My one-day stop in the east-African island nation of Mauritius proved far more exciting than expected.
In the capital city of Port Louis, Mauritius, students were only allowed to leave the ship if they signed up for a field class or a field program chaperoned by lifelong learners and professors. I opted for a class because Semester at Sea paid for it as long as it counted for my global studies credit. I jumped at the chance for a free trip.
For my field class, I attended Sustainability Meets Luxury Island Tourism. This program aimed to teach about sustainable hotels, destination marketing, and the ways that the tourism industry can reduce effects on the environment while still promoting worldwide visitation to distant destinations like Mauritius. We bused to the nearby University of Mauritius, taking in the sights of the gorgeous, green mountains rising up around crystal blue water. There wasn’t a single unsightly view.
During a one-hour lecture at UOM, the professor discussed how destination marketing is the biggest challenge in Mauritius because, since it is such a small island nation, it is not widely known throughout the world. Nearly all the US students in the lecture admitted that they had never heard of the country before embarking on Semester at Sea, including myself. She said that this is an issue they overcome by standing out in their sustainable efforts so that eco-tourists feel they can contribute to sustainability by visiting a country that supports the environment.
Vassen Kauppaymuthoo, a native Mauritian oceanographer and SAS inter-port lecturer, discussed on the ship the deteriorating coastlines in Mauritius. When I asked the professor at UOM about this problem and what she thinks can be done to overcome it, she said that Mauritius has never shut down beaches for natural repair, but that if the issue worsens, the country will not hesitate to do so for the sake of the beaches. She also said that they are working to plant more mangroves along the coastlines to slow down the coastal erosion since their dense tree roots strengthen the beachfront.
While the UOM lecture was a great educational experience, the following hotel tours and discussions seemed much more like promotional events than sustainable learning opportunities. That surprised me because the description of the program indicated that we would be learning from these hotels about how they run their businesses sustainably, yet the moment we walked into each, we were given fruity drinks in plastic cups with plastic straws. My initial impression of both hotels was off-putting.
After the tours, I spent the remainder of my day on the beach at one of the resorts. While I had been living on the ocean for three months, this was the first time I had actually gotten in the water. I was in heaven.
Semester at Sea prohibits students from drinking alcohol on any field classes or programs as they do not want to be held responsible for any of the stupid things students do under the influence. One single day without alcohol doesn’t seem like the hardest thing to resist, but apparently these students couldn’t go without it.
As I walked past the resort bar, I saw about twenty students slamming shots and sipping cocktails, slinking back into the shadows to avoid the eyes of my trip liaisons. I even saw one girl stumble into the ocean with a half-empty bottle of rum.
As we left the beach around sunset to return to the ship, I noticed how some of my classmates were running around and screaming like idiots on the grounds of this beautiful, peaceful resort, completely obliterated. My friends and I were filled with second-hand embarrassment.
We all got back on the buses, and though there were no issues on my shuttle, another bus was not so lucky. The girl I had seen in the ocean had thrown up all over the windows, spraying chunks on nearby students, one of which was my good friend. To the horror of the tour guide, professors, and bus driver, they pulled over and held back her hair as she heaved on the side of the road for 30 minutes.
When their bus arrived back to the port, the girl was escorted onto the ship by very upset resident directors, too wasted to feel humiliation in front of the long line of students waiting to go back through immigration. I did not witness this sight myself, but I heard it was an absolute mess.
After the drinking fiasco, the dean of student life decided to indefinitely ban beverage nights on the ship, designated evenings where we could have up to two beers or glasses of wine with dinner. This small privilege was taken away because of the few idiots who couldn’t go one day without alcohol. Many people were caught drinking on other programs, and they had to go through multiple meetings and counseling sessions before getting off the hook.
Although I think SAS may have overreacted with the all-encompassing repercussions enforced after Mauritius, I understand the shame of being associated with such a disastrous group. I have certainly made my own alcohol-related mistakes, but this was such a blatant failure to follow simple guidelines, and SAS may never be able to return to Mauritius as a consequence of those students’ actions.
I hope to see Mauritius again because only one day was nowhere near enough time to appreciate and explore its beauty. The events that occurred during my field class were irritating, but I still enjoyed my brief stay, and I was thoroughly entertained by the drama to say the least. Hopefully these events do not serve as a premonition for the lunacy that will occur in South Africa, but stay tuned for that next week!