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The image of Mauritius that tourist brochures like to portray usually features the crystal-clear turquoise waters of the Indian Ocean lapping beaches of perfect white sand. A very different scene played out yesterday in Belfast, where a plane landed carrying the body of Michaela McAreavey.
The young teacher had been strangled on her honeymoon at the luxury Legends hotel; her body had been found by her husband. Three men have been charged in connection with her killing — she apparently disturbed thieves in her room — and the crime dented the island's idyllic image. But it was not an isolated incident, and as someone who lived and worked there for more than three years, I have to say that it was not a surprise.
During my time on the island, I saw a steady increase of violent crime. For an island usually described as paradise there is a lot wrong with Mauritius. Problems of alcohol, drugs and poverty have all contributed to the country's ills. Tourists visiting the island will mostly never see the real Mauritius. Many will stay in one of the island's 40 or more luxury hotels and never leave the hotel's grounds, preferring to just laze on the beach, swim in the ocean, play golf, enjoy the numerous watersports on offer, or just relax in the spa.
Those staying at the island's cheaper hotels are also unlikely to stray far from the beach and so will never see the intense poverty that afflicts most of Mauritius.
Tourism may have brought much-needed foreign currency, but it has contribution to development has been patchy. When I first visited the island in it took almost four hours to drive the 40 miles from the north of the island to the south because the roads were so bad. There was a solitary fast food restaurant on the island, a Pizza Hut in the capital Port Louis.