Monday 18 December 2017

Room 1025 ... the room number that doesn’t exist anymore

THERE is no Room 1025 at the hotel any more.

The bricks and mortar of the four walls still stand, but the number has changed.

The bath where Michaela McAreavey was found dead is no longer inside; the bed she shared with her husband John for two nights has also been replaced.

Even the hotel has a new name - Lux.

But memories of the day the Co Tyrone honeymooner was murdered inside the luxury gated resort are harder to erase.

The complex is located in the far north of Mauritius, more than an hour and a half's drive from the international airport in the south-west corner.

The route cuts through large swathes of sugar cane plantations, the tall crops moving in unison in the wind like rolling oceans.

On the verges, fruit sellers sit by abundantly stocked stalls, while vendors with more permanent businesses stand outside their shop fronts - each more colourfully painted than the last.

Sparsely grassed football pitches are a common sight. Competing teams are overloaded with eager young Mauritians, most sporting the familiar strips of English Premier League sides.

John and Michaela McAreavey made the trip on Saturday January 8 2011 - two days before the murder.

The security guard on duty at the imposing wooden front gate would have waved them on through to the arrow-straight, palm tree-lined driveway that leads to the main car park.

On the left side is a small golf course - where Mr McAreavey took a lesson on the morning of the fateful day.

Koi carp swim around an ornamental pond at the front entrance. Close by, fresh flowers float in huge terracotta pots full of water.

The distant thwack of racquet and ball can just be made out over the flowing water features as holidaying couples take in a bit of exercise on the tennis courts.

The ancient feng shui theory of creating positive energy in design features is clearly an influence.

Yin and yang symbols are engraved on glass doors and windows throughout the complex.

The reception area is still monitored by the security camera that became such a key issue during the trial.

On the Sunday of their stay, the McAreaveys attended a briefing on what activities they could indulge in on their planned seven-day stay.

The white sand beach that greets visitors emerging from the wooden-beamed high ceilings of the reception is the base for many of them.

A high-powered speed boat bobs in the shallow turquoise waters of the circular inlet, while the occasional gust catches the sails of the catamarans pulled up on shore ready for use.

Among them is a microlight sea plane that would not look out of place in an old James Bond movie.

Guests in the sheltered bay laugh and joke as they narrowly avoid colliding with each other in cycle pedalos.

Those wanting to take things a bit easier lie on sun loungers beneath the shade of thatched grass parasols or in the large hammocks designed for two.

Looking down on the waterfront is an open-air half-moon-shaped restaurant, its tiled wall and table mosaics depict fish, hinting at the local specialities on offer.

This is not where the McAreaveys enjoyed lunch together shortly before she died.

The Banyon restaurant is at the other end of the complex, almost in a mini resort of its own.

The walk between the two weaves through numerous two-storey accommodation blocks.

The last one before the Banyon is a deluxe building - where the room once numbered 1025 is housed.

It is about 100 to 150 metres from the poolside cafe where John and Michaela lunched on chicken curry - a one to two-minute walk at most.

Jurors retraced that journey when they spent a morning at the hotel during the trial to gain a sense of the locations discussed in court.

Mauritius is a volcanic island and the stack of huge black boulders blocking the eyeline from the rooms to the pool look like they have come straight from the centre of the Earth.

The Banyon is more like a picnic area than a restaurant.

It is tucked away among twisted tree trunks, whose hanging branches and vines provide cover from the sun.

The rustic wooden tables and stools sit in a bed of fine gravel only yards from the figure-eight pool where the honeymooners swam for an hour before a waiter brought them menus.

Beyond the pool the ground falls away to another beach, smaller and noticeably quieter than the main waterfront.

The sliding double doors of Room 1025 were a stone's throw from the water's edge.

A long way out to sea a constant wave breaks over a reef. Further on still an odd-shaped rock rises out of the water like a huge whale taking in air.

The view is idyllic and it was one of the last the McAreaveys shared together before Michaela left to walk back to Room 1025 to get a dark chocolate Kit Kat to enjoy with her tea.

She would never return.

Legends may have been re-christened but one name in this area of Mauritius has endured for much longer.

It is attached to the seafarers' landmark just round the coast from the complex.

Cap Malheureux.

The translation is poignant - Cape of Misfortune.

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