Sunday, 27 September 2015

Mountains & Volcanoes

The moment you see this island, its volcanic heritage is brutally obvious.  Geologically younger than the other Mascarene Islands (Mauritius, Rodrigues etc), Reunion is aggressively sloped, with level country only around the shore line.  There is a lot of flat land, however those flats are almost all tilted, being the long extended lower slopes of the mountains, and covered with sugar cane.  As you move higher into the mountains the sugar cane disappears.  Scattered dairy farms eventually give way to pine forests and then the rugged beauty of Reunion becomes evident.

Hiking trails are everywhere, the mountain villages are peppered with guest houses and it seems everyone escapes to the cool climate and staggering beauty of the hinterland.  Driving into the hills requires patience and perseverance, with hundreds of switch backs and hairpin bends and many one-way road sections.  The narrow one-way tunnel sections were a new experience - reversing out of those would be a nightmare.

We were lucky to meet a sailing family from Reunion  - Patrick, Valerie, Greg & Jonathan Lange - when we rafted alongside their boat in Port Louis, Mauritius.

They promised to entertain us in Reunion, which they certainly did.  Within 48 hours of our arrival Valerie Lange had us hiking through the dark across a massive lava flow to see the currently active volcano.

Right here I have to pause and make some facts very clear.  Firstly (on the plus side), Ley has always wanted to see a volcano - it was very near the top of her bucket list.  Secondly, we are not really keen or practiced hikers.  Finally, we were both carrying injuries sustained on our passage from Chagos to Rodrigues, and our mobility was questionable.

So we agreed to go when smiling and affable Patrick said the walk was "only 30 minutes or so".  Of course when we reached the end of the access road Valerie (also smiling) announced that it was "only a 90 minute hike each way".  Tricky understanding these French speaking Reunion people - it must be the language.  We just couldn't turn back .... and are glad we didn't.

No We Were Not This Close - This beautiful Image Was Taken On The Night We Were There

At 2631 meters above sea level,  Piton de la Fournaise is the world's third most active volcano.  Rugged is clearly an understatement here.  Stunningly beautiful is all we can say. For more images click here

New Life In The Old Lava Flow
We hiked in to the crater rim in the late afternoon, along with several hundred other masochists, and stayed until after dark ... the hike back across the rough black lava field with no moonlight was "interesting".

Temperatures were dropping towards zero, a real shock to our systems.  Of course we didn't have enough warm clothing.  Valerie supplied "trail food" - sausage and cheese of course - and we used our Pelican waterproof flash lights for navigating. In fact it wasn't really a tough walk, and it ticked another one off Ley's bucket list.  Our thanks to Patrick and Valerie for sharing their spectacular island home with us.
Valerie & Ley Before The Cold Night                                                    

Saturday, 26 September 2015

Passage To La Reunion

It is almost impossible to anchor on the coast of Reunion, as the sea floor drops away dramatically right at the edge of the reef on this steeply sloped volcanic island.  So we cooled our heels in Mauritius for over a week, waiting for a marina berth to be available, then had a relatively comfortable 150 nautical mile passage overnight to Le Port Marina on the north west coast of Reunion.  Jerome Belhuerne, the Maitre De Port and Ocean Cruising Club Port Officer, made us very welcome.

The government operates two marinas in Le Port, with the latest facility developed using EU funding.  We arrived less than 7 days after opening, so not everything was perfect, however it is an excellent facility.

There are two more marinas further around the coast, at St. Giles and St. Pierre, though these are usually full. Clearance formalities are very easily handled - the marina contacts the authorities, and two customs officials promptly visit the boat.  One single form is completed, they stamp the passports and they're gone in 5 minutes.  Need to clear outwards very early ?  No problems - the same officers attended the boat at 5:30am as we requested. Very civilized and very professional.

In Reunion you really are in Europe - very old buildings mix it up with the modern, infrastructure is high quality, salaries are high, life is a little hectic, even traffic jams are common.

On the plus side, everything is beautiful !  The cuisine is classically French with a tasty Creole twist. Of course this all comes at a cost - everything is more expensive than the places we have traveled in recent years.

Once processed we quickly rented a car and started our touring, visiting local markets and the lovely capital city of St. Denis.

Provisioning is, as expected, an exciting experience here.  Everything is available and the fresh produce at the weekly market in Le Port was outstanding.

Our almost non-existant French was not really a big problem - most people spoke some English, and were not afraid to use it.  The language snobbery of Paris doesn't exist here.

The port has an excellent range of marine services available,  a large travel lift and a very large ship lift.  We compiled a directory of these services and vendors for those following in our wake.  You can download the Reunion Cruising Services Guide here, in Adobe PDF format (you'll find all our published guides available in the tab at the top of this page).

This is a great stopover for cruising sailors, and a great holiday destination.  As you'll see in the image below, the biggest problem I had was choosing between the Spanish, Portuguese and French sausages in the deli.  Life is good here.

Tuesday, 15 September 2015

Yikes - A Kiwi Chef In My Galley!

Reece Checking Resources
Whilst driving around the south western coast of Mauritius, Neil spotted "Viande de Gibier", a specialist butchery selling wild deer, boar and pheasant.  The influence of French cuisine is strong here.

Half an hour later Neil emerged carrying a precious parcel of venison loin, which was stored in our freezer waiting for the right occasion ...

Then we met the Kiwi Chef,  Reece Smith, who was managing a Russian owned Swan sailing yacht berthed nearby.  Over sundown drinks I asked Reece what would be the best way to cook the venison. Not being a meat eater I had no idea how to prepare and cook it.  Reece had a quick look at the meat and suggested a dinner party where we would invite a few friends and he would cook the venison.  Sounded like a good plan.   

Friends were invited, a menu was planned and a shopping list drafted. Reece then had a quick look at my galley, opening cupboards checking on supplies and equipment – all looked good for the big night.  

Plating Up Was A Rapid Fire Art Experience
Reece rose early and started cooking up bones to prepare a rich, luscious jus to serve with the meat.   I went shopping for thyme, potatoes, apples, broccoli, pumpkin and bacon.   

The big night arrived, the Kiwi Chef took over the galley, laid out his knives, put on his apron and then dismissed me – I had to sit in the salon and entertain our guests whilst a food preparation frenzy played out behind me.

The Pheasant Plucker At Work
 Neil was enlisted as kitchen assistant, peeling and grating potatoes for the bacon rosti, passing utensils and generally supporting the production.

The venison was trussed and rolled in black pepper and finely chopped thyme, the broccoli was prepared and the stems peeled (who peels broccoli stems?), the pumpkin mashed whilst the jus kept simmering away.  The rosti was cooked ( I had to ask Neil later how that was done as I was still banned from the galley). 
Then finally the venison was quickly pan-fried and volia, a gourmet meal for seven.  A scrumptious apple crumble dessert followed.

And the best part of the galley invasion – Neil washed all the dishes!