So far, the only photos I have shared with you from Reunion Island were either photos of the city of Saint-Denis or photos of the beach. We spend a lot of time at the beach because my kids love it and we go there almost every vacation. Moreover, even in winter, we like to spend a little time in the west of the island at the lagoon. This year again, we went to spend a week at La Saline with our feet in the water. I had started to write a Blog about the beginning of the children’s holidays but I put it in the trash because I was tired of always sharing pictures of beaches with you. However, here are some of the ones made last week. (I’m not with a contradiction …)
Nothing new, you will tell me. But this year the weather was better and we didn’t have any wind or swell. The conditions were ideal and we had a great week and the water temperature was even pleasant. Even if it seems obvious to spend your holidays with your feet in the water on a tropical island like Reunion Island, I rarely went to the beach when I was a kid. My parents didn’t like the sea and considered it dangerous. Even rivers and basins were forbidden to us. Moreover, even today when I go with my children to the sea and to the rivers, my parents still warn me by asking me to be very careful. It is a generation that has always feared water. I guess drowning accidents marked the spirits and at the time children did not necessarily know how to swim. Which is no longer the case today. Joachim and Ronan learned to swim very early on. It was essential for us as we had a swimming pool. It’s not all risk insurance, but they already know how to swim very well.
All my youth, I spent it far from the beaches. My parents often took us on hikes to walk the kilometers of trails that run through the mountains of Reunion. Reunion Island is not famous for its beaches and tourists come mainly for hiking. When I browse my parents’ photo albums, there are countless photos of us hiking and none of us at the beach. This is why I particularly like the mountains. With young children, it was easier to go to the beach, but they are growing up and we decided Gwen and I to make them discover the joys of hiking, but especially the hidden treasures of Reunion Island. And it must be earned, because in the heart of the island is the Cirque de Mafate, a unique place where there are no roads, cars and the only accesses are trails. In total, nearly 140 km of trails crisscross the Cirque. Even though thousands of tourists flock, it is a place that is still unspoiled.
Over the past 30 years, small hamlets of houses (called Ilet) have developed to provide the growing number of tourists with infrastructure to be able to sleep during their journeys. At the time, the lodgings could be counted on the fingers of one hand and the comfort was quite basic. Now, you can sleep in super comfortable bungalows with hot water, impeccable bedding … In short, +++ benefits. On my first hikes in Mafate, there was just a basic grocery store in each Ilet. It was often an old shack with essential products to sell (cans, rice, oil, biscuits …). Today, you have snacks and you can order a draft beer, french fries … In short, nothing much different from a snack that would be found elsewhere on the island. It’s nice, but I regret a bit because Mafate has lost a bit of his soul.
What has not changed are the kilometers of steep paths that link the different hamlets and villages. The climbs are still hard for the calves and thighs and the descents always complicated for the knees … This year, I had organized a night in Marla which would serve as a stop for our little Mafatais journey. My parents who are very good hikers joined us because they wanted to hike with their grand children. FYI, they are 78 & 76 years old and frankly, I didn’t believe them capable of doing this kind of hike anymore. It is not the ride as some people think. You have to be equipped because the weather is capricious and most of the passes reach over 1800m ! We started to get scared when Joachim’s cousin Pierre started having difficulties after just 1 kilometer. We were very lucky because the sky was relatively clear and allowed us to be amazed at the Col des Boeufs, one of the entry points into the Cirque de Mafate. On the other hand, the descent was made slowly because the trails were all muddy. Rain must have fallen the previous days. Which didn’t help my mother who has osteoarthritis in both knees. But that’s not what was going to hold her back. She is a little woman with a strong character with an iron will. I spent most of the day at the back of the group with Pierre and my mother. It also suited me not to go too fast because I was loaded like a donkey with a bag of nearly 40 kilos! Joachim and Ronan took the lead with Valentin, a friend of Joachim’s. They were going so fast that they often had to stop to wait for us.
We reached our lodging at the beginning of the afternoon and the troops were very tired! Well except the three who were leading the others … I had planned to walk a little after lunch but everyone decided that it was better to rest … My father was very tired because he had carried Pierre’s bagpack to relieve it. The night’s rest will not be too much for him to recover a little. The next day everyone was in great shape. And it was better because if we had only the descent the previous day, now we had to go up to the Col des Boeufs to come out of the Cirque de Mafate. The first stage towards the village of La Nouvelle was done without incident under a beautiful sun even if some started to show some signs of fatigue from the first slopes. A well-deserved break with french fries and soda allowed the children to regain some energy.
That’s when the sky fell on us ! A fine rain accompanied us during the return trip which was very very long … To spare the most physically affected, we opted for a less steep path but which was at least 3 times longer than the steeper path. If it were up to me, I would have taken the steepest path, even if it meant hurting my thighs. But I think some would have burnt out the way up. Instead, we had a good time on a trail that ran through a forest of cryptomeria. It was super beautiful despite the rain ! We arrived at the Col after 4pm in freezing rain with gusts of wind that froze our bones. We were soaked after an ascent of nearly 4 hours walking in mud and on slippery trails that looked like river beds !
I was very proud of my parents who despite their advanced age were able to do this hike with their grand children. I think it was important to them because it was surely the last time they set foot in Mafate. They are still in great shape, but the weight of the years is inevitably felt when they have to produce violent efforts like during this hike. The return was harder, even for the children. But they did very well and we took a big box of candies with us to give them courage when they were slack. It worked pretty well because everyone made it to the finish line with the kids ahead of course! We did not linger up there, because everyone was physically well affected by the dire conditions in which the return had taken place. We hit the road all soaked. Shelter was found after a few kilometers so that we could change and put on dry clothes.
Joachim and Ronan enjoyed this hike very much even though it was physically hard. We will try very soon to make others with them just to make them discover other wonders accessible only by foot ! As you can see through these photos, Reunion is above all about the mountains and that’s what I prefer on my island !
All photos were taken with the Fujifilm XF10.