02 September 2011 | st. pierre, reunion island
Reunion island is one those places that doesn’t quite make sense and has to be seen to believed. Geographically an African island that is politically part of France upon arrival we were welcomed to Europe by French immigration officers. Its café culture, French communication, and euro prices (ouch) may have validated its European side while its volcanic conic shape rising 10,000 feet from the Indian Ocean with lush tropical jungles and towering waterfalls reminded us we were nowhere near France. Immediately getting down to Bubbles business I ran into a French sailing friend Pierre who helped me get set up to haul the boat out for painting the bottom and changing the anodes. Originally planning to do this in Mauritius where everything is much cheaper I learned that the hauling the boat in Reunion is government subsidized (thanks France) and it ended up being a third of the price I would have paid in Mauritius and with free hard stand time.
Once painted and back in the water we went to exploring and first on our list was the active volcano. Teaming up with the locally famous captain ( the Spaniard Paco) and crew (sri lankan Kasun) from the catamaran Nauti Bouy Too we woke at 4 am (the volcano is covered by clouds by late morning so to see it an early start is imperative) and after hitting one of the local dance clubs (still going strong and only a stones throw from the boat) we were off in our small peugot to seek out the trail head in the morning darkness. With Paco driving and me navigating (Kirk and Kasun were sleeping in the back) we first had to find Le Tampon and then wind our way up hairpin switchbacks until finally reaching the crater rim by sunrise. The hike started with a decent into a large crater that lead across a lunar like plain before steeply rising up crunchy lava rock to the volcanoe’s summit out of which a smoke plume rose. We somehow got off the main trail and made our own way to the top where Kirk was first to look down warning us to approach slowly. Being at such high altitude after a near vertical ascent left us out of breath but what little we had left was taken away when we looked straight down into the belly of the beast that was at least a 500 foot drop straight down. Paco summed it up best when he first looked down with his spanish Australian accent of “ah F#$%, ah F#$%” followed by an immediate retreat down the volcano. Kirk, Kasun and I continued exploring climbing into deep fissures, crawling in massive lava tubes and coming across seismic sensors (the first one we found we picked up not know what it was probably causing some excitement to the monitor).
Even more interesting than the volcano was a place called Cirque de Mafate which we had heard was a place in the interior of the island with land so rugged roads couldn’t be built to the villages that existed there and supplies had to be brought in by helicopter. We also heard that there was a hiking trail leading to the villages (of which a visit to is a multiple day affair) and so K,K and I took off the next day looking for the trail that lead to this remote place. Having to hike out of one caldera (an old collapsed volcano) into the caldera of Mafate was a several hour up hill battle and that took us literally into the clouds. Entering the the first village in the thick mist was quite surreal with the well manicured lawns and even a couple cafes that served beer brought in by helicopter. The next morning we witnessed a couple of these helicopter deliveries as they flew in over the crater rim to drop down in someones front yard with a crate hoisted from a 20 foot cable and with military efficiency were suspended there for no more than 15 seconds as a local would rush out and roll the crate off giving the signal and the chopper would disappear again over the crater rim in less than a minute and then there you were again in this remote crater surrounded by deep ravines and jagged peaks listening to only the beautiful sounds of nature not believing that a helicopter had just been there. We visited a local school in the hamlet of Marla (class size 8) and it amazed me that people (Mafate has a total population of 750) could live on an island only 30 miles across in the middle of the Indian Ocean and never see the ocean that surrounded them until they were fit enough to do the arduous hike out of the caldera they call home.
Back at sea level our friends on Lilly Bolero had arrived as well as our former communications officer Christine who was in for the passage to Madagascar. We did another hike on the lush windward side of the island that took us through some Jurassic Parkesque jungle and ended at a viewpoint looking over several waterfalls pouring into a single gorge (google pics of Trou de Fer to see). It was now time to provision and hit the water but being Sunday and France everything was closed so we were forced to grocery shop at a gas station (a damn good one I might add as we were able to buy fresh baguettes and even corn meal on top of the regular food stuffs but did surprise the attendant a bit when we started stockpiling a months worth of food in front of him not to mention the people who were waiting just to pay for their gas). Back at the docks waiting were the many farewells to our friends and pulling out of the narrow channel with breakers on both sides we saw our friends from Lily Bolero to our port who had driven to the lighthouse point to wave us on and to our starboard on the jetty with hankercheifs waving high was Julio and family who had been our neighbors that were tied to for our duration there. As desolate as the sea may seem its not as lonely as one may think especially when coming with you are little pieces of all your friends and our farewell to sea was a little reminder of that. Madagascar here we come!