After lockdown, everyone said they wanted to take a long walk. I took that to an extreme, walking around the entire island of Mauritius with a Fujifilm camera in my hand.
Although I am originally from the UK, I have based myself on the Indian Ocean island of Mauritius for the past 12 years. Known by sunseekers the world over as a tropical paradise, most visitors are drawn to picture-perfect beaches and crystal clear water. But, as anyone willing to escape the shade of the palm trees will discover, the island has so much more to offer. And yet, I am ashamed to admit that I had only really explored a small portion of it until recently.
As a travel and documentary photographer, my camera has taken me all over the world. So much so, I always seemed to be heading to some far-off destination instead of discovering the wonders of my own backyard. But, with so many travel restrictions still in place as a result of the pandemic, it seemed a perfect time to explore the local area and see what I could find. And so, during our most recent lockdown, I hatched a plan to explore the island by foot, spending a month walking the 320km coastal road that circles the island, documenting what I discovered with my Fujifilm X-Pro3.
I’m not sure exactly what I expected as I arrived at the public beach in Grand Baie on the northern tip of the island to begin my walk, but it certainly wasn’t the crowd of well-wishers who had gathered to see me off. It seems something about the walk had captured the public mood and even a few local journalists turned up to ask about the journey ahead.
My original plan was to arrive at the start point, speak to a few people and be on my way by 11am. In reality, it was well after 1:30pm before I finished the press interviews, meaning my carefully planned schedule had already been thrown out of the window before I had even taken my first step. It was fabulous to see so much interest in my walk, but I was a little concerned about how much walking I had ahead to reach my planned endpoint for the day. It was only 12km away and the sunset was still four hours off, but I wanted to be sure I had the time to capture the stories of some of the people I met along the way. That was the purpose of my journey, after all.
I needn’t have been concerned, of course. The people of Mauritius have a well-deserved reputation for being incredibly approachable. Within a couple of kilometres, I was already chatting with the first of the many people I would meet as I took the first steps of my long journey around the island. My walk was finally underway after months of lockdown and restrictions, and all I could think about was the adventures that still lay ahead.
When undertaking an endeavour such as a month-long expedition on foot, weight is everything. I knew I wouldn’t be able to carry the complete assignment kit I usually take on adventures around the world. After much deliberation, I settled on the Fujifilm X-Pro3 paired with the XF16-55mmF2.8 lens. The temptation to throw the XF56mmF1.2 in my camera bag — with its incredible sharpness and creamy bokeh — was almost too much to resist. But I decided that a one-and-done setup was the way to go.
Within just a few days, it was clear I had made the right decision; the 16-55mm performed spectacularly. I must admit, I was quite a late convert to this red-badge wonder. For the longest time, I used only prime lenses for my assignments. Although I had tried most of the zoom offerings, none of them quite hit the mark for me. So, it was a couple of years after its initial launch that I finally tested the XF16-55mmF2.8 and was immediately hooked. Since then, it has become a staple of my camera bag. Light enough to carry around all day, this setup offered versatility and image quality on the long, often dusty paths I followed around the island.
Within a few days, I began to feel a sense of rhythm to my journey. My legs weren’t as sore as they had been after the first day, and I had even found a way of carrying my camera bag without the straps rubbing and bruising my shoulders. Of course, these were the realities of walking half a marathon every day, which hadn’t even occurred to me when I first came up with the idea, so I was pleased when the initial weariness of the first few days finally eased.
As I made my way slowly around the island, one of the most common questions people asked me was “Why walk? Why not drive or cycle around the island?” The reason is straightforward: walking allowed me to meet the people I would never encounter if I weren’t travelling slow enough to stop and say hello to the people I pass – people like Nani Doharoo, who I came across living on a quiet rural backstreet in Albion, on the island’s west coast. Sitting peacefully in her garden, watching the world go by, she gave me a look of bemusement as I emerged from the sugar cane near her house, laughing when I told her I had chosen to inflict the discomfort of walking day after day. She was an incredible lady I would never have met if I wasn’t exploring Mauritius on foot.
Apart from enjoying the fresh air of the outdoors, after so much time stuck inside during lockdown, one of my main objectives when I first set out to walk the coastline of Mauritius was to connect with the journey in a very direct way, on foot. So many of my assignments require to travel on planes, trains or cars. All of these feel somehow disconnected from the voyage, as though the travelling is happening to you rather than by you. By walking every step of the way, I was able to feel an authentic connection to the journey.
Perhaps nowhere did I experience this more than hiking the undeveloped south coast of the island. Kilometre after kilometre, I slowly made my way along the overgrown clifftop paths, which ran the length of the coastline, the sound of the wind rushing through the wild grasses and waves crashing violently against the rocks below. It was a side of Mauritius so rarely experienced, yet incredibly beautiful. I found myself wondering whether my photographs could ever capture the experience of being there in person. Slowly, as the landscape flattened out and the cliffs made way for sandy beaches, I experienced another sight I would never have encountered if I wasn’t travelling on foot: a herd of cows bathing in the sea. Once a common occurrence in Mauritius, the practice of herding cows to the ocean to escape the heat of the blazing sun has all but disappeared except in the really rural areas. “I’ve been bringing my cattle to bathe here for years”, the cattle herder told me, explaining that the cows “love swimming in the sea, especially in summertime.” The surreal nature of the moment wasn’t lost on me. Standing face-to-face with a sea bathing cow was not something I had expected. Then again, I learned only to expect the unexpected on my journey around the island.
And so it was that I spent nearly a month following the coastal road around the island of Mauritius. As I made my way back into Grand Baie to complete my walk, I tried to take stock of what the experience of walking a total of 318km around the island had taught me. Most of all, I think I learned to appreciate all the little moments in time. Our modern lives have become so fast-paced, it is almost like our time is no longer our own. But by choosing to walk, I deliberately slow everything down. Mine was a journey without a destination; it ended where it first began. Instead, the journey itself was the purpose, and slowing down was my reward. Throughout my walk, I captured more than 15,000 photographs with my X-Pro3 and XF16-55mmF2.8, and many of my favourites were shots I would never have been able to capture if I were travelling any other way than by foot.
My walk is over, but I would encourage everyone to undertake their own walk. No matter if it is a long walk like mine or a stroll through the park, if this pandemic has taught us anything, it is that we all deserve to slow down. So why not grab your Fujifilm and explore locally? You never know what you might find.