Sunday, 3 June 2012

Hiking to and from Ilet à Cordes


As promised in my last post about Cilaos, here I was three weeks later back in the cirque, but this time for two days of some (fairly) serious hiking!


We started at just under 600m altitude, about 1.8 km up the road from Pavillon, a place where the main road to Cilaos crosses the Grand Bras de Cilaos river by a metal bridge; there's also a gîte here. (Another path leads from behind the gîte, but because it involves many river crossings it's best avoided if there's been rain).

our path only involved one river crossing

We only had one river crossing during the hike, and we reached it after about 30 minutes walking.

interesting shapes beside the river

Cilaos always has amazing scenery

The path we were hiking along is known as the Reposoir path; reposoir is a word which normally means resting-place but can also mean a temporary altar. I don't know which is applicable here, although resting place seems more likely. It's also known as the Burel path.

old dead 'chokas' (green aloe; furcraea foetida)

the path is quite overgrown

After a gentle start during the first half of the hike, the path becomes a lot steeper during the second half. Most of the 800m gained in altitude is during the second 3 km.

looking towards La Fenêtre des Makes

looking back down at the river behind

this spider had a good eating supply


Almost at Ilet à Cordes

path leading up to Ilet à Cordes seen from La Fenêtre des Makes

Finally we reached the plateau on which Ilet à Cordes is perched.

looking back towards the coast from Ilet à Cordes

The village gets its name from the fact that during the 18th century escaped slaves used ropes ('cordes' in French) to access the plateau and escape from slave hunters. Today most inhabitants make a living from agriculture.

fields of onions

Lentils have been cultivated since 1835 and represent more than 60% of the crops in the village.

lentils and bananas!

Sign on arrival in the village at the end of the hike

satellite map of our Sentier du Reposoir hike

On arrival we wandered around the village admiring people's gardens and some of the wild plants.

Air potato (dioscorea bulbifera) is a species of yam


unripe strawberry guava ('goyavier'/psidium cattleyanum)

As Reunion has so many micro-climates you often see plants in one place on the island that you don't necessarily get to see elsewhere.

Giant granadilla fruit (passiflora quadrangularis)

Giant granadilla flower

Loquats, known locally as 'bibasses' (eriobotrya japonica)

After a picnic lunch we took a 6km round trip hike to the Bras de St Paul.

Bras de St Paul

satellite map showing walk from gîte to Bras de St Paul and back

On the way back we stopped off to see the village chapel, Notre-Dame de Sacré Coeur, which was built by all the villagers in 1906. Next to it stands the village elementary school which was originally built in 1920.

Notre-Dame de Sacré Coeur chapel

We spent the night at the same gîte as for our last trip (Gîte Grondin) and set off the next morning at 8am to hike to Cilaos town. 

signboard when leaving Ilet à Cordes via La Chapelle

This hiking path is known as the Sentier de la Chapelle. I didn't take any photos of the first part of the hike as it was down a narrow, sandy path with a precipitous drop and I needed both my hands and all my wits about me! 

looking back at the path we'd just come down from Ilet à Cordes

Starting at just under 1400m altitude we descended about 800m over 3km until we arrived at the river Bras Rouge. 

riverbed, Bras Rouge

We could see the remains of an old bridge, probably swept away by a cyclone.



A little further there's a junction which gives you the possibility of going to a place called La Chapelle (a rock formation), and half our group took this option, while I was part of the group who carried on straight to Cilaos.

path junction with La Chapelle

path up to Cilaos
This second part of the hike, while steep in some parts, was not quite so nerve-wracking as the first part!

looking back at Ilet à Cordes from Cilaos

looking back at the path we'd just hiked

signboard on arrival in Cilaos

Satellite map showing hike from Ilet à Cordes to Cilaos

Useful links:
  • The ONF website (National Forests Office) is in French, but has up-to-date maps you can download showing trails that are open (ouvert, in green) and closed (fermé, in red). Always check it before hiking anywhere.
  • The Runweb site has English information about hiking in Reunion.
  • Video (in French) of La Chapelle hike
  • Wikitravel

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