That’s write folks, I finally wrote a new blog post.
Alright, let’s start with some geography cuz nobody knows where the fuck Réunion is. Also, you’re probably saying it wrong.
Réunion (French: La Réunion, [la ʁe.y.njɔ̃]
Alright, so what you need to know is that Réunion is a French island in the middle of flipping nowhere (near Mauritius and Madagascar in the Indian Ocean). Go figure it used to be a slave colony farming coffee. Then when slavery became illegal it became a melting pot of cultures mostly from Africa, China, and India. And of course French people. I should note that the first inhabitants of the island were a dozen French mutineers exiled there… Yeah… I’d HATE to be exiled to Réunion… Don’t EVER send me there if I commit a crime…
Now there’s about a million people living there, and they speak French and the local Reunion Creole as well, and it is basically a god damn island paradise. Everything is beautiful, huge and amazing, it looks like Jurassic Park, and the people are insanely nice as well. Basically the only way to get there is a 12 hour direct flight from Paris, and you will not want to leave.
Seriously, at CDG in Paris, the stuffy customs guy asked me where I was going and I said Réunion and his demeanor immediately changed. The guy smiled, tapped the other customs guy and was like “This guy is going to Réunion!” (in French) Then he told me they were both from Réunion and he said “Trust me, when you get there, you will see, you will understand – and you will never want to quit!” – he was right, I didn’t want to leave!
Ladies and gentleman, my Volkswagen Up, or as I think it should be called, the Volkswagen Second Gear. Because no matter what speed you’re going or what road you on, you seem to always need to downshift to second gear to go anywhere. I suppose a big part of this is the hilly nature of Réunion – but for some hills I needed 1st gear – the entire time – these were the steepest roads I’ve ever driven on. #cilaos
Just a few random shots of the city. I stayed mostly in Saint-Denis, but the island isn’t very big. If you drive the entire coast in one big loop it would maybe take you 3 and a half hours! With 24 cities and ~850K people, it’s not a huge place. The last photo was some kind of gambling they have in the little gas stations, was pretty popular at each one, must be their equivalent of scratch offs XD
Réunion never disappoints in the view. Doesn’t matter where you are you can look up to the sheer, massive cliffs that are blanketed with green – or you’re looking down from the mountain onto the city and out to sea.
Religion is HUGE in Réunion. There are Catholics, Protestants, Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists, and MORE. And there are no shortage of religious buildings, shrines, and other sights and sounds as well. Below are some photos and a cool video of a super loud drum focused ceremony of some sort… Yeah… I hope you guys don’t expect me to know everything. I’m just doing my best to show you the same experience, and fill in the gaps I know how 🙂
Yeah, see that, I got you Googling shit now and trying to figure out these mysteries just like me 🙂
The cool thing I will add on to this, is that there is EXTREME religious tolerance on the island. They practice happily side by side and they are PROUD of their tolerance for each other. Every night at my window, I’d hear the muezzins (beautiful prayer singing on a loudspeaker from two nearby mosques), followed or preceded by the Catholic church banging its bells. But the one would patiently wait for the other to finish each time. I think the Catholic church was just banging for the hour, whereas the mosques pray at sundown.
But seriously, shrines and shit are everywhere. I see it often in the world that along the climb to mountaintops there will be religious symbols, but one of those photos was just next to the freeway off ramp! I saw this random red Chinese looking shrine thing! Religion is everywhere in Reunion!
Short and sweet here, I didn’t get any great pictures of it – but all over the place are boulodromes where you will find locals playing petanque. Petanque is a game similar to Bocce, if you don’t know what Bocce is, Google it or Petanque. Petanque is huge in the south of France too. Basically you chuck a ball and then the other guy chucks a ball and knocks yours away and then you try to knock his away and get yours in his place or some shit – I really don’t know, I’ve played Bocce once. Anyway my favorite thing is you can spot the pro, or maybe the try hard player, because the balls are iron so some players have a little magnet on the end of a string they use to pick up their balls so they don’t have to bend over. It’s priceless, I just really hope those guys always win, cuz if you’re using that thing and look so slick and lose… it’s gotta be extra painful 🙂
Rue de Paris
There’s a street in Saint-Denis that is famous for its Southern Plantation style homes, and it did not disappoint. Beautiful houses, most of them gated in, and honestly it looked like nobody lived in most of them which is a bit sad. I spotted a few “fixer uppers”… Maybe if I win the lottery this will be my new crib some day 🙂
Food and Drink
Alright, first off the local beer is a tribute to our lost friend The Dodo Bird, which lived in Mauritius, a nearby island. And it is everywhere like Bud is everywhere in the US. The island used to be called Bourbon named for the French Royal house, so there will be a huge section of “Bourbon” spirits, but they are not bourbon like you’d expect. They are a sweet sugar cane spirit similar to a gold rum.
The real drink of the island is infused / flavored rums. They are obsessed with them. You’ll see house infused rums at the hotel bar, and a MASSIVE section at every grocery store. Lychee, passion fruit, mango flavored, vanilla flavored, chocolate – you name it basically. And I’ll tell you what, they’re pretty damn good. I made an expensive habit of draining the mini bar in my room almost every night 🙂
The real local food is curry which they say like “gah ree”. Lots of rice, lentils, some veggies and a protein. Proteins like chicken, tofu, local specialty sausages, or… rabbit… as I discovered on accident. Oh well, I won’t make a habit of eating rabbit, but I’ll try most anything once or twice. It was pretty good, but all due to the spices, not the meat 😛 #vegetarianpitch
The last thing I’ll say is that I’ve only seen these tent style food spots here and in Los Angeles, and it’s still amazing. Cambros, coolers, ice chests, propane tanks, burners, all on a random street corner. These guys are high on my list of who I want in my camp when the apocalypse hits.
At first I was staying at Hotel Bellepierre, which had a super fancy feel, proven true when the folks at the lab said in an astounded voice “Wow, Hotel Bellepierre? That’s where the celebrities stay when they visit!” But because of Corona prices were competitive everywhere…. and I had a nasty run in with ants a few too many nights in a row, and I think I was just grumpy and stressed from travel so instead of asking the hotel to deal with it, I just relocated myself downtown to Hôtel Le Juliette Dodu 🙂 Pics of the lobby and lobby cat below 🙂
You guessed right, those giant futuristic robot looking things are speed cameras… they’ll getcha…
So, I went for a random drive my first day there, and I was on a road that hugs the cliff coastline, and off in the water a few hundred meters out, was this MASSIVE… STRUCTURE? I honestly thought, it MUST be military, or alien maybe, but I didn’t see any UFOs, so I figured military. It was just so big and fancy and EXPENSIVE looking, it didn’t jive with anything else being so close to this city where our food comes from a shack, and the fanciest hotel in downtown has rusted everything on the outside (I think this is just a factor of life on most islands b/c of weather and island life)
That – is the most expensive road in the world (purportedly). Supposedly something insane like 12 billion dollars for a few km in length – they are building it because rocks frequently fall off the cliff because of the rains, and once a rock crushed a car and a few people were killed. So yeah, this insanely massive, way out in the fucking Atlantic, crazy expensive road, will replace the cliffside freeway for this stretch, due to open sometime soon I think
Oh yeah, the rains.
One of the things I read on Wikipedia before coming to Réunion was that the island holds the world record for rainfall in 12, 24, 72 and 96 hour periods. And this is no joke. It will rain in 5 minutes, more water than I’ve seen anywhere rain in an hour. I mean, it won’t necessarily be windy or violent, but just sheer volume of water is unreal. A 30 second walk to the car was the equivalent of me jumping in a swimming pool. Soaked through to the underwear. Below is a picture of your standard side of the road water trough, like the equivalent of what in the US would be a little gutter and a drain – if I was standing in this trough, my head would be below the surface of the road, and almost every major street will have a rain catch like this!
Alright, the heavy hitters
So, Réunion has a number of impossibly amazing natural wonders, that I could never even dream of doing justice in my description with photos and pictures… and this is why you have to go some day. Just black out 2 weeks of your life, spend a week in France, then fly from Paris to Réunion and spend a week on this island paradise. I bet if everyone reading this did it, the population of Réunion would grow by at least 5 of you. But I’ll share the ones I tried to capture below.
Mafate’s name comes from a Malagasy word meaning lethal – an allusion to the sheer cliffs that you have to traverse to get to it. Mafate is a cirque, which through my lingual adventures I never figured out what it means, but it’s not a circus like Google Translate would tell you – it’s basically a caldera. I think we use the word cirque in English as well. ANYWAY. There are three cirques in Réunion, Cirque de Cilaos, Mafate and Salazie. And Mafate is unbelievable. Sheer cliffs make up the crater rim, and deep down below, far off in the impossible distance, are tiny specks that are a few houses, a helicopter delivering supplies, maybe even a car or two. Lord knows how much a gallon of gas costs down there.
I could stand there and stare down into the cirque for hours.
Piton de la Fournaise
Piton de la Fournaise is one of the 4 most active volcanoes in the world. The residents of the island will simply call it “le Volcan”, the volcano. And it’s amazing, on your way to the Volcano you are first greeted with the Plaine des Sables (the sands plain). It may as well be called the Martian plain. You spend over an hour on a switchback road surrounded by the usual greenery. and the biome suddenly changes. And I shit you not, it looks EXACTLY like the alien landscape depicted in the Calvin and Hobbes cartoons.
The weather and unsafe terrain (due to recent eruptions) didn’t allow me to hike inside the active volcano crater (yeah you read that right) nor did I get to see any erupting lava, but there was plenty of secondary evidence, steam vents, cooling lava as the clouds parted, etc. My favorite thing was hiking around the volcano rim, the whole area is serene, you can tell plants and wildlife have only been here for 10 or 20 years (since the last massive eruption). And it’s wonderful. I got the worst sunburn of my life, and a nice scrape to the knee (that I still have evidence of months later) and I don’t regret any of it. I hope the pictures do some kind of justice ❤
One of the other cirques, is Cirque de Cilaos. Cilaos is actually a tiny village living on the crater floor, but first you have to get there. Another one of those unsubstantiated world records, they say the road to Cilaos has the most curves of any road, between 200 and 400 was what locals told me, and either one could be possible. You can find a clip of the drive on YouTube if you want, on the way down I followed a car with kids hanging out the windows throwing up XD. It really is insane though, being on this insanely twisty road, that regularly drops down to one narrow lane, and then suddenly having to back up for the BUS coming towards you!
Once you get to the village, it’s magical, a lot of tiny restaurants and hotels, I visited a cute farmer’s market, church had just gotten out, everyone was so impossibly nice. But the striking feature – wherever you go, no matter where you look – the horizon is the crater rim. It was fucking fantastic. Like being IN Jurassic Park.
Oh yeah, that last picture are the hot water heaters. A lot of the homes in Réunion don’t have electricity, but they don’t really need it, and even if they do have it, they still heat their water with those rooftop solar things. Every house everywhere has one of those on the roof.
Some of the Flora and Fauna
One thing that’s cool about going somewhere this remote is the plants and animals are wildly different than anything you will see anywhere else. I tried to snap a few pictures, but I missed the real hero, they have a chameleon that is indigenous to the island only. Supposedly to find them you have to go out after hours with a flashlight snooping around in the trees… Something for next time I suppose 🙂
Stray cats and dogs are literally everywhere, so is sugar cane, and a lot of times you will encounter plants that are just larger than life. It’s really like being in Jurassic Park sans dinosaurs. The tree ferns are my favorite, because they look like enormous green capped mushrooms sticking out above the foliage.
Datura is something I was warned about actually, because if you were to fall asleep underneath one in bloom… odds are good you could have some health problems. It’s infused with drugs to get high, it causes heart attacks, it’s poisonous, and it’s everywhere. I think the hype exceeds the real threat, but one concrete thing is, if you see someone with a few giant ones growing in the yard, odds are good they’re mixing it in with their weed.
Which incidentally doesn’t grow well in Réunion! One day at the lab the topic of conversation went to marijuana, which is not legal in France, and as such not legal in Réunion. In Réunion, too much UV light comes through the atmosphere to grow good weed, so most people get it delivered by plane somehow from Paris. Anyway, needless to say, drugs are found in every corner of the world, for better or for worse.
That little van showed up one day with our Technetium generator, which was quite the ordeal to orchestrate apparently. There’s a lot of paperwork around radioactive stuff, and a generator is a good steady source of radioactivity, so it’s understandable. Needless to say when that van showed up with our generator, it was a bit… hilarious. Emma didn’t want me to take a picture, and she promised there is a much nicer van being purchased this year. Hey, I’m not hating, it gets the job done. The active stuff inside the van is all inside lead boxes anyway.
My Favorite Old Lady
This lady was a few blocks from my hotel, and every day she feeds these birds by tossing grain or whatever out her window… One day I will be just like her.
I’ll let you guys work on solving this riddle, I found this on top of the mountain, at the volcano rim. And best I can tell is it’s some famous old poem, except instead of writing “Freedom” there is a real person’s name written at the bottom of the card – “Marie”. Perhaps with some careful thought, google translating, and googling, you can figure this one out and fill me in. What does it mean?
Sur mes refuges détruits
Sur mes phares écroulés
Sur les murs de mon ennui
J’écris ton nom
The Picture Worth a Thousand Words
Taken at Carrefour, Saint-Denis, Réunion. Yes, to take this photo I had to creepily snap it from the end of an aisle, and no that is not my kid, but I’m determined to not pass up great photo ops like this.
It’s been over a year since I wrote a blogpost, and I’ve been traveling the whole time. And I had traveled to places I wanted to blog about before that. I can tell in writing this that it’s not as good as it would have been had I written it sooner – so I’m hoping the pictures and the stories do the heavy lifting here. All I can say is, I’m determined to write, and to write more often. So here’s to this being one some more regular content ❤
Love you guys.