Sports

Canyoning

Here is a story about my very first week in Reunion Island back in 2000. My diary reads:

“Monday: The alarm wrenched me awake. I couldn’t for the life of me realise why it had been set for 6.00am when I had clearly only been in bed for 3 hours. And then I remembered. Canyoning!

‘Canyoning?’ I hear you cry. ‘What can this mean?’ Basically, it’s white water rafting… but without the raft.

As the sun appeared over the ocean I met the mountain guide Philippe in Saint-Denis, and after a quick coffee on his balcony we headed east down the coastal road towards St Suzanne. Turning off at the Riviére des Roches exit, the tarmac road soon became a dirt-track as it weaved in amongst a vast plantation of sugar cane. Palm trees lined the track and the sugar cane leaves encroached on the path. About five kilometres later we came to a clearing and parked the car.

We donned our wetsuits and made our way up the mountain path, the river winding through the gorge below us. Philippe gave me a few pointers, stressing in particularly that if I didn’t want to jump off any waterfalls, I didn’t have to. Abseiling down instead was suggested. Down the slippery slope we began, the morning sunshine filling up the gorge below us. The first waterfall arrived, and we climbed out of the river to get a good jumping point. It would have been far too dangerous to let ourselves be carried over, as there was the possibility of the current dashing us against the rocks below.

We reached the top and below us lay a drop of about 6 metres. Philippe went first, and with a loud cry he vanished below. From where I was standing I couldn’t actually see him land, but the long pause before the splash was enough to set my knees trembling. I was left standing alone.

Picture the ridiculous image: I was standing in a full-length blue jump suit and a white hat, arms out-stretched to keep my balance. I looked like a paranoid smurf. What the hell am I doing here? I asked myself. Suddenly, my old office in London flashed before me. A far cry. It was a long way down, but here I was, hovering dangerously over a precipice on an island in the Indian Ocean. Looking at the sun up in the sky shining down on me I realised that it was for moments like these I had come. The fear went and I launched myself screaming into the void below.

In total there were 4 more jumps made as we continued down the valley, the penultimate one a massive leap of 11 metres. In the long journey down it felt like I had enough time to recite Hamlet’s soliloquy before landing. To be or not to be… I don’t know the rest…

We stopped off for a bite to eat and upon getting back to my flat I went straight to sleep. Having just woken it all still seems like a bit of a dream. Was it real? It must have been – my vocal chords are killing me…”

Vocabulary

diary – journal intime
to wrench – arracher
coastal – littoral
weaved – arpenté
clearing – clairière

to don – mettre
wetsuits – combinaison
winding – serpentant
pointers – conseils
abseiling – descente en rappel

slippery – glissant
slope – pente
waterfall – cascade
to land – aterrir
knees – genoux

flashed before – défilé
void – la vide
flat – apartement
killing me – me fait très mal

Normal Version

Slow Version

Downloads

Normal Version

Slow Version

Text

Survival Skill Workshop

In my opinion, one of the best things about Reunion is how close we are to nature here. I wanted to learn more about living in nature, and stumbled upon something they called a “Survival Skills Workshop.” It was a weekend of living in nature with practically nothing—a knife, some military rations, a sleeping bag, and that’s it. We met Olivier, the ex military man who taught the workshop, at Langevin, and from there we marched up and up into the forest, near a river.

The first thing we had to do was prepare wood for a fire, so five of us started chopping dry wood with our knives, and the other five went to go find bamboo which we cut up and used for drinking cups and plates. I didn’t know that every segment of bamboo had a divider inside, so once cut, the segments make perfect cups that you can even heat over the fire! It was great for some coffee in the morning 😉

After the wood and bamboo were cut, we cleared all the rocks out of a flat area, and spread leaves over it. That was were we slept, in our emergency blankets and sleeping bags to keep us warm.

Next we learned how to hunt zandettes—the big fat worms that live in wood. We had ten mintues to find a zandette, bring it to Olivier, and eat it in front of him—raw!!! I couldn’t believe it. But I will always try anything at least once…so I started frantically cutting up wood in search of my zandette. Unfortunately, I found the biggest zandette possible and everyone “ewwwed” when I brought it to Olivier. He let me at least rip off the head first. It was slimy and disgusting and I will never eat zandette again!!

But the zandette wasn’t the worst part!! Next, they brought out the mysterious moving bag we carried up. I figured it was a chicken…but then Olivier pulled the cutest little rabbit out of the bag!! I am a vegetarian, but I thought I was prepared to really participate in the workshop and maybe watch how a chicken is killed. As soon as I saw the rabbit, I started to cry—I couldn’t imagine killing it. They all got this crazy idea that they would make one of the girls kill the rabbit! There were only three of us and all three of us were crying by now. Actually, no one wanted to kill the rabbit, and some of the men were vegetarians too. They took the rabbit to the back, and when it started to squeal, we all walked sadly to the river together so we didn’t have to hear the sounds.

So the vegetarians ate some grilled zandettes, grilled chouchou we found near the river, and some military rations! We were happy with that.

Vocabulary

to stumble upon – trouver par hasard
knife – couteau
sleeping bag – sac de couchage
workshop – atelier
marched up – défiler

to spread – étaler
worm – un ver
ewww – beurk
brought out – sortir
figured – calculer

cutest – le plus mignon
squeal – cri perçant

Normal Version

Slow Version

Downloads

Normal Version

Slow Version

Text

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

Normal Version

Slow Version

Downloads

Normal Version

Slow Version

Text

Americans in Mafate

Last year two of my girlfriends from back home in Texas came to visit. They were girls I knew from working in a bar while going to college, and we would do a lot of partying back then…but just as often, I’d meet them at the gym and we’d work out together. So I thought they were kind of sporty, you know?

Well I was very very wrong. Before they got here, I asked if they were up for hiking and they agreed. I suppose I never considered that to a normal American, a hike is just like a flat trail in some trees. I took them to what I was told was the easiest hike in Reunion…going down to La Nouvelle in Mafate.

You park your car in this big parking lot and you have to walk over to the start of the trail…maybe just like a ten minute walk on a tiny incline. JUST THAT PART—from the parking lot to the trail–that walk–had them complaining and breathing hard. They asked if it counted as part of the 2 hours we would be hiking. My Reunionais husband thought they were joking…and he was really shocked to learn that they were not!!

We started the hike and it was just horrible. The girls were complaining the entire time, I felt so guilty because I wanted them to come here and have fun, and it really seemed like I was ruining their lives!! So we walked the whole way in an angry, awkward silence. And it was just awful. After we arrived in Mafate, we took showers and everyone felt much better. We kind of calmed down, and..we had a great dinner and drank lots of rum and danced under the beautiful stars. It was a perfect night. But my friends had resolved to find ANY way out of walking back up the mountain the next morning.

They were asking everyone in the gite how to get out of Mafate without walking. As you might know, there are not many other options out of Mafate. Except one. By helicopter. I don’t know how it happened, but my beautiful, blonde Texas friend somehow convinced the owner of the gite to get us a ride out of Mafate in the morning with his cousin, who was (happily) a helicopter pilot.

We weren’t 100% sure we could get a ride until 6:00 the next morning when the gite guy came to the window and said “hey if you’re going, you have five minutes before my cousin leaves!” We threw everything into a sack and raced out of the gite…running towards the deafening blades of the helicopter. All of the other travellers in the gite came out of their rooms to laugh and wave us on our way.

My husband and I were so embarrassed!!! But at least now, everyone has a great story about the time they met some Americans in Mafate.

Vocabulary

College – La Fac
To party – Faire la fete
To work out – Entraîner
To be up for – Être prèt a faire qq chose
To complain – Se plaindre

To breathe – Respirer
To joke – Plaisanter
Somehow – D’une manière ou d’une autre
Deafening – Assourdissant 

Normal Version

Slow Version

Downloads

Normal Version

Slow Version

Text

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

Normal Version

Slow Version

Downloads

Normal Version

Slow Version

Text

Dimitile

As our time comes to a close for the language assistants on Réunion Island, it is a time for joy, a time for tears, a time for hugs and, of course, a time for harrowing moonlit hiking excursions capped by jovial feasts and accordion-filled serenades atop a mountain summit. Ok, perhaps this isn’t the most ordinary way to bid farewell, but for the language assistants of Réunion Island, our style is anything but ordinary. It is for this same reason that this unconventional last hurrah for our German companions hit right on the mark.

The activities began on an early Saturday afternoon as assistants assembled and left in small groups from the various trail departure points accessible from the village Entre-Deux. After a slightly delayed start, we were on our way, ascending towards the peak. Although there are four main hiking trails leading to the peak, all of the assistants chose either Zèbre, the second most difficult, or Chapelle, widely considered the easiest of the four

Despite leaving at different times and hiking at various speeds, most of us arrived at our final destination, Chez Valmir, by 6pm. By 7pm the high-spirited hikers collected together for an aperitif at the central refuge. The celebration livened as we mixed and mingled, punch in hand, and Valmir began to regale us with songs on his accordion.

Near 8pm the tables were set and we seated ourselves at the benches in the dining hall, which resembled something of a medieval German alehouse. The food was sizzling in massive pots in the fireplace, ready to be served. The plates were passed around and we dined like royalty on yellow rice with saffron, marinated chicken and shrimp in a red sauce with herbs and spices. As dinner came to a close and we received our desert fruit cocktails, Valmir came out once again and serenaded us, this time with a guitar and accordion.

At nearly 9:30pm, our final two hiking groups arrived to a joyous applause and standing ovation. The fun was now officially ready to begin as we stood on tables and benches, arm in arm, swaying to the beat. Tables disappeared as the dining hall gave way to a large open dance floor where we danced the night away.

Another typical adventure for the language assistants of Réunion Island. I bet you always wondered what your teachers did in their free time…

Vocabulary

Harrowing – périlleux
Capped – fini avec
Trail – sentier
Mingle – se mêler à
Alehouse – taverne

Sizzling – grésillant
Fireplace – cheminée
Swaying – ondulant
Wondered – se demander

Normal Version

Slow Version

Downloads

Normal Version

Slow Version

Text