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La Reunion 2009 – The Travel Blog

Volcanoes, hikes, canyoneering, caves and....

We must be getting adventurous in our not-so-old age, methinks - this time it's a visit to the remote French Island of La Reunion for a mixed bag of walking - including a 4 day hike in the Cirque de Mafate - a visit to the volcano, Piton de la Fournaise, a canyoneering trip into the Grande Ravine and, well, who knows!

Internet access is likely to be limited, so the blog may be brief, but we'll keep it as alive as possible.  Enjoy!

The Blog:

Only 5800 miles to go 04 September 2009
Well, the Winster Cavers have to admit it - the idea of taking the train / Eurostar as far as Paris was spot on. Navigated our way to Paris Orly airport with no trouble at all, and by 9:00pm we were airborne on what has to be the largest plane we've ever set foot in. Too tired to watch a film, we decided to get some shut-eye. La Reunion is now just 5800 miles away. Shouldn't take more than, urr, 11 hours.

Arriving on a paradise island. 05 September 2009
9:20 am and we get a glimpse of the spectacular mountainous interior of La Reunion, far beyond the wingtip of our aeroplane. 10 minutes later, and we're on the ground.
A more civilised than usual passage through customs and baggage reclaim, minimal faffing at the car rental, and we were on our way to Salazie. The scenery is awesome - verdant, volcanic, and very, very vertical. Having established that the Maison du Tourisme was "ferme", we made for our home for the next 2 days, Grande Ilet, checking out the start of our big walk by way of a small detour. Even managed to get a good veggie belly-full at the Restaurant Grande Ilet.

Belvedere la Fenetre 06 September 2009
Today was a warm-up walk - after the rain subsided we had a splendidly steep stroll of 500m up to the Belvedere la Fenetre. A fine airy introduction to the joys of walking on La Reunion.

Hiking the cirque Mafate - day 1, to La Nouvelle 07 September 2009
Having had a fine evening of good wine and curried eggs, followed by a much needed nights sleep, we bid our farewells to Mme Liliane Bonald and the rest of the guests, and drove up to the secure parking at the Col des Boeufs. 2 hours walking (+ 2 hours photography) in some of the most spectacular scenery we've ever had the pleasure of hiking in, and we arrived at La Nouvelle at lunchtime... So we located our gite, had lunch, and went for an extra wander towards Marla. The chou chou au gratin was superb, but "poisson", I'm afraid, just isn't veggie!

Hiking the Cirque Mafate - day 2, La Nouvelle to Roche Plate 08 September 2009
La Nouvelle to Roche Plate was an altogether different affair! A narrow path clung precariously to the edge of the 500m deep ravine, and to it clung two Winster Cavers. We descended without incident, taking in the breathtaking views as we did so, before crossing the river at the bottom and making the long, hot ascent to Roche Plate. You wouldn't think that finding the right gite in a 12 house village would be tricky would you!? Went to special effor to explain "veggie". We'll see how we did in an hour or so.

Hiking the Cirque Mafate - day 3, Roche Plate to Marla 09 September 2009
A cursory look at the map and it was clear that today's walk was going to be an easy one. About 6km and 500m of ascent, largely following a contour around the western edge of the Cirque de Mafate. Wrong, wrong, wrong! Hiking in La Reunion just isn't like that.
Relatively speaking, I suppose we were following a contour, but the walk from Roche Plate to Marla is full of surprises, and having already spent three days on foot, was more tiring than we'd anticipated. And it's not very often that you'll find the Winster Cavers admitting to vertigo, but the edge by the waterfall 1/2 way round was certainly, errr, interesting!
We arrived in Marla to find that our "repas" had not been booked. Salvation was found at the Snack Bar Le Marla in the form of beer and chips. Perfect :-)

Hiking the Cirque Mafate - day 4, return to the Col de Beoufs, and on to Hell Bourg 10 September 2009
Le petit dejeuner over, we donned our boots and rucksacks and made for the boulangerie in Marla to stock up for our last day of hiking in the Cirque de Mafate. It was closed, as was the snack bar! So we headed out towards the Col de Fourche with little more than 1/2 a pack of crackers between us. The hike was, again, full of interest, but this time not as strenuous as the last two days.
We arrived back at the car in good time, and drove to our next stop, Hell Bourg. The 4 day hike has been a fantastic experience - one that will be hard to beat.

Grande Etang and Takamaka 11 September 2009
As promised, today we had a somewhat easier day. After a leisurely breakfast, we located the Maison du Tourisme and books our meals at the Gite du Volcan - and a light aircraft flight for next week.
Went to the beautiful lake at Grande Etang. We thought the waterfalls at the Bras d'Anette were impressive - then we went to Takamaka. WOW! Possibly the most awesome canyon we've ever seen. Maybe next time.....

Canyon le Grande Ravine de Trois Bassins 12 September 2009
Today began with a 5:00am start and a rendevous at a petrol station near St. Gilles. After a round of speleo-faffing, we got to the start of the awesome Grande Ravine, and the not inconsiderable abseil to the lava cave. All was going well, but then came another monster abseil. Two pitches of 82m and 86m, on 8mm rope on a figure 8 descender. Nuff said! A terrific day out, but not an experience we'll be rushing to repeat!!
(Actually, we would go back - looking back it was a GREAT day out. Just do it!)

Hell Bourg to Belouve 13 September 2009
Moderate pain - minimal gain! After yesterday's rather long day, it could be argued that our plan to climb from Hell Bourg to Belouve, and then walk to the viewpoints overlooking the Trou de Fer were a little ambitious. A good day's walk if you're feeling spritely, but after a solid week of being energetic, a challenge. We set out in low cloud and light rain, and started the 500+ m ascent to Belouve, dragging our tired legs up the zigzag path. We arrive in Belouve in light cloud, which deprived us of the fine view to Hell Bourg which we'd surely earned.
As we started out on the path to the Trou de Fer, it soon became apparent that our fatigue was getting the better of us, and that reaching the viewpoint and getting back before darkness fell was unlikely. A short loop in the beautiful Belouve forest, and we made the long descent back to Hell Bourg.

The Riviere des Remparts 14 September 2009
After yesterday's harder-than-required hike up to Belouve, we were definitely not going to overdo it today. We drove over towards Piton de la Fournaise and took a stroll amongst the clouds to a viewpoint high above the Riviere des Remparts. The view would have been fantastic, had the clouds lifted. Then onwards to the Gite du Volcan where, in true French style, they seem to think that veggies eat fish!
The views over to Piton de la Fournaise offer a big temptation for tomorrow's hike though, so hopefully we'll be feeling a bit more refreshed after today's less strenuous walk.

Ascent of Piton de la Fournaise 15 September 2009
After a hearty breakfast, we descended from the Pas de Bellcombe and struck out across the impressive caldera towards Piton de la Fournaise, taking just enough, but not too much, notice of the signs indicating that access to the summit was off limits.
Now then, don't do this at home, but the climb to the summit of Piton de la Fournaise is well worth the effort, and the view into the Dolemeiu crater is a real treat. Listen carefully, and you can hear the crater rim slowly collapsing, as rocks of varying dimensions make the 300+m journey to the crater floor.
The authorities aren't joking about the dangers at the summit - but then, why should a little excitement be allowed to deter a couple of Winster Cavers? We carefully picked our way around the crater rim, occasionally daring to jump across the freshly fractured lava, and occassionally taking a route just a little further away from the crumbling edge!
We returned in low cloud, denied of the views to the sea that taunted us, and the eruption we'd hoped for, but certainly not of a pleasant and exciting walk.

And on to Cilaos... 16 September 2009
5:00am, we quietly left the Gite du Volcan, and headed down to St. Pierre. After some route-finding fun, we arrived at the Pierrefonds airport, and located our airline for the day - sort of. As Pierre turned the propeller to prime the engine of our "ULM", we couldn't help but wonder if he was actually winding up the elastic band! And there was no way that TWO Winster Cavers + pilot were going to fit into a plane that size!
So one at a time, and most definitely not together, we climbed aboard the tiny aeroplane, to soon be soaring above the spectacular La Reunion landscape. Cameras in hand, we marvelled at the scale and beauty of the island, before having a go at the controls ourselves. Cool!
Smiling, relaxed and excited, we chilled out on the beach at St. Pierre and watched whales far out to sea, before making the hour-long drive up the wicked mountain road to Cilaos. Having been based in budget accommodation for the whole trip so far, our last three nights are being spent at the relatively luxurious La Tsilaosa hotel. Jacuzzi bath, comfy bed.... Heaven!

Cilaos, and hiking to the Cascades Bras Rouge. 17 September 2009
Feeling much refreshed for a proper nights sleep, we lapped up the splendid breakfast that was on offer, before dropping into "RUN Evasion". Tomorrow we go canyoning again - this time the increasingly famous Fleurs Jaune. All booked up, we hiked from Cilaos out to the cascades Bras Rouge, a reasonable circular walk, returning via the Bassin Bleu. Pizza, bed, and more fun to be had tomorrow.

Le Canyon Fleures Jaune 18 September 2009
We arrived at RUN Evasion nice and promptly, meeting M'Ric as we did so. We nodded excitedly when he asked if we were doing the Fleures Jaune, 1/2 wondering if he was going to be our guide after all. Phillipe arrived a few minutes later, and we clambered aboard his beaten up old canyon-wagon (the Reunionnaise equivalent of a speleo-wagon) and made for the start of the Fleures Jaune, high above Cilaos.
Well, it has to be said, that the Winster Cavers are quite taken with this canyoning lark. Throw all your best caving practice out of the fenetre, jump into pools of unknown depth just a few yards from precipitous drops, abseil down waterfalls deliberately staying IN the water, abseil off the end of a rope to drop into a pool.... What a hoot :-)
And the 300m via-ferrata style scrabble back up to the car added an additional bit of spice to an already great day out. Highly recommended!

Homeward bound... 19 September 2009
And alas, all great adventures must come to an end, and today was our last day on La Reunion... but not a day to be wasted. We drove round to St. Gilles Le Bains, and hopped aboard the Grande Bleu for a bit of whale watching. Sadly, the only whales we saw were well and truly beached, complete with the usual array of towels, children, sun cream, pic-nic, etc. (apologies are in order to any genuine whales that may be reading) but we were blessed with a shoal of dolphins who swam along and under the boat.
Graceful, beautiful, elegant - an encounter with these fantastic creatures is a real pleasure, difficult to describe.
And then it was on to St. Denis, for the real start of our journey home.


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