It’s the beginning of the Lunar New Year and, in so many parts of the world, the middle of winter, yet I hardly recognise the month as I sit next to a wide-open veranda window listening to the now-familiar birdcalls and the fluttering of palms in the very welcome breeze.
In October my family of six left Ireland and set off to travel the world for the year. But as Milo remarked yesterday, we have been in Mauritius a long time. He stopped me in my tracks by saying, “We are supposed to be traveling the world, anyone could just come to Mauritius to stay.” He had a point. I also felt as if perhaps we should be moving on. But the truth is, we are happy here. And we finally started to settle our heart rates after a long, arduous year to get here.
We are traveling so slowly, it may look like we have stopped.
We are staying in Mauritius longer than expected. And here’s why:
1. Complete cultural immersion: Slow travel for me is complete cultural immersion. It is settling down somewhere and getting to become so familiar with a people and place, that the local coffee shop will call you by name, you can regularly ask the waitress of the nearby cafe about their children, and you have sussed out a beauty salon where you can follow up on everyone’s gossip every few weeks. It is knowing the beat of a place, where the locals hang out on a Sunday, and what history has attributed to the way they think, feel and believe about themselves and their land. It is about kids getting to bridge their own cultural barriers with new children that don’t look like them and may not even speak their language.
And there is plenty to explore and feel in Mauritius with its complicated history and everyone’s right to the land, never mind its absolute perfect climate that doesn't ever get hotter than 32°C/89.6°F or lower than 21°C/69.8°F. There are no malarial mosquitoes, no nets to sleep in, no creepy crawlies that have you on edge, and swimming in the turquoise-reef protected waters makes it the most pleasant bath, with cooling refreshments in the form of a coconut or fruit juice from the local beach stall. It’s a visual feast with turquoise waters peeping out from every bend on the coastal road, and a horizon of palm trees that go on forever. It also has a beautifully contradictory coastline with perfect white sand beaches that run up into an instantly calming forest with the susurrus of the pines (hands down favorite sound on earth). We have fairly embedded ourselves in this place, and that familiarity now makes it wonderful to find part of ourselves in this foreign land.
Felix (2), Benji (5), Ruben (7), Milo (almost 9)
2. Living Space: We have a garden for the first time in 12 years! And one that is so big Ruben was telling his friend that it's bigger than our local park at home (it’s not, but the complete freedom they have to run and explore certainly makes it feel that way). We have two pools, both ones that the bigger kids can stand up in that they are in and out of a million times a day. They are exercising their bodies in ways they don’t normally get to move and they are releasing huge amounts of energy that would have otherwise been used up in bouncing off the walls in our kitchen. It’s a very pleasant way to live—with the same price tag as our rental in Dublin.
3. Nailing our homeschool routine: When my in-laws-extraordinaire came to visit, my mother-in-law put her 40 years of primary school experience directly to use on our children. She immediately got us organized with schedules, daily tasks and routine in a quiet ambiance. Sunday night she listed out the specific pages in their schoolbooks the kids were to do, so in the morning they would just take out their personalized packs and begin. It was really amazing to watch how she transformed our schooling from "winging it" to wonder. We did have some beautiful math lessons on the beach, but I think we all missed the structure. (We still do some beach school but it's all "extra-credit.") Everyone knows what we are doing each day and simple things, like starting, aren't a struggle anymore. I’ll eventually do a post on this in itself, because the changes she implemented are making homeschool not only very successful but enjoyable. And every morning it is so CALM. With four boys under nine rattling around the same room, that truly is a feat.
4. The generosity of strangers: One of our early weeks here, someone we had literally just met as he was moving out of our complex that very day actually gave Duck a loan of his Harley Davidson. Not only a precious piece of kit, but it also has turned out to be one of Duck’s most enjoyable ways to get a bit of headspace (and mine as a very willing passenger!). It has given him an in-built group of friends with the bi-weekly Sunday “hog rides.” It also means we can go our separate ways to work each day as a two-vehicle family. (Transport is absolutely necessary in Mauritius purely because there is not a single footpath to be seen.) It has had such a significant impact on our daily happiness.
Our friend Deon.
But not only this, we have received invitations from new friends of friends to everything—a variety of holiday parties, birthday parties, camping weekends away, catamaran trips. It is amazing that although we are not settling here permanently, people are so generous to us with their space and time. These acts of welcome generosity I will definitely be taking home.
5. Finding kids’ friends and activities: We are so lucky that there are four little boys on this property. Three French and a Mauritian have become best friends with the boys. Although the French don’t speak any English and we don’t speak any French, the camaraderie between the kids is so heavenly. And the Mauritian boy comes every weekend, and the boys literally count down the days to Friday. So from the ages of 12yrs to 18 months, all have the best time running around here on the weekends.
Although the lads are in and out of the pool a million times a day (becoming right little fish!), finding some organized sports for them has had such a positive impact on their days and after school routines—just like at home! They are enrolled now in football twice a week, tennis once (with a really professional coach—they are excelling fast!), and swimming lessons. I didn’t realize activities for them would be so important when setting up a little life here. It is very much a reason we are staying so long.
6. SLL goes on tour: One of the first lessons my dad ever impressed on me was the importance of meeting the people I was doing business with overseas. He said the benefits of a face-to-face are immeasurable. And when the world closed and zoom became our preferred form of communication, I thought these in-persons would nearly all be forgotten. But given the time to settle here in Mauritius and rent a second house next to ours, I was so pleased to invite some of the Dublin team here for a visit! It was a wonderful 10 days, even with a cyclone hitting on day two of their holiday. After over a year of remote calls and meetings, it was invaluable to solidifying our team in Dublin. Two of them had never even met in person!
Stef (operations), Niamh (head of sales and marketing), Cathy (customer service manager), and me
So to be continued! We plot our next destination weekly, and think we might be off to Sri Lanka in April, Bali in May. The reality is that it's hard to leave a good party when you’ve found one!