La Reunion Island

Peregrina's Journey
Peter and Margie Benziger
Sun 17 Nov 2013 11:24

21:20.9S    055:28.6E

Where in the World are Margie and Peter?  La Reunion Island!

Time to catch up again now that we have internet access…

Our last posting described our visit to the island of Mauritius.  From there, we made an overnight passage to the French island of La Reunion, (Pop. approx. 860,000) which is an overseas department of France, just like the island of Martinique in the Caribbean.  Therefore, it is a full-fledged member of the European Union and the currency is the Euro.  So,for all intents and purposes, we are in FRANCE!

Along the way to La Reunion, we were thrilled to spot our first whales of the entire circumnavigation!  It was a pod of four or five Sperm Whales and they cruised along with us for about 30 minutes.  Margie was beginning to give up hope of ever seeing a whale up close and personal and these guys obliged us with quite a show including some spectacular dives and waving their flukes.


Not long after that, Bob Reynard who, along with his wife, Vicky, joined us for the passage to South Africa got a hit on the fishing pole!  Within 20 minutes, Bob pulled in a spectacular Dorado, weighing about 25 pounds.  Peter and I had definite “fish envy” emotions watching this process as we have been ATTEMPTING to fish for almost four years now and have only caught three or four scrawny mackerel which, collectively, weighed not much more than 25 pounds all together, if that!!!


So it was a great day at sea and a wonderful grilled fish filet dinner that night…

In the morning, we arrived in France!

Reunion has everything…a tropical climate around the coast with black volcanic beaches in the south and east and white sandy beaches in the west and a temperate climate in the interior where three vast amphitheaters, known as 'cirques', offer spectacular views and wonderful hiking trails along deep gorges and ravines, rainforests and waterfalls.  The landscape is so remarkable that UNESCO has designated over 40% of the island as a Natural World Heritage Site.  It’s a backpackers Nirvana!


Reunion has the highest mountain in the Indian Ocean, known as Piton des Neiges (Snow Peak) at 10,070 feet and one of the world’s most active volcanoes, Piton de la Fournaise (Furnace Peak) but more on that later…

French is the official language but Creole is spoken in daily life.  The population is 40% Creole (Franco/Africans) with another 35% of mixed European origin.  There are about 20% Indians and a small percentage of Chinese.  There is a substantial community of retired French nationals.

Let me say, if I spoke French, I would DEFINITELY consider retiring here.  But, the truth is English is rarely heard and, at times, it was a struggle to be understood…OR…maybe we were just being ignored? 

After all, it is France and YOU KNOW how they feel about those yucky AMERICANS!  Just kidding….

Whatever…I still loved it here!

One of the reasons we had such a great time in Reunion was the lovely lady under the palm tree in the photo below.


Nicole Ludwig is a delightful French national who came to Reunion over 30 years ago to teach biology.  She’s also a sailor who crossed the Indian Ocean in a sailboat long before there were auto-pilots and global positioning services (GPS) and, best of all, she’s a Palm Nut!  That means she’s a member of the French Palm Society and a good friend of Peter’s college roommate, Steve Swinscoe, who lives in France and organizes expeditions for “Palm Nuts” all over the world.  When Steve learned we were coming to Reunion, he contacted Nicole and she immediately became our Welcoming Committee.  And what a welcome she gave us!  First, she invited Margie, Peter, Bob and Vicky to her beautiful home in Petit Ile, just a few kilometers from our anchorage in St. Pierre on the southern coast of Reunion, for a lovely lunch and a tour of her beautiful gardens including over 30 (maybe more!) varieties of palm trees and beautiful flowers.


The next day, she took Peter and Margie on a wonderful day trip to the little town of Cilaos meaning “the place you never leave.”   The locals here also love their flowers.


Cilaos is considered one of the healthiest climates in Reunion.  The weather is warm in the day, cool in the night and the scenery looks like the western European Alps.  In fact, the road leading up to Cilaos was the most incredible uphill climb we’ve ever experienced - over 200 sharp hairpin turns in just 34 kilometers!


We had a wonderful lunch in Cilaos including “une dodo” the local brand of beer, named after the world’s most famous extinct creature.


Earlier in the day, we had stopped off to check out these four brothers packing bags full of lentils to go to market and can attest to their good taste!Cilaos is known for its wonderful lentils.

The drive home was no less spectacular with amazing views around every corner.

The next day, we took a bus to the little town of St. Rose to see the famous church of Notre Dame des Laves.  Back in 1977, Piton de la Fournaise blew its top and spewed lava down the eastern sloop of the volcano towards St. Rose destroying everything in its path.  The lava crossed the street in front of the church and then, a miracle happened! The lava split at the front door of the church and flowed around to either side until the two halves met at the back of the church and headed on down to the sea.  I have to admit, this is a crazy story but you can see where the black lava stopped moving forward just inches from the church’s walls.


My last story about Reunion brings us back again to Piton de la Fournaise.  All the guide books say, “Don’t miss this!”  So we rented a car and planned a two night/three day tour around the island which would start with an early morning drive to “Furnace Peak.”  We figured we’d hike a bit and then continue on with our driving tour.  We set off at 6:30am and, within a couple hours, were cruising through the barren moonscape that is called La Plaine des Sables (Translation = “Plain of Sands”) leading up to the volcano.

Then, we drove on to the jumping off point for hikers who want to explore the outer crater and the small eruption that formed on the outer floor in 2006. We hiked down, down, down "the wall of pain"  to the small crater you see below.


From this point, one can simply view the conical shaped Piton de la Fournaise volcano from a distance or make your way up 8,630 feet to the observation point at the edge of the Dolomei Crater which formed in 2010. We hiked all the way across the plain and up to the top of the highest point in the distance.


Since we’re not getting any younger and I do have two “gimpy” knees, we had originally planned just to descend down the 300 very steep steps to the floor of the outer crater and check out the little eruption but, of course, once we took a look at the volcano, it became one of those “Because It’s There” moments and we decided to venture on up the winding and very difficult terrain to the top - supposedly a 7-hour round trip.  Well, we managed to make our way through the lava fields for about three hours, but, by then, my knee was throbbing and what was worse, my hiking boots were literally falling apart!  The bottom sole of my right foot fell off about 1000 feet from the top.


I had to jerry-rig the upper part of the boot into one of Peter’s topsiders!  Luckily, he brought along an extra pair of shoes!  He must have been a Boy Scout!  Otherwise, I would have been in a real pickle!  So, we made it to the top of this active volcano an hour later and posed for some Bucket List photos.  Note the was COLD up there!


But, we figured we better start heading down before it got too late.

The return was a very long, slow process.  We were the last people out of the crater after almost 9 hours and I was exhausted.  The clouds were closing in, and Peter really helped me all the way down. The sun had set when we finally climbed the 600 steps of the "wall of pain" at exit the valley.

The next day, we drove to the Cirque de Salazie, another beautiful amphitheater in the center of the island, and made our way to the picturesque little village of Hellbourg,  which was actually awarded the title of “Most Beautiful Village in France” in 2000.  We stayed in a little hotel called the Relais des Cimes which some say has the best Creole food on the whole island.  I’d have to agree.  The food is all sourced locally.!  The cabri massale (goat curry) was really fresh and to die for!!!  Yikes!!!  This cute little guy in the backyard might be on the menu someday soon!


From, here we decided on a moderate hike to Les Trois Cascades (Three Waterfalls) which was just an hour and a half round trip from the edge of town. We did NOT attempt rappelling down the waterfalls with ropes like these guys!  The sport of "Canyoning" is really popular here in Reunion but, I'll save that for another day...


We arrived back in town just in time to catch a spectacular sunset on the beach and some water babies enjoying the last rays of a beautiful Sunday afternoon.


So, with fond memories and bandaged feet,  we said farewell to La Reunion and set sail for South Africa!