This was they day I had been waiting for. Karen had organized for Stan, Brian and I to do a tour of the Piton de la Fournaise volcano on Reunion with Evarun Excursions. I am a HUGE volcano fan, so I had been getting more and more excited about our tour.
Finally the day arrived, and I was up early to see us dock. We met up with Karen and Stan and headed ashore at 7:30. Early for me, but I didn’t want to waste a minute. We had thought that we were sailing at 5:00, so the original plan was to return to the ship at 4:00, but the Daily Programme said we were leaving at 4:00, so clearly 4:00 would be a problem.
The port itself looked like any other cargo port, except there was a shuttle bus that took us to the small terminal where we met up with Stephan, our driver in his air conditioned Mercedes minivan. We were clearly going in style.
In contrast to the bad traffic in the Seychelles, and the even worse traffic in Mauritius, straight after leaving the port we were on a motorway, and speeding along to St Pierre. Although there was a bit of a traffic back up going in the other direction, our road was clear and we were soon out of the built up area and driving along the coast through fields of sugar cane, with the peak of Piton des Nieges on our right.
At the town of St Pierre we turned off the motorway, and headed to the village of Tampon. Again, the road was in excellent condition. We realized that as much as we had liked the Seychelles and Mauritius, Reunion seemed to have a far superior infrastructure, and although I would not have thought it possible, was an even more beautiful island.
In Tampon we stopped for a bathroom break and Stephan bought us coffee and hot chocolate from a vending machine, which just hit the spot.
Soon we were heading away from the coastal sugar cane fields and into an agricultural area with herds of cattle. As I sipped my hot chocolate I asked Stephan whether they were dairy or beef cows, and he said they were both. He then went on to say that he never drinks milk from cows on the island as they are all very diseased and full of antibiotics, and he drinks powdered milk from France. All of a sudden I was not enjoying my hot chocolate quite as much.
As we drove up the mountain we left the diseased cows and their green fields behind, and were soon in a thickly forested area.
The higher we went the vegetation changed to scrubby heather,
and the blue skies above us disappeared and we were soon in thick mist.
We emerged from the mist, and there was the blue sky again, and we saw that we were now above the clouds.
Our first stop was at the magnificent valley of the Riviere Des Ramparts, the floor of which is covered with lava from prior eruptions.
Our next stop was at Le Cratere Commerson which is part of 3 craters created from an eruption about 2000 years ago, and dominates the Riviere Des Ramparts.
We continued climbing higher and higher until we reached the Plaine Des Sables, where there was absolutely no vegetation at all.
We drove down into the plain, and the road deteriorated from being a magnificent tar road, to being a rutted dirt track. This is because the conservationists have prevented the road being tarred, but Stephan said that he thinks the dust from the cars, and the erosion from rain actually does more damage to the environment than a tar road would. In any case the road becomes impassable during the rainy season, and it was tremendously difficult to navigate even when dry.
We slowly bumped along until the end of the plain, where we were back on tar road again, and able to drive up to the rim of the crater. The volcano is very active, and the last eruption was on April 4th. Unfortunately it was sleeping today, and there wasn’t even a whiff of steam, let alone a shower of lava. Still, it was a very beautiful large crater and we spent a long time at the rim taking photos and marveling at the sight below us.
Then it was time to head back towards the ship. We had decided to forgo a stop for lunch, and to take a leisurely drive up the west coast instead. This was a good choice as the coastline is spectacular. There are several sandy beaches interspersed among the rocky shoreline.
All along the way are little seaside villages with some great looking shops and restaurants. It looked like a really great place to go on holiday.
We were back at the ship by 3:30, and we spent some time in the terminal looking at the souvenir stalls. We ended up buying T-shirts, and then we wandered towards the shuttle bus. There were some musicians and dancers there, and they were having a break and handing out some little cakes. Not having had any lunch I devoured their offerings, and declared them to be quite tasty.
Back on board we headed to the Lido Pool to watch the sail away. Synergy was playing as usual. Normally I can’t get Brian to come to a sail away if the band is playing because a few years ago another band, Xstasy (?Xtacy) were playing Caribbean music on the QM2 when we were sailing away from Southampton. He felt that that was fine for a Caribbean cruise, but not for leaving Southampton in the rain while we were waving our little Union Jack flags. He wanted proper British music like you used to get on QE2.
Nowadays he often avoids the sail away parties as we have our play list of British sail away music which we play on our balcony instead. However, as I really wanted to be out on deck, I reassured him that British music would not be the politically correct thing to play as we left Reunion, and that they were very unlikely to just play Caribbean music.
It started off well with Synergy playing some rock music, but then things deteriorated, and despite my reassurance, they started playing “Hot Hot Hot”, and things went downhill from then on. Luckily it was a perfect sail away otherwise, so I was able to keep him on deck until the island disappeared into the distance.
Our idea of sail away music:
QE2 horn (?whistle)
See the Conquering Hero Come
Pomp and Circumstance
Jerusalem (my all time favorite)
Zadok the Priest
Calm Seas and Prosperous Voyage
Fantasia on British Sea Songs
The British Grenadiers
Crown Imperial, A Coronation March
Heart of Oak
I vow to thee
HMS Pinafore Overture
God Save the Queen
And when we sail from Liverpool we add:
You’ll Never Walk Alone
Ferry Cross the Mersey
The entertainment tonight was Philip Hitchcock, a magician we have seen before, but he never fails to amaze us with his tricks. One of my favorite tricks is when he climbs into a large balloon and bounces around the stage. It really is very, very, silly – but I can’t stop laughing.