After spending a year living and teaching in neighbouring Mauritius i wanted to sample some of the famous walking that Reunion has to offer. So saying good bye to the family as they flew east, i headed west on the 45min flight to St Denis. A quick overnight in town then on the bus to St Louis. From St Louis the bus up to Cilaos was a picturesque ride up into the mountains with one of the highlights being the bus squeezing through a one lane tunnel with less than a foot clearance on all sides.
So far my limited French was getting me by but finding accommodation in Cilaos proved a lengthy process as most things were closed on Sunday. After finding a B&B that was open and checking in, i roamed about town in the afternoon stocking up on food for tomorrow’s walk at the super market and investing in a fleece jumper that had not been necessary in Mauritius. Cilaos is a beautiful place built in an extinct crater with huge mountain walls surrounding it and the impressive Piton des Neiges overlooking town emerging from the clouds sporadically.
That Sunday night in early December was colder than i had experienced in a year living in Mauritius. The next morning was my first encounter with French breakfasts. Faced with a bowl, baguettes and jam i promptly tucked in to the baguette and jam over my bowl, filling it with crumbs. Turns out the bowl was for coffee, which was had black and in large quantities. Also turns out that most people dipped their baguette in the coffee and the crumbs just went everywhere on the table cloth. This new cultural experience had me ready to hit the trail so i set off across to the north end of town and the beginning of the trail.
I climbed for about 45 mins up quite steep terrain before re-emerging on the road above Cilaos.
The incline was very steep and didn’t look like letting up. At Le Bloc the trail left the road again and began some even more serious switchbacks as it slowly climbed in altitude. After an hour of steep ascent, during which i was passed every 15 mins by trail runners clad in lycra, i arrived at a small hut and fairly large plain called Plateau du petit Matarum. This is where i stopped for my first break and had an early lunch as the guidebook said it was all uphill from hear. While i was sitting and eating a couple of middle aged men with a younger woman came up and decided i had chosen a great place for a break. I stayed for a while and engaged in some back and forth in a mix of French and English before wishing them au revoir and getting back to some serious uphill walking.
The next couple of hours was hard slog with the humidity being high as i walked up through the clouds. The ascent was relentless and a found my rhythm following the swithbacks up and up. About half an hour from the top i passed a camping site set in to the side of the mountain made from concrete. I didn’t have a tent and had no intention of sleeping there but thought it would have been a nice bit of intel to know before planning a trip.
After some more head down hard slog i made it to the top of the pass and felt the full force of the wind blowing from the east. The trees had started to thin out over the last half hour and at the top the vegetation was more like low bushes and shrubs with plant of moss. Less than 10 mins further on i spotted my destination for the evening, the Gite de la Caverne Dufour.
There it is Gite de la Caverne Dufour!
I was not the first to arrive that day, a couple from my B&B this morning were there already and as i sat on the balcony and had a rest and snack, more people began to trickle in, all from the Cilaos direction. Turns out there were about 40 people staying at the Gite in the various dorms. There was not enough water to shower but the warmth of the Gite was much appreciated. There was a large middle age contingent who like my self, intended to climb to the top of Piton des Neiges the next morning. The food that night was hot and plentiful (saucisse e rougail and a bean stew) and everything was washed down with flavoured rhum. It was a very festive meal and while i couldn’t understand most of the conversation, all the people sitting near me took turns trying to converse with me in their limited english and i used my limited french. It was a memorable meal, the warmth of the dining room helped me crash out early before the next days early rise.
Thats my bed on the bottom!