Thursday, June 30

Madagascar, Day Seven: Having a... "Whale" of a Time

So it turns out that whale watching is not as exciting as it sounds. Don't get me wrong: seeing one you realise how massive and amazing they are, but after the tenth whale it's all pretty much the same.

I guess people really go to witness a breach (when a whale overshoots the surface and leaves the water) or two and the distant one that I caught was quite spectacular. Still I did manage to fall asleep during our tour; quite an impressive feat considering how choppy the sea was.

After lunch we took a walk around the circumference of Ile Aux Nauts.

The 6.2km took around two hours and was mostly comprised of gorgeous beaches but we did also check out the lighthouse and spend some time in the village.

I even got the cliched shot of black shoeless village kids playing football.

After catching an amazing sunset we retreated back to La Petite for dinner - the discussion over food was regarding how little people around here need to be happy, something I definitely already had an opinion on. Oh and the after dinner game was dice, something I've promised myself to teach to as many people as I can.

Compared to the rest of the holiday, it doesn't seem that we got much done today, and yet I feel the time spent was well utilised. I guess I've become used to the pace of island life and how things like walks and talks can be just as fulfilling as a movie or party. We're grabbing an early end to day, in preparation for our last day tomorrow. Although I'm quite sad about having to leave, a part of me feels its time to head home.

Wednesday, June 29

XKCD Click for more info

I never assumed I was alone or unique in my distaste for Facebook, so I share the joy of Randall in his comic below:

Of course the really sad fact is that Google+ will be just as lame as Facebook is. The problem is in the attitude, not the technology.

Madagascar, Day Six: Diving, Pirates and Massages

I had some really strange dreams last night. For some reason my room got flooded - perhaps it was high tide or something - and my bed became a boat. I have no idea why I had such vivid images while sleeping but on discussing it with others it's apparently a common thing under the circumstance, something about living on a beach. In a hut.

After an excellent breakfast I went off for a dive. This was my first non-training dive after diving school in Mauritius and also turned out to be my deepest yet at a smidge over 20m. Apart from the usual wildlife I got to see an octopus, but the main highlight was hearing whale song under water. It was amazingly subtle yet exactly how you would imagine it - on asking my dive guide the whales were a few km away.

I was dropped off in the main town of Ile Sainte-Marie, Ambodifotatra. While waiting for my travel companions to meet me there I bumped into some other recently made friends and decided to grab some lunch with them. I had the Barracuda fish with vanilla sauce which was as amazing as it sounds, not least because of the beach view while eating it.

I spent another half hour or so exploring the small town - my main objective was finding the main mosque (map here) to find out details for Jummah, and I also managed to speak to a few local muslims about the facilities.

On the way back to La Petite we stopped off briefly at a pirate cemetery.

It was a little bit of an adventure getting there but pretty cool once we found it - think Goonies-lite.

On exiting we were caught in another downpour, something that was becoming par for the course on this trip, but we shrugged it off as we headed to the Princess Bora.

The reason we stopped off at this boutique hotel was to check out the on site spa we had been told about, and in particular the four hand massage they offered. My excitement was justified and it was pretty amazing; although the locals weren't able to exert as much pressure as I would have liked the novelty of having four hands was well worth the experience. The two masseurs were technically impressive too, perfectly weighted and synchronously timed as if they were one person. And it was super cheap to boot.

Getting home was fun as we dealt with walking down the muddy track in total darkness to catch our pirogue for a night time crossing. An awesome crayfish dinner was waiting for us there (with the soup starter also requiring an explicit mention), and after a well deserved shower we ended up playing boardgames and winding each up for the rest of the night.

All of a sudden we're not staying here long enough.

Tuesday, June 28

Madagascar, Day Five: Ile Sainte-Marie

Even though we had more than half our time in Madagascar remaining, due to the inflexibility of internal flights here we were forced to fly to our final destination anyway. I was a bit unsure about having to spend so much time in Ile Sainte-Marie, but these doubts disappeared as soon as we arrived there.

Ile Sainte-Marie is a comparatively small island off the eastern coast of Madagascar, an alternative getaway to the possible more popular Nosy Be. The idea is to get there and experience a little bit of island flavour, you know literally disconnecting you and all.

But arriving at the airport wasn't the end of our journey today. We were actually heading to an even smaller sub island off the south of Ile Sainte-Marie, Ile Aux Nattes. The experience started straight away as we shipped over to the island in a pirogue, a kind of single-piece canoe. The approach was pretty amazing, with the sense of remoteness, idyllicy and peace was quite overwhelming.

Our home for the next three nights is at La Petite Traversee, a beach lodge comprising of around five bungalows and a bar/restaurant. The place is pretty unreal; awesome views, sandy floors, no electricity and the like and hosted by the wonderful and weird Okie. Yes, it did rain quite heavily this afternoon, but that just added to the whole thing. We still got to explore the rest of the island at least.

The biggest shock on our mini exploration was to find the local mosque (map here). Just to give some perspective here, Ile Aux Nattes has a population of around 1300 of which a tiny minority are Muslim. The mosque itself could probably hold no more than 25 people, and in fact my friend and I were the Asr congregation.

The rest of the evening was spent hanging out in La Petite Traversee, eating, drinking and being merry - the bar had become the centre point for some wandering travellers also from the UK and we ended up playing cards (Arsehole) for a bit before ending the night watching Dr Hook videos on a projector our host pulled out of nowhere.

It was ace best.

Monday, June 27

Madagascar, Day Four: Antananarivo

Despite our research back in the UK suggested that there wasn't really much to do in Tana we made the decision to arrive here a night early, choosing to take the opportunity to slow down the pace of the trip.

After a lazy start we headed out to shop for gifts and souvenirs. After a few false starts we found an excellent market with just what we wanted - you know arts and crafts and all that. Our bartering skills (or lack thereof) were put to the test and I feel that I did well if not amazingly. To be honest the thing we overspent on was our time rather than money; we wanted to do more than just shop that day.

Skipping lunch to save time, we headed to Ambohimanga, an old palace where we spent an hour or so being guided around.

It was surprisingly better than I thought it would be, and turned out to be quite the quick win, if only for the views:

Heading back to the hotel, I decided to take up the offer to dine with the jamatees I met at the mosque yesterday. As I sat there communally eating, I was taken back to my own jamaat days; I really enjoyed the hour or so long demonstration of Ummah power, and the prawn pilau didn't hurt either.

My trip to the mosque meant that I had to walk to and from my hotel after dark, something many sources had advised against. My deliberately left empty pockets didn't console me much, but overall I suspect my unease was more in my head than based on reality.

Overall I think my time in Tana was a success.

Sunday, June 26

Madagascar, Day Three: The Indiri

It turned out that sleeping under nets in a lodge in the middle of a jungle with no electricity wasn't that bad and the good rest I managed to get meant that even 5am wasn't too early to get up for. It was actually quite nice to have breakfast by candlelight.

Most of the morning and early afternoon was spent on the various trails Andasibe was offering. After a slow start and a lot of trekking, we finally managed to see some animals: Indiri (lemurs), Babakoto and Diadamed Sifaka were all spotted and photographed.

But if I'm quite honest I enjoyed the actual trekking itself too. We also went to see a waterfall and pool, but I declined the offer to take a dip in it.

We also spotted a chameleon after a bit of effort. Here is it if you wanted to play too:

On the way back to the lodge we spotted something we were least expecting to - a random mosque in the village we had spent some time in yesterday (map here).

Just seeing it got us excited, and we explored a little to see if we could find anyone to talk to. Unfortunately we had already missed the congregational prayer, but we did find some kids loitering around who pointed us in the direction of an alleged halal restaurant. After offering our own prayers, we headed there only to find that the amusingly literally named "Halal Restaurant" was closed.

Since we had gotten quite a lot done today, we decided to adjust our itinerary and head back to Tana a night early, a collective sigh of relief confirming the consensus for the change of plan. After checking into our new hotel, the relatively luxurious Hotel Tana, we were taken to the local mosque for the night prayer. After talking to a jammat who were visiting from India we got the name of a local halal restaurant where we headed for dinner; yet another example of the Ummah style of networking in full effect.

But once again we had run out of things to do for the day. We headed back to our hotel for yet another early night.

Saturday, June 25

Madagascar, Day Two: Andasibe

Despite the cold night and the hard bed, I managed to sleep through the night okay. This was a good thing, since the morning was all about getting to our first real destination: the national park, Andasibe.

After a three hour drive we arrived at our lodge where we checked in, planning to stay there for two nights. Since we still had a large chunk of the day left, we ventured out hoping to make a start on the national park itself. This plan was put to bed quickly as we were advised that it was a little too late to catch any real chance of seeing animals.

At a loss for things to do, we decided to check out the village nearby. This didn't take up as much time as we would have liked it to, and after lunch we headed back to the lodge and were back by 4pm feeling slightly dejected, homesick and, for me at least, suddenly missing of Mauritius. The time we had before dinner was filled with those old school ways of passing time; word games, DS and just chatting. Unfortunately none of us had any playing cards. Dinner was a saving grace, and consisted of amongst other things an excellent pea soup.

We grabbed an early night and tucked ourselves in under our mosquito nets.

Friday, June 24

Madagascar, Day One: Change Is Good?

The biggest problem I have with two-phase trips like this one is how difficult the change can be. In fact I quickly added myself to the list of people who recently asked "why are you going to Madagascar?" as I got of the airplane this morning. I was especially depressed (and expect to be for a few more days) due to how much of an amazing time we had in Mauritius the previous week. It had even been suggested that we do Madagascar before the wedding in order to use the latter as a climbdown, but that plan didn't quite work out.

But it was only the first day and I'm sure things will change after a couple of days. Although being asked for a "gift" at immigration didn't help improve matters. And to top it off, my mouthwash had leaked in my suitcase. On the other hand our hotel was pretty decent in a rustic way. It was time to ignore my misgivings and embrace the place Iw as going to spend the next week in.

Orewar, Mauritius

Okay, I'll be honest with you all: Mauritius has never really been on my travel list. I certainly knew about it - as well as having a few friends from there my local mosque of twenty years (of which five I spent in their madarassa) was run by Mauritians, so it wasn't like I was totally ignorant of the place.

A part of me did think that a visit was inevitable at some point, I just needed a good reason to go and so when a friend invited us to their wedding celebrations back home I was the first non-family member to book their flight. That's right: I was once again flying across the world to attend a wedding. What can I say? I'm lucky to have international friends, and will always jump at the chance to use them as an excuse to have a holiday; and since I actually love attending weddings anyway, attending one during a holiday just makes them all the more awesome.

So yes. As my time in Mauritius draws to an end it's pretty clear to me how much of an awesome time I had during my stay here. For sure it was less to do with the island and more to do with the wedding and people, but that's just a reflection of how much time I had to do be a tourist rather than the lack of things to do here; judging by the little we did manage to do as well as the feedback from others who have visited there was plenty of touristy stuff that we missed out on.

Quite amazingly an apartment, car and even mobile phones had all been pre-arranged by the hosts of the wedding, and these all gave us a level of autonomy which ensured that we would enjoy our time here even more. Along with the fancy technology in our phones, we were able to do our own thing on our own timetables, whether that meant taking drives on the islands or hanging out with the family much later into the night than we really should have. In effect we had pretty much gone native.

Overall though Mauritius has definitely made my list of best-holidays-ever, and is up there with Australia and South Africa (funnily enough both of which involved weddings too) and the other places I'll always remember - but even more than that it's one of the very rare places that I wouldn't mind going back to either.

Mauritian Munch

Awful post titles aside, I had very few complaints about the food in Mauritius. To be fair a lot of our meals were catered due to the wedding functions taking up most of our meal times, and although all the various events had very nice food (including some old school biryani, the type I would find in my own home, at the wedding reception), I suspect it wasn't really a genuine reflection of Mauritian food.

When we did eat out, we seemed to be drawn to Chinese restaurants. This could have been uneventful except for the fact that Mauritian Chinese food seems to have been sourced from a different region of China to that what I'm used to back in the UK; it was different enough to note anyway. Otherwise we had a bit of seafood too which was, perhaps unsurprisingly, excellent.

But really for me it was all about the street food, the main example of which was the sublime dhal puri. I'm still amazed at how something so simple, so cheap, could bring so much joy and happiness to us, who sometimes weren't even that hungry. I'm not even sure what it is - something vegetarian - but I don't care. I still smile to myself when I think of the stuff. The only down side was how the stuff kept running out.

But even the stuff I did know about was amazing: the post-volcano samosas, the pre-diving roti (filled with anything from vegetables to squid), the Chinese Guava (which was nothing like Guava) and raspberries... We even spent a session before Jummah today in what I can only describe as a street food court sampling chilli cakes, falouda and other things I can't quite remember the names of. I'd never claim to be a foodie, but even I loved the constant attack on our taste buds.

Oh and the best cakes I had this week were made and brought to the events by a family member. I'm not quite sure who it was, but I have vowed to track them down.

And now I'm hungry.

Defining Mauritius

Although we used to make fun of our madarassa teacher for coming from such a small island, Mauritius isn't that small really - a quick Google pegs it at around 2000 sq km, with London weighing in at 1500 or so. In contrast that other island I talk about at times, The Isle of Man, is a tiny 500 sq km. Compared to that place Mauritius doesn't have the small island mentality I expected it to, but this could be to do with the fact that it's an independent state rather than one of many in a federation (for example). It's as much it's own land and country as anywhere else I've been to this year.

Nevertheless I struggle to define the character of place. It's certainly Africa in terms of geography and climate, but then the Indian influence is very obvious too - unlike other parts of the continent like South Africa and, I presume, Kenya, this is clearly and primarily brown land and has been for a while. This is confirmed both by the visible signs - the shops, the food (which as usual will get its own post) and of course, the appearance of the people - but also by the prevailing culture of the land.

Bollywood and Zee can be found in most places, people dress and act as Indians and general attitudes seem to be rooted in that of the subcontinent too. Homes are largely communal, and family structure appear more traditional than modern. That's not to say the place is backwards - far from it; high value is placed on things like education and professionalism, but they just don't seem to throw out their cultural identities in the process. Mauritians are definitely more brown than their counterparts are in the UK or South Africa, and yet they also manage to reconcile this with living in a modern and western dominated world.

Even if we accept that Mauritius is more Indian than African, there is still lots left to confuse a visitor. The main language spoken seems to be Mauritian Creole, something that is even more confusing (but just as pleasant) to listen to as the French it was based on. Luckily for us, English was spoken by everyone too, although I did have to dust off my Urdu for some of the older people I met.

Me being me, I have to comment quickly about the talent here. In short all levels are well represented everywhere you go, although I will say there are more hotties than otherwise. But more interesting than the actual numbers is is how effortless it all appears for them; for whatever reason this isn't a place where people need to wear lots of make-up or designer gear. My theory is that you don't need to try looking good if you're happy and content, and if that's the case, well then there seems to be a lot of happy and content girls in Mauritius.

Even though I still don't know what makes a developing country a developing country, in terms of literacy and apparent poverty Mauritius appears to hold high enough standards to be seen as a comfortable place to live in. The quality of things like electricity and communications are all decent enough, although some places do seem to struggle a bit with water; but I guess that that's more of a geographical issue than a political or economic one.

Roads, streets and buildings are relatively well developed, and I certainly feel safe walking around, although to be fair we do have our own car and aren't really using any public transport. Similarly I don't feel at all out of place walking around as a stranger - in fact some of our party are often assumed to be native! All in all it's very homely, and reminds me a lot of my trips back to Karachi.

The vast majority of the 1.2 million people who live in Mauritius are Hindu, but apparently Muslims make up around 15-20% (depending on who you ask), which is large enough for Islam to permeate society. So we have halal food almost everywhere (and if not, knowledge of the requirement itself is known) and adhan ringing in public during prayer times.

Mosques are plentiful, although only because it seems that even Mauritius isn't immune from sectarian splits in its Islamic community. Still, the impressive central Jummah Mosque was filled with people of all backgrounds. I forget the exact age of the mosque (there is an older on in Mauritius apparently), but it was one of those typically Indian influenced ones, you know with an airy courtyard and open air whudu khana leading into the smaller, yet just as grand main prayer area at the front. Viewing it's imposing and obvious style from the outside it becomes clear how much a place Muslims have here.

It's claimed that the people here live in peace and harmony, but whether that is because the Muslims don't assert themselves I don't know. What is clear is that it's a nice and comfortable place for a Muslim to live, as is. There is also a Chinese influence on the island, although in my specific experience that was only restricted to a couple of restaurants we went to.

So yes, I guess my only real observation of Mauritius is that of the striking mish-mash of different cultures and backgrounds both from within (the Indian) and outside (the western vibe). But unlike in other places which have the same initial components, it's mostly the good things which have been emphasised in the everyday running of the island as a result.

I would say that most people I meet seem happy and content so in terms of well-being Mauritius is quite a wealthy place. I will qualify this post by saying I've not been here for that long and so may have only been sufficiently exposed to both the geographically and socially affluent side of Mauritius. But still based on what I did see I rank Mauritius as one of the nicest places I've visited in which to live, and well up there with Singapore and Canada.

Thursday, June 23

Île aux Cerfs

Now with the wedding and diving were out of the way, we finally found ourselves in a position to do some sightseeing. A much recommended option was to visit Île aux Cerfs (Deer Island in french), so we got up at the insane hour of 6am and drove the hour or so across the width of the island where we met up with some other overseas wedding guests. There were ten of us all in all, making for a party big enough to justify a private trip to the island.

I've been gagging for a boat trip since coming to Mauritius, and although this was transport rather than sailing (in that there was no opportunity to dive off the boat) I enjoyed the brief ride to the island. The island itself was very nice, with both the sand and sea providing the goods, and there was plenty of other activities too including paragliding and banana boats, albeit at rip off prices. I chose to spend the morning in a hammock, recovering from both the early start today as well as the events of the week so far. The temperature was comfortable although I did seek cover from the sun in the shade of the trees. All I needed was my book (or DS) and it would have been perfect.

Lunch was provided as part of the trip; fully halal, we had chicken, sausages and fish all cooked in the open air BBQ. It was actually quite romantic the manner in which we lunched on the beach, and it was by far my favourite part of the day. After a dessert of BBQ'd caramelised bananas, we spent a little more time on the beach while waiting for our boat back to the mainland. Our last stop was up to a waterfall, just beyond the place where we got on the boat this morning. This was more of a bonus than a must see sight, and although it was nice enough we didn't spend that much time there.

Heading back to our point of departure, I suddenly realised that the island trip today marked the beginning of the end of our time in Mauritius, particularly as we bid farewell to our co-guests. We had dinner plans with other friends tonight, and of course the whole day tomorrow to do stuff, but despite that it almost felt like we were unwinding our trip as a whole as we made our way back to the eastern side of Mauritius.

Wednesday, June 22

Meet the Ramtoolas

One of the constants I've come to expect from a wedding-holiday is the deep exposure to the family of the bride or groom. This is unsurprising really; Indian weddings involve many events, many of which take place in a home with open doors; add to that the sheer joy and happiness and it's inevitable that you'll bond with people as they welcome you with open arms.

Being the imposing and tactless chap I am, I tend to lap this stuff up. It doesn't take long before I've exploited the situation and made myself comfortably at home, or at least free, familiar and friendly with my hosts. I'm yet to establish whether this makes me a rude guest or not, but until I'm actually chucked out of a place (something that may have happened a couple of times) I'll say the latter. Regardless of the detail, I was especially looking forward to Mauritius this year because of this factor, particularly after the touristy slog that was South America. Yes, that's right; I've become a people-holiday junkie.

So on that note I'm having a lovely time here, and it's obvious to me why. Since we're only staying here a week, the wedding and related functions have taken up most of the schedule - in fact as a visitor it's all a little intense really. It helps that our hosts and co-guests are all amazing (even though the majority of them seem to be accountants) and seem to have enough time to hang out with us outside of the nuptials too. That they all live on the same private road is also awesome since it essentially means easy access to what seems like a party everyday.

And what parties there were. There were two dinners, two mehndis, a nikkah and reception, and I'm struggling to decide which I enjoyed the most. I think this was pretty much as "big Indian wedding" as I was ever going to be involved in (it was very different to what I would be involved in back in Karachi or when I visited Bangladesh), and between all the events we had some awesome food, live music, dhandia, cocktails, giant prawns, excellent conversation, mad jokes, emotional moments, stargazing, speeches and lots and lots of fun and dossing. And to top it off, everyone looked so good too. Seriously, these were some collectively hot people.

But it's really the inherent happiness-by-default that's infectious here. People seem so simply content that it's easy to become the same in their company and forget about all those little issues (back in the UK) that would otherwise bring your mood down. Furthermore the undeserved attention, generosity and care shown to us all just added to feeling of euphoria. But despite how equally nice everyone was to us, they were all also unique enough to be taken as individuals, be they adult, kids, native or from abroad. So we had the funny ones, the caring ones, the super smart ones and the interesting ones. It was like being in a pick 'n' mix of awesome people and there was always something new about someone new to find out.

Anyway I'm probably embarrassing myself and them by this point. If it's not already clear by now, I think I have a little crush on the extended family I've met here. I wonder if they're looking to adopt? To be honest I'm not looking forward to the crashing withdrawal symptoms when we finally have to leave here.

Scuba Diving

I always considered scuba diving to be a largely inaccessible pastime that required lots of time and money to become involved in. Of course the academic side of me was very interested in going on any course that resulted in a qualification, but aside from knowing people who went to Egypt to dive I was quite ignorant of the whole field.

It was at the airport on the way here that I realised it could actually be more accessible than I thought. A fellow traveller had already done the theory part of his qualification back in the UK and so was looking forward to completing his licence by partaking in some open water dives in Mauritius. This got both my heart racing and brain ticking as I tried to figure out if it was something I could do during my week on the island. The people I was with seemed to think it would be perfectly possible, and combined with how I didn't expect to partake in much tourism here, I made it the thing I just had to do.

We were staying in Flic en Flac, a beach area on the western part of the island. Since it was a little bit of a tourist attraction it wasn't too difficult to find a diving school; we decided to go with Ti Cabo, a smallish and independent place that offered the PADI Open Water Diver course. After explaining our schedule we were told that we would indeed be able to qualify in time. And so my holiday project had begun: I would be diving during the day and wedding partying during the night. Bliss.

The course had two main components: there was the theory, which involved boring things like "reading" and "taking exams" which I really didn't want to... oh, who am I kidding? I enjoyed learning the theory almost as much as the diving, although due to the hectic schedule there was a lot of late night studying. Still, I did get 94% in my exam (of 50 questions) which I managed to make a big deal. Well in my head anyway.

But of course the real fun was in the diving itself. This was again split into two parts - the confined dives (usually in a swimming pool, but in our case in a lagoon), and the open water dives proper. I don't think it's unfair to say that I took to it all quite quickly; for me it was a simple case of listening (or rather watching since you can't talk underwater) to my instructor carefully, and focussing on what he was telling me to do - which was quite simply to breath through your mouth and not panic.

That last bit seems to be the biggest obstacle in learning how to dive, that is overcoming your instinct telling you that you really shouldn't be in that much water at that much depth. Once you've beaten this, it becomes much easier to control your airway. And once you're able to do that, the rest of the learning part is child's play - even being able to take your mask off and on and clearing it, all underwater.

But that's not to say diving as a whole is easy; like everything else this is definitely a discipline that requires practise and experience - hence the recommendation to record all dives in a cute little log book. For my part, I still find tuning my buoyancy quite difficult, and I still have to tread a little to stay at a certain depth. On the other hand it was fun playing with my buoyancy purely with my breathing - in a zen kind of way.

According to PADI there are two reasons someone dives - firstly for the fish and other undersea wildlife and secondly for the feeling of freedom and control you get submerged in water. After gaining my qualification I've decided that I'm mainly in the latter category and it's the self-discipline, freedom and control aspects of diving that I'm really enjoying. That said some of the fish are pretty, I suppose.

Diving is definitely something I hope to enjoy more in the future - "can I dive there?" will now be a staple question I ask when considering a trip - and it's certainly something I recommend everyone giving a try should the chance arise.

Tuesday, June 21

Downtime: From Volcanoes to Waterfronts

Since we had some free time between wedding events and diving school we were taken to Trou aux Cerfs to spend a couple of hours in the afternoon. This is a dormant (as opposed to extinct) volcano overlooking the town of Curepipe, but for all intents and purposes it was a novelty park in which to chill out. In fact after circumventing the crater and playing on the public gym (which pretty much consisted of some pull up bars and a decline bench), we simply sat and just enjoyed the serenity of the place. Thinking back, that's quite ironic considering how, technically, the volcano could have still erupted at any point.

On the way home we stopped by what I can only describe as a house with a shop window in its kitchen to buy some awesome samosas and dhal puri. I mention this here because it's so close to the volcano that it should be a obligatory stop during any visit. Make sure you include it in any plans.

Dinner was back in Le Caudan Waterfront, a cute[1] little development on the Port Louis harbour. We spent some time before our reservation walking around the area - I was surprised how quiet it was but I'm guessing that was mainly due to it being a weekday evening. It was vibrant enough though and I could imagine spending a lot of time hanging out with friends in a place like that... but in the back of my mind I did suddenly appreciate London and the myriad of options it has.

All in all today was a pleasant distraction from all the other things happening during our stay in Mauritius. While planning the trip I had a fear that we wouldn't have much to do after the wedding, but today I realised that Mauritius is less about finding things to do and more about enjoying the relaxed atmosphere and climate. In fact I don't think we would have had much of a problem spending two weeks here at all.

[1] Yes, I know: terribly patronising. But it was.

Monday, June 20

Arifa and Yusuf

I think the first thing you realise about Arfia is how much of a mixed bag she is. She's obviously highly intelligent, being at the top of her game both at work and during her time at ICSS where I met her. Highly organised and professional, she knows how to manage and get things done. On the other hand it must be her simple Mauritian roots that ensure Arifa is a girl who, perhaps, remains amusingly naive and ignorant about certain other practicalities of life. This was no bad thing; in a world where people are confused by all the noise it was actually refreshing to see someone who was able to filter out all the unnecessary complications.

I suspect that it was this same simple outlook of life which always had Arifa take the role of a woman in a situation - despite having an excellent career (something due to her innate smarts more than drive perhaps), she knew exactly what else she wanted in life and furthermore didn't see it as a weakness to to say so. This is demonstrated by the way she takes care of her friends and family, and more recently by the way she's regressed to a schoolgirl during this, her wedding week. It's quite funny actually, but at the same time more evidence at how good she's going to be at being a wife.

Unlike recent weddings with other friends I actually had a chance to spend some time in the company of the other half of this union. We're staying in the same apartments and so had the opportunity to meet Yusuf's close friends and family outside of a wedding hall. Like their future in-laws they are easily able to balance traditionalism with modernity, knowing when to be serious and when to joke; it's a nice and reassuring environment to be in. But the nicest thing I noticed was how much concern Yusuf had for Arifa's well-being this week, even when it came to things like logistics and wedding planning. Clearly a good sign for the future.

But it's seeing them together that gives the biggest indication of how great this match is. Excuse the soppiness, but it's all so cute and so sweet that you can't help but go "aww" every time you see them. There's no awkwardness here, and it's the little things like the in-jokes and whisperings that demonstrate the friendship that underlies the marriage. They're clearly happy and ultimately that's what counts.

Wednesday, June 15

Book: The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets' Nest, Stieg Larsson Click for more info

And once again I am disappointed by a Millennium book.

I think the biggest issue for me with this, the third and final instalment of the trilogy (see here and here for the first two) is the total and utter lack of drama and suspense. Everything is handed to the reader on a plate, and the only people who don't know what's going on are the bad guys. Hardly fair. In the meantime we have a bit of filler and fluff, perhaps offered as compensation for the rest of the non-happenings.

Ironically this god-like ability for the reader to know everything about what was going on made me lose interest in the main characters and it was now the bad guys who were the underdogs, and I found myself becoming desperate for a twist - or even a simple plot development - to get me through to the end of the book.

In many ways my impression of the book is no surprise, seeing as it precisely falls on the same downward gradient the previous two books had set up. Nevertheless with the heavy disappointment I can't really recommend it, unless like me you feel an obsessive need to complete the trilogy.

Monday, June 13

Abstruse Goose Click for more info

I was that guy who didn't understand why people would choose to doss over study, have fun over being responsible and be lazy instead of proactive - why couldn't they see how important it was to build a future? Now I rate them for actually understanding life so well at such an early age, while I fell for all the guidance and advice the adults were telling us.

The really sad thing is that despite knowing this, I'm still that guy.

Sunday, June 12

New Music

Challan Pakhiyan - DJ Sanj feat. Balwinder Safri

Classic DJ Sanj stuff. Which means lots of plastic, but it's all so fun I don't really care too much.

Kerre Velle - Gupz Saund feat. Metz N Trix

Although this track fails on so many levels (mainly during Metz N Trix's bits, some of which don't even rhyme), it does somehow seem to work overall. I don't see it lasting in my playlist though.

Autotag Away

It's no secret that I hate Facebook. And more than Facebook, I hate the incessant need for some people on the social networking site to upload and record their whole lives via photos. It may, then, be quite surprising that I am actually in favour of this whole new auto-tagging feature Facebook has introduced. Let me explain.

Although I dislike what I call the "social networking vomit" most online interaction ends in, I can't really complain about how others choose to represent themselves and their ideas online. It's their decision to be as promiscuous or private, deep or shallow and vain and modest as they like. If I have a problem with them then solution is both easy and in my hands - I can delete, mute or unfollow them and so everyone is happy.

Photos however can sometimes be different since often those of that super special event that the whole world must know you attended will include the image of someone other than they who are uploading the photo. In other words, the vomit is now affecting others.

Manual tagging was usually the only way I and many others would ever find out that a photo of ourselves had been uploaded. More often than not it didn't take more than a polite request to have these pictures removed, although sometimes major offence can be taken for some reason.

But as Facebook becomes more complicated and the rate of content generation grows, the quality of maintenance reduces - so people now forget or omit tagging, sometimes deliberately in order to avoid the complaints of those in the photos.

Autotag solves a lot of these problems - you now allow the computer to figure out who the people in the photos are for you. In fact the way in which this is optional in my mind makes it a little flawed, since becomes a bit of an unknown quantity, a false sense of security.

In terms of privacy, nothing really has changed here. Inconsiderate friends will still trounce on the privacy of their friends in order to play the cyber-peacock. And of course autotagged people will still be able to remove their tags if they want to keep certain photos off the search path. And finally you can't use the system maliciously - the system will only suggest photos of your friends, so you can't use it to identify some hot girl at a wedding. You'll still have to grow a pair to do that I'm afraid.

If Facebook is giving me the chance to be notified of when a friend has decided to unilaterally violate my privacy then I'm all for it really. It's certainly not violating the rights of my friend; and even if they think it is they only have themselves to blame by so easily clicking that upload button in the first place.

Saturday, June 11

Food: Jamie's Italian Click for more info

Jamie's Italian had long been on my list of places to check out. Between the personal recommendations and locality to work it seemed like a no-brainer really; I just never had the chance until today. We went for an earlyish noon pre-party lunch and I was hoping it would fit right into the context of requiring a quick and easy bite to eat.

Although the experience was decent enough, I came away from Jamie's feeling quite disappointed, and that on many levels. I found it to be pricey, the food not special enough (and certainly not "enough" full stop) and the service inconstant (so brilliant at times, lacking during others). On the other hand the vibe and atmosphere was quite attractive - but I go to a restaurant for the food, not just to look at nice decoration.

Ultimately I found Jamie's to be more about style than substance and since there are so many other options in the area offering much more it's quite difficult for me to recommend this place.

Thursday, June 9

Video of the Day Click for more info

Can I be your friend?

Although it's just an advertisement, this three minute video manages to succinctly ask all of those currently submitting their lives to social networking to take a closer look at the acceptability of their actions.

As humorous as the video is, it is also slightly unfair; the online by its very nature has different social norms that don't apply in real life - that's exactly its value. I also have doubts regarding exactly how promiscuous people are in making friends.

But still, it does make a good point and one that needs to be heeded soon. The irony of course is that it'll be posted and socially networked out of existence, but such is the nature of these things.

Found on @SumayyaIsmail's twitter feed here.

Sunday, June 5

Game: Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective (DS) Click for more info

The pedigree of this game alone makes it a must-play. Being from the creators of one of my most favourite game series of the past decade, Phoenix Wright et al, I just knew I'd like it. And while not as slick as those games, it is genius and magical enough to warrant a hearty playthrough.

The premise of the game is a little... well, bizarre. You play a time travelling ghost who has the ability to possess and manipulate inanimate objects. What this essentially boils down to is a reverse mouse trap game, where the player gets an unlimited amount of tries to upset or dictate the course of events occurring in a set piece - usually to prevent the killing of another character. Although very clever, almost by definition this results in the game being more about trial and error than skill; not that it ever gets too frustrating since it's all a little too easy. There are other gameplay aspects too, including a bit of sleuthing and dialogue, but they make up a small proportion of game best described as filler.

The other striking thing about Ghost Trick are the graphics. Amazingly enough no motion capture was used - instead models manually puppeteered in 3D were rendered to 2D. The effect is pretty amazing too with smoother than smooth animation bringing the characters to life (possibly at the expense of some serious CPU grunt).

And then we have the excellent and engaging story, the lovably quirky characters and drama that we've become accustomed to with the Attorney games. Recommended.

New Music

Who's That Chick? Feat. Rihanna - David Guetta

Look, this is different okay? Yes, it's electronic, but I like to think that's balanced with Rihanna. And even that justification makes me feel inane.

Main Nee Peenda - Garry Sandhu

A bit long in the tooth, but fresh enough all the same. The track is as manufactured and identikit as it gets, but then anyone who expects anything different from bhangra is missing the point.

Bhaag D.K. Bose, Aandhi Aayi - Delhi Belly OST

Nothing like a bit of rock on a Bollywood OST. This is a little different in being a little more original than the last Atif track. I can see this becoming a little bit of an anthem. Maybe.

Nakkaddwaley Disco, Udhaarwaley Khisko - Delhi Belly

The whole premise of this song makes me laugh. For that reason it probably won't be in my playlist for too long, but in the meantime I will be whining along with it.

Character Dheela - Ready OST

A certain level of cheekiness and easy-listening makes this inevitable for my playlist. Even though it has he-who-shall-not-be-named headlining it.

Saturday, June 4

Afifa and Faisal

If we go by Wikipedia's definition, Afifa was pretty much as metaphorically the girl next door as she was literally for my family and me. But apart from fulfilling the cultural image that is imposed on brown girls, she also managed to accomplish everything else too.

So, yes: smarts, wisdom and personality are all in check with Afifa, and when I say she's clever I don't just mean academically - she is one of the few people (guy or girl) who has the ability to stop me dead in my tracks during a debate. I think it's fair to say that she isn't ugly either. In fact, she's ample proof that Spammy's Second is actually a load of tosh.

But it's really her more "everyday" qualities which I find to be the most impressive: her patience, humour and how easy going and welcoming she is. It wasn't long after we first spoke that I was permitted to infiltrate her family and friends, all of whom are equally as ace as she is.

I can't say I know much about Faisal per se but since it usually follows that awesomeness only finds company in awesomeness, I have no doubt that he is in fact awesome. And although his brother's speech tonight was hilarious it was also indicative how solid the values Faisal hold are. And then of course that he gave up his top end sports car for something a little more... domestic post-nuptials is the ultimate sign of love and sacrifice for a woman and something that makes him better than most men ever will be.