I apologise for this very late blog post. I actually left La Réunion at the end of January and spent the month of Feb relaxing at home in England with my friends and family. And of course eating everything that I had missed so much (doughnuts, bacon, Mum’s Indian food, dim sum, McVities biscuits!), so however healthy I had become from all the hiking I did has certainly been reversed.
My last few weeks on the island after my holiday in Madagascar were unfortunately extremely boring. I had a long French essay to do for UCL so spent all my time shut up in my room doing research. So instead of talking about that I’m going to tell you about the couple of weeks before my holiday.
On the same day that school broke up for the Christmas holidays David, Ellen and I rented a small and rather run-down looking car in St Benoit and decided to go on a road trip to the south of the island! We set off in the afternoon heading south-east and stopping off in St. Ann to see the beautiful church there, then in St. Rose to look at the lava flow and visit one of the island’s rum factories and finally deciding to stop for the night in St Philippe. Being tight on money we decided to sleep in/outside the car. David and Ellen enjoyed a cool night of sleep under the stars. I stayed in the car and was so scared of mosquitoes biting me that I kept the windows shut and effectively slept in a sauna for 8 hours.
We woke up the next morning to watch the sun rising over the sea and breakfasted on kilogrammes of lychees that a student had given to us before leaving. Then our road trip continued further into the “Wild South”. We went for a walk in some of the last primary forest left in Réunion; it was a beautiful day and lovely to walk in the shade of the forest with the sunlight streaming through gaps in the branches. Following this tiny bit of exercise we prepared for a full day of relaxation! First to Chemin des Anglais where a swimming pool had been built into the lava flow right by the sea. So as we swam there we could gaze across the ocean and be splashed by the waves. There was also a natural pool next to this which sharks supposedly could not enter, but the current was relatively strong and I was slightly concerned about being sucked out into shark territory. From here we planned to go onto Manapany-les-bains, another natural pool. Unfortunately, our road trip was interrupted by the breaking down of our little car! After several hours of waiting for a mechanic and pushing it around a car park to try and get it started we eventually left with a new (and much better) one! Manapany-les-bains is absolutely stunning and was well worth the wait. I don’t think my words will do it justice so check out the photos. That same evening was also La Fête des Cafres – the island’s celebration of the end of slavery. We attended a party in an old rum factory where they had lots of African singers and musicians playing traditional music and loads of dancing.
It was great way for Ellen to finish her term there as the very next day we drove her to the airport to go home for Christmas.
David and I spent Christmas in a completely different way to usual. One of the other assistants was house-sitting for a teacher so he invited us over for a Christmas party in a lovely house that looked over the mountains. Everyone brought some food and we spent most of the evening drinking cocktails and dancing. Of course, being one of the smallest people there I was thrown into the pool that they had more times than I can remember! The most wonderful thing about Christmas in Réunion is that at midnight everyone lets off fireworks. I think that is one of my best memories from my time on the island: sitting in a warm pool, a cocktail in my hand and fireworks going off all around us into the starry sky. A truly unforgettable Christmas.
I must also mention that I finally went paragliding! It was much less scary than I had thought. In fact it was actually quite relaxing to gently drift through the sky and view the world how birds must do. And it’s an experience that I definitely want to repeat in the life.
So, a summary of my 5 months in La Réunion: certainly one of the best experiences of my life so far and I couldn’t have asked for a better start to my year abroad. The island is incredibly beautiful and the people are so warm and friendly. I hope to return there and I hope that this blog has also encouraged some of you to consider it as a tourist destination!