Café Marron: The Rarest Plant on Earth
In 1980 a teacher on Rodrigues asked his students to bring in a local plant as part of a school project. One student brought in a plant that baffled everyone. Finally experts at the UK's Kew Gardens identified the plant as café marron (Ramosmania rodriguesii), which was long thought extinct. Locals had for centuries used the plant as an aphrodisiac and as a treatment for sexually transmitted diseases, and news of its discovery leaked out. The plant was fenced off, but locals kept finding a way through. In 1986 an international operation was mounted: a cutting of the plant was flown from Rodrigues to London, where, within 24 hours, it was in Kew Gardens.
Cuttings were taken and it's from these that the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation has been able to grow more in its plant nursery. The plant is not yet out of danger – one of the plants in the Grande Montagne Nature Reserve was stolen (a younger, yet-to-flower replacement is labelled and can be seen alongside the main trail), as was another from the foundation's nursery. Even so, more than 50 have been successfully planted in the reserve. No other wild plants have ever been found, but – for the first time in living memory – the original plant recently began to grow fruit.
Worth a Trip: Île aux Cocos
There are 17 small islands sprinkled around Rodrigues' lagoon and perhaps the most interesting of these is Île aux Cocos. Around 1.5km long, and 150m wide at its broadest point, Île aux Cocos is a nature reserve and the only island in the Indian Ocean on which four seabirds – the lesser noddy, brown noddy, fairy tern and sooty tern – all breed. The southern quarter of the island is fenced off as a restricted zone. Elsewhere there is a virgin quality to the place – the lesser noddies and fairy terns are remarkably tame, just as all wildlife (including the ill-fated dodo) was when the first sailors arrived on Mauritius and Rodrigues.
The reserve is overseen by Discovery Rodrigues – staff meet all boat arrivals and give a brief (and mostly French) overview of the island's more interesting features. The outfit does not, however, organise the boat trips – you will need to make arrangements through your hotel, a tour operator or directly with boat owners.
Most trips depart from Pointe du Diable, though check with the boat owner when making the booking. If you don't have your own wheels, the owners may be able to arrange a pick-up from your hotel. The departure time could be anywhere from 7am to 10am depending on the tides, and the trip takes an hour each way. You'll probably end up spending around three hours on the island – bring your swimmers.
A trip to Île aux Cocos will cost around Rs 1500 per person if you organise it through your hotel, but it will cost significantly less (Rs 1000 to Rs 1200) if you go directly to the boat owner. This price includes the boat trip, park admission and a picnic lunch.
Boat owners we recommend include:
- Rico François Departs Pointe du Diable.
- Tonio Jolicouer Departs Pointe du Diable.
- Berraca Tours Departs Pointe du Diable.
- Joe 'Cool' Departs Pointe du Diable.
- Christophe Meunier Departs Anse aux Anglais. Christophe also uses a sailing boat (rather than one with an outboard motor) and sometimes factors in extra time for snorkelling.
Worth a Trip: Île aux Chats & Île Hermitage
A terrific way to see the southern coast of Rodrigues is to take a half-day boat excursion out into the lagoon. Numerous operators in Port Sud-Est, Mourouk and Graviers, and all hotels, can make the arrangements, which usually include an hour or two of snorkelling (in an area of surprisingly strong currents), a barbecue lunch on Île aux Chats – one of the larger islands of the eastern lagoon – and then a visit to Île Hermitage, a tiny island renowned for its beauty (and possible hidden treasure). Expect to pay around Rs 1000 to Rs 1200 per person.