A Day-Trip to the Usine du Gol

If there’s one thing we’ve noticed about Reunion in our short time here, it’s that everything is much sweeter. Therefore we decided to visit the sugar cane factory one morning, before they are closed for production in December, to see how the magic happens.

We made reservations for a morning visit and set out to St. Louis bright and early. The tour was surprisingly full, reservations are definitely recommended.  The first part involved a short cartoon video explaining sugar production and the various uses of its by-products; but the best part was yet to come. Before you can enter the facility you must gear up(photo op!). We put on hairnets, hard hats, and special headphones so we could hear the guide. Here’s a helpful hint: the factory has strict clothing guidelines so leave your jewellery at home and make sure you wear trainers. 

Our first stop was the entrance of the factory where they weigh both the tractor and the sugarcane together. We then moved along to where the tractors drop off their cane in order to begin the refining process. The tour then moved along the inner workings of the factory, with some stops for taste tests along the way. The temperature increased drastically along parts of the tour, making sugar is an intense process! 

The most interesting thing we discovered on the tour was how much sugarcane is actually produced in Reunion, over 210,000 tons! Although 70% of Reunion sugar is exported to mainland France under the brands La Perruche and Blonvilliers, a good portion is sold here in Reunion under the brand Mascarin (be sure to try some next time you’re at the supermarket). All in all we had a great morning at the factory and would highly recommend it if you’re in the area!

Vocabulary

To notice – remarquer
Sweeter – plus doux
Therefore – donc
Closed – fermé
To happen – se passer 

To set out – partir
Bright and early – très tôt
Full – plein
Involved – impliqué
By-products – sous-produit 

Yet to come – encore à venir
Gear up – se préparent
Op (slang) – occasion
Hairnet – charlotte
Hard hat – casque dur 

Headphone – casque
Jewellery – bijoux
Trainers – basket
To weigh – peser
The area – la zone

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My Interstellar Trip

Last week, I went to see the sci-fi blockbuster, Interstellar.  It tells the story of a space mission to seek out a new home planet for humans, because earth is becoming uninhabitable.  The film uses lots of technical jargon such as wormholes, black holes, inter-galactical portals, star gates, space arcs; you really need to be an astro-physicist to have a clue what’s going on.  Luckily, the special effects are so spectacular that you feel like you’ve been on a space voyage when you come out of the cinema, so if you can’t understand the complexities of space-time theory, it really doesn’t matter.

I’m not at all sure the actors knew what was happening either.  Not only was it hard to figure out where they were, (after all, the universe is a pretty big place) you couldn’t figure out when, either.  What with the time warps, wrinkles and folds, if you spent an hour or two on the surface of a planet, it was the equivalent of 23 years back on earth.  As a consequence, the poor crew-member who got left on the space station waited for his gang to come back for 31 years!  He had grey hair when they returned, and a bit later he got killed, although that’s probably because he wasn’t a very well-known actor.  They never survive space voyages for long.

Luckily, Coop, the astro-pilot hero managed to figure out a plan, using a whiteboard and marker pens.  This seemed rather lo-tech to me.  But what was  truly amazing was that their pens were still working after so long in space.  As a teacher, I use marker pens a lot, and mine don’t last for 31 minutes, never mind 31 years.

I started to think about our experience of time in our mundane lives down here on earth.  Going home from the cinema, the tube train I was on got stuck in a tunnel for several minutes.  It was a little like being in a black hole and I wondered if my hair might turn grey.  Every moment seemed like a year.  It was the reverse of the expression: “Time flies when you’re having fun”.  And it’s true that a really good party might last for eight hours or so, and yet it seems to go by in an instant.  

I also think that time differences are very problematic.  Three weeks ago, we turned the clocks back one hour in the UK.  This is called daylightsaving time, but the name is inaccurate, because there are no more hours of daylight, it just starts an hour earlier.  And it gets dark an hour earlier, so no daylight is saved at all.  It makes the winter evenings longer, because the sun sets at 3.30 in the afternoon.   When the clocks go back in the UK, the time difference between here and Reunion goes from three hours to four.  This makes it difficult to skype friends because by the time you think of it, usually after you’ve eaten in the evenings, everyone in Reunion is going to bed.  I think messing with time is a bad idea.

So if you have three hours to spare, you could go and see Interstellar.  It may, or may not, be time well spent. As Einstein would agree, it’s all relative.

Vocabulary

Tell – raconter
Seek out  – chercher
Such as – comme
Wormhole – un vortex
Black hole – un trou noir 

Portal – portail en espace
Going on – se passer
Special effects – effets speciaux
Warp – deformation du temps
Wrinkles – un pli (dans le vortex espace-temps) 

Folds – pliures du temps
Earth – la terre
Marker pen – marqueur
Lo-tech – a faible composante technologique
Mundane – banal 

Daylight –  le jour
Go to bed – aller au lit
To mess – jouer
Spare time – temps libre
To spend time  – passer le temps

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Gypsy Party

One day, I decided I really wanted to camp outside near the ocean, since I hadn’t done it before. I gathered up some friends and named this important event a « Gypsy Party, » and required everyone to dress up like cool traveling nomads.

We arrived at Etang Sale in the late afternoon and spent the first hour figuring out how to make some kind of shelter. We ended up stringing a tarp between two trees and then we put lots of colorful pillows, blankets, and snuggly things under it. We finished our little gypsy home just in time for the sunset, so we opened a bottle of champagne (I guess we were being rich gypsies) and toasted to Mother Nature.

After a while, we lit up the mini-grill and started to make dinner!! We grilled jumbo shrimp, lobster tails, sausages and a lot of veggies. For dessert, we made a classic American camping treat—s’mores! You grill a marshmallow and then you put it between two graham crackers, which are like digestive biscuits here, with a piece of chocolate in between. So you have a kind of delicious chocolate marshmallow sandwich. It was my favorite thing to do after a BBQ when I was a kid.

After dinner, we danced around near the ocean under the moonlight. I remember the stars seeming particularly bright that night, and we were all quite happy. I think we even went to bed early…around midnight! That night, I had this crazy dream that there was a pigeon who took me by the hand with his beak and was going to fly me to spiritual enlightenment. I was worried I would be too heavy for him, and suddenly I woke up—in the middle of a rainstorm!! We all got up to put the rest of our gypsy decorations under the tarp with us, thankful that it was holding strong.

Early the next morning, we made some coffee which we drank out of the left-over coconut shells. While we were discussing the events of the night, a REAL gypsy came wandering over to our camp, plopped himself downin front of us and asked for some coffee. He was wearing a torn pillowcase for a shirt, and he muttered how there aren’t many people left like us—people who know how to live off the land. He went on a long, strange rant about the government and finally, we were able to give him some food and send him on his gypsy way. You know you did a gypsy party right when you start attracting real gypsies! 

Vocabulary

To gather up – rassembler
To travel – voyager
To figure out – comprendre
Shelter – abri
To string – attacher

Tarp – bâche
Pillow – oreiller
Blanket – couveture
Snuggly – câlins
Shrimp – crevette

Lobster tails – queues de homard
Marshmallow – guimauve
Moonlight – clair de lune
Enlightenment – éclaircissement
Rainstorm – pluie torrentielle

Left-over – qui reste
To wander – vagabonder
To plop down – s’asseoir
Pillowcase – taie d’oreiller
To attract – attirer

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Grand Raid 774

The Grand Raid is always a special event when you live in Reunion, even if you’re not directly involved in it. You always know someone who is running, or at least someone who knows someone who’s either running or helping out. 

My husband often played with a music band at the start of the race, and we’d always cheer on a couple of friends, even if only online. We actually got married a few days before the 2010 Grand Raid, and there was definitely something special about that. I think we managed to save quite a bit on alcohol as a few of our guests couldn’t drink before the race. 

This year was extra-special though. My husband’s family came over from mainland France on holiday, and brought four friends along with them, one of whom came to do the Grand Raid! When we first heard about it we were a bit worried about whether that was a good idea. From what we’d understood – wrongly perhaps – he had trained mainly on the ‘Mont des Alouettes’, a 230m high hill in a town called Les Herbiers, in the French department of La Vendée. We knew that in order to sign up for the Grand Raid you need to have done some races in order to qualify, so we didn’t think he would be unprepared. But still, 172km with over 5600m of elevation gain, in under 64H! There’s a reason they call it the Diagonale des Fous, right?

When they got to Reunion, only a few days before the start of the race, there was a very special atmosphere at home. We found Guy very relaxed, and yet focused on the race. My husband and I found out that Guy was doing the race in tribute to special someone who had passed away some years ago. So there was this really special and loving support for him, and I think it was great for him to have his wife around, as well as four close friends. We slowly went into Grand-Raid mode, checking out the race routes about 10 times a day, working out when he might get to certain checkpoints so we could figure out where to see him, and so on. I actually couldn’t go anywhere to see him myself, so had the web-page used to keep track of the runners on our iPads ready to be refreshed every few hours. 

It all became very real when he went to pick up his number bib on the Wednesday. Number 774. Just a nine off 974! So off he went on the Thursday, and I have to admit that as much as we wanted him to succeed, there was a little bit of doubt deep inside, and a little bit of worry about whether he really knew what he was getting himself into, especially as we kept hearing about the number of people who had to abandon because of the weather at the beginning. We hoped he could get to Cilaos at least. And he did. Then we thought we’d be really proud if only he could get to Maïdo. And he did. I reckon it was at that point that we started really thinking he might make it to the end. And he did! We were so proud of him! And what made it even more special, although slightly strange, was that he came 774th, bib number 774! 

It was a truly magical experience for him and for all of us supporting him, and I’m pretty sure that special person he paid tribute to has something to do with that 774…

Vocabulary

Involved – impliqué
To help out – donner un coup de main
Husband – mari
To cheer on – encourager
Quite a bit – un peu

Mainland France – métropol
To sign up – inscrire
To find out – découvrir
Tribute – hommage
To pass away – décéder

Support – soutien
To check out – vérifier
To work out – calculer
Checkpoint – point de contrôle
To figure out – comprendre

So on – etc.
Keep track – suivre
Bib – dossard
Get into – aborder
To reckon – croire

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