Yes, No, or Who Knows?

This morning I woke up to the news that Scotland voted No! to leaving the United Kingdom of Great Britain.  I have mixed feelings.  Overall, I am very relieved that our country has not lost a big chunk of itself.  During the campaign, people have talked about the UK as a family and it certainly does feel that if Scotland had left, it would have been like losing a brother or sister.  On the other hand, there was something very exciting about the Yes campaign.  The idea of a new, independent country, proud of its strength and character, making its own decisions, breaking away from the rule of the London parliament; all of this was very appealing.  I asked myself, if I was Scottish, how would I have voted?  I think I would have voted “Yes” to being independent.

I started to think about identity.  I come from Yorkshire, in the North of England, a part of the country that has its own traditions, attitudes and character.  Although I have not lived in Yorkshire for many years, I still consider myself to be “a Yorkshire lass” underneath.  I am also a Londoner, with a great affection for the city in which I am now living.  I am English, but I prefer to think of myself as British, because that identity feels more inclusive.  I am also happy to be European, and part of a union of many different countries and cultures.  And being European means I am lucky enough to be able to work in many of these countries, including my beloved Reunion.

So I have many identities, and depending on time and place and circumstances, I may feel more like one of them than the other.  People in Reunion also have many identities: you could be Malbar, Creole, Reunionais, French, part of Europe, a member of the Indian Ocean community.  You can be one of them, or a bit of all of them at once.  I think the idea of identity is a very shifting, changeable concept.

So, I’m glad this morning to find that I’m still a citizen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain (because I could have been part of a new country – United Kingdom of not-so-great Britain, maybe).  But out of all my possible identities, perhaps the one I enjoy and delight in the most is: Citizen of the World!

Vocabulary

mixed feelings – une melange d’émotion
chunk – un gros morceau
campaign – la campagne
rule –  le mandat, dominion
lass – une jeune fille

beloved – bien aimé
glad  – contente
citizen – citoyen
to delight in – prendre plaisir a

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No Pain, No Gain

Back in February I had the brilliant idea of signing up for La Mascareignes, one of Reunion’s longest trail races. A walk in the park compared to Le Grand Raid, but nevertheless 70kms of mountain trails stood between me and a whole lot of personal glory.

Personal glory because when I arrived in Reunion 6 years ago, I was completely ignorant when it came to hiking and even more so when it came to trail running. Coming from a relatively flat city in Australia, and having parents who always made sure that school holidays were spent at the beach and not in the mountains, hiking for me equated to only one thing – pain!

The first ever hike I did in Reunion was in Salazie. The family with whom I was staying at the time took me there for a weekend, armed with a small publication entitled ’50 easy hikes in Reunion’. I’d like to stress the word ‘EASY’. Now, the walk from Hellbourg up to the gite in Bellouve, is by no means easy for someone who has never hiked before! I was about half way through the torture when I first lay eyes on a ‘raideur’. Lycra clad and going extremely fast, I couldn’t believe what I saw. I turned to my host family in a mix of confusion, disbelief, frustration and a whole lot more … “What…? Why…? What was that…?” I think I managed to spit out. It was then that I learnt about the madness that unfolds in Reunion each year in October.

My second hike – Mafate! The mythical Mafate that everyone spoke of. I couldn’t wait, although after my first outing in Salazie I was somewhat apprehensive. And rightly so. I couldn’t walk for a week after Mafate, but I certainly wasn’t left indifferent at the end of my 3 day escapade.

One particular memory that stands out was having breakfast at a gite in Marla. In the distance I could see a stream of people walking up the face of what seemed to me to be a vertical wall. A friend informed me that this walk was actually quite doable and that the mountain was called le Taïbit. And that on the other side of the peak lay Cilaos! I remember being in sheer amazement. There was nothing ‘doable’ about what I was witnessing. I understood quite quickly why Le Grand Raid was so aptly nicknamed The Diagonal of the Crazies.

How anyone could run or even walk for over 160kms was beyond me. And to do it over such demanding terrain, well, I was in absolute awe. With time, I started meeting people who had not only attempted, but actually finished this race! And more than once! Madness!! And they were just normal people. I started hiking more and more and to my amazement a weekend in Mafate gradually became less and less painful. The impossible was becoming, well a little less impossible.

It did take several years to finally understand what my friends meant when they spoke about the ‘enjoyment’ of trail running. I could never understand how you could ‘enjoy’ hurting so much. But when the suffering diminishes, it’s then that you are privy to the true beauty of Reunion Island – which for me lay far from its lagoons. Through hiking, it was as if I was able to discover Reunion again from scratch. And I was hooked.

Injuries have got the better of me this year, but before my time in Reunion comes to an end, I’m determined to be at one of those starting (and hopefully finishing!) lines in October. For me, the 3 races that take place at this time of year will always be somewhat magical – what a pity they can’t be filmed like the Tour de France to showcase Reunion to the rest of the world.

Vocabulary

to sign up – s’inscrire
a walk in the park – c’est du gâteau
flat – plat
clad – vêtu
madness – la folie

unfold – se déroule
outing  – sortie
apprehensive – craintif
stand out – marquer
a stream of – un flot de

doable – faisable
peak – sommet
sheer – pur
be in awe – être impressionné
from scratch – de zéro

injuries – blessures
get the better of someone – l’emporter sur / prendre le dessus sur

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Mouflonouton

You‘ve heard of the Centaur: half-man, half-horse. And what about the Hippogriff from the Harry Potter films: half-horse, half-eagle. And let’s not forget the Mermaid: half-fish, half-beautiful lady!

But did you know that in Reunion Island we have our very own hybrid creature? No? Then let me introduce you to the Mouflonouton of Saint-Anne!

The Mouflonouton is a cross between two animals: a sheep and a mouflon. If you don’t know, a mouflon is a kind of wild mountain sheep. Its skin is red and brown and it has stripes along its back. It also has huge horns that can be over 80cm long.

This charming animal is the pride and joy of Jean-François and Chantal Acquier, owners of the Miel & Vie Ferme Pédagogique’ in Saint Anne. It is possible he is the only one of his kind in the world! Check out the picture! He looks a bit like a goat, but with beautiful curling horns and a shaggybeard of long white hair. I had the immense pleasure of taking my kids there. We stayed for three days, living to the sound of the farm animals. There are the standard farmyard animals such as horses, donkeys, cows, sheep, rabbits, pigs and chickens, but along with the Mouflonouton, there are also some lovely surprises: pheasants, deer, a stag, and even four alpacas, a close relative of the llama!

It’s a beautiful region of the island, with delightful walks, waterfalls and sugar cane as far as the eye can see. We walked around the Forêt des Ravenales and even had a dip in the clear waters of Bassin Bleu!

I recommend a visit to Miel & Vie: a great place to go camping, with excellent food and company: a real breath of fresh air!

Vocabulary

our own=notre propre
cross=croisement
stripes=rayures
huge=énorme
horns=cornes

goat=chèvre
check out=regardez
shaggy=hirsute
pheasant=paon
deer=biche

stag=cerf
to have a dip=piquer une tête

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Say Hello to my Little Friends

Reunion is famous for a lot of things. Its volcano, its mountains, the lagoons, the beaches and the wonderful people that inhabit the island are unique. But today I’m not going to talk about those things. I’m going to talk about some of our little friends that we all encounter day by day… the insects.

As an Englishman, I’ve been used to seeing very few insects, and those that I have seen have been tiny and harmless. When I arrived in Reunion, I was quickly stunned by the local array of seemingly enormous insects.

Let’s start with the spiders, or babouks as they are locally known. Their thin hairy legs stretch out to about six inches (15cm). The first time I saw one I was really freaked out. Also, these things can run fast, and once you spot one, you have to catch it before going to bed, or you’ll find yourself unable to sleep. If you ever do catch one and decide to squash it, don’t forget to look at it closely first to see if it’s covered in smaller spiders!

Scorpions, thankfully, are a lot rarer than babouks. I had lived in Reunion for 5 years before seeing one. Then on that same day, I saw 3. Since that day, I always give my closed shoes a tap on the ground before sliding my foot in. You never know.

The worst of the worst have to be the cockroaches. They are twenty times as big as the beetles in England and they can fly. I can’t imagine anything more horrible. They just need fangs and they’d be something out of a Wes Craven film.

Confronted by all these monsters that I had never seen, my first reaction as an Englishman, was to crush them into tiny pieces. However, while my wife and I were first dating, she was unhappy that I wanted to annihilate a scorpion that we found clinging to the wall. She told me that every creature in Reunion has their own place and their own job to do. Margouillats, for example, feed on mosquitos, and the babouks keep the insect population low.

Keep in mind that if you choose to live on a tropical island like Reunion, you have to respect nature, and learn to live with all the inhabitants. Except mosquitos of course.

Vocabulary

To encounter – rencontrer
To be used to – être habitué à
Tiny – minuscule
Harmless – inoffensif
Stunned – choqué

Local array – selection locale
Seemingly – apparemment
Hairy Legs – pates poilues
Freaked out – terrorisé
To squash – écraser

To slide – glisser
Cockroach – cafard
Fangs – dents pointues
To crush – écraser
However – cependant

To cling – s’accrocher

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