Friday, 23 September 2011

Did you know?

Here are some facts about Reunion which you might not know:

- With a drop of 725m Reunion's Trou de Fer is France's tallest, and the world's 21st highest waterfall.

Trou de Fer waterfall (source)

- In 1841, Edmond Albius, a 12-year-old slave who lived on  Réunion, discovered vanilla could be hand-pollinated (hand-pollination allowed global cultivation of vanilla).

Edmond Albius in 1863, aged 34 (image Wikipedia)

- Reunion has the world records for the most amount of rainfall for the following periods:
  • 9 hours: 1.087 metres (Belouve, 1964)
  • 12 hours: 1.144 metres (Foc-Foc, 1966)
  • 18.5 hours: 1.689 metres (Belouve, 1964)
  • 24 hours: 1.825 metres (Foc-Foc, 1966)
  • 2 days: 2.467 metres (Aurère, 1958)
  • 3 days: 3.93 metres*
  • 4 days: 4.87 metres*
  • 5 days: 4.98 metres*
  • 6 days: 5.07 metres*
  • 7 days: 5.40 metres*
  • 8 days: 5.51 metres*
  • 9 days: 5.51 metres*
  • 10 days: 5.61 metres
  • 11 days: 6.299 metres
  • 12 days: 6.401 metres
  • 13 days: 6.422 metres
  • 14 days: 6.432 metres
  • 15 days: 6.433 metres
* Figures recorded at Commerson Crater during Cyclone Gamede in February 2007, one of the wettest tropical cyclones on record. The records for 10 to 15 days were also recorded there in January 1980.

While not world records, here are the local precipitation records for shorter periods of time:
  • 1 hour: 261mm (Cilaos, 1964)
  • 3 hours: 422mm (Mare à Vieille Place, Salazie, 1998)
  • 6 hours: 687mm (Mare à Vieille Place, Salazie, 1998)

Sources : Australian Govt. Bureau of  Meteorology, Météo France and Dr Jeff Master's blog on Weather underground.

cyclone Gamede

- On 24th March 1613, the English ship "The Pearl" stopped at the island and the ship's captain Samuel Castleton called the island England’s Forest, as he found the island to be particularly woody (although according to some accounts it was a pirate known as Blackwelle and not Castletown).

- 30% of Reunion's surface is covered by slopes with an incline greater than 30%.

- Reunion is Europe's leading producer of sugar, and the world's 7th (see here).

- When built in 1894, the suspended bridge over the Rivière de l'Est was the world's longest (152m).

The old suspended bridge over the Rivière de l'Est

Grande Ravine Bridge, Trois Bassins (photo

- Reunion was the first place in the world to use the Euro (reportedly to buy a kilo of lychees).

- In 2003, a female fishing world record was achieved in the waters off Reunion, when Catherine Lavit caught a blue marlin weighing 551kg.

- Until Mayotte became a French department in March 2011, Reunion had France's oldest mosque, the Noor-E-Islam mosque in Saint Denis, built in 1905. The oldest mosque in mainland France (La Grande Mosquée de Paris) was only built 20 years later.

mosque Noor-e-islam of St Denis
(photo source)

- Reunion is often said to have the world's most expensive road to build and maintain, although this is probably no longer the case today. Built as a two-lane road in 1963 and widened to a dual carriageway in 1976, the Route du Littoral covers 13 km between Saint Denis and La Possession. At the time it cost 320 million French francs (over €48 million) to build. The cliff overhanging it often crumbles, resulting in frequent rockfalls which have killed more than twenty people over the past 30 years. Millions of euros still have to be spent trying to make it secure.  In 2004 for example, the authorities spent €83.7 million  (€64.5 million on metal safety nets, and €4.49 million on gabions). After the rockfall which happened on March 24th 2006 in which 4 people died, the budget was reevaluated at €90.57 million. The 2008-2010 budget was estimated at €51 million, bringing the 2006-2010 total spent to over €140 million.
Source: Clicanoo article 12/10/2008.

Route du Littoral (photo Serge Gelabert)

- Réunion is the 17th highest island in the world (see here).

- At 3070 metres, the Piton des Neiges (Reunion's highest summit) is the world's 82nd highest peak by prominence.

Piton des Neiges (©Serge Gelabert)

- Reunion is the world's 65th territory by highest point.

- Reunion is the world's 177th island in terms of surface area.

- Reunion ranks 59th in the world in terms of island population.

- Reunion Island aims to be the first territory in the world where all environmentally-friendly innovations are integrated into society by 2030 under the programme GERRI (Green Energy Revolution – Reunion Island). Cancelled :-(

- Reunion sits on a volcanic hotspot.

- The last emperor of Vietnam was exiled to Reunion in 1916.

Duy-Tan, Viet Nam's last emperor (photo Wikipedia)

- In 2010 the Pitons, cirques and remparts of Reunion Island became a UNESCO Natural World Heritage Site.

- In 2009 Reunion's maloya music was inscribed on UNESCO's Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

- At Reunion the pirates John Taylor and Olivier Levasseur are reputed to have captured the most valuable prize in pirate history variously described as "Nostra Senora della Cabo", "Nostra Senhora do Cabo", or "Nossa Senhora do Cabo" (Our Lady of the Cape) a 700-ton Portuguese galleon. It had been damaged in an Indian Ocean storm and was undergoing repairs at Réunion when the pirates struck. The galleon was laden with silver, gold, diamonds, gems, as well as pearls, silks, spices, works of art, and church regalia, the total value of which has been estimated as being anywhere from £100,000 to £875,000 (more than $400 million in today's terms).

- In September 2014 an egg-bearing Mascarene Petrel was photographed just off the coast of Reunion in what is believed to be the first record of any bird photographed in flight with an obvious egg inside the body.

Mascarene Petrel with 'baby bump'

- A raspy cricket on Reunion has been found acting as a plant pollinator for the first time in the world (see here for more information).

The raspy cricket 

- Reunion grows Bourbon Pointu, commonly said to be one of the world's finest arabica coffees - although that's  a matter of personal opinion of course! One kilo can cost up to €600 in Japan.

Friday, 9 September 2011

Want to make a difference? Try voluntourism!

VolunTourism Defined: 
"The conscious, seamlessly integrated combination of voluntary service to a destination and the best, traditional elements of travel — arts, culture, geography, history and recreation — in that destination". 

Have you ever wanted to "give something back" while travelling? Feel like immersing yourself in another culture while bringing about some positive change in the world? A phenomenon not just limited to kibbutz workers or gap year students, people of all ages and abilities can participate in what can be a life-changing and highly rewarding experience – volunteering while on holiday. Whether you have just a few days or several months to spare somebody somewhere could benefit from your time, your skills, your energy and enthusiasm. 

Maybe you've been moved by the plight of beggars or homeless children during a previous city break. Perhaps you've been inspired while trekking, diving, snorkelling or even just visiting a zoo and would like to help with environmental issues. You might have been touched when seeing a natural disaster unfold on the television. Opportunities abound in domains as varied as healthcare and community development, conservation (land or sea), and teaching or sports coaching, to name just a few. A quick internet search brings up many organisations. Some are free, others ask for donations, and some operate as profitable businesses. They may be faith-based or government supported, and may target seniors or teens. Some place the accent more on the holiday facet, while others will emphasis the volunteering aspect. Some of the best projects will be those where you are simply donating your time and labour and not using your professional skills. 

The choice of place and activity will depend on a number of factors. The amount of time you have available (not much time? – choose a destination close to home); your preference of location (already speak Spanish, want to learn Spanish? why not choose South America); and whether you prefer a foreign-run organisation or a local one (a local organisation might be cheaper, but could be less reliable). Check testimonials from previous volunteers, and/or post a query in a forum to see what people are saying about their experiences. The most expensive options are often the for-profit companies who act as an intermediary and will place you with the non-profit organisation for which you will be volunteering; they will assess your skills, provide orientation briefings and arrange local accommodation. A cheaper option is to do your own research and pick a charity yourself, but smaller scale ones may not have the manpower or the time to help you organise your vacation. An online resource centre like can help you make informed decisions about volunteering in another country. 

If this all sounds like too much hard work you can always fall back on responsible travel, which supports cultural and environmental protection, equitable benefit sharing, and the alleviation of poverty. You can make a difference while travelling by simply choosing responsible suppliers (hotels, restaurants, cultural activities etc.) who have developed services and products while keeping in mind the conservation of heritage and the empowerment of local communities and disadvantaged groups. A good place to start in the South East Asian region is

Coming back to voluntourism, how can you justify volunteering in another country when there are so many needs in our own local communities? Taking a break from our normal lives; a need for adventure or a change of scene; cultural curiosity; sharing one's faith or supporting a cause you believe in; and being a cultural ambassador are just some of the many reasons for which people participate in volunteer tourism. You will also learn about local problems from the inside, rather than via the media. But isn't it just a 'guilt trip'? Can such a short stay really help, really make a difference? Maybe yes, maybe not. But you'll probably get even more out of your stay than the locals, and it will likely inspire you to do more volunteering, at home or abroad. 

You may also worry that volunteering abroad can be seen as a modern-day form of colonialism, but think of your time abroad as a partnership and the chance to learn from another community rather than the occasion to impose 'superior' developed world strategies and resources. Be open-minded to other cultures, and realistic about what you can achieve in such a short period of time. And finally, remember – you have as much to learn as you do to give. 

A few useful links:
Go differently (travel company)
Hands up holidays (travel company)
Voluntourism Gal - blog on the voluntourism industry
Wikipedia definition
and many more...

For a list of useful books click here.

Tree-planting in Korea

If you live in Korea and want to travel in the country and volunteer try WWOOF. World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms is an exchange volunteer system where participants can homestay in exchange for helping the host. Possible all year round, a programme typically lasts 1-2 weeks, but can extend up to several months. WWOOF Korea has been a chapter of the global organisation since 1996. Daily chores may include harvesting produce, weeding and seeding, milking, cleaning animal pens, and digging trenches! 

making kimchi for charity

This article was originally published in the October-November 2011 issue of SIWA's Discovery magazine (pages 13-14).