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Published: August 2nd 2015
Reunion is an intriguing travel destination. Situated less than an hour's flight from Mauritius, all of a sudden visitors are transplanted in to the EU. This is despite the fact the island is way out here in the Indian ocean, and close to the coast of Africa. It's almost surreal getting your head around seeing EU number plates on the cars as they zoom past, and becoming accustomed to the French language and culture that pervades this beautiful island. The French are fully committed to Reunion as an overseas department, so in many respects the locals are privileged to enjoy the world class infrastructure, roads, and bus service provided at a level comparable to Europe. The island is home to one of the most active volcanoes in the world, and although she last blew off a head of steam in February this year, the volcano is once again starting to erupt. This mountainous island features stunning beaches along the coast, But on the coastal beach in Saint-Paul it’s black sand, and not a scene straight from a tropical island brochure. So here I am, ensconced in the town of Saint-Paul for a week to explore some of what the town and
the island has to offer.
The journal left off at the conclusion of an excellent visit to Mauritius, and the second port of call in the Mascarene Islands is Reunion, less than an hour's flight away. Although they are closely aligned the two islands are very different. Drivers use the right as in Europe, French is the official language, and everything looks far more modern after arriving in Reunion. I booked a gorgeous private room in a house through AirBnB in the commune of Saint-Paul, south of the capital Saint-Denis. A taxi ride was exorbitant, but the driver was friendly and ensured my hosts were informed of my arrival before he headed off on the road. The room is just as spectacular as pictured on the website, and my kind hosts had me feeling relaxed and comfortable in next to no time.
It was time to get out and about to explore this gorgeous little commune. Saint-Paul is not really a tourist centre as such, and the whole time I've been here I haven't come across another native english speaker. My hosts are conversant in English, but when I get out amongst the locals there is barely a
word of English either spoken or understood. It's quite a challenge dusting off my shaky French but if you've got to eat, and if you've got to get around, then you've got to speak French. The locals appreciate my shy and clearly inadequate skills as a linguist, and I've been able to get by for the past week and that's the main thing. It seems everywhere you go in Reunion, the locals are mad about a takeaway meal called Americain Poulet. Cut a fresh baguette down the middle, stuff it with chicken and fries on top, spread a bit of mayo, and top it off with a coating of cheese. Then just pop it in to the grill until the cheese has melted. I think I've had this dish enough times to last a lifetime, but it tastes really good. There is no swimming allowed in the shark infested waters of Reunion, and swimmers must content themselves with swimming in the lagoons. Several attacks over recent years has forced the government into taking such drastic action, but there is no alternative but to take these precautions.
Perhaps I should have stayed in a more touristy part of
the island, but I have enjoyed the challenge of getting by here in Saint-Paul. I get the impression the locals are somewhat amazed that I am here from the reactions in shops, but I keep thinking how unusual it is to be off the coast of Africa and seeing cars with EU number plates, and struggling to get by in French. It's all a part of the rich tapestry of life on the road, but for an English speaker Reunion is far more challenging than visiting Mauritius, which is geared so strongly towards tourism. Where Reunion stands apart, however, is in the stunning natural beauty of this mountainous island. The main communes hug the coast of the island, and it doesn't seem to matter where you are on the island, all you have to do is look inland and the mountainous scenery takes the breath away. There is a constant juxtaposition of coast line and mountain ranges that is quite unique in my experience.
Being an overseas department, the French have invested enormous capital into the development of the island. Each commune I've visited is absolutely immaculate, and pretty as a picture. A huge plus for Reunion is the
integrated bus network. A single trip anywhere on the island costs two euros, and I have used the modern buses exclusively to get around the island. It's a terrific travel option, and on occasion I have been on the bus for around two hours, and yet still only paid two euros. After spending a few days exploring Saint-Paul on foot, it was time to get around and see what the island has to offer. Just south of here on the west coast is the beautiful port of Saint-Gille. It features a lovely port with fine dining options lining the waterfront, and a picturesque white sand beach, but no swimming! I had a pleasant time strolling around the commune, and stopped off at a famous eatery for a cheap and delicious lunch.
Later I spent a day heading further south to the commune of Saint-Pierre. It is the third largest commune on the island, and the completion of the port in the late 1800's was an important milestone in the development of the island. The port is used predominantly for recreational craft nowadays, but it is lovely and an impressive feat of engineering. The other bonus in the beautiful blue
waters of Saint-Pierre is a shallow reef less than fifty metres from shore on the main beach, which means swimming is allowed and enjoyed by all. The road along the beach front is full of restaurants and takeaway stores, and Saint-Pierre has a real touristy feel to it compared to Saint-Paul, however I still found it necessary to use my schoolboy French in order to get by.
Reunion is home to one of the most active volcanoes in the world, which last erupted in February 2015. But she is stirring up for another bout of activity, and there never seems to be a dull moment on this impressive island. During the course of my visit it has been speculated wreckage from the doomed Malaysia Airlines flight may have washed up on the beach, and it's passing strange reading articles about Reunion in the online Australian press. Normally Reunion would never get a mention in the day to day reporting of the world press, but one gets the impression the locals are happy with their life in this little known but beautiful island in the Mascarenes. As a matter of fact, basically all of you should be here now!
It is not how much we have, but how much we enjoy, that makes happiness." Charles Spurgeon
As I continue my travels, until next time it's signing off for now
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