Réunion: A gem of an Island

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June 18th 2013
Published: July 7th 2013
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On our flight from Tana to St.Denis, We are above the clouds and I can see the beautiful colors of sunset, flying on Air Austral's twin propeller plane, we are very excited to be moving on to a new adventure, not a lot of people know about this tiny island in the Indian Ocean, most of the tourists that come here are French and a few Europeans, I myself only found out about this island while researching about the Madagascar trip, since I am already on this part of the world, why not pay it a visit, the photos on the internet looks amazing, and hiking is it's best attraction. Soon as we arrived at the airport in St.Denis, you can instantly see the difference, the terminal is clean, everybody speaks French, I feel like I am in Europe, and they use the euro!

There was a very helpful information booth at the arrivals hall that directed us to the taxi stand outside, driving through the city the streets are clean and modern looking, we noticed the architecture is also unique, I think it's Creole style, arriving in our hostel, costs us 30 Euros, there was no doorbell, we knocked on the gate, shouted no response, we got worried, the neighbors saw us and they told us to call the owner but we have no phone, so I kept banging on the metal gate and hollering finally she heard us and Rosanna let us in with a big smile, she is of Chinese descent, an example of how mixed this island is, immigrants from all over the globe living happily together.

We went out to the center for dinner, lots of restaurants to pick from, we chose a take out Thai restaurant, good food for a reasonable price and huge servings, we ate in the hostel then slept. The next day, a quick walk around town, got to the waterfront where they have old cannons next to a seawall, the Roland Garros statue nearby, the streets are empty, this being a Sunday, we realized now that Reunion towns are dead on weekends everybody is resting hardly any establishments open and they have siestas in the middle of the day.

From Phoenix hotel(25 euros/person) where we are staying at, we walked our way down to the Ocean bus station, near the waterfront, a good 10 minute walk, it is easy to find, just follow the direction towards the sea. The smell of the sea is welcoming with a mild breeze, not humid, it is winter here in Reunion but mild, the best time to come if you want to hike the famous Cirques which we are going to do but first we have to get to St. Louis, a town where we can get a bus to Cilaos, our main destination and starting point. There were 4 main lines A,B,C,D, a few goes to that town so I approached the info desk and asked which platform is the next departure, I was told platform 2 and soon enough the bus leaves, you pay on the bus(4.50 euros) and they prefer coins. Approximately 2 hour ride to St. Louis depends on which bus you get to take, some are express. The scenery was gorgeous, leaving the city the road skirts the rocky coastline and on your left are towering rocky hills with metal skirts to prevent landslides, it's so lush and green. We stopped at several towns, St. Paul, St. Gilles, St. Leu etc, most towns in Reunion are named after saints. To stop the bus you have to clap 2-3 times before your stop as there are no buzzers. We passed by some nice beaches, it is Sunday so they are crowded, when we near some tall hills we saw paragliders, plenty of them taking advantage of the good thermals rising up from the valley.

We passed some Sunday markets in different towns, and some sugar cane plantations as well, eventually we reached St. Louis, it's a bit warmer here and not as nice as the other towns, my first impression. We checked the bus sched, we need to take bus 60 to Cilaos, since it is Sunday it only runs a few times so we have an hour to kill, we decide to have lunch, we found a decent restaurant a block away from the station, cafeteria style, all food is cooked you just picked which one you want, I picked the "le coq" dish which I have no clue what it is, only later I found out it is the male chicken, it was good cooked in a simple carri sauce which is typical Creole dish here in Reunion. The bus costs I think 1.50 euros, and while sat waiting at the platform every one will greet us bonjour, one guy even shook our hands as if we knew each other, I guess Cilaos is a small town and they assume you will meet them one time or another when you are there, or just plain good hospitality from the locals.

The road climbs up gradually with hairpin switchbacks, and as a driver you have to be skilled enough to maneuver this big bus, and our driver did a good job, the scenery is breathtaking, lush vegetations cling to the cliffs,we pass by some small villages, people picnicking in parks near an almost dry river, we see lots of fruits and veggies planted in yards. People are an interesting mix, mulatto, white, black, Asians, and they all get along fine. If you have the tendency to get car sick btw, be ready for this ride, so many twists and turns but the view was glorious, eventually we reached the town.It was gloomy and eerielly quiet. Most places are shut, we got off the bus thinking we need to transfer to another to get to our accommodation. We are staying at La Roche Merveilleuse, a Canadian style chalet atop a hill, there is also a viewpoint of the same name above the hills of the town and I assume they are one and the same spot, so we took the bus there, kept walking up until we reached the viewpoint but no gite, eventually through the locals' help we realized we made a mistake and have to walk back down the damn hill to town with our bags, we were both pissed that we did not pay attention to the address, my fault mostly. Arriving in town again, I asked someone near the artificial lake where Rue La Platane is and if he knew our accommodation, he pointed to another uphill road!

Suffice to say we found it, tired and upset we just want to rest, it started to drizzle too. The owner wasn't there, only 3 people are staying at the moment, a Czech couple and this local dude Ray who spoke English and is a friend of the owner, he sorted us out and showed us our dorm room, he said the owner will be back soon. I noticed a note at the edge of the table with a phone number, we were supposed to call him when we arrived, but we have no signal here,later I realized that European phones work in Reunion as if local calls,as the Czech couple mentioned. I guess they don't get a lot of North Americans here, they assume everyone's phone works here. The gite is nice but the outdoor veranda is falling apart, some areas of the floor have holes, but we see that the owner is making improvements, and an enclosed room, looks like a reception area is being built in the corner near the restrooms.

For dinner we headed to town downhill, it is cold now and drizzling, and we found only one open eatery, the La Platane, they have a nice menu, seems very popular, we settled for pizza, which was good, and tried the local draft brew which was the Bourbon beer, it's a bit sweet but dry, not bad, just got to get used to it. it's like a ghost town, it is so quiet, hardly anyone on the streets, we made our way back and chatted with the Czech couple, they are here for their honeymoon, and they chose Reunion after seeing a documentary about

Roland Garros statue
it and got intrigued. They hike tomorrow to Mafate so we let them rest.The sun was shining the next morning,we head down town to visit the tourist info office, they gave us as much maps and brochures that they can give about our trek, quite helpful folks.Bought some pastires for breakkie at a local boulangerie, did some food shopping in preparation for the hike and chilled out near the artificial lake. Apparently June is quiet season, but picks up in July when French people go on holidays, so we are lucky to have the town to ourselves and the trails.

In the afternoon it rained as clouds rolled by, in the winter it is normal weather here, sun in the morning, clouds and or rain in the afternoon. The cliffs that surround the town 360 degrees gives different color hue at different times of the day, now you could barely see them as they are covered with clouds. Lunch was good, the local sausage creole dish and some lentils and rice. Dinner was again pizza, the owner finally met us and asked for the print out of our paid reservations, done online at the Reunion website, he barely speak English and thanks to Ray we can communicate.He seems friendly and laid back, we actually saw him having dinner at the same restaurant, La Platane. Anyway we got things ready, food, gear and I bought some booze to perk up cold evenings during the hike, we will leave our main packs here and just bring day bags for the duration of the our 5 day Cirque trek which will cover highlights of the 3 main cirques(Cilaos, Salazie and Mafate), there is a huge map on the common area of the lodge and we mapped out our route, tracing it just to have an idea, and had a few of the rhum lychee that we are loving so much,all excited we went to bed early, we had our last hot shower as we were thinking the rest of the way will be cold showers if any and just basic accommodation.

Additional photos below
Photos: 28, Displayed: 28



high cliffs on the road

oranges at the gite

8th July 2013

A gem of an island
You are correct. We've never heard of this one. Sounds interesting. Was the bourbon beer any good? What a lovely island.

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