When the plane began its descent into the small volcanic island of Rodrigues the first time I visited, I was convinced that something was wrong. Down below, the Indian Ocean stretched unbroken to the impossibly far horizon. There was no sign of land, let alone a runway large enough to safely put down a 737 aeroplane. Where did the pilot imagine we would land?
I looked around the cabin. No-one was panicking. The locals slept through it, or unconcernedly bounced children on their laps. There was no announcement from the captain, other than to politely ask passengers to fasten their seatbelts and the cabin crew to ready the cabin for landing. Breathe. It was 10, perhaps 15 long minutes before something, anything, interrupted the monotony down below: an arc of white waves, kilometres long, broke not upon land but upon the ocean itself. Then, finally, Rodrigues, and its sleepy little airport at the western end of the island, came into view.
Nothing can prepare you for the first time you arrive in Rodrigues. Marooned 600km north-east of Mauritius, to whom it belongs, and close to no other landform, Rodrigues is a world unto itself. It is also one of the world’s most remote inhabited islands.
When seen from above on the western approach, Rodrigues is a strange and beautiful place of tightening, then widening, concentric circles of ocean, lagoon and land. The waves mark Rodrigues’ outer limits, encircling a lagoon of near-perfect aquamarine. In turn, the lagoon encircles the main island, a long spine of green fringed with beaches and shadowed by smaller islands. The island rises to its eastern summit before sinking back into the lagoon. Then the waves once again announce the resumption of the eternal horizon.