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974 La Réunion - May 2017


The Sittiraï Cavadee in Saint-Pierre

Cavadee or Kavadi is a festival of ten days in honor of God Muruga, son of Shiva and Parvati, and is specific to the Tamil community. Thaipusam Kavadi is celebrated on the full moon in the Tamil month of Thai (mid January - mid February) in Saint-André and Saint-Louis. In Saint-Pierre, it's during the month of Sittiraï (mid-April to mid-May).

The festival commemorates the victory of Lord Muruga, when Goddess Parvati gave him a divine spear ("Vel") to defeat the demon Soorapadman. The Kavadi is a ceremonial act of devotional sacrifice through dance and body self-mortification. The Kavadi itself is a wooden decorated canopy that the pilgrims carry on their shoulders to the temple. Sometimes, they pull a float-car anchored with many hooks in their flesh to increase the penitence. Women are often carrying a pot (kudam) in brass, full of milk (paal). The imposing procession of the penitents with their heavy kavadis on their shoulders, barefoot on the hot asphalt or sometimes in wood sandals with iron spikes, proceeds through the city towards the beautiful temple of Narassingua Peroumal for about 2.2 km.

The festival is very important as it permits to the believers to obtain the grace from Muruga, to destroy all the evils and bad traits in their life and purify themselves to start a new prosperous life cycle. Devotees prepare for the festival by keeping their body always clean, doing regular prayers, taking only pure food once a day and making a strict abstinence. The devotees believe that worshiping lord Muruga every year in this way makes them physically and mentally healthy, and helps clearing them of karmic debts they may have incurred.

We were present at the 10th and final day of the festival, the culmination and most notorious day, when hundreds of penitents are piercing their tongue, cheeks or back with vel skewers and walking from the purifying water (the sea-front in Saint-Pierre) to the Temple. It’s beautiful because all the devotees are dressed in fuchsia, the color of Muruga.

On the beach of Saint-Pierre, the devotees are pierced with hooks and vel skewers under the vigilant eye of the God placed inside a small mobile temple. The Vels are typically made in silver, which is anti-bacterial and helps the cicatrization as well as multiplying the circulation of the solar energy through their body. Those who don't pierce their tongue, tie a scarf on their mouth so as to keep complete silence. We see Damien, his wife and family members preparing themselves for the procession.

During the procession, friends and relatives of the penitents are spraying the suffering bodies with perfumed water and refreshing the naked feet sore from the hot road. We follow the procession to the temple.

Once in the temple, everyone is able to satisfy his hunger after the fasting period. The skewers and hooks are immediately removed, and the wounds treated with hot ash. The faithfuls and penitents lay down their offerings such as coconuts, bananas, camphor, incense and flowers at the feet of the admired Gods inside the temple. The milk from the kudam is then poured on the deity as a thanksgiving. The rest of the milk is distributed to the faithfuls.

The temple Narassingua Peroumal is located in La Ravine Blanche not far away from the other big temple Shri Maha Badra Karli.


La Morne Langevin – Pas des Sables – Plateau des Basaltes – La Plaine des Sables

The autumn has started in La Réunion, and the temperatures have decreased from the hot 32-36ºC at sea level in February to a pleasant 24-28ºC. At 2300 m, we have now ideal temperatures for hiking of around 12-18ºC.

The weather forecast for our new hike is perfect: absolute blue sky!

We combine two different trails in the same area to walk for 6 h. The first walk starts from the parking Pas des Sables at 2345 m. The easy and flat path runs alongside the rampart overlooking the Plaine des Sables to the Morne Langevin in 3.7 km. From the crest, we can admire very well the full extent of the Plaine des Sables with some interesting spots in the middle. From the final belvedere, one has a great view over the South of the island.

Unfortunately, there is no way to descend to the Plaine des Sables and you have to take the same way back. But we’re not yet tired from these easy 7.4 km. We take another trail starting from the same parking slot. It's a loop of 7.5 km along the crest to the Oratoire de Sainte Thérèse and then down to the Plateau des Basaltes and the lunar landscape of the Plaine des Sables.


La Fenêtre des Makes – Piton Cabris

Following the RF11 for about 10 km after the village of Les Makes, we arrive at the lookout La Fenêtre des Makes (1587 m) with a splendid view over the Cirque de Cilaos. The short hike to the Piton Cabri leads to far better viewpoints with a nearly 360 degrees panorama of the Cirque.

The only challenge on this hike is the incredible amount of huge spiders waiting along the trail with their wide webs spanning across the path. The trail initially zigzags downward until the valley of the Bras Patates (-250 m), from there, the trail follows the rampart and then heads up to the Piton Cabris (1504 m). Geologists will note that Bras Patates was most probably the main river that flowed out from the area where the Cirque of Cilaos is now located, i.e. before the collapse and erosion that formed the actual circus. As for all mountain viewpoints on La Réunion, you have to visit the Fenêtre des Makes very early in the morning to enjoy a view unobstructed by clouds. Luckily, we were not too late this time.


Le Cassé de Takamaka - Forêt de Bébour

The weather has been stable since several days and Météo France forecast promised sunshine over the entire island. This time, the wet East coast region and the area of Takamaka, the wettest point of La Réunion with 6 m rain per year is also expected to be sunny. It’s a long awaited opportunity to re-try a hike in that region and hoping for good hiking conditions. The deep and scenic Takamaka canyon is located at the Eastern boundary of the Forêt de Bébour.

The hike to the lookout over the canyon is about 8 km long (return) and leads through beautiful, lush and dense mountain rain forest. Have you ever wondered where the term rain forest is coming from? Because it rains, it rains and pours despite any weather forecast ... we walked ankle deep in the mud, completely soaked and the fog prevented us from seeing anything, nothing not even a bit of something ... and it was totally sunny on the rest of the island!


The Gorges of Bras de la Plaine, Bras Pontho

This is one of the very few aquatic excursions in La Réunion without the need for helmet and rope. With the feet immersed in the wild river water, you can explore these beautiful gorges. You can admire a natural arch, several caves and many formations of basalt columns with their typical hexagonal shape. In some places, the high cliffs of the narrow gorge nearly merge together at the top, thus providing a cave-like feeling with complete darkness. 

The hike starts at the parking lot along the D27 and initially follows the Sentier Dassy, connecting Bras de Pontho to Entre-Deux. At the bridge (Pont de la Liane), we take one of the many paths leading to the river banks. From here, there is no fixed path through the gorge, you walk in the river or you follow its banks: we crossed the river at least 15 times! After the Cave of the Grande Ravine, we decide to return by the same way instead of taking the path up to Pont d’Yves. The loop back from Pont d’Yves to Dassy is mainly on streets.

In June 2019, a horrible dirt track has been built through these beautiful gorges. This, to allow some maintenance works at the dam upstream. The government promised to build the track back and return the gorges to their original conditions by end of 2020.


Barrage de Takamaka, Saint-Benoît

On Reunion Island, the humid trade winds of the Indian Ocean blow from East to West. The presence of high mountains favors the condensation of the air and causes strong differences in rainfall between the East and the West coast. The geographical location of the Takamaka valley, between high ramparts and open to East, makes it one of the wettest places in the world, on average 6 to 7 meters rainfall per year. This exceptional rainfall explains the presence of two hydroelectric dams: Takamaka I (barrage gingembre) and Takamaka II (barrage des hirondelles).

The deep valley of Takamaka dissects the eastern slopes of Piton des Neiges and marks the landscape with its sheer precipices, and surrounds one of the island’s longest rivers, the Rivière des Marsouins. Extending the Bébour plateau in a series of impressive waterfalls, the valley drains the water that courses through the mountain rainforests upstream. Its lush vegetation, extensive rivers, spectacular waterfalls of several hundred meters and towering rocky peaks make this an ideal place for hiking if the rain would stop for once.

The Takamaka valley is known to be a rainy area (see our previous experiences), but this time the weather forecast is correct: sunshine over Takamaka! It’s not an opportunity to be missed.

The Takamaka valley is crossed by many hiking trails. The main path allows you to reach the Bébour forest after four to five hours of effort by taking the path traced during the construction of the hydroelectric dam on the Rivière des Marsouins. The only thing we regret is that we did not have much time to complete the trail, so we went only to the Takamaka 1 dam and the Cascade Gingembre. We hiked only the first 1.6 km out of 8.1 km needed to reach the route RF2 up in the mountain forest of Bébour. But, we managed to have some wonderful views of the waterfalls.

Takamaka is originally the name of a tree, which is found in the lower sectors of the forest.


Grand Bassin, Le Tampon

From Saint-Pierre we follow the N3 to La Plaine des Cafres, then the D70 to Bois Court. At the end of the road, there is a large parking lot, the marketplace and a nice lookout with a water clock. Unfortunately, the water clock built in 1987 has been damaged by a cyclone in 2013. The view of Grand Bassin from the lookout platform is breathtaking. Grand Bassin is a totally isolated village situated at the bottom of a deep valley, surrounded by imposing ramparts.

The village is only accessible on foot. From the lookout of Bois Court, it’s necessary to descend along a steep rocky trail of 4.2 km (one way) and a denivelation of 700 vertical meters. Grand Bassin is regularly supplied by a small freight cable-car. Nowadays, only very few families are permanent residents of the village and the only school was closed several years ago.

On weekends, Grand Bassin is part of the family trip, from toddlers to grandparents… everyone hikes!

Grand Bassin is the only remaining nesting site worldwide, for the Mascarene Petrel on the verge to extinction. The Petrel has inspired the local legend of Timise: an imaginary winged spirit that screams at night and believed to carry off small children. The cries of the Petrel can indeed be confused with the groans of children.

Grand Bassin is an experimentation site for the Wireless Power Transmission (WPT). The electricity is sent down to the village by microwaves without using wires as a physical link. The microwaves have a receiver antenna down in the valley, where they are transformed back into electricity and distributed to the houses via traditional copper wires. This system has a higher efficiency than the local production of electricity with standard solar panels. One day, the WPT technology will allow the production of power by satellites with giant solar arrays in Earth orbit and beaming the produced electricity to the Earth by laser. What we see in this small village isolated in the mountains of La Réunion, could be the future for our planet.


Aurère, Cirque de Mafate

The Cirque de Mafate is one of the three large erosion valleys surrounding the volcano Piton des Neiges (Mafate, Salazie and Cilaos). The 3 circuses are not calderas as described in the English version of Wikipedia but were formed by subsidence and erosion.

The name of "Cirque de Mafate" comes from a sorcerer who lived in a cavern down there, he was a "Mafate" ("Mahafaty" in Malagasy means “deadly” or "who kills"). The Cirque of Mafate is a region with an ashamed history. The runaway slaves, known as "marrons" (from the Spanish cimarrón: "wild" or "runaway"), first populated this cirque in the 18th century. Thanks to its rugged terrain and difficulty of access, the Cirque of Mafate became the natural refuge for many runaway slaves. Poor white laborers (“Petits Blancs des Hauts”) settled in the cirque later, at the end of the 18th century.

One originality of Mafate is that there are no roads: All access is by foot or helicopter! The cirque is entirely enclosed by steep mountains with tall cliffs. All supplies from the simple gas bottles to furniture or other equipment are made by daily helicopter flights to the villages of the Cirque. The waste is also removed by helicopter flights. In the villages, you can find grocery stores where basic staples can be bought. There is no main electrical supply. Inhabitants produce their own electricity using solar panels. About 700 inhabitants live in the small villages and cultivate various flats, called "îlets" (literally islets). The main ten villages are Marla, Roche Plate, Les Orangers, Les Lataniers (municipality of Saint-Paul) as well as La Nouvelle, Cayenne, Grand Place, Aurère, Îlet à Malheur and Îlet à Bourse (municipality of La Possession). There are 8 primary schools, for the secondary education the kids have to leave the Cirque.

Today’s, many inhabitants have abandoned classical rural activities and instead opened gîtes (bungalows) where hikers can stay for the night and dine. And this is what we’ll do.

We started from the Bord Martin (1650 m) along the “Sentier Scout” (7.9 km) down to Aurère (920 m) and returned, after an overnight stay, by the “Sentier Augustave” (7.0 km). It's a steep and never ending climb from Aurère to the Bord Martin. A long section of the "Sentier Augustave" is cut in the cliffs and secured with cables, bridges and suspended staircases. After 730 m altitude gain, we finally arrive at the Bord Martin, completely exhaustedOur car is parked in Col des Boeufs, another 3.5 km distance and 410 m higher from here! ... Fortunately, we can arrange for a lift! ... Hitchhiking still exists in La Réunion! 

There are more than 150 km of trails in the Cirque of Mafate ... a paradise for hikers!



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