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Port Mathurin, the capital and the only harbor of the island, inherited its name from a French settler, Mathurin Bréhinier, who was one of the first inhabitants of this region. Welcoming and pleasant, this small market town is found in the Northeastern part of Rodrigues. Administrative offices, banks, various restaurants and businesses: it is definitely the most animated area of Rodrigues!

6h30, Port Mathurin is waking up. The bus station welcomes its first buses depositing their batch of workers. The shops are gradually opening, unveiling their unusual products. Students, still half asleep, are slowly making their way towards collegeThe workers of the harbor are already involved in their jobs, busy loading and unloading containers from one of the two ships that make the to and from Mauritius-Rodrigues journey weekly. The arrival of these cargos does not attract crowds as it used to back when the “Mauritius Pride” rallied Port Mathurin monthly or only once in the space of two months. It was a big event and the sign that the shops would now be stocked in goods that could not be found anymore: household products, various types of food, mechanical parts, and newspapers...

Port Mathurin holds no similarities with the other capitals of the Indian Ocean, be it Port Louis (Mauritius) or St-Denis (Reunion Island). Owing to its small size, it stays calm and half immersed in its own torpor; there’s no traffic jam, no traffic lights, and no rush... We roam about peacefully, ferreting from one shop to the other. These old but vividly coloured stalls rightly bring out the charm and gaiety of Port Mathurin. Build with wood or sheets of iron, they stretch along the trading roads till the center of the village. The signs of the shops often originate from the name of their proprietors, the latter being mostly Chinese. Others, hand-painted, sing the praises of the shop. We are quite far from the chain of supermarkets of Mauritius or Reunion Island, which are authentic temples of consumer goods. Here, there are no tidy shelves, no hordes of trolleys and no incessant “special offers” advertisements. You’ll only find a heap of eclectic goods. To find what you’re really looking for, you literally have to dig for it! Everything mixes with anything: look upward, and just near the ceiling you will find that the hats are hanging besides the wheels of a bicycle and brooms, and a joyous mess prevails on the swaying shelves: remnants of shimmering cloth, plastic toys, household products and pickles. Sweets, the special pies of Rodrigues and spices share the countertop with shabby postcards and some newspapers. In the shop window, accordions cohabit with a weighing measure, some hats and caps. Indeed, a merry bazaar! Basketry and the chili-based preparations cannot be missed in Port Mathurin. The local handicraft shops sell articles that have been skillfully woven in raffia or in vacoas (hats, baskets, jewellery boxes), whilst the road vendors propose small jars of pickled chilies, chili-lemon, pawpaw and mango relishes..., enough to set the mouth afire!

Apart from the shops, you must surely be wondering what else is there to see or do? To tell you the truth, there is nothing precise: you must simply stroll in the streets of the village. Winding our way along a street, we come across a beautiful colonial home and other colorful houses whose balconies are decorated with sausages drying in the sun, and further down, a beautiful tropical garden overflowing with huge trees is hiding a small Creole hut. Afterwards, the official residence of the Island Commissioner looms into view, that is jealously protected from prying eyes by a high wall and whose main entry is guarded by an old cannon. The charming and typical village church and a small mosque complete the picturesque scene. At the western exit of the small market town, the unique gas station of the island is supplying a long string of cars and motorcycles in a joyous hubbub. Opposite, an amazing mini golf overlooks the waterfront: a rather unusual thing in Rodrigues. We then come across the bus station where it is really entertaining to discover the wild and vivid imagination of the proprietors of the buses: their vehicles are sporting names like "Aigle de la Route" ("Road Eagle"), "King of the Road" or "We are Satisfied"... it is quite difficult to believe them here on seeing the buses’ conditions!

There is no museum to visit (it seems that such a project is actually being studied) and practically no monuments, except near the jetty, where a memorial has been erected in memory of the Rodriguan volunteers who were directly involved in the Second World War and a few meters away, a statue of the Solitaire (an endemic bird that had disappeared during the 18th century) stands aloof in the middle of an empty field, facing the sea. However, do not miss the opportunity to visit the workshop of the "Craft Aid", a small enterprise that employs handicapped people who are assigned with the task of designing a multitude of jewelleries from the shell of coconuts and who are also specialized in apiculture. Since the "Craft Aid" had won an Excellence Award in 2000 during an international contest, the honey of Rodrigues has acquired much fame.

All over the village, a few old bistros, dark and exclusively visited by the Rodriguans, serve the kind of rum that is capable of waking the dead. There are practically no women in these places: people go there to play dominos, to ask about friends and to inquire about the latest rumors or simply, to while away their time. The streets are so calm and the people so nonchalant that it seems as if time has stopped. Suddenly, a big rumbling bus disturbs the peace of the place, "Supercopter" drives by and then calm re-settles itself. 

To experience the peak of the bustle of the village, it is imperative to go to the “big market” on Saturday morning. Inhabitants from all over the island meet there, it is the right occasion to buy and sell fresh products: fruits, vegetables, fish, meat, chilies and the famous basketwork. The stage is set to begin play at dawn itself: as from 5 in the morning, the small world flocks to the market, the packed buses set down vendors from all over the island with their baskets overflowing with provisions. At 9 o’clock, everything has practically come to an end, the fresh products having already been sold. As from noon itself, Port Mathurin falls into a gentle lethargy. The shops will be closing one by one and the buses are taking back the vendors and the buyers to their villages. Port Mathurin will soon be sound asleep...

Text and photos: © Fabrice Bettex / Mysterra




 
Rodrigues Island picture - Port Mathurin

Rodrigues Island picture - Port Mathurin

Rodrigues Island picture - Port Mathurin

Rodrigues Island picture - Port Mathurin

Rodrigues Island picture - Port Mathurin

Rodrigues Island picture - Port Mathurin

Rodrigues Island picture - Port Mathurin

Rodrigues Island picture - Port Mathurin

Rodrigues Island picture - Port Mathurin

Rodrigues Island picture - Port Mathurin

Rodrigues Island picture - Port Mathurin

Rodrigues Island picture - Port Mathurin

Rodrigues Island picture - Port Mathurin

Rodrigues Island picture - Port Mathurin

Rodrigues Island picture - Port Mathurin

Rodrigues Island picture - Port Mathurin

Rodrigues Island picture - Port Mathurin

Rodrigues Island picture - Port Mathurin

Rodrigues Island picture - Port Mathurin
       
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