Friday, 7 August 2015

Tortoise Love - Adventures In Rodrigues

Some Of The Younger Aldabera Tortoises In The Park
Did we say we love Rodrigues ?  OK, we really do.  This tiny island delivers great experiences. Perhaps most surprising was the way these the huge tortoises craved interaction with us humans.  They'll do anything for a neck rub.

Land tortoises were wiped out here several hundred years ago - they're apparently very tasty.  A tortoise breeding program in the south of the island is now re-introducing them, though admittedly they are a slightly different species.

A tour of the Francois Leguat Reserve was perhaps our most memorable experience on the island, a beautiful park set in limestone ravines where hundreds of tortoises roam.  The breeding program is extensive.  Escapee's from the park - apparently they are very cunning creatures - are now populating the heathland around the ravines, and are the subject of separate scientific studies.  We came across one of the bad boys as we walked around the extremity of the park, fairly obvious with the radio transmitter epoxy glued to his shell....

The park has planted over 180,000 trees and plants, many endangered species, to recreate an environment typical of Rodrigues before the impact of mankind.  They have a target to plant over 100,000 more ! The park also has a fine museum of Rodrigues history, and an excellent restaurant.  Its a special place that we highly recommend - take the guided tour for the best experience.

Rodrigues Living

Mauritian people say that Rodrigues is like Mauritius of 50 years ago.

It has that slow "island time" feeling, with a very beautiful environment and a predominantly traditional way of life.

The population is principally Creole, descended from slaves brought to the region for sugar cane farming, with a blend of European blood through the colonisation by Britain and France, and then by Britain again.

Old fashioned values survive here - people actually say hello as they walk past you on the street - and respect for the fellow man is a given.

Crime is very low, no one locks their doors.  Locals often leave the key in the ignition when they park the car - don't try that at home in Australia !
Octopus Drying

People live on local produce, though the supply ship delivers several thousand tons of imports each week.  The surrounding reef is enormous, and Octopus is the local delicacy - racks of drying Octopus can be seen at hundreds of homes around the coastline.

The locals speak English (the national language) plus French and Creole.  French values and customs are proudly retained here, despite the efforts of the previous British administration.  Local salaries are low, but so is the cost of living - with free health care and public schooling, society here does pretty well.

Tourism is the primary foreign income for the island.

Mussels Collected From The Reef - Delicious
As yet the local population has not learned to identify and embrace what the tourists value - the clean air, water quality and abundant wildlife, specially across the reef and lagoons.

So, like many other places we have visited, over fishing and plundering of the reef continues, with little regard for fishery regulations and closed habitat areas.  More than half the fishing boats are unregistered, so seasonal closures don't really work.

The lack of commercial development makes Rodrigues a sleepy back water on the tourism map - we're very happy it has stayed that way.

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