#OnTheRoad On Instagram: Reunion

This week on Instagram, Gadling is off to the Indian Ocean island of Reunion.

The Indian Ocean bridges Africa in the west and Southeast Asia and Australia in the east. Much less familiar to Americans than Europeans, the region’s islands challenge the Caribbean for the attention of upscale Europeans, and can lay claim to some of the world’s dreamiest properties. Some of its countries, like the Comoros, are very poor; others, including Seychelles and Mauritius, can be found at the top of Africa’s per capita income tables.

Most popular among French-speaking tourists, Réunion is a French overseas department whose closest neighbor is Mauritius. Like Mauritius, Réunion is a true creole hodgepodge of a place, with a melting pot population; unlike Mauritius, it boasts a volcanic, mountainous interior so dramatic that it is often likened to Hawaii.

I’m here for the hiking, the mountain villages, réunionnaise cuisine, the tropical fruit and the heat. It’s been an interminable, wet, gray winter and I want to warm up. I’ll be sure to pass along some warmth to you.

Do you have any photos you’d like to share with a wider audience? If you mention @GadlingTravel in your own photo AND use the hashtag #gadling, your photo will be considered for our Photo Of The Day.

[Image: Flickr | Aleix Cabarrocas Garcia]

Trinidad And Tobago Host Celebrations, Beautiful Beaches

The dual-island Caribbean nation of Trinidad and Tobago, just off the north coast of South America, offers a distinct blend of culture, eclectic cuisine and an assortment of eco-adventure activities. Celebrating its 50th anniversary of independence from the United Kingdom throughout 2012, two special events coming up in November highlight why Trinidad and Tobago is also known as the cultural capital of the Caribbean.

During Diwali, a festival of lights that happens on November 13, small clay lamps are filled with oil to signify the triumph of good over evil and kept on during the night. Firecrackers drive away evil spirits and everyone wears new clothes.

Diwali is celebrated around the world by a number of cultures and is an official holiday in India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Mauritius, Guyana, Suriname, Malaysia, Singapore and Fiji.

The Hosay Festival on November 24, began as a religious festival but is now more of an ethnic pageant.

In Trinidad, Hosay is a chance for artisans to take to the streets with their skills and handiwork prominently displayed, reminding Trinidadians and tourists alike that East Indians and Muslims form a vital part of Trinidad’s cultural fabric.

Trinidad and Tobago feature secluded beaches, quaint villages, private villas and award-winning eco-attractions that include the Main Ridge Rainforest, the oldest protected reserve in the world and the six-time award winner for World’s Leading Ecotourism Destination.

Some of the top beaches in the country are found at Maracas Bay and Blanchisseuse, on Trinidad’s north coast. On Tobago, great beaches include Pigeon Point Beach, considered Tobago’s most beautiful beach. Also called Pigeon Point Heritage Park, the area features excellent beach facilities and beach chair rentals as well as bars and a restaurant.

Trinidad and Tobago also offer a number of adventure opportunities. Hiking, biking, kayaking and cave exploration top the list with something for all ages and abilities. Rainforest hiking trails, limestone caves, hidden waterfalls, cycling through lush island countryside or kayaking past wildlife filled mangrove forests make Trinidad and Tobago a favorite of travelers from around the world.

[Photo Credit: Flickr User TaranRampersad]

Travel Regrets: One Lost Conversation

It’s impossible to know what a lost conversation might have yielded. A lost conversation occupies a place in memory, a reservoir of sadness or relief. It’s the shape of the reservoir that remains forever unknown. This uncertainty often renders the very recognition of a lost conversational opportunity difficult.

The decision to welcome a stranger into conversation while on the road isn’t always easy. Nobody wants to be an easy mark. In places with pervasive tourism infrastructures, it’s often the better part of wisdom to ignore touts and attempts at conversation altogether. There are, after all, many scams to avoid, many tourist traps to escape.

But often a self-imposed barrier to conversation on the part of a tourist or traveler precludes what would have been interesting, useful, personally significant, or simply an opportunity to share a laugh or two.

A year and a half ago I was in Mauritius, having a conversation with my partner on a beach. What was it about? No idea. A very tall man with dreadlocks came up to us and hovered maybe 15 feet away. Very quietly he asked us if we might be interested in buying some jewelry made out of sea urchins.

I couldn’t hear him. “Sorry?” I asked. He repeated his pitch. “No thank you,” I responded, somewhat curtly. We were not interested in his jewelry. He also wasn’t really bothering us. Had our completely forgettable conversation not felt urgent, I would no doubt have been more polite. Hawkers are few and far between in this part of Mauritius, at least off-season, and his entreaty had been tame and gentle. But we weren’t interested, and we were in the middle of a conversation in any case.

“Where are you from?” he persisted. Every time we got this question in Mauritius we had to make a decision. Either we enjoyed the unfolding game and entertained a dozen or so guesses before we revealed our nationality, or we nipped it in the bud by responding “American.” This time, eager to get back to our conversation, we chose the latter option.

“I know America,” he said with sudden clarity. He pointed at his chest with a single finger. “I am from Chagos.” Suddenly, everything changed. He was no longer an unobtrusive if vaguely annoying hawker. “You are from Chagos?” I asked, suddenly alert. “Yes,” he answered. And then he turned away abruptly. The lines of communication were closed. He was done.The Chagos Islands are a string of Indian Ocean islands, part of the British Indian Ocean Territory. The islanders’ modern history is pretty terrible, all things considered. Beginning in the late 1960s, native Chagossians were evicted from the territory by the British government, who proceeded in 1971 to lease Diego Garcia to the United States for use as a military base.

Chagossians won several court battles in the UK for the right to return to the islands before seeing that right overturned in 2008. The islanders subsequently appealed to the European Court of Human Rights and currently await a ruling. In 2010, the British government declared the territory a marine reserve, something that may place the islands off limits to Chagossians if the European Court of Human Rights rules in their favor.

Today, Chagossians are well and truly dispossessed. They live mostly in Mauritius, Seychelles, and the UK. I’d known prior to visiting Mauritius that there was a sizable Chagossian community in the country. I’d wanted to glimpse Chagossian culture, get a sense of their situation in Mauritius, and maybe have dinner at a Chagossian restaurant, should one exist.

I asked around about the Chagossians. One taxi driver told us that they were responsible for many social problems. He went on and on. His diatribe sounded almost verbatim like the kind of blanketing anti-Roma sentiment I’ve heard from many Europeans. It didn’t just lodge a complaint against a people; it assigned a thoroughgoing failure to possess positive values to an entire culture. The picture that emerged in conversation on Mauritius and in my own research is of a community dispossessed doubly – both from their territory and within Mauritian society.

In the context of such intense cultural dispossession, maybe a conversation on a beach in Mauritius between an American tourist and a displaced Chagossian can’t simply be a conversation. It’s hard to know. Most people are, after all, able to distinguish between individuals and the behavior of governments.

In any case, I regret strongly that this conversation never happened. It might have been annoying. It might have simply been a continual sales pitch for an object I didn’t want. It also might have been an opportunity to learn. Less loftily, it might simply have been an enjoyable exchange. I’ll never know.

[Image: Flickr | Drew Avery]

The world’s most ethical tourism destinations

Each year, non-profit organization Ethical Traveler conducts a survey of the world’s developing nations, analyzing their progress toward promoting human rights, preserving their environment, and developing a sustainable tourism industry. The study, run by Ethical Traveler’s all-volunteer staff, factors in country scores from databases like Freedom House, the Millennium Challenge Corporation, and the World Bank, then dives into actions that governments have taken to improve circumstances within their countries in the previous year.

The top countries are celebrated in Ethical Traveler’s annual list of the Developing World’s Best Ethical Tourism Destinations, with the hope that increased tourism will help those countries continue to improve. “Travel and tourism are among the planet’s driving economic forces, and every journey we take makes a statement about our priorities and commitment to change,” they say. “Ethical Traveler believes that mindful travel is a net positive for the planet. By choosing our destinations well and remembering our role as citizen diplomats, we can create international goodwill and help change the world for the better.”

This year’s list includes Argentina, the Bahamas, Chile, Costa Rica, Dominica, Latvia, Mauritius, Palau, Serbia, and Uruguay. Explore these countries more in the slideshow below.


[Flickr image via Lisandro M. Enrique]

Hotel Missoni to add Mauritius location in 2014

Hotel Missoni, the luxury lifestyle brand of the Rezidor Hotel Group, is set to open in Mauritius, marking the 66th country in which Residor is present.
Rezidor Hotel Group, parent company to Hotel Missoni, has this week announced the addition of what is to be the brand’s sixth’s hotel, Hotel Missoni Mauritius, scheduled to open in 2014. The hotel will join already-open locations in Edinburgh, Kuwait and soon-to-open hotels in Jebel Sifah, Oman (2013), Antalya, Turkey (2014) and Ihla de Cajaiba, Brazil (2014). Ironically, the brand does not have any hotels in Italy.

The hotel, a “bold, contemporary” luxury boutique hotel that draws its name from the famed Italian designer, will boast 80 luxury suites with unobstructed views of the ocean, Hotel Missoni’s signature restaurant “Cucina” with an authentic seasonal Italian menu; “Choco Café”, a further all day dining restaurant, a lounge bar and a beach/pool bar. Leisure facilities will include a 650 meter sandy beach, outdoor pools, a fitness area including gym and tennis court, a kids club and a 900 square meter spa.

“Combining Missoni’s iconic design with the local culture influenced by Europe, Africa and Asia, the hotel will be truly unique in Mauritius”, said Kurt Ritter, President & CEO of Rezidor.
“Having been passionate about Mauritius, an island of beauty and charm, its colourful culture and its wonderful population for over 30 years now, I am delighted to partner with Rezidor to bring a new kind of luxury hotel in Mauritius under the prestigious Missoni brand, which will surely be a great success and a new flagship premium quality hotel of the tourism industry in Mauritius”, added Gilles Bouigue, Executive Chairman of Bouigue Développement, owner of the property.
Each suite of the new hotel will feature Missoni’s signature patterns and fabrics, and will have a large covered outdoor living area, known in Mauritius as a “Varangue”.
The number of tourist arrivals to the island nation continues to grow, reaching nearly one million in 2010. The government plans to further increase arrivals (a new airport terminal is currently under construction, and new airlines and routes are under negotiation) and to focus on high quality tourism products such as 4- and 5-star hotels.