Saturday, January 20, 2018
Welcome to France! The island of Réunion is an overseas department of France. It’s a small island, only about 970 square miles, with a population of over 800,000 people. The island is one of three Mascarene Islands, including Mauritius and Rodrigues. It has a relatively young coral reef, only about 1,000 years old.
The island was first discovered by Europeans in the early 1500’s when Admiral Pedro Mascarenhas of Portugal was exploring in the area. It has had a few different names over the centuries: Santa Apolónia, Mascarenhas, Mascarin, Île Bourbon, Île Bonaparte, Île de la Réunion, and now La Réunion by the French. Encouraged by King Louis XIV, the French sent settlers to Réunion in 1665 to establish plantations. These plantations were soon producing spices and coffee, followed later by sugarcane. Today, the island produces about 180,000 tons of sugar each year.
Many of the people here call themselves Creole. The term originally indicated mixed race, but it has come to mean people who were born on the island.
Réunion suffered some damage from the tropical cyclone that passed through these waters in the past week. Earlier in the week, our captain mentioned that we might not be able to dock here. Fortunately, the weather cleared up and we docked this morning. There was indeed some damage and shore excursions to the northern part of the island were cancelled. Ours was to the south, so we got on a bus yet again to explore Réunion.
We rode along the Tamarind Road on the east side of the island. The beaches are beautiful. Waves were still high today, and we didn’t see anyone out on the water.
We then turned west toward Piton de la Fournaise, the Peak of the Furnace. Scientists estimate the age of this volcano at 530,000 years. It is about 8,000 feet tall and is among the world’s most active volcanos, experiencing three eruptions in 2017. The eruptions are mild, with lava oozing out of the volcano, causing little devastation. On our way to the caldera, we drove through a huge sand field. When a fresh layer of lava is laid down, the sand washes out beneath leaving some interesting terrain. Also, nature is continually reclaiming the area, with plants growing in the middle of the sand and lava. It’s important to start out early in the morning because the clouds start moving in around noon, completely fogging the caldera.
Like Hawaii, the islands here are slowly moving away from the hot spot in the ocean bed. The old ones are slowly eroding and sinking, while new ones are growing to replace them. Also like the Hawaiian Islands, Réunion has a dry side and a wet side.
We stopped for a typical Creole lunch at a restaurant in Plaine des Cafres. Rice factors heavily in their dishes, topped with beans or meats. We also sampled a spicy peanut sauce which made us sweat. Yummy!
After lunch, we visited Volcano House, a volcano museum. Although we’ve visited other volcano museums in Hawaii and Iceland, it was still very interesting, very well laid out. We can still learn more.