Sunday, December 28, 2014

Nightmare in #Mauritius: the dark side of Casela Nature Park #tourist #attraction #avoid #placetovisit

Hey, ye all!

You guys know me as that girl who's always talking about her beautiful island - heck, I even use Mauritius as the setting for a good many of my novels. Yes, I do wax lyrical about my motherland...but I haven't got my head up my you-know-what so I don't recognise when there's awful stuff going on to tarnish that good image my country upholds.

Case in point - Casela Nature and Leisure Park, touted as one of the must-see attractions on the island, both for locals and tourists. And, to me, an example of the worst kind of service and an utter lack of consideration and hospitality ever!

Quick recap - Casela has existed since way before my birth (my parents have pics of my brother with awful 70s hair taken there, so I know it exists since then), and it was primarily a bird park. Parakeets, other exotic birds - you could see them all on a trek that took you from the entrance to the exit. Along the way, you'd also see beautiful ponds with swans and other such birds, and yeah, there were tigers in a big cage somewhere along that line up.
Fast-forward to the 2000s, and the park has diversified into providing leisure and other such activities (check their site if you wanna know more...and glimpse their hefty rates, too, btw!). So, anywho, they've diversified, and I suppose that means they're making a ton of money.

Kids go on school's summer break between November and early January here, so of course, a stop during vacation trips is Casela. And lo and behold - they'd brought in giraffes and antelopes, among other animals, from Africa, and their quarantine time would be lifted in early December.
We'd been planning an outing there since November - checked the prices and all, and it appeared adults (locals) paid abour Rs225 for entrance and the priviledge to walk the grounds and the aviary, and kids under 12 paid $95, I think. If you wanted to, say, go on the safari, you'd pay an additional $135 each, for a safari that needed to be booked in advance because there was one at 9.30am, one at 11.30am, and one at 1.30pm.
Which all sounds fine.
Then I check the site yesterday morning, and the prices are now Rs350 per adult (locals) and Rs 175 for kids under 12 (Double both up for non-residents aka tourists). Why the sudden increase in the prices? Well, guess what - the safari is now included in the price, for everyone! Yay, right? There's a toboggan slide in there, too, for kids, as well as access to the petting farm. All fine and dandy, right?

So there we go yesterday afternoon. First thing that should've ticked us off - the parking! Overflowing, and there's no one to direct you anywhere. It's free for all and it looks like a bumper cars ground on there! Finally find a space, and walk up to the entrance.
Enter the sweltering hall where you buy your tickets. We were directed to the left booths, though the right also seemed to have booths and were empty, but hey, we're not gonna get picky, innit? So we wait in line.
Our turn at the booth. Last month, back in November when we'd been planning this trip, one of the local discount sites presented a coupon discount for Casela park - present the coupon (that you have to download and print, coz they wouldn't take mobile versions) and you earn 20% off an adult's fee. I printed 3 - hubby, me, and the teen. Kiddo is still under 12 so pays kids' rate. What's the harm, right? It's a legitimate coupon that the park itself offered on that site. (With the savings, we could get a full meal for all of us at McDonald's! Who wants to spit on such savings, eh?) We give the coupons, and heck, the guy there doesn't recognise them...and doesn't know what promo it's even for! They don't even have the promo listed, despite they themselves putting it up till Dec 31, 2014. We tell him to forget the coupons and make us pay full rate, but he says he can pass it onto another promo that has the same code to allow 20% discount.
And all this time, there seems to be no air-con in this dark, cavernous space, and we're feeling the ambient heat while he deliberates with his colleague and appears to get lost in his own booking system!

Finally get our tickets, and the guy tells us it's better for us to go do the safari first so we can then take in the rest of the park. He says a bus will take us on the safari.
Fine by us - we get in after scanning our tickets...and we're lost! My husband sees a sort of bus at the far left of the enormous hall, and we head there. Turns out it's for the mountain trip and not the safari, which is at the very opposite end. Directions, maps, guidelines, guides, anyone??? Trek there, and we're told the safari bus comes every 15 mins, and we're to wait for the next one.

The actual safari bus...that we didn't even see!
But the shuttle is pretty much the same size
25 mins later, we're still standing (yes, there's nowhere to sit! A German lady tourist had the brilliant idea of turning one of the big rocks in the driveway as a makeshift seat, and I don't blame her).
Bus finally comes - it seems to seat 50 people, 60 at best. No order or anyone to guide people on - a family of French tourists who come from Reunion Island jostle us to get on the bus first, despite us and the German family being the first 2 in line; they'd come way after us. Still, we do get seated, and the bus takes off. Yay, we're going on a safari, right? The guide's tiny voice gets lost under the rumble of the engine (no device, nothing, not even a megaphone, to make her voice carry through! Wonderful guide bus, innit?), and you're so being jostled along the pot-holed, muddy road that it's hard to make out what she says. Seems there are 2 stops on the way to the safari - you can stop and get down at the petting farm, and then at the Big Cats part of the park.

We stop at these places...and there's like hundreds of people waiting for the bus there. Didn't really figure out what was going on... I mean, a bus must be coming to pick them up, right? Maybe there was a lot of people as it was the weekend and the holidays. Some people get down at the big cats, and a few get on the bus...standing!
We get trundled along to the safari now. So far, so good; we're looking forward to it.

Safari Land (or whatever they call it! There's a tribal-type door with a rhino carved in there and we go through.) And then, the bus stops! Terminus - everyone has to get down now!

Wait a second! What about the safari?

Oh, it just turns out...that this bus just drops you where the safari is to take place. You have to walk about half a mile from this drop point to the spot where the actual safari bus will take you on the safari where you can see ostrichs and zebras in the 'wild'.
I ask the guide girl where we have to go...and she's like, 'Honey, there are indications over there,' and unspoken is like, don't make me waste my time when you can go look for the direction trees somewhere over there!
Hello missy, aren't you helpful!

Oh, and did I mention that, when we were getting down from the bus, a swarm of zombie-like people had crowded around the bus' entrance so they could get on the bus first before everyone else? Guess they'd been waiting ages, too, to even spot a bus!

So fine, we're gonna do the safari - we paid for it, right? If you go to the left, you can go see the giraffes (we'd also come to see them! I mean, how often do you see giraffes in Mauritius?) and to the right, a half-mile trek at least, you go to the safari pickup point.

We get there...and there must be 150 people waiting for the next bus!!! Hold on one second - how much more waiting will we have to do? Nobody even told us we had to swap buses and go here and go there and wait and fend for ourselves with no help or indication! This place gets trophy of the year for being the least helpful and intuitive ever!!!
How are we even sure we'll get a place on a bus? There's no control, no one to help, to direct the crowd, to even answer your questions! It's like you're dumped in there and go fend for yourself because this is really the wild, baby!
Ah, and I spot that Reunion-French family stalking in and going to the front of the line again...despite there being 100+ people who've been there for a while, waiting their turn, among them old people and families with little babies.
15 mins? No way is that safari bus coming down so soon, and do you hope to get a place in unless you're knocking everyone else in the chin with your elbows so you can get to the front of the line? No way, no! Be prepared, maybe, to spend the rest of your day waiting to even get one spot on that bus. If you're a family of, say, four, watch your chances dwindle down to a big fat Zero!

So we've come all the way...and we have no hope of doing the safari! Just in November, you paid extra and BOOKED your place on one of those buses! First come first served, because there were just 3 safaris in a day. But hey, the park is a commercial venture, right, so why not try to make more money by fleecing everyone and tempting them with the safari in the price...and then we have no way of giving any effing sort of service!

Can't find the actual pic, but this is what
the deck is supposed to be like.
Still not done with the woes, though. Remember - there are giraffes! Supposedly, an observation deck has been built and the giraffes are rambling about, and the most adventurous ones will even come check out the humans on the deck.
That's how it sounds...and the reality? Here it is - you get on the deck...and there's no sighting of a giraffe anywhere! You have to walk down another half mile (yes, lots of walking for nothing here! Even the scenery is shitty!) and there's a barrier; you stay behind that. Fine...and the giraffes are there...if you can even see them where they are closed off behind fencing...some 400-500 yards from where you are!!! Trust me - I've seen a giraffe better and with much more detail when I watched any Madagascar movie! This is supposed to be the giraffe viewing??? We paid for this???
And the antelopes! Didn't see any anywhere!!! Like they didn't exist at all!

Take another detour by the safari upload point (yes, if you're keeping count, we've walked 1 more mile to do this, to and fro)...and now, there are 200 people waiting for the same bus! O. M. G! Strike the safari out, right away! We'll never make it before the park closes (and before we've all lost what remains of our sanity! By this time, the boys are sulking and trudging their feet and the husband is cursing a blue streak! I'm praying he doesn't get a heart attack right there from all that anger!)

Okay, let's at least try to do something... How about we take the next bus - and we have to call it what is is - a damn shuttle bus and not an effing safari bus!!! - and stop by the Big Cats' section as this will close at 4pm and it's about 3pm now?
So we take the next shuttle that comes in to dump its unsuspecting people in (heard a lot of Mauritians and even tourists asking, 'wait, wasn't this supposed to be the safari bus'? So it wasn't just us, thank God!) No, wait - we take the second shuttle coz the Reunion-French people have elbowed their way in first again! And since there were people already waiting beforehand, we waited out turn.

Dropping down at the Big Cats' section. Swarm of people waiting for the shuttle, again...and another half-mile trek to get to the animals. Actually able to see the animals here - the cubs playing with the guards, the lions prancing around (and the two male lions getting frisky together...Cripes! Gay lions? Uhm, what is this place?) The cheetahs can be seen from the observation deck - we do get to see a cheetah like live, less than a yard from us! Hallelujah!
And what about the tigers? I remember my first trip to Casela some 25 years ago, when you saw the tigers in their cage and you got like 3-4 yards from them. Yesterday? The tiger was waaaaay off there in the distance - 500 yards, easily. It's only when it roared that we figured out there was a tiger, and we managed to spot it because we were up on the observation deck.

Back to the shuttle point...and a wait of 30+mins to get a bus that had space for a few people. How the hell can you have a trek route with stops for people...and no bloody shuttle/bus to pick up the people? And there's no place to sit, at least, no anywhere close to where the shuttle stops. If you want to sit, then waive away the fact that you'll ever need to get onto a shuttle to get back to the entrance or wherever else! Remember, there are old people, children, and families with babies all along here!

You might ask - why didn't you walk? Fine...1 mile between each stops, on dirt roads rendered into veritable mud pits thanks to the recent rains, and set in so much bush-type foliage that you run the risk of being run down by a shuttle bus coming round the bend? No - you are TOTALLY at the shuttle's mercy!

Miracle of all miracles, we do get a shuttle that has space for 4 people, and we go back to the entrance. By this time, we've been so jostled (okay, fine - it's dirt roads and in a bus that seems to have no shock absorbers!) and so disappointed and annoyed and peeved and at the end of our patience's tether that the only thing we want is to leave this place, once and for all.

Looking for the exit? You won't find it...because it is located at the other end of the cluttery gift shop! We had to have a very nice Chinese young lady working as a guide there to point it out to us.

On the way out, on the bus back, waiting for the shuttles - all we heard was people grumbling about the shitty service, total lack of informations/directions, and the atrocious wait times and no organization whatsoever in that park! Yes, we didn't get the hefty packages that take us on quads and segways, etc - these might be tip-top perfect experiences because you are shelling out a looooot of money to do these, but the regular stuff for the regular people? Forget it!

Want the perfect way to bring up your blood pressure, suffer from dehydration in the sweltering heat (everything is obviously way over-priced at the 'only' shops on the park), pay money to go see exotic animals and then see next to nothing, spend your whole day waiting for your turn (when there aren't unscrupulous people elbowing their way in - and trust me, we'll never be rid of those!!!) in a setup that boasts a total lack of organization and which seems to just be rapid at work only when they have to cash in your entrance fee payment? Then head to Casela Nature World!

Rant over - but please, take all this into consideration if you're ever going there! Don't say I didn't warn you!

From Mauritius with love,



Unknown said...

Oh my goodness, Zee! How horrific! It sounds like a total waste of precious money. I know if my husband had gone through this, he would have been screaming at everyone who worked there and would have written a long stinking letter to management, lol! Really, it's atrocious. And I thought our little bird park here was a let down when I took my parents in November because the ducks looked unhealthy and dirty, and we found a dead one in one of the pens! Nothing on your experience!

Chicki Brown said...

That sounds like one miserable day! Well, at least you got it out of your system. :)

Zee Monodee said...

It was a total nightmare and one heck of a rip-off, Vicki! Your hubby sounds like mine, lol. Lord knows how I managed to keep him calm enough to not wanna sock someone one!

Zee Monodee said...

Chicki, I really needed to let this out, and also to let the rest of the world know what a nightmare that place turned out to be! I'm really appalled because they boast themselves as 'the' destination in Mauritius, yet this is the kind of service they provide to Mauritians and tourists alike. Real shame on them for tarnishing our image this way