Bienvenue à l’Île de Réunion

This morning we woke up to find we were docked in Réunion Island, one of the French overseas départements. We were up at 7.25 this morning and ready to go our on organised tour, called “Tropical Réunion and the Wild South”, which would take up most of the day.

As we disembarked the ship we quickly had to don our cagoules, as there was a short, but heavy tropical shower. We could see the clouds low down on the distant mountain tops, but here and there we spotted patches of blue sky, and the temperature was already very hot and sultry.

As we were boarding the bus we saw that we had Peter Snow as our courier for the day. People of a certain age will remember Peter Snow from his days as an ITN (and later BBC) news reporter. He was travelling on the Voyager to give us some presentations about his many experiences, but today he’d been pressed into service as our tour courier.  Our local guide for today was a cheerful young man called Sully, whose English was very good.

The bus set off and made its way through the town and along the coastline, before entering a large tunnel. The traffic then crawled to a standstill but we couldn’t see what was causing the tailback. It took about 20 minutes to emerge from the tunnel, when everything became clear; a three-car accident completely blocking our lane; we had to wait for the policeman to direct the coach through.

Once on our way again, we travelled through the lush countryside, the journey punctuated by sudden heavy showers. Sully gave us a running commentary on the history and geography of Réunion, which rises up out of a bed of volcanic lava approximately 500 miles east of Madagascar in the Indian Ocean.

Réunion has a multiracial population numbering 820,000 spread over its total area of 970 square miles. Its lovely coastal forests border a very mountainous interior, where three immense volcanic craters have formed lush valley basins, or cirques. A very active volcano La Fournaise (literally The Furnace) provides an impressive backdrop and from time to time it pours more lava down its sides to add more to the island’s area.

We marvelled at the diverse landscape as we made our way to our first photo stop at Saint-Denis, where there was an unusual church in addition to a toilet stop for those that wanted it. As it was still raining quite heavily, however, we just stayed on the coach.

Our next stop was to Piton Sainte-Rose, where Sully explained to us that the local church, Notre-Dame des Laves, was believed to be the site of a miracle, because when La Fournaise erupted in 1977 the lava swept away everything in its path, but stopped right up at the door of the church. We alighted from the bus at this point and went inside the church; it was amazing to see the lava rocks directly outside and up to the church walls and door at the front.

As we continued on our way along the main road (which was very good) we noticed that the vehicles all had French number plates with the EU logo and an “F” denoting France. We were fascinated at the volcanic landscape and eventually pulled up for another photo stop to allow us to climb up some man-made steps and take pictures of the amazing lava-created landscape. A little concession stand across the road was doing a roaring trade from the bus passengers selling cold drinks, fresh fruit and little hand-made trinkets and souvenirs.

It was roasting hot standing in the sun, even for a few minutes, and when we got back onto the air-conditioned bus we saw that the temperature readout displayed 35ºC – phew! A tad too hot for our British skin.

As we continued our journey it was fascinating to see where the lava had flowed down the sides of the volcanoes, all the way to the sea. You could see the various branches, forks and channels and you could almost imagine the bright red glow of the fiery river as it poured relentlessly down the mountainside, devouring everything in its path.

After another 20 minutes or so, we arrived at our next destination, which was the Garden of Perfumes and Spices. It was an amazing cultivated tropical garden, containing indigenous plants and flowers as well as the more exotic kind, which had been introduced into Réunion. Some of the leaves and flowers were grown for their essential oils which are used in perfumes, and others for their medicinal properties or their seeds, flowers, leaves or bark which are ground into the spices we know and love, such as cinnamon, cloves and vanilla. We also saw exotic fruits growing on the trees, including avocado, grapefruit and lychees.

The visit to the gardens was very interesting and would have been a more enjoyable experience had it not been for the persistent attacks by mosquitoes and other flying, biting bugs. I was wearing cropped linen trousers with thong sandals, and my lower bare legs were a veritable target for the little blighters, which kept biting every chance they had. My lower legs felt as though they were on fire, and it was very difficult to resist giving them a good scratch, something which often exacerbates insect bites. When we eventually got back on the bus I saw that my legs were a myriad of red bumps. Nasty! The first thing I am going to buy is some insect repellent spray. Thank goodness also for our malaria tablets, which we’d started to take this morning in readiness for our trip to Madagascar.

Once we got back into the air-conditioned bliss of our bus, we had a 10 minute ride to our final stop of the day, which was to a restaurant called the “Étoile de Mer” (Starfish) where we were booked in for a three-course Creole lunch. We were looking forward to it as we were good and hungry (not to mention thirsty) by now.

We all sat at long wooden tables and didn’t have long to wait before they brought us all a cool glass of local rum punch which was thirst-quenching and delicious. Then they came round with a fresh mixed salad served with crusty bread, and some jugs of cold water.

The next course consisted of rice, fried chicken pieces and a delicious prawn dish served with onions, peppers and pineapple. We were also pleased to see that there were complimentary bottles of wine, and we enjoyed a couple of glasses of not-too-bad rosé. Well, it was French after all, so it was bound to be decent.

Once everyone was fed and watered, we boarded the bus once again for the return journey, which was due to take about an hour and 45 minutes. However, we hadn’t got very far when we once again came across a traffic jam. The people in the car in front of us were just standing around, and they advised our driver that there had been a rock fall from one of the many cliffs and mountains, so we had to wait until the blockage was cleared. This, thankfully, only took about 15 minutes, then we were on our way once again. Due to all the wine and rum punch people had consumed, it was very quiet on the bus coming back, and a lot of people (including me) enjoyed a little wine-induced nap to while away part of the journey.

We arrived back at the Voyager about 4.30pm and went back to our cabin, where we promptly fell asleep for an hour or so.

Then, after getting a wash and brush up, we went up to the pool deck and enjoyed a pre-dinner drink before making our way to the Veranda Café for our dinner. Because we’d enjoyed a large lunch, we didn’t really have all that much to eat; just some salad and cold meats for me.

Afterwards we went up to the Sunset Club to take part in the quiz. A couple of ladies sitting nearby asked if they could join us to make up a team of four (the maximum size). The quiz mistress explained there would be 15 questions and the lucky winners would get a Voyager pen each. Whoo-pee-doo! A free pen! Don’t push the boat out will you?!

The quiz was mega-hard. In fact, just how hard it was was reflected in people’s scores. The winning team only got 10/15 and we managed a cringeable 4/15 – the absolute worst we’d ever done. Everyone moaned to the quiz mistress that the questions were far too hard.   😦

Then it was off to the Darwin Lounge for tonight’s main cabaret, which was the classical duo we’d had a brief glimpse of yesterday. There is a guy on the piano and one on the violin, and they were brilliant – they did a terrific rendition of Vivaldi’s Spring from The Four Seasons as well as some lesser-known, but equally good, other pieces. We enjoyed their performance a lot.

Afterwards it was back to the Sunset Club where, once again, the female singer Kirsty Fuller sounded as though she was doing karaoke as she sang some of the well-known songs from the 60s and 70s.

We had a couple of drinks then went back to our cabin about midnight. Tomorrow we had a full day at sea to look forward to, so a nice lie-in in the morning then.

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