Fifty Shades of Black

Once upon a time, when you were allowed to descend into the Enclos during an eruption, and when I could be up all night without suffering for a week afterwards, I went to the volcano.

This wasn’t just any old trip to the volcano however, it was a very special trip. An eruption was taking place, and a group of us had packed up the car with clothes for all extremes of weather, hiking shoes, food, water, and cameras for a late night expedition. Midnight found us excitedly driving along the bumpy route forestière … only to reach the car park and be met with a wall of thick cloud.

We were bitterly disappointed, but as we were also starting to feel a bit peckish we parked in an almost empty car park, and tucked into some of the snacks we’d brought with us. A while later when we stepped out of the car, we realised the clouds had miraculously disappeared, so we got ourselves ready and headed along the path and down into the Enclos.

Now, it wasn’t the first time I’d visited the volcano during an eruption, nor the first time I’d hiked at night. I can’t remember what month it was, but although we were warm while walking, we rapidly felt frozen as soon as we stopped for a drink of water. It was during one of these thirst-quenching breaks that I remember looking back towards the centre of the island, and what I saw has stayed engraved on my memory ever since, even though it only lasted a few instants.

There was a full moon that night and no clouds left. All of Reunion’s mountains were perfectly silhouetted against the starlit sky, in different shades of black and grey. There was no artificial light anywhere, and I felt as if I was one of the first people to set foot on the island and discover its treasures. Behind me I could also hear (and smell) the ‘whoosh’ of the lava spouts of the on-going eruption, which added to the magical atmosphere.

The cold forced us to carry on walking, but we knew from the red-tinged sky ahead that a different spectacle awaited us further on. There, we settled down to watch the eruption: far enough away to be safe, but close enough to kept warm. We sat for several hours, until day had broken, watching the amazing forces of nature. Together with what we had witnessed earlier, we formed memories that I am convinced will last me a lifetime.


once upon a time – il était une fois
to suffer – (ici) payer le prix
pack up the car – remplir la voiture
bumpy – cahoteux
bitterly – (ici) profondément

to feel peckish – avoir un petit creux
to tuck into – attaquer (quelque chose à manger)
snacks – en-cas
to head along – se diriger
thirst-quenching – désaltérant

engraved – gravé
full moon – pleine lune
starlit – étoilé
shades – nuances
to set foot – mettre les pieds

‘whoosh’ – souffle (bruit)
spouts – jets
tinged – teinté
day break – lever du jour
to witness – observer

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