Category Archives: Reunion

Travelogue Reunion 5: Le Volcano & Saint Rose

LE VOLCAN & SAINT ROSE

04-05 January 2019

We’d left our last full day to Réunion’s biggest tourist attraction – Piton de la Fournaise (“Peak of the Furnace”) or Le Volcan as the local volcano is known.

In the bottom half of the island, the volcano dominates the better part of the South East quadrant with the craters and caldera inland and the lava flow aftermath that flows all the way down and into the sea, as we had seen on the Routes des Laves the day before.

We left Saint Pierre early (well, holiday-early anyway, at about 08h30) based on all the online advice to get ahead of the people and the clouds. Had we been planning on hiking the volcano – no less than a 5 hour round trip – we’d have had to leave hours earlier. But that idea was pure madness when you can just as easily sleep in and drive.

We jumped on the trusty N3 that cut across the island’s belly, and that ebbed and troughed seamlessly from efficient double lane highway to dawdling single lane country road through the little towns.

The Google Maps lady was quiet a lot of the way. This sort of adventure was not a big job for her, based on the single road, short distances and the requirement for her to say “keep going straight” intermittently. What she couldn’t see along the winding Route du Volcan was the spectacular views and panoramas around each bend as we climbed up toward the Piton de la Fournaise.

The first viewpoint stops were at Riviere Des Remparts, a massive canyon 1000m deep, and Commerson Crater (200m wide by 235m deep), both of which allowed for amazing views and photographs that will never do it justice.

The drive thus far had been dominated by vistas of lush greenery in great magnitude but then, all of a sudden, we rounded another of the many bends and there it was…

… Mars.

This was the Plaine de Sables, a volcanic plateau that’s covered with ash and rocks from eruptions of the nearby Piton de la Fournaise. Gone were the trees and colourful shrubs. On the Plaine des Sables, there was nothing but reddish-brown dirt and rocks. As barren as the grainy pics you see of far-off planets.

The road snaked down into the desert and we were able to walk around on the plains. Nothing but sand and volcanic gravel. Very sterile. And eerily quiet.

Back in the car, we pressed on the Pas de Bellecombe, which is the viewpoint for the volcano itself, across the 8km wide caldera that had formed from massive collapses 4700 years before.

We got more than we bargained for when we realised we were able to do a short hike from the viewpoint into the caldera to the Formica Leo, a circular mound that looked like an oversized anthill. 20 minutes or so had us into the crater and able to walk around this magnificent feat of nature. The volcano is still very active – one of the most active in the world – so often emits plumes of smoke and vapour. But we got it on a quiet day so were able to move around quite freely.

It was a sweaty business, up and down the crater and in the unprotected sun while in the caldera. Cannot imagine what a schlep the full scale hike must be!

We had booked our last night on the Eastern side of the island to complete the (sort of, piecemeal) circumnavigation, so instead of retracing our footsteps we got to see the other half of the N3, all the way to Sainte Rose (there seemed to be a lot more female Saints on the Eastern side of the island).

Initially intending to go straight to our hotel to check in, again we were caught by surprise by the short distances between places of interest so decided to drive straight past and complete our sight seeing for the day while we were out.

It was pretty easy going with the farthest point, Anse Falls, only 9km away.

Set in a wonderfully wild forest, the Cascades down a length of rock cliff-face such you can stand under the falls and swim in the pools and river at the bottom. Very peaceful and refreshing in the unrelenting heat. Hardly surprisingly a favourite with the locals, who seem to love a good picnic – and had populated rest stops in the most arbitrary places along our travels.

On our way back to the hotel we stopped at the famous Catholic Church in Saint Rose that had been miraculously spared from the 1977 eruption, where lava had flooded down the hillside toward it but then split past it on either side leaving the church unharmed in the middle.

All these memorable moments gave us lots to talk about when we got to our hotel and partook in the primary reason we’d chosen this property – the massive pool overlooking the ocean. It was sad that our holiday was coming to a close, but great to have nothing on the itinerary left to do!!

We chose dinner by proximity, which was a pizza place down the hill at the marina. We ordered 2 pizzas – by now the list of toppings were equal parts familiar and guesswork – and were shocked when we received two MASSIVE pizzas. Easily 40cm each. They were very thin crust and light so we managed to make a good dent (and took the leftovers home for breakfast).

Our last morning was a suitably leisurely one since even though we had a quarter of an island to drive to the airport, it was an hour or so on the highway.

We googled to make sure we hadn’t missed anything out in our planning and, since we had the time anyway, drove through all the Saints (Benoit, Andre, Suzanne, Marie and Clotilde) on our way back to the airport for good measure, so we really could say we’d seen ALL of Reunion.

Returning with some time in hand, we ended the journey as it had begun, with lunch at Le P’tit Gillot – the same restaurant right next to the airport that we’d visited when we waited for our rental car on the first day – and feasted on all new delights.

Recommendations:

  • If your hair has any independent tendencies, bring a leave-in conditioner or gel
  • Bring a beach towel; they’re not provided anywhere
  • Get a rental car – a little hatchback automatic is optimal
  • There are few national roads and lots of free WiFi so you can get by without a local SIM card if you download Google Maps for offline use
  • Be adventurous with food orders. Even if you’re not quite sure what it is, everything is fantastic!
  • Try all the local beers; avoid the local wine
  • Be prepared to spend a small fortune on water. Buy water whenever you can at Price Leader stores because it’s more than half the price of anywhere else
  • Bring good sunscreen and aftersun. The sun is unrelenting but surprisingly forgiving so you’re bound to get a golden tan, no matter what you do
  • Reunion is wonderfully French so do a French course before your trip. Even a short, free online one will help bridge the language gap.

Travelogue Reunion 4: Saint Pierre

SAINT PIERRE

02-03 January 2019

Following the windy-windy route from Cilaos back to the coast, you’d never guess it was only 45 km; it was a good hour and a half’s drive. You can only imagine how remote the Cirque must have been before that route was formalised – in 1927 if my French correctly translated the info at Roche Marveilleuse – and tarred!

Saint Pierre was quite the opposite. A vibey beachtown with actual congestion along the beachfront, as everyone inched along eagle-eying for a parking space. With the row of shops, snackbars, restaurants and holiday flats and everyone in swimwear, it was reminiscent of the Durban of yesteryear, before it got all the fancy promenades.

Our hotel was right on the beach. Like, *right* on the beach, to the point that our ground level suite’s round windows were like portholes. Our neighbour was the hotel’s snack bar, whose equivalent portholes were serving hatches to their customers on the beach side.

We were hot from the drive so wasted no time putting on our swimmers and sampling the view. The hotel provided beach chairs and umbrellas and we were soon set up on the other side of our bedroom window.

The sea in Saint Pierre wasn’t as blue nor the water as warm as what we’d experienced this far, but it was popular. Safety is a big issue in the sea on Réunion beaches with both strong currents and sharks a real concern. The water in the ocean lagoon was about thigh-high for a couple of hundred metres before shallowing further on a reef bank, so relatively immune to both hazards.

We left a full beach behind when we decided on a change of scenery for sundowners and took a long walk down past the marina to the fishermen’s village.

Not much was open – either too early for the dinner setting or closed for the holidays – but there is always somewhere to get a cold Dodo and the little slice of golden sand at La Petite Plage was as good a place as any to watch the sun melt into the sea.

I’d been quite disappointed at the poor show in the fishing village, hoping for a nice fish ‘n chips. It was not to be. What we did find though, was a buffet-style dinner that had all sorts of seafood and Creole dishes so we loaded up on salmon, magret (duck; both hot and cold), jambon, mussels… And… And… And… A veritable feast!

THURSDAY

In advance of our trip up the volcano the next day, Thursday’s mission was to see the effects of the volcano from the beach road. We would be roadtripping around the Southern bit of the island (also, interestingly, the southernmost tip of the EU).

We had planned to brunch on our first stop, Saint Joseph, which was a bit of a disappointment as a rather functional and light industrial little town with a disproportionate representation of mechanics shops, tyre dealerships and, oddly, banks.

That didn’t stop us grabbing a quick burger though, drawn in by an “extra extra bacon” sign and free WiFi. Not pretty in the conventional sense, but attractive enough!

We made up for our utilitarian meal experience with our first real taste of sightseeing, at Cap Mechant.

As a young volcano that regularly erupts (more than 200 times in the last 350 years), Réunion is literally still growing and the Route des Laves – the road that runs across where the lava flows from the volcano to the sea – bears testament to the awesome power of nature when it has an agenda.

Cap Mechant, at the start of the Route des Laves, is a cove where waves crash against storeys-high black lava cliffs formed by the lava castings over several eruptions. The resultant seaview effect, along with signage warning of sharks and sure-death currents is quite dramatic – in stark contrast to the clifftop where we were walking, where, presumably from the minerals from the lava, the grass was bright green and as flat and fine as a golf green!

Back on the road, our next 2 stops were intended to be Saint Philippe, a speck of a town, and then blink-and-miss-it Le Tremblet. Neither worth stopping at, we soldiered through to the last stop, Coulee de Lave 2007, which required veering around a traffic circle of sorts formed around a tree in the middle of this national road (vindicating our assessment of the previous two towns being easily missable).

The Coulee on the other hand was not a landmark easily missed, with the hardened lava cutting a long grey strip from as high as you could see (the customary afternoon clouds had rolled in, obscuring wherever the top was) right down into the ocean. The rich, thick forests on either side created stark contrast, as did the bright green saplings that had finally pushed their way through. Like at Cap Mechant, the new greenery seemed brighter than the rest, either fed by the lava’s nutrients or just an optical illusion against the dull terrain.

The end of the road for the day’s adventure, turning around and getting back to Saint Pierre was a much quicker affair since we’d only covered 46km in total, which was less than an hour on the national (tree-free) road.

Travelogue Reunion 3: Cilaos

CILAOS

01-02 January 2019

Our host in Saint Gilles had mercifully already offered unprompted for us to check out as late as we’d like on 1 Jan. Maybe considerate of us wanting a later start on New Year’s Day and very possibly because of the roaring soiree he knew he was throwing in the driveway of our hotel on New Year’s Eve.

Either way, it was great to see in 2019 in a relaxed fashion and it was with sadness we said goodbye to the bungalow that had been a good home to us for the preceding 4 nights.

Having slept through breakfast time, our plan had adjusted to heading straight for lunch at L’Etang Sale des Bains, a black sand beach 30km down the coast.

Another odd set-up, the beach was a narrow crescent of black sand that framed the harbour. There was no waterfront to speak of, with houses up to the shore. But the local folks seemed to be enjoying the cool waters on the baking hot day and there were more than a few heads bobbing in the shallow crystal clear waters.

Town consisted of a strip of road parallel to the beach; we drove to the end and then made our way back on foot perusing menus of the few places that were open until we found one we liked and went in.

We’d chosen a traditional Creole restaurant to suit the auspicious occasion of first meal of the year, with a chicken curry to represent standard practice and a Galette (savoury pancake with creamy chicken and mushroom) for something new and exotic.

From L’Etang we had to follow the coast down to Saint Louis and then head inland and up into the mountain to get to our night in the forest at Cirque De Cilaos. This drive was only about 32km, but took about an hour and a half because of the narrow and winding roads.

Our destination was very pretty. A bit grey and much cooler, the quaint little town of Cilaos is nestled in the dormant crater of a volcano from yesteryear so has beautiful mountains cupping the town on all sides with a fluffy cloud lid closing it off from the rest of the world.

We found our accommodation with relative ease (read: we circled the block a few times) and were shown to our suite, which was in the middle of the ground floor of a double storey chalet block.

With our neighbour on the left hand side singing loudly along to his favourite French radio hits and the neighbours on the right hand side animatedly discussing in German what they were planning to make for dinner (spaghetti bolognese was winning), it was an easy call to hit the streets to see what their was to see.

Our landlady had shown us a laminated map on our desk so it was simple to find the main road in town. And with almost everything closed (being New Year’s Day) it was very easy to navigate and move around without other traffic to contend with. We completed our loop with a To Do list of return-to destinations for the next day.

Our landlady had also made a reservation for us for dinner at the only restaurant in town that was open and serving, which made that decision that much easier too. Sticking to the path of least resistance, we followed the menu’s Speciality section’s advice and had a goat masala and a lamb Creole dish, washed down with ice-cold Dodo beers. Yum!

WEDNESDAY

The quest for this little break-away was to experience the forest and mountain on the ground in the form of a hike.

Being the destination’s premium tourist offering, there was even hiking trail information in our room and we had earmarked the “short” 2 hour route from Cilaos to Roche Marveilleuse as the one for us because yes, it was the shortest, but it also seemed to offer the best return in the form of a spectacular viewing deck with panoramic views of the setting with Cilaos in the valley below.

However, unable to find the start of the trail, we unintentionally ended up driving to the Roche! Being early (it was probably not even 09h30 by this point), the sky was still clear and blue and the views were brilliant.

Not wanting to forego the hiking experience completely, we did one of the smaller trails around the Roche. Called ‘Les Botanique’, it was largely wasted on us as we didn’t stop to read any of the (French only) detailed signs that explained the floral wonder of our surrounds. We also finished in half the recommended time – about 20 minutes – so thought we’d try out another.

Of course on the second one we got lost and ended up circling back on ourselves a bit… But the result was 1hr10 of hiking in total, which seemed like a valiant effort.

The clouds had already rolled in by the time we got back to Roche Marveilleuse and we thanked our lucky stars that we’d started early enough to see the magnificent view. We were also seemingly the only people going back into town, while hikers streamed onto the trails. We were grateful to have had the route to ourselves – and sorry for these adventurers who would miss what we’d seen now that the daily clouds had rolled in.

Starving from our walk, we stopped at a Boulangerie to get some take away nibbly bits, and feasted on quiche and cheese puffs and pain au chocolat while we packed up our things.

With everything in the car, we headed out on foot again to tick off the last activity; a visit to the local winery, Chai de Cilaos, which was no more than a couple of hundred metres away. But it was closed so we made do with rounding the block to the Marche Couvert (market) and bought a bottle of the local red there instead.

Bidding our landlady farewell, we drove out of town to the Cascades. While also a hiking trail, we’d had quite enough walking for the day and so took to the narrow and winding roads to get a look at the waterfalls and stop at a few of the roadside viewpoints.

The landscape is at such scale with its features so exaggerated that it doesn’t do justice to describe it in words.

Travelogue Reunion 2: Saint-Gilles

SAINT-GILLES

28 Dec 2018 – 01 Jan 2019

As far as roadtripping goes, we’d thought Ireland took the cake for Country With Most Manageable Drive Time Between Cool Things. Reunion was going to give that a run for its money when Day 1 was the transfer from the capital, St Denis, to beach town, Saint Gilles, totalling 43km… Including passing through 3 little towns en route!

That said, it can still be a white-knuckle experience thanks to the left-hand drive car, driving on the wrong side of the road and quite narrow roads at that. Even the main N1 and N2 are narrower than we’re used to. But it seems like a solution is in sight based on the mammoth bridge / fly-over that’s in the making in the ocean close the shore running more or less from St Denis to La Possession.

We were delighted at our first sightings of the next few days’ home as we rounded a bend and there it was! The sunny seaside town of Saint Gilles. Picture-perfect and every cliche in place as we took in the main road with its restaurants, shops, patisseries and boulangeries. Like a little French Margate.

Our digs were even more of a delight when we discovered that we’d been assigned a little standalone bungalow, complete with our own stoep, a dressing room (they called it a second bedroom) and, best of all, aircon.

Our host, Jacques, welcomed us in his very best English, which was a translator app that he spoke into in French, then pushed a button and it returned the translated equivalent in a posh English accent. Well, in Polynesian the first time, but that was easily remedied with a setting adjustment and a giggle.

Jacques (and his English Lady) told us where to find the best local amenities – everything was close by – and recommended a few must-do places. He also advised, by way of itinerary-planning that we have a local beach, a beach 1km down the coast, a beach 1km up the coast and another beach 6km up the coast.

As soon as he was gone, we put on our swimmers and headed for the beach down the coast, L’Hermitage.

We didn’t economise on the walk to the beach, checking a few of the recommended locations en route, taking a wander past the harbour so we could see where our Plongee (dive) shop was and generally enjoying the no-need-to-hurry-anywhereness of it all.

The beach itself was a bit disappointing. Quite gravelly sand and with a coral reef starting virtually from the shore, lots of rocks and stony bits to contend with on your way into the water. The water itself though was Azure blue, crystal-clear and bath-warm, so once we were in we were quite happy to bob around and, obviously, being South Africans, watch our bag on the shore.

We also people-watched and based on the lack of shore front accommodation (holiday or otherwise), the smattering of tents and the generous allocation of picnic tables under the trees just off the beachsand as well as the general demographic, we reasoned that this must be a locals’ beach. We hadn’t gone far enough along it to get to Saint Gilles’ only 5* resort and we’re curious to see what that was like. Another day.

For now it was time to get home for a sundowner, which was a couple of Phoenix beers we acquired from the hole-in-the-wall bottle store at the end of our road, creatively named Night Shop since it was only open (all) nights.

We pored over the tourist maps and books that Jacques had left for us and plotted our next few days. We also debated dinner since we weren’t wildly hungry, but had to eat.

We headed into town with no particular intention and wandered past a double storey cafe that caught our eye so we stopped and had a fantastic seafood wrap and chips, sitting on the top storey to admire the view of Roches Noires, the local beach Jacques had described as up the coast.

SATURDAY

Allocated as our day of exploring by car, Saturday started with a visit to the famous beachfront market in neighbouring Saint Paul. Mostly fresh produce and souvenirs, the market makes for an excellent breakfast-on-the-go, snacking as stalls catch your interest.

We were barely into the market before we had a bag of assorted samoosas to work through – pizza, smoked cheese and curried fish fillings among our favourites. We sampled the fresh strawberries and nibbled on some sweet pork strips as we marvelled at the unfamiliar tropical fruits and how different ordinary veg like onions and bananas looked.

Without any specific shopping to do (and we had no intention of cooking on this holiday, despite our bungalow being fully equipped), the market is a quick excursion, so we rounded off the outing with a quick whip around St Paul’s centre; a neat grid of a couple of narrow roads in either direction.

Hot and sweaty and ironically motivated to get back into the car (for the aircon), we began our drive up to Maido, the highest point on the island.

Only 29km away, but an hour’s drive because of the narrow and winding roads to get there, we could not have picked a worse time to do the excursion. Having read of its sometimes freakish microclimate, we didn’t believe it until it happened to us. Having left blue skies and 30+ degrees behind us, we had pouring rain halfway up the mountain and finally arrived at the top as the last of the cloudcover swallowed what we’d read to be the spectacular view! The mist was unbelievable, billowing like it was being generated by a smoke machine. And, insult to injury, it was 17 degrees, according to the car’s thermometer.

Determined not to waste the drive up, we wandered around the “view” points, in our shorts and flipflops, in contrast to our counterparts passing through the spot from the many hiking trails in the area, all appropriately attired with hiking boots, anoraks and most with those multi-functional wrap things that can be headbands or scarfs depending how you wrap them.

True as Bob, on the way down we passed through the same belting rain and we’re greeted with the same blue skies sunny day at the bottom again. Odd.

Fortunately, even a failed excursion isn’t enough to dampen spirits and the West Coast of Reunion is much like our beloved Eastern Cape coast in that there’s always something else worth doing. So we set the car toward Boucan Canot (the “6km up the coast” beach that Jacques had told us about) to see what we could see.

And what we saw was a holiday-makers paradise. Waterfront of restaurants and cafés, facing golden sands and warm waters.

The red flag was up, restricting swimming to the area of ocean cordoned off with orange buoys. Being such a proverbial drop in the ocean on the busy beach, it made for quite a concentration of bobbing heads. But the vibe was good and it was a great cool-off for a couple of hours after a day’s sightseeing.

Back in our own neck of the woods, we dropped off our car and walked down to Roches Noires for sundowners and to test it as a possible location for our New Years Eve festivities. We were nice and early so got a primely located table right at the water’s edge.

Sipping on ice cold local Fisher beers, we watched as the sun went from being low in the blue sky to turning the horizon orange before slipping away completely. A very nice way indeed to spend a(nother) couple of hours doing nothing!

With evening upon us, we headed back up to the main drag and tried a few spots closer to home. We managed to tick off another destination on our Guinness Index, at Chez Nous where they serve 33cl bottles for a hefty €6. Not for sissies either; it is brewed under licence in Mauritius and is weighty 7.5% alcohol!

SUNDAY

With our dive booked for 1pm that afternoon, we wanted a light and easy morning so took a drive 16km down the coast to St Leu to get a spot of breakfast.

We were getting accustomed to the roads and subjected to the slightest of traffic since we were based at the far end of St Gilles, closest to the direction we were headed for the day.

Arriving in St Leu we drove down the high street to get a lay of the land and then circled back to the start of the town to repeat the exercise on foot, walking along the beach and back through the town.

There were cafes dotted along the beachfront and we stopped at one of the huts, Les Filaos, to get some breakfast.

Breakfast had had us very confused. There seemed to be no “eggs and bacon” style plated options; rather, breakfast was a visit to the Boulangerie for some fresh crusty bread or a pastry or two. We had even tried to order a sandwich to fit in with the crusty bread theme and were told it was too early.

Fortunately, Les Filaos seemed a bit more relaxed and gave us a sandwich (a massive baguette slathered with creamy butter and layered with lovely ham) – hardly surprising since they were serving other patrons beers and Chardonnays and it was barely 10am.

Wonderful setting for a breakfast and we engulfed the view as much as our crusty brunch.

To balance our rebellion with local custom, we visited a Boulangerie in town and got a pain au Chocolat to nibble on as we walked through the little town and back to the car.

With everything so close together, our urban time management kept getting us ahead of schedule and the time we’d budgeted to drive home, drop off the car and walk to the Marina was way more than we needed an ended up at the dive shop almost an hour early. We were offered coffees while we waited (in that heat!) but opted to take a wander around the quay to the beach and back instead.

Back at the shop we had a heart-stopping moment when the dive shop couldn’t find my PADI accreditation on line… Which would have meant I would not have been able to dive! But they found me on the website and it turned out to be a Case of The Missing Initial and all that had started questionably was well.

We were required to set up our own gear so it was fortunate that Christian had so recently completed his dive course and was still fresh on the “what goes where”. The dive master checked out gear, assigned us as buddies and paired us with Jerome and Anais as his group. He also briefed us that we would be doing the Canyon route up and down the natural dales in the coral.

The boat travelled no more than a couple of hundred metres out and we plunged into the blue blue sea. We were to be exploring the far side of the coral reef just off the shore where we’d been complaining about the coral underfoot on the L’Hermitage beach on our first day’s exploring.

The water was crystal clear and like a bath so an absolute pleasure to dive in. We could see everything – lots of coral, bright fish, octopus and 3 sting rays! – and were light on oxygen, not needing as much to keep warm. We did 48 minutes at around 18-20 metres under water.

By the time we were back on pier, we were starving so it was a quick wash of the gear (no helpers to do that for you here!) and we were off like a shot to the Sandwicherie on the corner of our road.

La Salsa Du Pain had been sending wafts of freshly baked bread up to us since we’d arrived and was always busy, so was a Must Do on our itinerary. This was the perfect opportunity.

We walked the short way around – amazing how much smaller this town was, now that we had a proper lay of the land! – and ordered a tuna sandwich because, well, it was the only thing we recognised from what was left in the display.

As dumb luck would have it, it was delicious. As all sandwiches we’d experienced, it was a massive baguette loaded with creamy filling and crunchy garnish. Oh, and the reason it was so busy wasn’t actually the life-changing baked goods, it was the betting window it shared a space with. As we were trying to find a peaceful spot to engulf our breaded bliss, there were locals peering round us trying to grab snatches of the Trots on the screen behind us!

Not really the dulcet sundowner experience we had in mind as the setting to our reverie of the day’s memorable events. So we trotted ourselves up our driveway and enjoyed home-sweet-home on our cosy little deck.

Heading our for dinner we tried the main square. With a row of restaurants that had been quite shut in the off-hours we’d passed them, our curiosity was piqued. Hardly surprisingly, we were drawn to the pizza/pasta restaurant and it felt double serendipitous that we were offered a table in the busy restaurant while we reviewed the menu at the door with Google Translate.

We had a fabulous breakfast pizza (yay for something being bacon and eggs, even if it was dinnertime) and a salmon lemony with homemade tagliatelle. Yum!

MONDAY

As our last full day in Saint Gilles, we had a lot of experience and research behind our plan for the day. And it was perfect. Another blue-skies-sunny-day (which is all this island paradise seems to have, unless you’re trekking up to Maido) and snorkelling at La Salle Les Bains.

Rated to be the best snorkelling on the island, all you had to do was put on mask and snorkel and fall into the sea because the coral started about a metre in and the water was, obviously, crystal clear.

Jacques had given us snorkelling and beach gear, so we drove the 13km down the coast to La Salle Les Baines plage, followed Google Maps to a Sandwicherie, ordered a Poulet baguette and Hot Dog Gratiné like pro’s, stuck our brollie in the sand and flopped in the water with our snorkels like we owned the place.

It was everything the reviews described. What makes an average swimming experience is quite something else when it comes to snorkelling. The rocky bed becomes the view, the shallow waters become the vantage point and the stillness becomes the playground for the wildlife. We saw loads of fish and I really wish I knew more about our underwater friends to make this account more interesting; needless to say, there were big ones and small ones, stripy ones and spotty ones, and a small shoal of big silvery white fish with whom I attempted to school, but they weren’t having any of it.

It was a baking hot day (same as every day) so we were grateful to have our borrowed brollie to huddle under so we could prolong the doing-nothingness on the golden sands without being chased away by the sun.

Aware that it was New Year’s Eve and we hadn’t booked anywhere (everywhere was fancy multi-core set menus that cost a mint) we headed home to get showered and changed to opportunistically grab a sundowner somewhere and see where the night would take us.

We started at trusty Roche Noire and finally succumbed to the rooftop bar, La Nouvelle Vague, overlooking it all, which Christian had resisted thus far based on its direct exposure to the setting sun, which clearly was as a direct result of it being the best vantage point by far to see that very setting sun. We played musical chairs so much trying to trade off the sun and the sunset that even the barman teased us about getting our value for money!

Oddly, at 6 on the dot he booted everyone out and closed up shop. Lots of places were already closed, which struck us as very strange for a New Year’s Eve in a beach holiday town. Still spoilt for choice, we made a night of it with a circuit of the town, stopping in whenever took our fancy and had the most unexpectedly magnificent dinner to round off 2018; a proper steaky mouthful of a cheese ‘n bacon burger at a biker-themed bar called Burger 66.

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.