Saturday, August 25, 2012

We are 2 days into our crossing to Madagascar and we have been having great winds, it is about 15 knots on the beam to on the quarter and you can't ask for very much more. The waves are about 2 meters so the boat is handling them very well, the wind vane is steering so life is good.  The boat we are traveling with, Mojombo asked that we not put our position on the page that everyone can access for safely reasons so I will report it here.  We are currently at 17 26S and 54 28E and heading north at about 6.5 knots. It is hard to believe that the summer is almost over in Canada, hope you are all well.

Monday, August 20, 2012

There's me on the stairs, the 1751 old volcano on the floor in front of the huge new  volcano. 

We rented a car for the weekend and it coincided with Barry’s birthday so off we went on another adventure. We drove along the south shore of the island then halfway up the east side before turning west and driving up to the middle of the island where the volcano is located, the top being over 8,000 feet.

Our first discovery was a lovely waterfall; we left the main road and wound through innumerable switchbacks across three narrow one way bridges and happened upon a lovely pool about 200 m below the falls, scrambling along the boulder on the bank we saw the horseshoe shaped falls. The east side is where the previous lava flows from the volcano have flowed into the ocean.
Barry with the car we rented in front of a fairly recent lava flow.  
The years of the flows were posted and there have been eruptions regularly in the last 50 years.  It was interesting to note the differing amount of flora that accumulated, a huge difference being perceived from the most recent eruption in 2007 and some lava that had been left in 1957 but even in the space of 10 years the difference in the amount of plant life was astonishing.

We came across a suspension bridge that was no longer in use.  We strolled along taking lots of pictures and took one look over the edge and figured out why they chose to close it!!!
The cable holding up the bridge, YIKES!!
As we drove up towards the volcano the fog closed in.  We had come up out of the main area of the switchbacks and were driving along a relatively flat plain.  The fog became very thick and we were crawling along about 15-20 km an hour, cars appearing with very little warning, the visibility was down to about 5 meters in places.  Thankfully we eventually came out of the fog and drove along in bright sunshine above the clouds for the rest of the way to the volcano.  One of the viewpoints was from a long high cliff top. There was a big flat wide plain, with very little vegetation, that the dirt road stretched across; it reminded us of the Dempster highway.  Once we crossed the plain we came to the volcano, we went and had a good look in case it was clouded over the next day.
Notice the switchback road in the foreground partly in the shadows.
We stayed at a gite or a rural house, what we would have called a backpackers hostel. There was a central building where there was a bar and served the meals.  They had about 4 of 5 cabins where there was a bathroom, a small sitting room and numerous bedrooms.  The room we stayed in was quite tiny and had 2 bunk beds stuffed in it, with very little room to move about.  We shared the room with a single English male and a single French woman.  It was not quite the romantic double bedded birthday treat I had imagined. The view was stunning though and we sat out on the balcony before dinner and shared a bottle of red wine and some nuts.  The evening meal was quite tasty; there was a soup and a creamed cauliflower entre then curried pork and a fish stew for the main dish as well as small slices of cake and the local rum liqueur for dessert.  Remembering we were over 7,000 ft high it was quite chilly, there was no heating in the cabins so I was very glad for the four blankets they had provided.

The next morning dawned bright and sunny and we set off for the volcano.  There was frost on the ground and I had socks, longish pants, a shirt, a sweatshirt and my jacket on to start the hike.  At first you went down a huge set of stairs over the edge of a cliff to the floor around the volcano.
A lava vent
The inside of this volcano
Notice the new darker lava flow. 
The path across the flats consisted of painted dots on the lava.  There were numerous vents along the way and a small volcano that had erupted in 1751. The walking wasn’t too bad, mostly on fairly flat smooth lava, occasionally going across newer jagged black lava that was a bit tricky to maintain your balance on.  Once we reached the base of the volcano we wound up and around to the opposite side to where the view point was.  This volcano is currently dormant on the surface, there were no bubbling pools or rocks being spewed up over the edge, but the hole was over a kilometre wide and over 400 m deep, a truly impressive hole in the ground.  Thankfully the interpretive signs were also in English so we were able to find out all sorts of interesting facts. Once again we were above the clouds, so although we could not see the surrounding mountains we enjoyed a clear view of what we had come to see.  Barry said this 5 hour hike was easier on his body than the last one we did.
We drove back down the mountain passing through the band of clouds again.  It was not nearly as thick as before and we were thankful.  It was a Sunday and we encountered lots of Reunionaisse as the locals are referred to, enjoying the day with a family picnic.  We had a lovely lunch in a local cafĂ© we found and afterwards sat and sipped our coffee’s in the accepted leisurely French manner.
We are planning to head to Madagascar in the next few days.  Once we leave I will try and post our position daily so check on the link called “our position” to check where we are.  We are going to sail up to the north end and spend our time cruising along the west side, out of the prevailing winds.  We will be sailing with at least one other boat so once we arrive will have company in the anchorages.  Theft from yachts has been a problem there so we are hoping to discourage them by being in the company of others.
The marina, look at the whitecaps, and the surf, it blows like stink here most days,
we are glad of the seawall and the protection it offers. 

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

We have been quietly whiling away the time until our next voyage, which will be to Madagascar. We are going to head around the north end and visit there for about a month before we head to South Africa. The favoured time to head to South Africa is in October or November.  It is very expensive here on La Reunion so we have not been eating out as much as we have been used to.  Since leaving Australia it has been almost as cheap to eat out as to cook a meal on the boat.  I have convinced Barry that we should rent a car and go and see the volcano, apparently it is the same type that they have on Hawaii. 
The other day we took a stroll around to look at the old architecture in town.  We found city hall and then walked down a street that had lots of old buildings on it.  Crime must be quite a factor here because all the houses have big fences and then railings on top of the fences so that entry over the fence is almost prohibited, but the big thing for us is that you cannot see the houses.  Sometimes if you walk on the opposite side of the street you can catch a glance at the gems lying behind the walls.  I have enjoyed both here and on Mauritius taking note of the different types of railings, some are quite intricate, bent in different shapes and styles.  All the stores have pull down metal doors that cover all the windows and the doors on the shops once they close. 
St Denis old City Hall 

Yesterday we headed to the capital St. Denis on the bus.  St Pierre where we are staying is on the south coast of the island whereas St. Denis is on the north.  It was a lovely trip on the bus.  There was a double lane highway most of the way so traffic was not a problem.  We travelled along the coast line seeing beaches and the rocky shore. For the first half of the journey the land gradually sloped up until the mountain steepened.  There was a lot of housing in the sloping foothills, most of the population be concentrated along the shoreline before the mountainous region begins. As we got close to the northwest corner of the island the hills came down to meet the shore and there were dramatic vistas of the sheer drop offs from the tall hills into the sea. At one point the bus went through a 200m long tunnel, thank heavens it was quite a bit larger than the one we went through going up the mountains. 
My perspective from the second floor

Barry's lovely shot from the ground floor, what an eye he has!
St Denis had some lovely colonial buildings and we were able to tour through one of them learning about the life and houses along this interesting old street.   We headed toward the natural history museum thinking that our lack of French would not matter quite so much in there.  Unfortunately it was closed for renovations but we wandered around the lovely gardens instead.  We were fascinated by the old hotel de ville or city hall. It was very grand inside with a sweeping red carpeted staircase extending up to a grand ballroom on the second floor.  There was a lovely courtyard that contained a fountain with the statue of a maiden. It was diffused with sunlight and the beautiful curved portals and windows made a lovely picture.  For the most part the modern buildings here seem very stark and have ugly lines.  The roofs have no eaves which in my opinion make the houses and apartment buildings seem chopped off and have no flowing lines, the roof comes to the edge of the building and it just stops, yuck!   
St Denis valley, check out the apartment blocks with the roofs that just end
St Pierre is a party town.  The marina is located just opposite the main street, a strip of bars and cafes.  Each weekend night the music booms on until the wee hours, we have been woken at 0400 by screaming, hollering party goers.  Even if it is not the music in the bars the cars do a continuous loop around the waterfront with the tunes just cranked. As you know, sound carries across the water but when the cars take a left off the main drag and crawl through the parking lot located below street level the sound reverberates off the stone wall and thumps into our ear drums on the boat. There are few places to anchor around the island so maybe we should just go and join the party!

After our walk around town the other day there was a local Creole concert.  I had been hoping for some local music and this was my chance.  I stayed for about 6 acts, the first one was the only one with live music, actually just a rhythm section but it was very catchy.  The rest just sang along with a CD(boring), they had dancers as well and that kept my interest.  Lots of people in the crowd knew the songs and sang along so they must have been well known on the island.  It was a huge crowd and it was great to be part of it. 

Thursday, August 09, 2012

We have been trying to get our fill of Olympic coverage, but our idea of what is of interest does not seem to correspond with French TV networks, unfortunately for us. Last night we were hoping to catch some more track and field and ended up watching the last half of the French vrs Spain team handball game.  This is not a game that I am very familiar with but it turns out that it is quite vicious.  We saw guys grabbing uniforms and hauling each other down, followed by the innocent “who me” look at the referee.  The elbow to the head and the finger in the eye gouges were a bit over the top but seemed to be par for the course.  We had found a great spot to watch, the local Walmart type store with a whole array of TV’s (about 12) tuned to the track. When a customer would walk in front of a set near the floor, which had great graphics, and pause with their shopping cart, I would switch to as set over their head and continue my viewing.  We watched all the heats of the men’s 200m and some women’s javelin as well as some diving.  We would be glued to the TV and then once the commercials started would wonder off into the store and examine other merchandise.  I think we bought some dental floss to justify our presence there.
Fording a small stream
Yesterday we took the bus up into the mountains and went on a 5 hour hike.  The bus trip was unbelievable with the driver blaring the horn around every hairpin turn warning the potential unseen drivers coming towards us to beware.  There are supposedly 500 curves in the hour and a hour and a half bus ride so there was a lot of honking going on! We went through 2 tunnels that must have constructed before the buses were built, they barely fit.  I am not joking, if you put your fingers out the window (your fingers, mind you not your hand or your arms) you could scrape the stone walls.  I cringed each time we entered the tunnel sure that I would hear the bus scrapping along the side.

The scenery was spectacular on the strenuous hike.  We wound down into a ravine where there was a lovely waterfall and then ascended. I figured we would then just hike around the lip of the gorge and end up back in town, but no, there were 2 or 3 more ravines in the way and we ended up going down into and climbing up several long steep mountain sides.  The paths and the footing were pretty good, it was just a long way up each time.  I am glad that we had the hikes in Rodriguez and the climbs in Mauritius in the bank to get our legs and lungs in shape before we tackled this trek. Barry’s ankle took a beating however and he is not anxious to do much more of that kind of hiking.

We have a map with a lot of other hikes on it. It is a big tourist attraction here.  There are houses along the way where you can stop for the night. There are 5 and 6 day treks you can go on but Barry’s body just won’t handle it.  I am really happy that we were able to do one and that he is not hobbling around with a cane like he was before we got to New Zealand. It was a gorgeous sunny day and we experienced a beautiful part of La Reunion.

Sunday, August 05, 2012

We are now in Reunion, a island 100 nm to the west of Mauritius, that belongs to France, they fly the French flag.   We made a very boring passage the other day, so that we would get to the entrance to the marina when there was very little swell.  There is a surf break about 100 m from the entrance to the marina and it looks pretty hairy when you enter.  We wanted to enter at a low swell level so there was very little wind on the passage, we motored, then motor sailed for about 2/3 of the journey, sailing from the middle of the afternoon until the wind dropped before midnight.  Looking at the entrance yesterday with the swell surging in we were happy we had arrived when we did.  We are busy visiting bars and restaurants trying to find the best Olympic coverage, our favourite just refused to put the Olympics on so we will walk down the road to another spot.  It is very mountainous here so we are planning on doing some inland travels which involve hiking.  The money in Reunion is the Euro and French prices are in effect, we are currently coming to grips with the fact they want about $140.00 CND for internet connection for a month, thus we are in the pub using the free wifi along with quaffing a few French beers.  We are hoping to find somewhere to watch the 100m semis and finals tonight.