Coachlines - January 2024

30.01.24 Renter Warden David Barrett

A Christmas coach ride adventure

Christmas is a great time to get away to warmer climates; your Renter Warden David Barrett and his wife Marie Gilberte visited the coral reef island of Mauritius in the Indian Ocean where ‘Gil’ was born. Once a French colony, it became British after the defeat of Napoleon. The Navy used it as a coaling station and supplies base to support the protection of the East India trade routes. Nowadays, post-independence, it is largely an Indian population albeit French-speaking, which is so unusual.

There is a midway point between medieval horse-drawn stage coach lines of yesteryear and the modern public transport buses we enjoy in London. We discovered this basic form of public transport in Mauritius during our stay. It was necessary to cross the island twice during our otherwise beach resort holiday, to visit the capital city Port Louis to undertake some family business. The journey is an hour-and-a-half through rural towns and villages, and past sugar cane fields. It’s too far or expensive for a taxi, there’s nowhere to park a hire car, so there was no other way to get there.

The Mauritius bus system, if indeed it could be described as such, is the most incredible mix of multi-coloured buses of all types and makes with no obvious uniformity. There are Hinos, Leylands, Nissans and others unidentifiable. All extremely old vehicles; built high on chassis frames with at least three deep steps to climb up into. They are all manual transmission and I suspect no power steering. It was 30 degrees centigrade every day and mostly humid, no air conditioning just open windows. It’s probably why they are driven at excessive and frightening speeds even through villages crowded with abundant pedestrians, kids and stray dogs. The faster they go, the cooler it is. Oh, did I mention the very loud Indian radio music?

All have a conductor as well as a driver, at the terminus bus stations the conductors literally tout for passengers and yet the one-and-a-half-hour journey fare was 44 Rupees (£0.80) – hardly a lucrative business. The conductor’s ticket machines are unbelievable, the rotary handle style producing a paper roll ticket, much like 1960s’ London. Apart from the normal entry door by the driver, all buses have a central door at the back end of the bus used frequently by passengers mostly to disembark. How on earth the driver knows if the door is closed and whether it is safe to take off, heaven only knows.

The Port Louis bus station is the largest seething mass of humanity that we have ever encountered. There are no proper dividing lanes, bus stop shelters are not labelled and finding the bus you want is a complete mystery. The whole experience was worth missing the beach and pool for a while, as this was the real Mauritius portrayed in buses. Great fun and recommended, but only one round trip, not two!

Our time there was not all without trial and challenge as you can see.