivery.

Acht!

This place is a bit of a strange bird. We stayed at a guesthouse called Chantemere that’s owned by a French/Martian lady called Ms. Tinker. She was a wonderful host, albeit prone to psychotic episodes of dual personalities. At any given time we didn’t know if we were talking to the nice Martian lady (“Please, you must come and tell me about your travels. Bring your wonderful children with you.”) or the mean French lady (“Mon du, Monsieur Rousseau. You must control your children!). But the room is nicely furnished and has a kitchen (guest houses with a full kitchen are called self-contained). We prefer these types of places because we can control our menu and it’s much cheaper than eating out.

Dominique superstar
Dominique kitchen

There are hundreds of dead starfish on the beaches of Mauritius. Starfish are really cool, although they are really neither stars nor fish—they are marine invertebrates belonging to the phylum echinoderm. Fish people prefer to call them sea stars. Even so, the kids really like grabbing the thousands of dead carcasses that washed on the beach and tossing them as though they were horseshoes. We used them to make decorations on our sand castles, our sand motorcycles, sand cars, and our sand rocket ships.

Annette starfish
Annette starfish2

Our first morning there we call our driver, Fasil. I ask him to take me to a rental car place so we can get a car for the week—we’re here for a week and we’ll need some sort of transportation even if it’s just to get groceries. He’s happy to do this, but quickly asks why we would pay $50/day for a car when we can call him anytime to use his services and much less than $50/day, even if it is for the whole day. Apparently he does not understand the American need to be independent and flexible, but we’re open to new ideas. And the road signs in Mauritius are sparse. So I agreed with him and ask him to drive me to a place where I can rent a bike. I saw an Internet Café and a grocery store about one mile from our house and thought that I could do shopping and surfing at the same time. I got a great mountain bike for $3/day, and I went to the store and the café at least twice a day. This arrangement worked really well for us, and we saved a TON of money by not getting a rental car.

Fasil was really helpful. He knew the best place to get a SIM card for our mobile phone, and the best international calling card. He knew where to get additional tapes for our camcorder, and he suggested a couple of places that the kids would like to see. He was very genuine and helpful.

One of the places that he suggested we visit was the Crocodile farm. Now let’s be real here—we just spent two weeks in safari-land in South Africa. Animals are our forte, and I’m not really excited to see more animals in a fake setting. We’ve seen the real deal; we’ve experienced the wild; we had gin and tonics next to rhinos—for me, there are no other pleasures to be had vis a vis animals. Viewing a couple of crocodiles in a zoo-like environment really didn’t appeal to me, but Dominique seemed excited so it was a Daddy/Daughter day at the croc farm.

Dom-tortoise
Dom-tortoise2

Amazingly, it was very informative and fun, probably because we didn’t see many crocodiles in the wild of Africa. Dominique got a chance to ride a 100+ year old tortoise (We had to sign a liability waiver for his Medicare coverage). We got a chance to hand-feed monkeys and Dominique got to hold a baby crocodile.

Dom-baby croc

Mauritius is also host to a Manioc biscuit factory. Huh?! What is that you say? Manioc, or cassava, is a root vegetable similar to potato. They take this root, clean it, pulverize it into a rough paste, and then put it through a sieve. From here, they take the manioc powder and add a flavoring to it—cocoa, coconut, cinnamon, butter, black licorice (anise), sesame, or milk. The amazing thing about this factory is not that it services about 8 different countries with their treats, but that it gets all their materials on the tiny island of Mauritius. Oh, they also make all these biscuits by hand, bake them by hand, and package them by hand.

Manioc_Biscuits1
Manioc_Biscuits2
Manioc_Biscuits3
Manioc_Biscuits4

The process starts by pulverizing the raw manioc roots into a course powder, or maybe better described as a rough paste. This paste/powder is put through a huge sieve which takes out the rough strings found inside the root. They take the raw, fine powder and add flavorings to it—the end result is still a powder, not a dough mixture. They take this powder and pour it into small metal forms that are on a huge hot plate that’s fired by manioc leaves. These forms rest on a huge hot plate, so the biscuits are not baked; rather they’re toasted on a huge hot plate. Once the initial side is toasted (just like bread), they’ll turn the metal form over with a huge spatula so the other side can get toasted. The heating process allows the powder to combine into a cracker-like consistency. A bit labor intensive, but they are able to fulfill all their orders with less than 6 employees.

One afternoon on the Martian beach Nicky and the girls met the co-pilot for our next flight from Mauritius to Perth, Australia. Anton, the co-pilot for this flight, introduced himself to Nicky while she and the girls were building sand monsters. She was wearing her bikini so methinks there might be some mischievousness afoot (I kid—he was the paragon of hospitality, as we would later experience). He’s originally from Australia but has been stationed in Mauritius for the last two years. He figured out that Nicky was American by the way she said, “Bonjour” to him, even though we were the first Americans he’s ever heard of in Mauritius.

I met him the next day and we talked about flight patterns, weather systems, Mauritius economy, and bikinis. He’s a great guy and his wife and children were on the beach at the same time so I got to meet them as well. Anton offered to let us up in the cockpit during the flight the next day from Mauritius to Perth. Wuhoo! When I informed my beautiful wife about this generous offer, Nicky thought I blew it out of proportion. OK, I told her that Anton offered to let me fly the plane and do a 360 degree roll, but it was a good story, eh? So maybe I exaggerated a bit, but we saw Anton and family at the airport, he reiterated his invitation to us, and about 2 hours into the flight the little ones and I enthusiastically accepted his invitation.

Ever since 9/11 I know there are extremely strict rules about cockpit access on US flights for any breathing human being. Nicky reminded me of this as both girls and I excitedly ran to the cockpit filled with mind-bendingly intelligent questions concerning Area 51 and airport baggage handling scams. I knew that this was an invitation to appreciate, and I also knew that any flight disturbances during my stay up in the cockpit I could blame on Annette. We crashed and 34 people died—Annette did it!!!!

So Dominique, Annette and I were allowed into the cockpit. Did you ever see the movie, “War Games” or, “Apollo 13?” Remember the scenes where they show the operations centers—rows and rows of people sitting at computer stations that show graphs and charts and anonymous numbers, nursery rhymes, personal emails and the dude in the corner looking at porn. Take these operations centers and squeeze them down into the size of a really large Fiat, and that’s exactly what the cockpit of an Airbus 340-300 looks like. Except for the porn. OK, I’m not sure about the porn, because they might have had it on one of the screens and turned it off before we came in. Like the buttons on your Windows computer to fool your boss at work…

But I digress. The cockpit had buttons upon buttons upon switches. But no yokes! Instead of the very cool steering yokes that you see in all the airplane movies, they have a joystick!!! Boeing jets have yokes; Airbus jets have joysticks. I guess that Airbus thinks that their captains have grown up playing with videogames and they wanted them to feel at home. The cockpit was one huge videogame.

One of the first things that I noticed was that there were only 2 people in the cockpit—the pilot and Anton, the co-pilot. Where’s the navigator? Apparently you don’t need a navigator for short flights as the GPS and computer systems do all the navigating for you. On longer flights, you’ll have a 3rd person just to give the pilots a break. Man, tough downsizing for the navigators out there.

Gavin was the pilot and he could not be more excited about our year-long trip, nor more helpful in explaining the cockpit details. What a wonderful experience this was. Anton was unbelievable in his generosity and although this lasted about 45 minutes, it was a highlight for me on our trip to date.


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