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974 La Réunion - February 2017

After 11 hours in the plane, from Orly airport to Roland Garros, we stopped for one day in Sainte Clotilde before continuing to our final destination: Saint Pierre. Saint-Pierre is the second-largest town on La Réunion and is located on the SW side of the island.
Our apartment for the next few months is on the outskirts of the town, in Terre Rouge. It's simply magnifique! ... with a great view over the city and the lagoon.

La Réunion is one of the 18 Regions of the French Republic and an island in the Indian Ocean. It's the Southernmost point of the EU, located 700 km E of Madagascar, 175 km SW of Mauritius and 9400 km SE of Paris. The Region, with a population of 870’000, has the second highest population density in France (346 people per km2) after Île-de-France (the urban area of Paris) with 987 per km2.
The climate in La Réunion is considered tropical, but temperature moderates quickly with elevation. The terrain is mostly rugged and mountainous, the highest point being the Piton des Neiges at 3070 m. The weather is cool and dry from May to November, and hot and rainy from November to April. Precipitation levels vary greatly within the island, with the East being much wetter than the West. More than 6 m of rain a year fall on some parts of the East and less than 1 m a year falls on the West coast.
La Réunion hosts many black, green and white sand beaches, often equipped with public barbecues, amenities, and parking spaces. Between 2011 and 2019, 27 shark attacks occurred in the waters of La Réunion, of which 11 were fatal. Most of the coasts have a ban on swimming and surfing. La Reunion was one of the premier surf destinations in the world, with a glut of perfect waves and warm waters. Despite the sharks, at the 2019 World Surf Championship, 3 out of 6 athletes from France were from La Réunion.
Since 2010, La Réunion is home to a UNESCO World Heritage Site that covers about 40% of the island's area and coincides with the central zone of the La Réunion National Park.
There is no other place in the world that deserves the name of La Réunion. Indeed, the entire world is represented in the island's population: Indian, European, Malagasy, Arab, African and Chinese. Extensive and long-going intermarriages blur any issue about ethnicity. Creoles (those born on the island and of various ethnic origins) make up the majority of the population. Temples, Pagodas, Mosques and Churches are everywhere.

   ' La Réunion: Street Art in Saint Pierre (performed by Méo) ' La Réunion: Street Art in Saint Pierre (performed by Méo)



Piton de la Fournaise

After years of chasing unsuccessfully volcanoes’ eruptions, we finally got one on time!

The eruption of Piton de la Fournaise started on 31 January 2017 at 19.40, a perfect timing for us.

Quickly, we prepare our backpacks and leave for the volcano. The current eruption is within the 8 km wide caldera Enclos Fouqué, and is best visible from the Piton de Bert at 2274 m. This is located 6.7 km SE along the Sentier du Tremblet starting from the parking Foc Foc.

The Route Forestière du Volcan (RF5) climbs for 16 km from Bourg Murat (1570 m) to the Foc Foc parking (2340 m).

Visiting the volcano in eruption is a ritual for most inhabitants of La Réunion. Thousands of people converge every evening to the parking Foc Foc and walk in big groups along the trail to see the volcano fireworks! When the parking is full or the traffic along the RF5 is too busy, the Gendarmerie Nationale blocks the access to the volcano road in Bourg Murat. To avoid that from happening to us, we start early during the day. The volcano access road is a real challenge today, not only it’s a narrow winding road with tens of sharp turns and twists but it’s foggy! Who expects thick fog on a tropical island? The visibility is sometimes less than 5 m ... we have to drive very carefully at 15-20 km/h not to miss the next sharp turn! It’s like driving in Europe during winter time!

After a 6.7 km hike, we arrive on Piton de Bert. A quick glance around to find the best spot and we’re ready for the show!

Piton de la Fournaise ("Peak of the Furnace") is a shield volcano on the Eastern side of La Réunion. It’s one of the most active volcanoes in the world, along with Kīlauea in the Hawaiian Islands, Stromboli and Etna in Sicily and Mount Erebus in Antarctica. Piton de la Fournaise has erupted more than 150 times since 1640, and is constantly monitored by geophysical sensors.

The latest information about the activity of the Piton de la Fournaise is always available on:


The videos of this eruption on our YouTube Channel Gwada Tesin:




Thaipusam Cavadee at the Siva Soupramanien Temple in Petit Bazar, Saint-André

The Cavadee or Kavadi is an annual Tamil festival of ten days celebrated on the full moon of the Tamil month Thai (mid January/ mid February) in which millions of devotees across the globe take part in one of the world’s most passionate spiritual celebrations. The motive of the Thaipusam festival is to honor God Muruga, son of Shiva and Parvati, and to receive his grace so that bad traits are destroyed and a new prosperous life cycle can start. The Kavadi is a ceremonial act of devotional sacrifice through body self-mortification. The Kavadi itself is often a wooden decorated canopy that the pilgrims carry on their shoulders (thol kavadi), women may carry a pot in brass full of milk (paal kavadi or paal kudam). To increase their penitence, devotees may pierce their tongue, cheeks or back with skewers and hooks.

We went to the Thaipusam in Saint-André on its 10th day (this year on 9th February 2017), the most spectacular day for outsiders as it’s out in the main street for several hours. Starting at 05:00, the devotees leave the Koyil (temple) for the riverbanks of the Rivière du Mât to prepare themselves for the procession. At 08:30, the procession with hundreds of penitents with their heavy kavadi on their shoulders, moves toward the temple for a challenging barefoot walk of 4.2 km, through the city. The procession arrives at the Koyil at 13:00. All the devotees are dressed in fuchsia, the color of God Muruga.

The temple in Petit Bazar was erected on 25 August 1900 and was restored in 2003 according to the best Indian tradition. The temple and its carved figures were painted in bright colors by specialized workers hired from Tamil Nadu. The Gupuram, the arrow towards the heaven and the Moulastarnam, the sanctuary of the gods, were totally rebuilt.

Our video of the Cavadee in Saint-André here:




Back to the volcano (Piton de la Fournaise)

Since two weeks, the volcano is erupting regularly. The cinder cone in the Enclos Fouqué continues to grow, fed by a main fountain which can sometimes rise up to 50 meters in height. The lava flow we observed the last time is still there, the lava progresses to the East for about 500 m. The only issue is the weather, that remains cyclonic. Indeed, Carlos will bring a lot of rain on the 8th of February and the following days are not inviting for a long hike at 2300 above sea level! The cinder cone is growing more and more, thus reducing the view of the lava fountain. On the 13th February, the activity of the volcano starts to lower.

We try a last time on the 15th February ... this time we have no fog, no rain ... it's simply beautiful weather. We start the hike with a lot of sun! Unfortunately, the lava fountain is now less impressive and its pyroclastic ejections are quite irregular but the emotion in watching such natural phenomenon is still overwhelming. The eruption stopped on 26th February 2017.

Check our videos posted on YouTube:




The Blue Lava Tunnel, caving on La Réunion

There are no limestone caves here only lava tunnels. The majority of them are located in the area of the Grand Brûlé, especially in the 2004 lava flow. (see on: www.openstreetmap.org)

To start our caving experience on La Réunion, we select one of the most reputed and most beautiful lava tubes in the world: the Blue Tunnel on the Piton Bleu. The tunnel is located along the contact line Piton des Neiges - Piton de la Fournaise and was discovered only a few years ago. Being on a private property, the access is limited, making it well preserved: a real masterpiece! It has everything for an unforgettable experience: stalactites, stalagmites, columns and excentriques ... but made of metallic -shining basalt. The concretions were created by drops of hot fluid lava solidifying when cooling, a totally different process from the carbonate concretions in limestone caves! The lava tubes are formed by lava flows whose upper crust cooled down while the hot lava continued to flow inside. The Blue Tunnel is estimated to be 22'000 years old, from the eruption that created Piton Bleu at Plaine-des-Cafres. Most of the lava tunnel on La Réunion have been created very recently (2004 and 2007) in the Grand Brûlé.

Wearing a helmet, headlamp and gloves, we explore the tunnel with bluish, orange or red walls. The Blue Tunnel stands out from most of the other tubes because of the hundreds of lava stalactites you can see there.

In the deep silence and absolute darkness of this lava tube, we feel like we're alone in this underground world. At every step, the light of our lamps reveals an increasingly spectacular landscape!



This lovely town pulses with an energy unknown elsewhere on the island, especially during the weekends. This vibrant and feisty town knows what really counts in life: having a good time.

If St-Denis is Réunion's administrative and business capital, enchanting St-Pierre is its heart. The "Capital of the South" has an entirely different feeling from its Northern sister city. Saint-Pierre has a long inviting seafront with a lot of nice restaurants and bars.

Importantly, the town has one of the very few lagoons of the island where it’s possible to swim safely without sharks. There are also other safe beaches, equipped with metallic anti-shark nets, but in Saint-Pierre the defense is natural! The reef is so high, wide and uninterrupted that sharks cannot get through, even at high tide.

Further, Saint-Pierre is always sunny! When the entire island is under heavy rain, Saint-Pierre has blue sky! A great choice for our temporary residence.

Last but not least, Saint-Pierre is hosting since 2000, the headquarters of the TAAF (Terres Australes et Antarctiques Françaises), one of the main reasons for us to be here. In a few weeks, we will depart for the most remote and most protected islands in the world ...


The “Contrat d’Engagisme” (Indenture Contract) on La Réunion

Once on La Réunion, one cannot overlook that a large part of the population is of Indian origin. Why? After the abolition of slavery on 20 December 1848 in Reunion, the lack of labor became critical and encouraged planters to call for the arrival of new laborers.

The indenture contract was initially designed for white settlers, to whom the employer in the destination colony advanced travel costs. From La Rochelle alone, 5’200 indentured white laborers set sail for the French West Indies between 1660 and 1715. White indentured labor was linked to the initial phase of the colonization before the rise in the plantation economy, which afterwards mainly used slaves of color. Under the Ancien Régime, it was normal to have lifelong domestic service or sailors who could not leave the ship. Those people were expected to devote all their time to the master and this for the entire duration of the contract or even lifelong.

The indenture contract provided free travel to the immigrant and she/he then worked for free for five years in order to pay off her/his debt. Today, an indenture contract is considered a form of forced labor.

On La Réunion, indentured laborers mainly from India landed at the same time as actual slaves. The recruiters played their role in luring away the credulous coolies, many of whom believed to remain in India. The Indian immigrants resisted to the forced work by escaping or by organizing open protests under their labor union or, in some cases, with legal actions against the local government.

Because of the fierce Indian resistance, the recruitment of Chinese immigrants, who were considered to be more docile, was implemented. The Chinese immigrants soon adopted the same attitudes as the Indians before them: they protested against mistreatment and the unjustified withholding of their wages.

After the abolition of slavery, the planters on La Réunion used all means – legal and illegal – to retain the indentured laborers at the end of their contracts.

Indentured labor, from a formal point of view, concerned “free” immigrants while, in terms of social conditions, these immigrants worked and lived in circumstances that were close to slavery. Between 1848 and 1860, 47’285 Indian engagés were transported to La Réunion. This was possible through a convention with the British Empire allowing the yearly recruitment of 6’000 coolies from India to La Réunion. Only in 1882, the forced Indian immigration was abolished.

Most of the Indian engagés descendants on La Réunion are Hindus from Tamil Nadu or Kerala (former French India) but some are from British Gujarat, and are Muslims.


Walk-on-Fire at the Tanambo Temple, Saint-Pierre 

After the end of slavery in 1848, a massive labor workforce from India (les engagés) came to replace the slaves. Around this time, the first Tamil temples were built on La Réunion leading to the first walks on fire.

The walk on fire is dedicated to the Goddess Pandialé (also called Pandjalî , Draupadî ou Dolvédé). It’s the last stage of a long preparation ceremony lasting 17 days. During this time, the faithful will purify their souls through fasting, prayers and sexual abstinence.

On the last day of the preparation ceremony, at dawn, the believers will prepare the “Tikouli” (the holy fire). A hole in the ground is dug, filled with tons of firewood and slowly burnt over several hours to provide deep layers of glowing hot embers. This is the place where the faithful will walk over. They will also prepare the "Palkouli", a small pool filled with water and milk to allow the walkers to refresh their feet after their walk on the glowing embers.

In the morning, there is a long procession either on the seafront or on the river shores where the faithful will do a number of purification rituals. This ends with the sacrifice of bucks and rosters for the Goddess. At dusk, the procession returns to the temple where the last purification of the faithfuls and the grounds is performed.

The priest (poussari) is the first one walking on the glowing embers. When he’s done, he will then bless anyone who will walk on the fire. Some walk over the tikouli carrying a heavy karlon (throne of the gods). After this, the ceremony continues with the sacrifice of bucks and rosters as a thanking to the gods that have allowed the faithfuls to sustain this extreme proof of faith.

It’s our first firewalk, we’re learning the rules and significance of the ceremony. We watch the procession and the firewalk with the eyes of a novice.

Check our videos posted on YouTube:





Gouzous and Murales

Jace is an artist living on La Réunion, known worldwide for his Gouzou! A little orange anthropomorphic figure without a face nor hands or feet decorating every abandoned place in La Réunion since 1992. La Réunion is the home of the Gouzou.

It’s possible to see original Gouzous in various countries: Metropolitan France, Mauritius, Madagascar, South Africa, Botswana, Morocco, Tunisia, India, Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam, China, Japan, USA, Brazil, Portugal, Germany, Spain, Luxembourg, Slovakia, Hungary, Italy and the Netherlands. Check the interactive map on https://gouzou.net 

Jace and his Gouzou certainly represent the most popular street art in La Réunion. For us however, the most talented street-artist is Méo. Méo is a perfectionist and his works are wonderful, flawless and unparalleled ... they appear hyperrealistic and arouse profound admiration and emotion.


Trou d'Eau, La Saline les Bains

As an alternative to our home beach in Saint-Pierre, we tried Trou d’Eau, a small white sand beach located South of La Saline les Bains, very popular with locals, and not too crowded, despite being in the heart of the Marine Nature Reserve.

La Réunion is bordered along its Western littoral by an imposing fringing reef. The reef constitutes a natural protection against the oceanic erosion and has allowed the development of the touristic seaside areas in Saint-Paul, Saint-Gilles, Saint-Leu and L’Étang-Salé. The coral reef ranges in width from 50 m in its Northern section and up to 600 m in the South.

Since the 1980s, the reef has lost much of its splendor, victim of the high visitor pressure, waste water outflow, coastline development and deforestation. In a young island like La Réunion, the reef is close to the coast and is hit in full by the pollution of the effluents and run-off from the steep slopes. This is why, in 2007, a Marine Nature Reserve was created, which extends over 40 km of coastline from Boucan Canot to Étang Salé.

The inviting shallow waters are great to snorkel and at this time of the year, we can even observe the coral spawning.

On La Réunion, the bodies of water limited by the fringing reef fronts are called "lagon" (French for lagoon). Technically, being the reef a fringing reef, the small coastal pools are depressions formed within the structure of the reef and not real lagoons.

The calm and shallow waters of these "lagoons" offer optimal safety conditions for snorkelers against sharks. However, despite being well protected by the reef, these lagoons are never 100% safe. In November 2019, a Tiger shark of 3 meters made it to the lagoon of L’Hermitage (the most visited lagoon of the island) killing one person.


Our Second Firewalk, Pierrefonds Temple, Saint-Pierre

The Thimithi or fire-walking ceremony is a Hindu festival originating in Tamil Nadu, that is celebrated a week before Deepavali, during the month of Aipasi of the Tamil calendar (mid October / mid November). The fire-walking ceremony is in honor of Draupadi, who is considered the incarnation of Mariamman but also of Kali. Draupadi is known under many names, on La Réunion she is mostly called Pandialé, while Kali is called Karli.

The majority of fire walks on La Réunion is during the month of January, but some walks are also held during the remainder of the year. We’re in mid February, so we regularly check the temples in our area to see if more fire walks are planned.

Near the recycling center in Pierrefonds, there is a small temple … we stop there … it’s open! We enter and we see stacks of firewood and a tikouli under preparation... seems like a good sign. The poussari (priest) Roger Latchimy invites us inside the temple and with a glass of rhum, he explains to us that the walk-on-fire will be next Sunday, 26th February 2017. Great, we’ll be there!

This time, we are insiders … inside the temple and we have the opportunity to see the sacrifice of the rosters and goats next to the poussari as well as to follow the procession on the seafront with the devotees.

In Tamil Nadu, the fire walk in honor of Draupadi has been practiced since the 15th century. Thimithi, which means fire-walking, is done by the devotees to demonstrate their faith in exchange for Goddess Draupadi’s blessing. Draupadi was the wife of the five Pandava brothers in the Mahābhārata epic. She is described as being extraordinarily beautiful and as a devoted wife, courageous, intelligent and honest. Draupadi walks on fire after the victory of the Pandavas against the Kauravas to prove her virtuosity and chastity. The city of Pondicherry (former French India) has four temples dedicated to Draupadi.

God Aravan sacrificed himself to Kali to ensure the victory for the Pandavas. Only the head of Aravan is displayed to symbolize his sacrifice.

Kali is the Hindu goddess of death and is often associated with sexuality and violence but is also considered a strong protective mother-figure. Kali is portrayed in two forms: the popular four-armed and the ten-armed Mahakali form.

Check our videos posted on YouTube:





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