Sunday is ride day in La Reunion

From the first day when I got the bike, I was told ” Sunday is the day if you want to test your legs with the locals” and so, even though we had a busy schedule, I was ready.

Ready actually meant ” be on the bike at 5:30 AM and head down to the next town in to the meeting point.

I must give credit to the local drivers,they give respect to the cyclist. Imagine. 5: 30, really is the time when clubs let out and boisterous, fairly inebriated bands of youth head to where they plans to end their night capers. I saw and heard plenty but , mostly, they did not trouble my pre-dawn riding.

At the meeting point 10 miles from my house, I quickly met the local crews. About 50 riders or so, excitedly head out on 40 miles ride that would include a 9 miles climb.

Riding with the group along the shore was not a problem. I knew from experience that half the group included racing level riders and the rest pretty much equalled the type of riding I am accustomed to handle.

Even the terrain was not unfamiliar since I had covered these road before. The group organizers who invited me to join the ride described at the start where and how the trip would take place and I knew that for sure I would not be able to keep up with the climbing pace. I was right. Just before the road turned to head up the slope, half the group decided to return along the shore. The rest took a nature break and I alerted the leaders of my intention to do the climb, and went ahead.

I started climbing at my usual pace, I knew that soon enough the group would come blasting by. I heard the swoosh of the pedals before I felt their presence: three riders, climbing smoothly at an harrowing pace, passed me like if I was standing still. Fast, for sure, but was humbled me was the gears they were pushing: huge. The rest of the remaining group eventually passed me, albeit more slowly. At time I had the illusion I might be able to keep up with some as they swept by me, but soon would realize the futility of such presence and settled for watching them disappear at the switchback further up.

Eventually, the “Voiture Balais” ( AKA sag-wagon) drove by, driver honking and staff guy hanging out of the front window, shouting encouragements, while at the same time inquiring on my state. I am sure i probably looked ghastly, breathing heavy lumbering up the sharp slope. I refused their offer to ” help me , a little” and watch them drive away to catch up to the group.

At the major intersection I knew I had to make choice: right, the road continued up for another 4 miles to swing south away from my final destination. Left the climb was short, although a little steeper, but in the general direction of the hours. The car was there position to let me know some had gone right, others had pressed on for the longer ride. I let them know what my choice was, thanking them for a most enjoyable and stimulating event before heading home by myself..

I waited all week for this chance to ride with the locals. The club ” Les Rois de la Pedale was a treat for me

As fast as I could, I headed home where Sue was waiting because we had planned a rest of the day long tour of the shrines illustrating the history and mores of the island Tamil community on their ” Tamoul Nadir ”

I will write more about that later

Tranquille! Tranquille

Saturday market was today’s main attraction and we made sure to go there early. I didn’t take too many pictures and Susan got busy souvenirs shopping.

The heat was quickly very oppressive and we made sure to rush back to the AC shelter of our house for lunch, and the welcome relief of a plunge in the pool before siesta.

As the afternoon wore on, I went on a solitary bike ride along the shore.

THE CRATER IN FLAMME

Yesterday, Friday the 13th was the day we planned the day long visit to The Piton de la Fournaise, The island famous active volcano . Since last week, it has been in eruption and the usual lookout points are not open to the public.

The road to the top rises along older volcanic canyons, now covered by green tropical forests. The lodge at the top sits at 2370 meter high, and is like a lunar landscape, totally barren.

Since we were not allowed access to the crater a group of us walked a 3 hours hike in the forest below.

Testing my legs on a bigger climb: Les Maques

Long ago, when slavery dictated life in the island for laborer forcefully brought to La Reunion from Africa . Runaways slaves and newly emancipated laborers mistrusting the intentions of their former masters settled in the beautiful, albeit inaccessible, valleys of the dormant ancient crater on the protective side of the active volcan and below the towering slope of the island highest peak. These fertile valleys , cut off from the ever growing population below did not have any roads connecting them to the coastline towns but for one easily defended climb.

This is where I tested my legs today. The road to the Maques in the cirque of Cilaos. Unbelievable. I did half the climb, starting from the shore line. It rises over 7800 feet of which I climbed 4400 until I was stopped by the cold fog. Temp was 86 degrees most of the climb , hotter at the coast level, much too cool inside the fog.

At the village the caravane of cars scooped me up to the point lookout for a family picnic In the tropical forest.

We came down by car . I didn’t want to try descending the narrow road to the coast .

Tomorrow we are leaving earlier even than today in order to head for a whole day long excursion to the active, presently erupting, volcano of Piton de la Fournaise. We hope we will be allowed very near.

the end

What to do when not doing too much

Since I was self limited to full rest mode, we needed something to do that would not stress my ankle.

A joint visit to next town’s local street market took care of our morning, while a visit to a friend we had not seen in at least 20 years, set up the afternoon.

Strange how so many people who have crossed our lives long ago in far away places surface here in this remote part of France, practically next to each other’s.

We had a pleasant visit with Joëlle who turned us on to an interesting visit of one of the original 18th century local plantation, ran by a widow, mother of 13 children, owner over 400 slaves that is now a museum depicting the island’s history of slavery and subsequent emancipation. We learned how that such history contributed to La Reunion present day ethnic mixing pot, and multi racial blend of Creole Culture

The day ended with sunset watching from the pool, sipping drinks.

While some among us prepared dinner, and others, like the General and Patrick, worked out the fine points of tomorrow’s picnic outing along the coast and up to some park at the top of a ravine overlooking the remote wild nature’s parks.

After today forced rest, iam looking forward to wild tomorrow.

ROCHE VERT BOUTEILLE

Since the whole family ( 22 of us) planned a mountain hike for mid-morning, it behooved me to do my bike ride earlier. I set out in the dark on the bike lane along the coast road before sunrise. The going was easy and for a brief moment I contemplated staying at sea level.

The appeal of the rise couldn’t be denied and soon, once again, I set my wheels uphill along the deep ridge that climb slowly to the foothills of the high mountains. High, they really are. Some of the peaks nearby reach close to ten thousand feet, and it is easy to venture on roads that quickly wind their ways to great altitude. Like yesterday, I saw many people already at work. Laborers, here, do take advantage of the early morning cooler temperatures to do as much work as they can. Cyclists? I saw none. I was headed to a place called ” Plateau du Caillou” a location I imagined to have some respite in the slope. Well, the name may have a “plat” to it but I couldn’t find any flat section in it, and the road relentlessly continue to ascend. I could see the continuation of the switchbacks above me, and with the time passing and the heat rising rapidly, I decided it was time to turn my wheels downhill for the welcome daring descent: a 13 miles plunge back home to Saint Gilles les Bains. At the house, a quick plunge in our pool and I was ready for the start of our hike to canyon of la “Roche Vert Bouteille.”

We got there in a caravane of cars along a winding, torturous road that I was quite glad I did not have to climb on my bike. At the lieu dit: Dos D’Âne, ( donkey back) we parked the cars and the 22 of us started our hike along the wild nature trail.

As challenging as the terrain was, the amazing vista above the deep canyon was beyond anything I imagined. I mean. Unlike the grand canyon, this one was covered in lush , green vegetation that made me think of “gorilla in the mist” landscape. Deep below the trail, fed by dozen cascade, a river flowed to the sea. Facing us all around volcanic rise reach to the clouds in toothlike peaks as Sharp as knife blades. Amazing.

As good as IPhone cameras are, they failed to give photos capable render justice to the beauty and depth of the surroundings.

At the lookout point, following the obligatory group pictures ( I don’t have them), we split to allow the children and their parents to escort down those who were tired. A few of us pressed on to the tippy top where the rock face, indeed has the shape of a bottle. ( no photos there of the rock-for some odd reasons).

From there we began the challenging downhill along the sharper edge of the mountain. That trail would lead us back to the starting point where we rejoined the rest of the group.

Again the winding road to the valley floor and to well deserved buffet at an oasis like restaurant in the shade.

We came home, eyes still filled with the splendors of the sights, tired yet joyful and satisfied by the entire adventure that I am glad to share.

Muriel & Patrick Effervescent wedding

The big event of this adventure is the reason we came: Muriel and Patrick chose to itch each othe officially and their three children stood at their side to Sal them down the aisle. Well, more like the symbolic isle since it turns out the wedding took place at Saint Paul city hall and they went down the spiral staircase.

I can tell you about it , trust me, since I was one of Patrick’s official witness that signed into the official civil contract.

Post town-hall we all headed for the beach where we participated in a very sweet and tender touching exchange of vows and ring. Your truly and Sue were among a few who got to give a speech and share the officiant’s duty in bestowing various spiritual blessings during an hindi like ceremony.

The entire party headed to the couple’s amazing residence in a wedding style cottage with the newlywed couple leading in their friend F340 red Ferrari.

We all ended together at that Patrick and Muriel Hollywood like house where the reception was catered in the most tasteful manner by one of the island reputed beach side restaurant.

The reception atmosphere was a splendid reflection of the open, casual spirit of the amazing union. Everything was staged for good food and pleasant relating. Special games created by the couple stimulated conversations between all guests in the most touching and real manners that enticed everybody in finding what they shared in commun with each other’s. A wonderful feeling easily spiced up by endless food depicting local fare and of course plenty of champagne based concoctions and La Reunion rum cocktails.

The lively conversations did not prevent dancing and since the event took place at the newlywed own house, the festivities went on long into the night until the live band and the dancers got exhausted inspite of fréquent reinvigorating plunged into the house pool. .

We all slept late, a rare thing on this early riser island, and spared our energy and appetite for the evening beach gathering on the private Copacabana restaurant whose owner was the previous night caterer and a very close friend of Muriel & Patrick. There, once again the festivities promoted closeness and tender sharing, great food and endless drinks watching the sunset and the children beach playing.

A fitting continuation of the feast.

It would be easy to assume this is the end of the celebration but if I believe what I have been told, this is indeed just the beginning

The first ride – Pre wedding

Lucky me I was able to rent a bike my size. Not given, you can trust me on that.

So on the wedding day I got up and in the early down I started riding. From our house you either start up on roll downhill. You know me? Up, I went on the twilight preceding a balmy dawn. Here , with all the mountains rising from the sea, even the sun is slows rising. The temperature on the other hand, is not.

As I kept climbing, the color slowly changed from somber to luminous and pretty soon I was pedaling in the continuously rising shadeless sun drenched road through the sugar canes fields. With each switchback I was treated with quick visions of the white beaches below, the immensity of the ocean lost in the horizon or by the forbidding sight of the mountains whose summit seemed lost in white clouds. Heaven! But for the hardship of the relentless climb.

The road led me through several barely awakening villages, shopkeepers opening their stores,farmers heading to the fields. No cyclists in view , I simply focused on the beauty of the landscapes and the demands of my efforts.

After ten miles of climbing, the sea below looked refreshingly beckoning while I had the sensation to still be at the base of the mountain. Conscious, we were expected for the wedding ceremonies, I decided to head down when at the bend of the road I came upon the unexpected view of a Hindu temple.

Just as I made the decision to head back i spotted the familiar sight of a serious cyclist. (Smiles) I greeted him and requested he lead me, at least for a while, in the descent. That was a thrill to be remember and worth the hour and half of the steady climb. At the bottom, I parted with my improvised guide, teasing him for his splendid racing bike, fully equipped with state-of-the-art the art battery power motor. ” it’s easier for climbing” he told me candidly. I smiled and rode home to get ready for the wedding.

Settling in Saint Gilles les Bains

The weather’s gods were listening to our well wishing friends prayers and our second day here was graced by a welcome sunshine. From the early hours of the day, the hot sun teased frightened white clouds away . The crashing waves bathed the golden sand with plume of foaming water contrasting with the star likes sparkles of the wast blue sea.

We spend the day discovering our little village while attending to the obligatory chores of settling in. Visits to the fruits and vegetables road side markets, the bakers and the butchers stores, the unavoidable supermarket. All at island pace, thrilled by the marvelous landscapes and already feeling the hot kisses of the sun. By noon we visited the life saving pharmacy for welcome anti mosquitoes creams and skin protecting sun blockers.

One by one, throughout the day, the younger children and their families arrived, filling the house and the pool with joyful noises and the

delighted screams of their own young children, of which there was 8.

Wisely, Sue spent plenty of time in shaded rooms, sleeping away the tiredness of our long journey here and overcoming the 8 hours time difference that plagues our bodies with jet lag.

My day was completed when I successfully secured a top level road bike my size with the help of a local cycling aficionado, friend of my nephew Patrick. The hills are waiting,and judging from what I saw today, there are everywhere around and steep.

My legs are eager to pedal my way on as many as our charged schedule for the next few days will allow. For indeed what is ahead of us, Saturday And Sunday is the many events surrounding the wedding.

I better get some sleep to be in form for that.