Buns of Steel

Réunion is famous for its hikes and walks, there are around 400 of them and I have not yet met someone who has done them all, so you could never really be bored here! Unless of course, you don’t like walking. In which case, why would you come to Réunion? Go to Mauritius!

The first hike I’d like to tell you about was a 6 hour one up to the summit of the active volcano here, Piton de la Fournaise!
We set off from St Benoit at 5am with our lovely Réunion tourist guide Olivier and drove for about 2 hours to the start point which was rather high up on an almost-cliff that overlooked the surrounding area of the volcano. This however didn’t mean that we were any way closer to it; we just had to descend a lot very steeply before beginning the real hike. The plants that clung to this cliff were absolutely beautiful: little silvery birch-like shrubs and occasional daisies 🙂

So from up-top the cooled lava flow leading up to the volcano looked really smooth and flat and I thought to myself “This walk can’t possibly can’t 5 hours, it’s gonna be easy”. Well I’m a fool. It wasn’t the hardest walk at all but the lava flow went up and down and was rather rocky. Though it was amazing to see the formation of how it cooled and at times it resembled what I imagine the spine of a Brachiosaurus looks like. As we started to ascend the mountain the hike got a bit tougher but we were in no hurry and took a lot of time to appreciate walking on an environment that can only be compared to the moon! It is so alien and so incredible – especially when we turned around to see the barrier of green cliffs behind; a wonderful stark contrast to the grey swirls of rock around us.
As we climbed further up the volcano the rock wasn’t just grey, they were some really beautiful bits that had a multi-coloured shine to them (obviously I picked up several pieces as souvenirs) and even large formations that has huge splashes if red in them.
When we finally reached the summit at around 10:30 I saw the white finish line and immediately ran to cross it! Then I realised that that was the safety line that you should stay behind, woopsies! Had a little peek into the mouth of the volcano which excitingly was smoking slightly and then sat down for an early lunch just looking over the amazing landscape.
The hike back down took longer than I imagined it would but it was fun until we reached the climb back up those stairs that we had originally come down. Carly and I had to take several breaks and arrived at the top rather exhausted whilst Ellen and David – who had been a bit behind us – sauntered passed and continued without any problems!

The second hike that Ellen and I did recently was a 2 day school outing again, this time with Bouvet. We set off on Friday morning; drove to Maido viewpoint and from there started our descent into Mafate ‘cirque’. Once again the walk wasn’t too difficult; the only thing we had to watch out for was not slipping off the edge of some of the narrower parts of the path. And as a kind of supervisor on the trip I also had to make sure the kids didn’t either! Was a lovely day though; great to see some of the students in a different context to just lessons. Some girls who are normally rather silent and moody in my English classes were absolutely lovely on the trip, proving that they don’t hate me, they just don’t like English! (Though after the trip they were better in my lessons, so I guess it has helped!).
Also, you didn’t have to work for long to feel like you were completely alone in the wilderness and it was a rather cloudy, misty day which made the walk all the more atmospheric in between these great mountains.
As with most walks what goes down must come up again so after a few hours of descent we started climbing up to reach the hostel. This was where I became like a proper teacher and stayed behind to look after the slow kids and motivate them and make sure that they didn’t have asthma attacks and die on my watch! We finally arrived into this tiny mountain village that was made up of maybe 6 buildings.
I should mention here that Mafate is one of the 3 famous ‘cirques’ of Reunion, formed by the now dead volcano, Piton de Neige, and it is the one ‘cirque’ that is accessible only by foot or by helicopter. The people have all their food, medical and school supplies flown in and their rubbish collected and flown back out.
After a yummy creole dinner and some rum punch Ellen and I went outside and gazed at the stars. They were the brightest and most twinkly stars I’ve ever seen! I love my island life.

Saturday, the day was clear and beautiful which was perfect for seeing the incredible views of the mountains as we walked. I loved looking back and seeing the little line that we seemed to cut through the greenery and when I looked around myself I felt like I was in a scene from Lord of the Rings. Who needs New Zealand when you’ve got Réunion! We were situated slap bang in the middle of the most beautiful selection of huge green mountains, such an impressive sight. At times it also reminded me of trekking in Nepal, though not as dangerous of course 😉
After about 5 hours of walking the beating, hot sun did get a bit tiring and I admit I was very happy to see the school bus picking us up at the end of it.

Ah I almost forgot to mention how lovely all of the students are. Throughout the hike the boys were offering to take the bags of some of girls who were tired – such gentlemen! And there was 1 quite overweight boy, who struggled with the walk, but his friends took his bag and went ahead with it then when we stopped for a break they would run back to check on him and make sure he was drinking enough water. All this without even a hint of annoyance.

By the time we reached home my legs were incredibly stiff and it was painful to walk or move in any way, however this just made it clear to me that for once I had definitely done a decent amount exercise! Buns of steel, here I come!


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