Crossing the Island

Do you like hiking? Are you a mountain-lover? A nature enthusiast? A thrill-seeker? A fitness freak? If so, then you would have been welcome to join me on my long trek across Reunion Island! 5 days, 4 nights, and 90 kilometres!

Day 1 started in the beautiful village of Saint-Joseph down in the south, where a nice couple gave me a lift to the stunning waterfall in Grand Galet, known as Cascade Langevin. From here the valley leads all the way up to the Plaine des Sables, and when I arrived there four hours later, I really felt like I had landed on Mars! At 2300m, that night was freezing, despite my eight blankets!

However, it was Day 2 which really blew my mind. I discovered one of the most beautiful spots on the island. Even after 14 years here I didn’t think that the island would still reveal such a sight. It is called l’Oratoire Saint-Therese – from here you can see the volcano, the Plaine des Sables, the Piton des Neiges, and even the west and east coasts. Simply breath-taking. That night was spent with my wonderful friends and family at the Gîte de Belouve.

So far, so good! No blisters, no muscle problems and no mishaps, despite the tangled roots through the forest from Piton Textor down to La Plaine des Palmistes… Day 3 wasn’t easy either: up to the Piton des Neiges and down into Cilaos, where I stayed in a cosy wooden chalet called Gîte de la Roche Merveilleuse.

I always knew that Day 4 would be the biggest challenge: the daunting ascent of the Col du Taibit, the mountain pass at 2100m between Cilaos and Mafate. After that I ran through Marla, and had time for a quick swim at Trois Roches. My final night was spent with friends in Roche Plate, before the final hurdle on Day 5: climbing up Le Maido. Even after 90km, I still had the energy to reach the top in 1h15 – my record!

The long hours of solitude were refreshing and each step was a real reward. This island is a real treasure – yes, we are lucky to live in such a place, but I’ll always say: you make your own luck. I don’t believe that each person has a destiny, but maybe we all have a destination. I’ve found mine – what about you?

Vocabulary

hiking=randonner
thrill-seeker=amateur de sensations fortes
stunning=éblouissant
landed=atterri
freezing=glacial

blanket=couverture
it blew my mind=ça m’a époustouflé
breath-taking=à couper le souffle
blister=ampoule
mishap=mésaventure

tangled roots=racines emmêlées
daunting=intimidant
hurdle=obstacle
reward=récompense

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Big Bernard’s Coolbox

On a tropical island like Reunion, we all like a cold drink. Fridges all over the island are full of Dodos, Phoenixes and Fischers. Could we live without our fridges and freezers? Certainly not.

Before the 20th century, the people of Reunion had to survive without such a luxury. But did they accept to drink lukewarm aperitifs and tepid ice tea? Certainly not. Up in the hills of the west coast they found an open-air natural fridge, a massive store of ice cubes called La Glacière. Did the rich slave-owners climb up there to get the ice themselves? Certainly not. They sent their slaves up there, on a hike which lasted several hours, close to the summit of Grand Benare (which I have always called Big Bernard) and then they would have to carry blocks of ice weighing over 20 kilos back down to the coast. Remember that the next time you put ice in your drink!

Today, you can still visit Big Bernard’s Coolbox. But unfortunately you won’t find any ice. What seemed like an unlimited supply, soon dried up. But it’s a fantastic trek. Park up at Le Maido, then follow the footpath up along the ridge overlooking Mafate. The walk up to La Glacière will take you at least 2 hours, but be sure to continue up to the summit. At 2896m, it’s the island’s second highest peak, and just as spectacular as Le Piton des Neiges.

For your own safety, don’t forget the three essential objects: one, a sunhat; two, sun cream; and three, a bottle opener for your cold beers so you can drink a toast to Big Bernard!

Vocabulary

coolbox – glacière
fridge – frigo
lukewarm – tiède
tepid – tiède
themselves – eux-mêmes 

hike – randonnée
to last – durer
to carry – porter
unfortunately – malheureusement
supply – fourniture 

to dry up – se tarir
ridge – crète
to overlook – surplomber
be sure to – n’oubliez pas à
bottle opener – décapsuleur

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Reunion’s First Ever Novel

Last week, the winner of the Oscar for Best Film was ‘12 Years a Slave’, the terrible true story of Solomon Northup, a free man who was captured and sold as a slave in the USA.

Slavery was just as present on our island, then called Bourbon. Published four years after the abolition of slavery in 1848, ‘Les Marrons’ was considered Reunion Island’s first novel. Its two main themes were slaveryand mixed marriages, which at the time made the book ‘a danger for the established order.’

The story follows a slave called Le Câpre, who escapes his master and flees into the mountains. Starving and hunted down by his pursuers, Le Câpre approaches the edge of a precipice, threatened by dogs. But as he battles with them, he is forced further back, and suddenly disappears into the void..!

But he grabs onto a liana and takes refuge in a cave cut into the cliff-face. There he meets Marie, a young white woman accompanied by a black man called Frême and their mulatto child.

Accompanied by Frême, Le Câpre continues his journey towards the Salazes. Alas! The bounty-hunters have caught them up. Following a terrible battle, Frême is left for dead. Le Câpre is brought back to his master’s estate.

Locked up in a darkened cell, Le Câpre dreams of his wounded friend Frême, Marie and their child. The future of Bourbon Island appears to him in a vision.

“It will become a rich and fertile country, a land where there will be no difference in people’s colour or conditions, who will all be free; a place where, far from seeking to make war, to enslave and destroy each other, they will be content to live together, and happy to be equals, to love each other, to form unions and to help one another.”

At the end of the story, Le Câpre escapes and is reunited with Frême. Together they call upon a crowd of slaves to rise up and revolt…

Vocabulary

slavery – esclavage
novel – roman
to flee – fuir
starving – affamé
hunted down – chassé

threatened – menacé
void – vide
bounty hunter – chasseur de primes
locked up – enfermé
wounded – blessé 

to rise up – se revolter

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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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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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