‘Aller avec assistance!’ calls our guide, Laurent, with enthusiasm. And as we crank the assistance level on our bikes to maximum level 4, we pedal with the effort of a sloth but progress at the speed of Wiggins! This activity is for you – young, old, fit, unfit; the electrobike is a great ‘leveller’, you simply choose your own personal level of assistance.
When the temperatures are knocking on the door of 30-degrees and the humidity is high, a bike ride may be the last thing on your mind, especially if you are not a competent cyclist – but let us introduce you to a new, sociable and exciting way to see the hidden gems of south Mauritius.
What is an electrobike?
So the bike itself looks like a bicycle, it pedals like a bicycle, it feels like a bicycle; it has gears, brakes and a standard cycle-style seat. What it also has, however, is a small electric motor which sits discreetly on the crossbar and is wired up to a mini digital display screen on your handlebar. You have a range from -4 to 0 to +4. At a 0-setting you travel under your own steam without any assistance or hindrance. Settings +1 to +4 give you wings! And settings -4 to 0 create drag.
What you will be interested in is the +1 to +4. Many riders will keep a +1 for most of the journey, even on the flat; this allows you to cycle without effort even if your fitness levels are low. Along the journey there will be hills (we are talking slight inclines not Mont Ventoux) and increasing your assistance to level 3 or 4 will propel you at super-hero speed without increasing your exertion. Trust us when we say this feels ‘epic’!
The journeys - Souillac
There are currently a choice of three routes, we are looking at Souillac which includes coastal paths, farmland, village and a historic town. Situated in the extreme south of Mauritius, this is an area of hilly countryside, sugar cane fields, villages, national parks and dramatic cliffs. Hot days actually feel quite fresh when the wind is in your face which strangely does make it a perfect activity even in high heat.
You will likely begin your trip, as we did, with a taxi ride to the starting point at ‘Place du Moulin’ in Bel Ombre. Greeted at 08.30 by our host, Laurent and his team we were assigned bikes complete with water bottle and a helmet. The meeting point has a covered practice area where we received group and individual instruction as to the bike’s operation – there was then plenty of space to ride around and gain confidence before setting off on the road. The group comprised of the standard 8 people and was led by Laurent, there is also a ‘rear guard’ who makes sure the group stays together and helps anyone struggling. Any bags you bring can be put on the accompanying vehicle which stays with you throughout the day.
The adventure begins
We had hired a car on several occasions and really thought we knew this neck of the woods but as we turned up small roads and pathways we realised this was all new territory. Heading towards the Bay of Jakotet the journey was along an easy well-paved road which felt very safe – if you’ve not cycled as part of a group before then compare it to singing in a choir! There is plenty of time to ride two-abreast and chat to fellow riders – and remember you will not be exhausted, you have ‘assistance’.
Points along the way
We visited the village of Rivière des Galets, the Batelage of Grande Rivière Sud-Est, the ancient port of Souillac and passed by Saint-Jacques church. Stopping at various points along the way, the journey was brought to life by Laurent’s local and historical knowledge as well as his passion for sharing the important and fascinating heritage of the region. Innocuous walls, for example, hide a major point of transit and even a home for slaves who were forced to work in the sugar and agricultural trades; only metres away is a semi-derelict (but clearly beautiful) building that was once a courthouse – these are all to easily missed without guidance.
This ever-changing journey is full of excitement, interest and of particularly beautiful scenery, glimpsed form vantage points that we would otherwise never reach. Cycling along little-used paths, close to the cliff edge revealed tiny coves and fishermen using traditional fishing methods. We could marvel at the peaceful, ancient marine cemetery that provided a final resting spot for all religions, signified only by the colour of the stone above them. We stopped to admire the ocean from the cliffs of Gris-Gris and the striking, Roche Qui Pleure (rock that cries). Keep your camera to hand.
We have experienced ‘local lunches’ in various parts of the world, at worst they can be uncomfortable and contrived but done well and with sensitivity they are a total joy – Mrs Mala falls firmly into the latter camp! This delightful lady and her neighbour helpers, welcome us into her home, seat us at a family dining table, and serve us with the most delicious Indo-Mauritian food. Had we realised this was only a starter we may have held back a little as the next course was even more generous! Between courses we were invited into her kitchen to try our hand at mixing, forming and rolling local flatbreads etc. All good fun!
The journey to our finishing point was short from here – to be honest, the impact of Mrs Mala’s hospitality leaves you totally replete and more in need of a sunbed than a bicycle. The finishing point is Riambel public beach where you are free to relax and swim before making your way back to your hotel. You will find that your driver has miraculously located you. If you do need to get back to the starting point then, along with the bikes that are loaded on the following vehicle, you can catch a lift.
Just do it!
This is a great day out for so many reasons, it is sociable, wonderful for a family or a single, gentle, easy-going and most of all fun. You’ll have a natural breeze when you are moving, water and refreshments as well as lunch are supplied to just pack camera, sunglasses and swimmers, if you fancy a swim at the end. You don’t have to carry your bag – that can be left on the following vehicle – this is pretty much the Tour de France in terms of professionalism and a carousel in terms of effort. Marvellous!