Visiting capitals is always fun. They are usually chock full of culture and reminders of the history of the city, and by extension the entire country. According to the brochures Port Louis, the capital of Mauritius, should also be filled with old French-colonial buildings. So it should not be a surprise that mrs Dodo and I decided to pay Port Louis a visit.
We started by parking at the Caudan Waterfront, conveniently placed next to Mauritius’ only highway. At first sight, this is actually quite a nice environment with some historical elements next to shiny new buildings. On closer inspection however, most of the historical elements are either fake or in bad condition; the shiny new buildings all house your basic tourist shops and an upper class shopping mall. But no worries, shopping malls are the same everywhere, so there we went on a walk through the city.
Our first destination was the Natural History Museum, to see its famous Dodo exhibit. Unfortunately, the museum was “closed until further notice”. And although the building itself is indeed an old French-colonial building, the sight was marred by the modern iron gate surrounding it and the ugly buildings behind it.
Oh well, things like this happen, so we continued our walk to the Jardin de la Compagnie. This is a nice garden/square filled with beautiful Banyan trees. All through the garden are some old, well-maintained statues interspersed with more modern sculptures. The garden is surrounded by street food shops and we had some lovely roti on a bench under one of the trees. Apparently in the evening the garden is also known as the local prostitute pick-up place, but during the day it’s just a nice place to relax.
After our lunch, we continued to the Champs du Mars, the local horse racing track. Since there were no races that day, the centre of the track was used as a big parking lot, making all of this a truly underwhelming sight.
So we quickly continued to the old citadel, Fort Adelaide. The citadel was built in the 19th century by the British and overlooks the city and the port from a convenient hill in the middle of the city. For the view, the visit was certainly worth it.
In all other respects, they really missed the mark. An old colonial fortress like Fort Adelaide could be a perfect place to inform visitors on the colonial history of Port Louis and Mauritius. But all we got was a tiny information sign at the front entrance. Inside the citadel there are three old cannons, a tourist shop, and that’s it. After fifteen minutes you’ve seen everything there is to see, and it was time to move on.
From the citadel, we walked to the Central Market. This is a large indoor market divided into two floors. On the first floor you can find vegetables, fish, and other fresh food, and also a lot of locals that do their shopping there. On the upper floor you can find the tourist stalls which we wisely avoided.
From the Central Market it was a small walk to our final visit: the Aapravasi Ghat. When the British abolished slavery in 1834, they turned to using indentured labourers, mostly from India. The Aapravasi Ghat is where those people would arrive on Mauritius. It has been designated as Unesco World Heritage site and there is a small museum dedicated to its history. This museum does a reasonable job of explaining what happened, but it should be noted that they go to great lengths to keep it a somewhat happy story — the dehumanising aspects of indentured labour can only be found if you scroll long enough on the info screens, and the obvious connection between slavery and indentured labour is never made.
We left the museum by climbing the seventeen steps that all new arrivals would take two hundred years ago. From there we walked back to the Caudan Waterfront, where mrs Dodo spent some extra time shopping for tourist stuff.
All in all, Port Louis was a disappointing city. It has a lot of interesting history, but nobody seems interested in making a big deal of this. Apart from that, walking through Port Louis can be challenging. Cars are everywhere, and while the roads are reasonably maintained, the sidewalks are not, if they even exist. If your time on Mauritius is limited, there are better places to visit than Port Louis.