Sunday, January 17, 2016

Wrapping Up In Reunion



11 to 16 January, 2015 - St Joseph, Cirque de Cilaos, Piton St-Leu - (Reunion/France)

So, around the south and up the west, our time in Reunion (and this adventure) draws towards a close. We are definitely not running out of things to do here. Another week would be easy to fill in! Unfortunately, we do not have that, so now it is a matter of choosing what to do to out of what has not been done.

One thing we had been particularly planning all along was some walking in the interior, going to the famed "cirques" of Reunion. Cirque de Cilaos seems often listed as the most impressive of the three, so into the interior we went. A wonderful drive of 400 plus twists and turns, not too much of a climb overall, but we went up to passes, down along ravines, over and under, to be ultimately at Cilaos.

Look Carefully...
Look Carefully...
If you look carefully, you will see the "canyoners" making their way down the falls. Nice, because it gives perspective. Cascade de la Grande Ravine.


Grande Anse
Grande Anse
Beach time on Reunion's south coast.


Road to Cirque de Cilaos
Road to Cirque de Cilaos
There are more than 400 twists and turns on the 37 kilometre road to Cirque de Cilaos. Many of them are hairpins. One is even a 270 degree rotation where the road passes back over itself on a bridge. An exciting drive indeed, punctuated by many viewpoints and lookouts.


Peak in Cirque de Cilaos
Peak in Cirque de Cilaos
One of the peaks en-route to Cirque de Cilaos. Just to the left of the peak, keen eyes can pick out the road tunnel passing through the massif of rock.


Well, here we are. This part of the blog comes to you from where we are "stranded" in the mountains. Not entirely cut off, so I don't want to over-dramatise. We are at Ilet a Cordes. It is 10 km from Cilaos. The views are incredibly beautiful. Anyway, Cilaos almost feels like the end of the world as it is. But it is not the end - 10 km further is Ilet a Cordes. We came here for even more views. And now we are stuck. A rock face has collapsed and closed the only road. How long for? Nobody seems to know. 4 hours in, and some engineers have been helicoptered in to begin assessment. Initial assessment has them saying we should be out of here tonight. But it is past lunch time, and not one pebble has been moved yet. The retaining mesh for the rocks has been ripped off and I think that is probably their first concern.

Morning - Cirque de Cilaos
Morning - Cirque de Cilaos
The mornings generally bring better views. The clouds tend to be higher or non-existant. In the high parts of Reunion, as the day progresses, so does the deterioration of the weather.


Looking Back at Cilaos
Looking Back at Cilaos
When you are in Cilaos, it is harder to appreciate its location than when you look at it.


Road Closed
Road Closed
Workmen survey the rock fall on the road from Ilet a Cordes to Cilaos. This had the road closed for nearly six hours, primarily while we waited for engineers to be helicoptered in, who then abseiled down the cliff, dislodging all loose boulders and rubble as they went. It seems the problem was not the rocks which had fallen, but the rocks which were yet to fall!


Well, by 5:00, we were back in town with a glass of wine in hand. It was around six hours we were held up. Really, nothing to complain about, just another adventure.

Mushrooms Along the Way
Mushrooms Along the Way
Along one of the trails we walked in Cirque de Cilaos.


Cardinal
Cardinal
Ubiquitous throughout Reunion.


A Comouflaged Frog
A Comouflaged Frog
Trying to hide in the undergrowth, I managed to get a shot as he scuttled from one pile of dead leaves to another.


Longose
Longose
A beautiful flower, but unfortunately, it is a weed.


Back to the coast, to couchsurf with Marion and Benoit, and their children Alix and Basile. We met this family in Rodrigues, and they invited us to stay when we passed through.

On our second last day, we headed up to "La Fenetre", the window, to try and get some views. Unfortunately, cloud meant we never saw the whole view at once. Most of the time, we were staring at white nothing. Occasionally a break in the clouds revealed a tiny snippet of the overall vista, but a lot of imagination was needed to piece it all together.

So we headed down to the beach, and ended up at l'Etang-Sale les Bains, which has a black sand beach. If you think a normal beach can get hot, try black sand. We decided to leave our things in the shade, high above the water line, and make a dash to the water. I realised it was hot, but was committed and just kept on going with the cool waters as my target. What I didn't realise was that I was seriously burning my feet in the process. It was too late, and now I am nursing seriously blistered feet and toes. Jo has asked me to please be more careful with my feet the day before leaving an island. This makes two in a row.

Final day was relaxed, with not too much planned. This is par for the course when there is an afternoon flight. It is hard to enjoy things with the thought of flights and formalities looming - better to underplan, and finish with a wonderful meal of octopus and prawns and a carafe of red wine.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

It's France with an Active Volcano



7 to 10 January, 2015 - St-Andre, Piton de la Fornaise, La Brule - (Reunion/France)

Reunion. A French department in the Indian Ocean. Geographically, it's Africa. Culturally, it's laid back France. Magnificent topography, formed by numerous volcanoes, not all of them extinct.

We picked up a hire car, dealt with odd opening hours, discovered how little English was spoken here, and dined on take-away Creole food and a bottle of red. That was day one.

The second day saw us discovering some of the beautiful natural wonders of this island. The afternoon had us climbing high to spend the night close to the volcanic heart of Reunion.

A Beautiful Local
A Beautiful Local
Being French, geckos here care about fashion. I wonder if a gecko in Reunion calls in French?


Gecko Attitude
Gecko Attitude
I love how much detail has been picked up with this photo. He almost seems expressive, don't you think?


Falls at Bassin La Paix
Falls at Bassin La Paix
Two of four waterfalls pouring in to this magnificently picturesque large pool.


Route du Volcan
Route du Volcan
The last few kilometres to Pas de Bellcombe (Piton de la Fornaise) are across this magnificent landscape. This is Route du Volcan - Volcano Route. I almost expected to encounter the Mars Rover!


We arose early - almost an hour before sunrise, so had already descended a couple of hundred metres to the lava field when the sun first appeared. The volcano itself cast a long shadow, keeping us out of the sun for at least another hour. By this time, we were some way up the side of the cone that houses the main crater. The going was relatively difficult - the dry lava underfoot being uneven and unyielding. But the views into the crater were amazing. We were so blessed, too. We were alone some ten to fifteen minutes before anyone else reached the viewpoint. Also, by the time they arrived, the clouds had began to roll in. They had to piece together the overall vista, as clouds rolled in and out and around. We expected to walk back in baking sun. Instead, it was moisture soaked fog. And somehow, we still got back to the car feeling dry and dehydrated. A wonderful experience, though, and still different to other things we have done.

Jo and the Volcano
Jo and the Volcano
Piton de la Fornaise, a very active volcano on Reunion. Reached by trekking 2-3 hours over lava fields. This viewpoint is reached after ascending to the eastern rim.


Smoking!
Smoking!
From the rim, the Dolomieu Crater floor can be viewed, some 350 metres below, smoking and steaming, just to remind observers that it is not dead, just asleep.


Driving along the south eastern coast of the island has you crossing the "Grand Brule". This is the lava field where the spewings of countless eruptions have made their way to the sea. Some are marked - 2001, 1986. The greatest flow is from the 2007 eruption.

Lava Flows in Stained Glass
The church in Piton Ste-Rose. In 1977, a lava flow split and went around the church. The stained glass of commemorates this miracle. The church is now know as Notre Dame des Laves.


Driving Across Grand Brule
Older lava flows have significant vegetation growing. This lava field was from 2001.


Rippled and Rolled Lava
Some of the beautiful forms left when lava flows solidified.


Thursday, January 7, 2016

Rodrigues - The "More" of Mauritius



1 to 7 January, 2015 - Mahebourg, Graviers - (Mauritius)

Mauritius, or at least the main island of Mauritius, is more of a staging point for us than a destination in itself. We spent a couple of nights to get a little feel for it all, but then we were on a small plane to Rodrigues.

Rodrigues Island, of around 30,000 people, lies almost 700 km east of the main island. There are 2 or 3 "resorts", but overall, it is very underdeveloped and incredibly underrated. In our eyes, perfect. Sometimes, we had entire beaches to ourselves. Crowded beaches were those with 3 or 4 large families. Being the middle of high season, with public holidays and weekends and close to New Year, there were extended families barbecuing and camping in all sorts of spots. But it never once felt busy!

Snorkelling, sun, beaches, food and drink, and a 26th anniversary slap up lunch. Absolutely perfect.

Lion Mountain
Lion Mountain
Near Mahebourg, Mauritius.


Rodrigues Lagoon
Rodrigues Lagoon
Coming in to land at Rodrigues Island, Mauritius. The lagoon around the island is twice the size of the island itself. Unfortunately, the clouds obscured the peaks of the interior.


Idyllic Beach on Rodrigues
Idyllic Beach on Rodrigues
On the west coast of the island are a series of beaches that can only be reached on foot. Beautiful sand enclosed by cliffs, and the reefs are not far off shore. We walked from St Francois to Graviers (where we are staying), visiting them all. Unfortunately, I stepped on a rock at our second swim, and took a small chunk out of the sole of my foot. Ouch. I had to hobble for a few hours to finish the walk, and the final swim and snorkel was accordingly cancelled :(


Our Outlook
Our Outlook
After a wonderful anniversary lunch in town, where we had well and truly eaten our fill and imbibed a bottle of wine (and a couple of cocktails). All we could manage was to collapse with a late afternoon beer and enjoy our last evening in Rodrigues.


Flying out, we were treated by the pilot to a bit of an aerial tour. Very soon after take-off, he stopped the climb, and rather than turning abruptly to head direct to Mauritius, he did a low-level complete circuit of the island. And it meant so much more to see it that way having completed our visit. We could point out the places we'd been to, identify the beaches where we had swum.

The South-Eastern Beaches
The South-Eastern Beaches
An aerial view of the beaches we had hiked to on the south-east coast of Rodrigues. These lie between St Francois and Graviers, the location of the B&B we were staying at. From the air you can appreciate just how close the reef comes to the coast. The first beach is the "bottle neck". The third one along is where I injured my foot. Sorry, I wrote that more so I would remember, not because I think anyone really cares which beach I hurt my foot on!


Long Stretches of Sand
Long Stretches of Sand
The beaches of St Francois and Cotton Bay.


Coco Island, Rodrigues
Coco Island, Rodrigues
A small island near the edge of the Rodrigues Island lagoon.


Friday, January 1, 2016

Draggin' Ourselves up the Drakensburgs / Would You Like Arse with That?



27 December, 2015 to 1 January, 2016 - Champagne Valley, Giants Castle, Durban - (South Africa)

We borrowed my cousin's car for a few days and headed in to the Drakensburg Mountains. Unfotunately, it was returned bruised and battered. :( We had a horrendous hailstorm. Chunks of ice about one centimetre across. We ran through the weather to move the car under a tree, to little avail as the trees did not slow down the stones very much.

Hail aside, the daily electrical storms were something to behold. Thankfully, only rolling through in the late part of the afternoons, they did not at all prevent us from enjoying a magnificent part of the country. One reasonable day walk near Cathkin Peak, and a small walk to a cave with ancient paintings near Giants Castle.

A Zebra Tries to Steal My Beer!
A Zebra Tries to Steal My Beer!
I step back to take a photo of our outlook to the Drakensburg Mountains, and in the meantime, a zebra sneaks up and investigates my beer. Don't worry, Jo turned in time to stop him getting any.


Ascending in the Drakensburgs
Ascending in the Drakensburgs
Climbing from Champagne Valley to Blind Man's Corner, near the base of Cathkin Peak.


The Peaks Ahead, Our Climb Continues
The Peaks Ahead, Our Climb Continues
Heading towards Cathkin Peak.


Crossing the First Plateau
Crossing the First Plateau
The climbing complete, we were now about 600 metres higher than the car park. A few kilometres of delightful flat walking through the grasses and flowers.


San Cave Art, Drakensburg
San Cave Art, Drakensburg
Ancient art in a cave in the Drakensburgs, near Giant's Castle. The person on the right is a medicine man, jumping on one leg, probably in a trance.


Then, back to Durban for waaaay too much eating and drinking. Ox-tail potjie (see photo), wood-fired pizza, braai, South African wines and beers, caiparinhas and Amarula. All punctuated with some dips in the pool.

Joke of the week has to be the South African request for frozen water. No matter how hard Sharon tries, it sounds like she wants arse in her drink! Did we want arse in ours? There's plenty of arse in the cooler box!

We did get out for New Years Eve, and made a visit to the shark centre for a dissection.

Ox-tail Potjie
Ox-tail Potjie
Wierldly, potjie is pronounced "poy-kee". No matter how you pronounce it, it tastes amazing. It was cooking for about 8 hours on coals. Amazing. Incredible. So tasty, and so tender. The meat just fell away. Thanks, Tony, it was beautiful.


Hammerhead Shark Dissection
Hammerhead Shark Dissection
We went to the shark research centre in Durban. Six times a week, the audio-visual presentation is followed by a shark dissection. Today, it was a hammerhead shark.