Published: November 12th 2008November 1st 2008
Ile de la Reunion
Like clockwork, the clouds pour over the mountains every day down into Reunion's cirques. For more photos, click here: Flickr Photo Page
In Search of Pirate Treasure, Sorcery and Fresh Volcanic Mountain Air
Nov. 1, 2008
Ile de La Reunion, Southern Indian Ocean
Every morning, the thick cottony clouds begin to build up outside the three bowl-shaped volcanic cirques in the center of Ile de La Reunion in the southwestern Indian Ocean. Villages, in the valleys and perched high up on the hillsides within the cirques, are protected by the 8,000-foot peaks and are baked all morning in the tropical heat. As if on cue, usually about noon, the pressure builds and the clouds have nowhere else to go but up and over mountains and down into the cirques far below. The clouds, like water, pour down the steep hillsides and into the lush, tropical valleys. The temperatures in the valley then quickly drop as the sun disappears. The sky eventually gives way to nighttime. Late in the evening the skies clear and give way to the stars and moon, until the sun comes up the next day, casting a warm glow again on the valleys.
A fourth cirque, is not yet called a cirque. It’s an active volcano. At more than 7,500 feet high, Piton de la Fournaise still spews
La Buse, Sorry to disturb....
La Buse, Sorry to disturb....but could you kindly give us a hint to where your treasure is buried?
For more photos, click here: Flickr Photo Page
lava daily for the delight of onlookers from a safe viewpoint.
The volcanic landscape, cloud-covered tropical peaks and stark contrast in climates give the island an air of mystery. But this can only be rivaled by the eclectic mix of cultures on Reunion and the bizarre myths, legends and religions that have been brought here through hundreds of years of European immigrants from Spain, Portugal, Italy, Germany, England, Scotland and Ireland. There’s also been a steady stream of Africans, Indians and Asians, and others, including Creoles and Middle Easterners. It’s no wonder that in any given town on Reunion, one might find churches, mosques, pagodas and Hindu temples. A few times a year, Tamil Hindus perform a firewalking ceremony to repent for their sins and receive favors from the gods. A separate ceremony, the Kavadi, is a penitence by young Hindus to the Goddess Mourouga.
Add to this a few home-grown myths and Reunion is like nothing you’ve ever seen.
In 1730, the pirate Captain Olivier Levasseur, know as La Buse, was set to be hung in Reunion for spending years plundering ships in the Indian Ocean. Most famous of La Buse’s captures was the Portuguese ship
J: Busco, there's something about how you eat gruel in the a.m. after a night of Malicious Mauritius.
Busco: Er, what?
J: I've just put me wee finger on it! Ever think of going into blender sales?
For more photos, click here: Flickr Photo Page
Nostra Senhora de Cabo, which contained millions of dollars worth of gems from Goa in India. Just before the noose was slipped over La Buse’s neck he scattered a bundle of papers into the crowd. The parchment included maps to where he buried his treasure on Reunion. But La Buse, which means “the Buzzard” in English, didn’t make it so easy. The papers were filled with codes and secrets that needed to be cracked to find the treasure’s location. To this day, almost 300 years later, the treasure still hasn’t been found. And so the legend of La Buse lives on. At the Marin cemetery, overlooking the beaches of St. Paul on Reunion’s West coast, La Buse rests, a skull and crossbones engraved into the headstone. Flowers and candles adorn the grave, as locals pay their respects. Every night some come to practice some sort of cult-inspired sorcery.
Even stranger, sometime around 1931 a box of sacred relics arrived on the island from the Vatican, according to author William Dalrymple. Somewhere along the way, the labels and papers detailing the contents were lost. The only form of identification was the Italian word “SPEDITO,” or expedite, stamped on the outside
Reunion's Mix of Cultures
Vegas Ice Cream, Bayou Pizza, Le Manhattan Rotisserie Chix? This photo makes me Le Tired
More photos: Flickr Photo Page
of the box. And only on an island like Reunion, would this inspire the creation of a new patron saint - St. Expedit. But there’s more still to Reunion’s adopted Catholic Saint. Hindus have adopted the saint as well, and treat St. Expedit as an incarnation of Vishnu. Indian Muslims tie cotton threads to his shrine as they would at Sufi shrines. St. Expedit shrines can be seen on roadsides, near beaches and high in Reunion’s hills.
So to get a better feel for the island, and on the off chance that we might stumble across La Buse’s treasure, three of us left La Port for the Cirque de Mafate. The Cirque has no roads and its inhabitants rarely leave the rugged valley. Many are descendants of plantation slaves that wouldn’t accept their lot in life and escaped up into the hills. The villages have farms and gardens, and some operate mini sugar and coffee growing operations. The villages trade with each other via a complicated network of trails. The occasional helicopter drop provides food and supplies - for those willing and able to pay. At “la boutiques” beer is sold to hikers, and not surprisingly, it commands a high price. A three-day backpacking trip brought us through two or three villages and across the entire Cirque de Mafate and down into Cirque de Cilaos. A hike across the entire island, North to South, we were told, would take about two weeks. The scenery is incredible and some of the most rugged terrain that I’ve ever seen. Large spherical rocks, the size of small houses, seem to have been delicately placed on the Riviere des Galates’s river bed. The rest of the river bed has been smoothed over thousands of years of water erosion, leaving only the indentation of ancient ripples. To get from Cirque de Mafate to Cirque de Cilaos we had to hike over a 6,000-foot pass, one that rivaled many cols I’ve been over in the Alps.
Twice we were greeted to the daily flood of clouds over the mountains and down into the valleys. They seemed to roll down on top of us. My only regret was not spending enough time on Reunion. While nearby Mauritius has a reputation for being a fantastic getaway for Europeans, Reunion is much more impressive in scenery and in culture. Mauritius has its fair share of mountains and sunsets and majestic scenes, but so far, nothing I’ve seen on the Indian Ocean passage has rivaled Ile de La Reunion.