The Secret Beach of Alan the Elephant Seal

An elephant seal? In Reunion? Yes! Keep listening…

People say that Mauritius has better beaches than Reunion. Well, that depends on what you want. If you want private, pristine, white sand beaches with 5 star hotels, then maybe Mauritius is for you. However, sunbathing is not my cup of tea, as I prefer the wild empty beaches of the south of Reunion. Crashing waves, black volcanic sand and lushvegetation. And not a tourist in sight.

I thought I knew all the beaches on Reunion. I was wrong. This year I was taken to a fantastic beach that I never even knew existed. Thanks to Niko Barniche, one of the island’s few bilingual tour guides, we took a small road on the right signposted ‘Capitainerie’, just as we approached the ‘Route des Laves’ coming up from St Philippe. A couple of kilometres away, the walk starts, with a short climb down to a truly stunning spot. It was actually formed after the volcanic eruption of 2007, which you can still see spilling out to sea.

No people. No litter. No tourists. Well, that last point is not totally true, because this beach, La Plage du Tremblet, is famous for one tourist in particular. An elephant seal. Called Alan. It’s true! For several years now, Alan the elephant seal has chosen this beach as his favourite spot to relax, catch some rays, and chill out. He originally wanted to take up residence at Cap Méchant, but was too annoyed at the crazy woman there telling him he was Satan and that he was going to hell. A wise move…

Seriously, this beach is one of Reunion’s sweetest secrets, and if you ever go down south, make sure you stop off and admire the natural beauty of L a Plage du Tremblet. And if you see Alan, please say hi from me.

Vocabulary

elephant seal – éléphant de mer
pristine – en parfait état
to sunbathe – se bronzer
wild – sauvage
lush – luxuriant

signposted – indiqué
stunning – époustouflant
to spill out – déverser
litter – déchets
catch some rays – se bronzer

to chill out – se détendre
annoyed – enervé
hell – enfer
a wise move – un bon choix

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Mermaid School

My favourite thing to do in the world is to act. Acting has been my passion ever since I can remember and I even studied theatre arts in college. I didn’t know any actors or theatres in Reunion, so as soon as I heard there was an audition for an indie film called Sirana, I knew I just had to go. At least, you know, to meet, I don’t know, people involved with film and theatre on the island.

I ended up getting the role for the mermaid Sirana. I was thrilled but also kind of nervous because I knew I would have to do some really complicated things in the water. I am a certified scuba diver but for this role I would be diving without a mask, without air, without fins, and wearing a dress that weighed 20 pounds when wet (9 kgs). Kind of a challenge!

So I called Stefaan Dewulf from Wulfy Diving. He’s a professional scuba diver and a good friend. I told him what I was doing and asked for some tips on freediving. He said it would be even better if we could meet up in person because telling someone and showing them how to freedive are two very different things. So that how I started my training as a mermaid.

It helped a lot that I dive regularly with Wulfy so I know that he’s very knowledgeable. When it comes to the ocean honestly, Wulfy is someone you know you can trust. He’s the only person who made me feel at ease when I first arrived in Reunion about going in the ocean despite all the stories about sharks.

So Wulfy and I met as often as possible for my mermaid training at Cap La Houssaye. He lent me a mono-fin to practice with – a mono-fin is like a giant fin for both your feet, and it just kind of looks like a mermaid tail. And we did lots of exercises for breath control so I could hold my breath longer and longer under the water.

It was really an incredible experience because we were practicing alongside giant schools of sardines, a friendly turtle, and, you know, fish of every colour. I really loved going to Mermaid school – it introduced me to the world of freediving and I’m even planning on continuing to learn more about this beautiful and challenging sport.

Vocabulary

to act – jouer (la comédie)
college – la fac
at least – au moins
mermaid – sirène
thrilled – ravi

fins – palmes
dress – robe
to weigh – peser
wet – mouillé
tips – astuces

freediving – plongée en apnée
training – formation
knowledgeable – bien informé
despite – malgré
sharks – requins

to lend – preter
tail – queue
turtle – tortue

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A Tunnel to Mafate?

Can you imagine driving your car up to the hills of St Paul, and then into a mysterious tunnel? A tunnel cutting deep into the mountain, running in a straight line for 8 kilometres and going all the way into Mafate?

You can’t? Well, this might surprise some people, but this tunnel actually exists! As part of Reunion’s water transfer project, the objective was to transfer water from the rainy east coast of Reunion to the dry and arid west coast, mainly to help agriculture. So, back in 1989, work started to dig three massive tunnels through the volcanic rock, at a total cost of more than one billion euros.

One tunnel runs from Salazie to La Riviere des Pluies, a second into Mafate and the third goes from the dam in La Riviere des Galets to Bois-de-Nefles St Paul. The next time you visit Mafate, and you see the face of Bob Marley graffiti’d onto the wall, that is where the tunnel opens.

As one of the lucky people who have visited, I can say it really was a magical experience. The gates opened, and the tunnel was just big enough for a small car. 20 minutes of claustrophobic darkness followed! When we reached the end of the tunnel, there was a service door. The technician who took us unlocked the door, and blazing sunshine hit us. Walking outside, we were overlooking the dam, surrounded by mountains and lush vegetation.

Unfortunately, it’s not for tourists. But the next time you hear someone say that you can’t drive to Mafate, you can tell them that they’re wrong!

Vocabulary

the hills – les hauts
deep – profond
a straight line – ligne droite
actually – réellement
water transfer – basculement des eaux

mainly – principalement
to dig – creuser
billion – milliard
dam – barrage
gates – portails

to unlock – déverouiller
unfortunately – malheureusement

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