Port Réunion, Réunion

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March 9th 2008
Published: December 28th 2020
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Only a day from Mauritius but a world apart. Fewer Indians, more Africans and Europeans, but more particularly, a much more mountainous and sophisticated island. But after all, this is France as no one tired of telling us.

Our port of arrival was disappointing; Port de Réunion is just that, a commercial port with little to recommend it, particularly on a Sunday. Having said that, being in the middle of nowhere and with no facilities to speak of on the day of our arrival made little difference. It's as well we had booked a ship's tour.

Administratively, Réunion is one of the overseas departments of France. Like the other four overseas departments, it is also one of the 18 regions of France, with the modified status of overseas region, and an integral part of the republic with the same status as Metropolitan France. The official language is French but the majority of the region's population speaks Réunion Creole. Réunion is an outermost region of the EU and, as an overseas department of France, part of the eurozone (a place with the euro as their currency).

As a volcanic island, the topography of Réunion Island is unique and craggy. The island has peaks rising to over 3,000 metres as well as an active volcano and three huge craters (calderas) which the French described as cirques (loosely translated as amphitheatres) - they're not - but were no less spectacular for being misnamed. These three cirques were formed as the inside of Piton des Neiges - the volcano that gave birth to Réunion Island - and further shaped by centuries of erosion. The three cirques are called Salazie, Cilaos, and Mafate.

Our tour took us to the crater edge of one of these caldera at 2,200 metres (not sure which one). It took us about an hour and forty minutes to get to the top and we watched the scenery change significantly as we climbed higher. Unfortunately as we reached the top the whole area clouded over and we got a view for about 30 seconds through a brief clearing of the cloud down to the bottom of the extinct caldera. It was populated by a handful of small hamlets with no road access, one of which we saw for seconds. Apparently, they are serviced on a daily basis by helicopter. We had enough time to walk around the crater which was, itself, clear of the cloud. It wasn't possible to take any decent photos here.

We then descended to a geranium farm which we thought would be the usual commercial rip-off. However, it proved more interesting that we envisaged. The farm supplies many Parfumiers back in Metropolitan France. The plants used are pink geraniums, also called lemon geraniums and the parts used to produce the geranium oil constitute everything except the petals, i.e. the leaves stems etc. These are all placed in a still with a small amount of water at the bottom. This is heated by a wood fueled fire to produce steam which then takes all the essences out of the geranium shrubs. The resulting steamy material is then distilled in a second stainless steel chamber and fed into a large bottle from the bottom. This is then calibrated to allow the water to run off, as the oil rises to the top of the bottle to be tapped off. All very clever. We avoided buying any perfume, but did buy coffee and a number of other items including a vanilla pod holder.

Finally, we went to a rather smart beach resort called St Gilles. All our photos were taken here. Unfortunately we only had about half an hour here. It was very smart with a nice harbour and an aquarium plus a nice beach. However, there was insufficient time for a swim. We were then returned by the coach to the MSVG and set sail for Durban in the Republic of South Africa.

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