Monday, 21 September 2020

Grand Bassin

Grand Bassin, in the south of Reunion Island, is sometimes nicknamed "Little Mafate" due to the fact that, like the cirque of Mafate, you can only access it on foot. Grand Bassin literally means "large pool" and is actually the name of the small village, while the nearby waterfall is called Voile de La Mariée (not to be confused with the more well-known waterfall of the same name in Salazie).

view of Grand Bassin, waterfall and pool just visible to the left

There are several hiking paths to access Grand Bassin, but the most popular is the hike down from the Belvédère (look-out point) of Bois Court in the municipality of Le Tampon. A study between January and September 2017 found that Grand Bassin was Reunion's fourth most popular hiking path, with 79,537 passings during those nine months (bear in mind that a "passing" may be the same person walking there and back).


It actually took us about 2 hours to hike down to the village, but only 10 minutes more to hike back up the next day. The incline is quite steep as the elevation difference is about 700 metres over a distance of 4.5 kilometres. As you can see from the sign pictured above, the waterfall is about 30 minutes further on from the village.

Grand Bassin seen from Bois Court

view of the coast and the Bras de la Plaine river,
taken from the hiking path at an elevation of 1200 metres

shrine to Ste Rita or Ste Bernadette by the side of the path

recent street art (or should that be "path art"?)

view of the waterfall when nearing the village

view of the path not long before arriving at Grand Bassin

looking north from near the village

Villagers used to earn their living from cultivating geranium and coffee but in recent years have increasingly turned to tourism. Last time I came to Grand Bassin in 2004 there were only three gîtes if I remember rightly. Now there are at least nine! The gîte we stayed in was very welcoming and we were offered a free drink of tea or coffee on arrival. The evening meal was very copious and included some unusual ingredients such as chayote root and taro stem.

looking inside the village chapel

Another difference compared to 2004 was increased awareness-raising about one of the world's rarest birds, the critically endangered Mascarene Petrel, which is thought to nest high up in the surrounding mountains, (although the bird is so rare that no nest has ever been discovered). Known locally as the timize, its otherwordly cries made the area's early inhabitants wonder if a monster lived in the mountains, and this gave rise to a number of stories and legends. 

possible petrel breeding sites?

Another endangered (as opposed to critically endangered) bird that lives in the surrounding mountains is Barau's Petrel, known locally as the tayvan or taillevent. I translated and recorded the English voiceover of a documentary about it, which you can see here.

Grand Bassin beekeepers

After a good night's sleep and a filling breakfast we headed to the waterfall, passing some hives and beekeepers along the way.



viewpoint over the waterfall before reaching it

main waterfall

main waterfall to the right
(and that's me behind the smaller waterfall to the left)

Afterwards, we headed back to the village where we picked up some sandwiches we'd ordered before the hot and dusty slog back up to Bois Court!

the way back!

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Wednesday, 16 September 2020

Chemin Pavé Lougnon, Bellemene

Chemin Pavé Bellemène is one of three paved pathways that Antoine Desforges-Boucher*, then Governor of Reunion Island, had built between 1723 and December 1725. He encouraged settlers to plant coffee, and the paths were to help transport the crop downhill to the large warehouse in Saint-Paul (which is now the Town Hall). The first path was laid in 1719, and the Bellemène path was the last of the three to be built. Today it is the only one remaining, as increasing use of asphalt roads from 1910 onwards led to all three paths falling into disuse and being forgotten. Albert Lougnon 'rediscovered' it in the late 20th century (hence its alternative name, Chemin Lougnon), and this led to its renovation by local associations between 1999 and 2006. In certain places it was covered by two metres of earth!

start of the paved path, Tour des Roches

On some sections of the path you can clearly see a line of differently-sized and -placed stones running along the middle. This may have been to make it easier for pedestrians (as opposed to ox-drawn carts) to walk, or it may have been to delimit two different directions of traffic (a bit like today's two-lane roads).

note the stones running along the middle


being watched by a zebu

Leconte de Lisle, a French poet who grew up on Reunion Island, wrote a poem in which he mentions his muse and cousin, Marie-Elixène de Lanux, coming down the path:
"Sous un nuage frais de claire mousseline, tous les dimanches au matin, tu venais à la ville en manchy de rotin, par les rampes de la colline." (Le Manchy, Poèmes Barbares)

"Under a cool cloud of clear muslin, every Sunday morning you came down the winding hill into town, carried in a rattan litter."


the branches of these two trees have become intertwined

a Pithecellobium dulce tree, also known as
monkeypod due to its coiled pods
which are said to resemble monkey's earrings!

view looking north-west, unidentified tree in the foreground


Saint-Expedit by the side of the path

cactus

view looking south-west, agave stem in the foreground


photo from the Bellemène end of the path, looking back

From a practical point of view, you can either start the walk at Tour Des Roches and go uphill (and then back down), or start in Bellemène and walk down and then up. The path is quite steep (just under 200m of elevation gain) but the round-trip distance is 2.5 to 3 km, so it should only take you about an hour. The following links describe the walk and give more technical details but are only in French:

on a house near the start of the path in Tour des Roches a 
sign says: "Hey, papaya thieves, next time you will die!"

* not to be confused with his son, Antoine Marie Desforges-Boucher, who was also a Governor of Reunion 1759-1766.


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Sunday, 9 August 2020

Hiking to Grand Place

It had been a long time since I actually made an overnight trip to Mafate; my last two trips to the cirque were one-day trips to La Nouvelle with visitors, so I probably hadn't slept overnight in Mafate since 2014! But having an enforced staycation in Reunion due to the COVID pandemic was the occasion to hike there with a group of friends. We started our expedition by taking a 4x4 taxi from Riviere des Galets to Deux Bras.

view further into Mafate from Deux Bras

From Deux Bras we started a leisurely hike of ≈7 km and ≈500 metres of positive elevation up to our night's accommodation at Grand Place les Hauts, where we stayed at Gite Pavillon. On the way there we crossed Bras D'Oussy river on a high bridge (more about Bras D'Oussy later).

view from the Bras D'Oussy bridge
looking south-east towards the Gros Morne

view from Bras D'Oussy bridge looking south-west towards Le Maido
(note the red roofs of Cayenne barely visible at the bottom left)

cross by the side of the path on the way to Cayenne

On the way we stopped just outside of the hamlet of Cayenne for lunch.

gaily decorated building at our lunch stop near Cayenne

lots of purple ginger bush was growing

After lunch we passed by Grand Place primary school. It's one of eight schools in Mafate (the others are in La Nouvelle, Orangers, Roche Plate, Marla, Aurère, îlet à Malheur, and îlet à Bourse). For secondary school education pupils from Mafate have to board on the coast.

Grand Place school

Grand Place is overlooked by the distinctive pyramid-shaped Piton des Calumets which is 1616 metres high.

nearly there; Piton des Calumets in the background

We arrived at the gîte quite early and were able to rest and enjoy the view. Pavillon is quite practical because it has its own small grocery shop and there's even fresh bread - a rarety in Mafate.

gîte Le Pavillon with Piton des Calumets benind 

looking north-west from behind the gîte

looking north from behind the gîte

We should have been spending two nights in the same gîte, but there had been a mix-up and so the next morning we moved to another gîte about 20 minutes/1 km away called Chez Marcel et Dominique Bilin.

leaving gîte Le Pavillon
(buildings just visible in the centre of the photo)

After dropping most of our stuff off, we then headed off to Roche Ancrée for a few hours. Located between Grand Place and Roche Plate, Roche Ancrée is a nice bathing spot, technically part of the Rivière des Galets river. We headed down a very steep path to get there.

view on the way to Roche Ancrée

view halfway down the path to Roche Ancrée

the bathing spot from above

Some of us had a swim in the icy water before lunch and then dried off in the sun. To make a round trip of it we hiked through Cayenne to get back to Gîte Bilin.

having a dip at Roche Ancrée

looking north on the way from Roche Ancrée to Cayenne,
the hamlet is just visible to the right

arriving at Cayenne

(ficus?) tree roots by the pathside on the way to Cayenne

looking back (south) just before arriving at Cayenne

Cayenne church 

a cross at Cayenne 

After our second and final night in Mafate we headed slowly down to Deux Bras, where we had to be by 4pm to get the taxi back to the town of Rivière des Galets. On the way back we stopped at Gîte Bougainvilliers where there's a grocery, a postbox, and a statue of the famous postman of Mafate.

postbox at Gîte Bougainvilliers

Ivrin Pausé was one of the postmen of Mafate from 1951 until 1991. He would leave the post office in La Possession every Monday morning and spend the next fours days hiking 120km on the trails to deliver letters. It's been calculated that during his 40 years of service he hiked a total of 253 000 kilomètres, i.e.  6 times the circumference of the earth. Another well-known postman in Mafate was Angelo Thiburce who was awarded the Order of Merit by Jacques Chirac, but famously said he would have preferred that the government pay him a pair of shoes!

statute of Ivrin Pausé, former postman of Mafate

We then bypassed Cayenne (as we'd been there the day before) and crossed the Passerelle des Lataniers footbridge, before heading down to the level of Rivière des Galets.

crossing Passerelle des Lataniers footbridge

Once there it was time for a picnic lunch and a swim at Bras d'Oussy before heading back to Deux Bras for the 4x4 ride back to "civilisation". From our swimming spot we could see the bridge we'd crossed over the first day.