Travelogue Reunion 1: Saint Denis

ST DENIS

27-28 December 2018

It had seemed an unnaturally long wait between booking the trip to Reunion (an island paradise French protectorate in the Indian Ocean) in the middle of the year and getting to the end of the year to actually go on the trip. But, finally, it was time.

Slipping through a blissfully traffic-free Joburg like a hot knife through butter, we were soon scoffing roast lunch (even though we’d had Christmas roast leftovers for breakfast) at the airport lounge in anticipation of our afternoon flight.

Flying Air Mauritius was a slightly different experience to what we’d become used to. For one thing, we got assigned a window and middle seat which we were unable to change (and didn’t please Christian, being a confirmed Aisle Man) and the entertainment was managed centrally through those tiny screens hanging from the overhead lockers.

The entertainment programme was quite peculiar. Almost immediately after take-off, a random episode from random seasons of 3 random sitcoms were flighted – without announcement – one after the other. Then nothing for an hour and a half or so. Then a full-length movie started around about the time we started our descent, so I’ll never know what actually happened at the wedding that all the characters were communing to attend.

We had a quick hour and a bit to pass in transit in Mauritius and were soon being welcomed into the next plane to do the hop to Reunion.

Although we’d been fed proper meal service on our first flight, the time difference pushing us 2 hours into the future played tricks on the appetite and we were hoping for a snack on the Reunion flight.

It was not to be and the hospitality was just a mini juice carton. Although, as Christian said, the flight is so quick that if it was full they’d struggle to get around with the juice boxes even!

We disembarked in Saint Denis to a curtain of humidity; a balmy 28 degrees at 11pm. Getting our bags was simple since it’s a 2-conveyor baggage collection and only 1 was moving, so we envisaged a simple induction to Reunion life.

It was also not to be.

We joined the queue outside the airport, waiting for a taxi. But every time a taxi minibus arrived, a pert lady with a clipboard and laminated-photo-on-a-lanyard authority ushered other people in and sent them on their way.

Several reiterations later, we questioned the process and she revealed that she was with an airline other than Air Mauritius and part of their service was to transfer their passengers to their destination. And we were to wait.

We are not great at waiting.

We crossed the road to the strip of tourist operator windows, where one lonely sole was still operating, hoping he could arrange an on-the-spot transfer. He could not.

We waited and waited, as the airline queue grew smaller but taxis became fewer and further between and tried without success to use the airport free WiFi to hunt down the how and who of airport transfers. All the websites gave local phone numbers, which didn’t help us since neither of us have roaming and there was nowhere open at the airport to buy a local SIM card.

Eventually we returned to the kiosk to ask the chap to call a city cab. He tried two vendors and, having no success, took pity on us and offered to drive us to our hotel on his way home. Hooray for friendly locals!

We were on the road 10 minutes later and he dropped us at Central Hotel, which was a lot more “basic” than it had appeared in the pics online. Thankfully we’d upgraded to the en suite room or we would have had no space to put our single suitcase!

Nonetheless, the bed was comfortable and the aircon welcome and we got a great night’s sleep to prepare us for our first day of adventure.

Which had to begin with procuring a local SIM card!

Emerging from the hotel, we discovered we were on the less salubrious side of town… But, being a small town, still less than a couple of hundred metres away from the market (and upmarket) action.

We followed our road right up into the main shopping area; a seamless mix of local charm and international label brands. Everything very French, including our snacky cheese and ham samoosas to fill the gap as we shopped.

We took a short (and sweaty) wander around, bought a local SIM card and walked down to the big, beautiful and very blue ocean before heading back to our hotel to check out and get a taxi back to the airport to pick up our rental car.

The airport turned out to be our less-than-lucky place when our car rental company told us that there was a 2 hour wait for our car.

Fortunately, we had our spanking new local SIM at the ready so we did a quick Google Maps search that revealed a very lovely lunch spot less than 300m away – a wheelable distance even for our heavy suitcase.

What a find! Le P’tit Gillot turned out to be the restaurant and pub at the local Tennis Club and you would never have told it neighboured the airport with the frame of tropical trees and mountain backdrop. We got one of the last tables on the terrace and window-shopped lunch options from surrounding tables, which was much less taxing than translating the entirely French menu.

We bypassed the hamburgers and whatnot and shared two dishes of authentic fare – the Rougail Saucisses (pork sausages in a rich bredie) and Emince Poulet Aux Champignon (a sort of chicken stroganoff teeming with little button mushrooms). Massive portions and rich, delicious sauces. If this was anything to go by, we were going to like eating our way around Reunion!

And we had – thanks to the map of the island our Good Samaritan kiosk guy from the night before had given us – worked out over lunch the optimal route we planned to take in our week-long circumnavigation of Reunion.

We trundled back to the airport on the off chance that our car was ready early. It was not.

The airport did however have the World’s Best Fans, with blades that were easily 3m long, so it wasn’t terrible having a sit in the breezy Arrivals Hall for a last half hour before we could get on our way.

We were issued a sporty 6-speed Fiesta and before you could say “turn on the aircon”, we were zooting out of the airport on Day 1’s roadtrip mission: 43km to Saint Gilles.