Travel: What's love got to do with it?

A long-awaited honeymoon in Mauritius was a chance to mix business and pleasure for Keith Richards and his new (ish) bride
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The Independent Culture
In the lives of those of us who have chosen to marry, the one holiday you're guaranteed to remember is the honeymoon, if only because its grand title distinguishes it from every other holiday. For my wife, Heather, and me there's something more to sustain the memory of our honeymoon in Mauritius, though.

We put on hold thoughts of cascading waterfalls in the Bambou Mountains, Dodos, an unpronounceable airport and a range of mountains memorably called the Three Breasts. Instead, there was work to be done. Not for us the honeymoon perks offered by our luxury hotel - a trip on the "love boat" at sunset and an upgraded fish supper. Instead came a call, asking: "I know it's your honeymoon, but if I bring a couple of camera crews and some journalists to your hotel, could we hold a press conference?"

This place was a working paradise for us. The local food, recipes and culinary talents of Mauritius were under scrutiny by Heather, a commissioning editor of cookery books. And for me, a consumer law barrister at that time working for Which? magazine, I had a strong urge to investigate consumer rights on the island.

By the time we married, we had been living together for 15 years - it was worth the wait to be able to call our annual holiday a "honeymoon". But indulging our other passions on our "working" honeymoon got us closer to the country and so made a special trip to that unforgettable island even more unique.

The request for a press conference had come from Jayen Chellum, Director of ACIM, the Mauritian Consumers' Association. I'd faxed ahead to tell him we were coming and he jumped at the chance of using me to advance the cause of his organisation. I, in turn, jumped at the chance of helping.

We arranged to meet in Port Louis, across the other side of the island from where Heather and I were staying, and in our hire car we shared the potholed roads with other less roadworthy vehicles - demonstrating that ACIM certainly had a big job ahead of it in terms of vehicle safety.

Thankfully, we were distracted from the state of the roads by the flame- red wild poinsettias lining the sides of the road, at least 100 times bigger than the familiar Christmas pot plants we get in Britain, and by wild dogs too sleepy to bark but not too sleepy to wander suicidally in front of the car.

The island's capital is hemmed in by an impressive natural amphi-theatre, formed by soaring mountains. We arrived safely in Port Louis, an exciting mix of Indian, African, Chinese and European influences that is good for the culinary culture but not so good for the ACIM. Consumer campaigning is a political business in any country and the surprisingly harmonious mix of races and religions here makes the job of whipping up a popular consumer vote practically impossible.

We'd arranged to meet Jayen by the old colonial line barracks and swiftly moved on to an excellent Chinese restaurant. Tucked away in a back street that we would never have known was there, let alone venture into on our own, the food was delicious. In Mauritius, unlike Britain, the origins of Chinese food are very close and it showed in the taste of the meal and in the variety of dishes on offer. There was not a sweet and sour prawn ball in sight and Heather was in her element, scribbling notes as if fried rice was going out of fashion.

ACIM HQ was a shock, housed as it was in a small, three-room office by the barracks with one computer and an obvious lack of funds. Over lunch we had learned that this Consumers' Association had a busy and successful past but a seemingly impossible burden for the future. Consumerism has come so far in the West that it was sad to see the paucity of facilities available here to help advance their cause.

The journalists Jayen had arranged to meet us in Port Louis had not turned up after all but Heather's food research continued as we spent a number of days wandering the streets in nearby towns and scouring the food markets for unusual produce. The mainstream cooking in Mauritius is influenced largely by Indian flavours and street sellers ply their freshly cooked food to hungry locals. Among the delicacies Heather sniffed out for our delectation were gateaux piments (crisp, spicy balls of deep-fried split peas and green chillies).

Back at our hotel, Heather had already interviewed the chef who, she discovered, often came to Britain to check on gastronomic trends. He was as keen to learn from her as she was from him and, night after night, he produced surprise dishes of local specialities for us - much to the envy of other guests.

Then came another call. "I might be able to get a newspaper journalist to come to the hotel to ask some questions," said Jayen. By now we were fast approaching the end of our honeymoon and we invited Jayen over to our hotel for dinner. That last night was spent deep in conversation plotting a consumer revolution in this fascinating country.

I discovered that for the local people, there is a lot of work to be done to achieve what we take for granted as basic protection in the West and, with such a lot for the consumer movement to do, I realised I had spent time in a consumer lawyer's nirvana. Was Heather upset? No. The shark curry and sea urchins the chef had specially prepared for her soon arrived. And, as for the press conference, it never happened.

Fact File

THE GOVERNMENT of Mauritius does not allow charter flights, so the only direct services from Britain are on Air Mauritius (0171-434 4375) from Heathrow and Manchester, and British Airways (0345 222111) from Gatwick. BA flies three times each week (two of these flights stop to refuel at Nairobi). Air Mauritius flies non-stop twice a week from Heathrow, once a week from Manchester.

Numerous companies offer holidays based on these flights, including Abercrombie & Kent (0171-559 8632), British Airways Holidays (0870 2424245) and Hayes & Jarvis (0181-748 5050).

You can also sail from Felixstowe to Mauritius in four weeks on a cargo vessel, for around pounds 2,500 one-way. Strand Voyages (0171-836 6363).

Further information: the Mauritius Government Tourist Office, 32 Elvaston Place, London SW7 (0171-581 0294).

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