Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Bonnes vacances! book review

A recent read of mine has been Bonnes Vacances!: A Crazy Family Adventure in the French Territories by Rosie Millard. I'd heard about - but have never been able to see - the series "Croissants in the Jungle" broadcast on The Travel Channel in 2010 and this is the book written by the Millard family who made the series.

Rosie Millard, her husband Pip, and their three youngest children (the fourth joins them halfway through) set out from London on a 4-month tour of the French Overseas Departments and Territories to make a documentary series. In order they visit St Pierre & Miquelon, Martinique, French Guiana, French Polynesia, New Caledonia and Réunion. They skip Guadeloupe (no explanation is given - presumably because time was at a premium and it was considered too similar to Martinique?), and no mention of Mayotte is made at all.

Front cover

The idea is good - making these French overseas départements and territories better known to the outside world, although apparently it was difficult to find a TV channel willing to back the idea ("It's too French"). I was sometimes astonished at what Rosie was surprised at but then I realised that her knowledge of the DOM-TOMs was probably filtered by what information was available in English, which is not a lot. The book is a mix of investigation into the DOM-TOMs and a family adventure; the two themes sometimes sit uneasily side by side. I also got an over-riding feeling that Ms Millard was bothered that France has these overseas territories and départements.

Reunion was unfortunately the last place visited. I say 'unfortunately' because by the end of their trip the family - especially the children -seem desperate to go home, and for example part of the short Réunion chapter is taken up with a discussion about what they were most looking forward to back to the UK. So although "Réunion is the most gorgeous of all the French confetti" (page 295) and is also the most populated it gets treated in much less detail than the other territories (seventeen pages in a 312-page book). Consequently there's no mention of the fact that Réunion had no indigenous population when it was settled, or that it has an unique ethnic mix. (Reunion) Creole does get a mention though.

Throughout the book there are also a number of grammar and spelling mistakes in English and French (e.g. 'Britanny' or 'Le Ferme d'Ouest') which should have been picked up at the proofreading stage, and some factual mistakes (e.g. "neck-deep in foaming, hot water 6,000 metres up on a volcano in the Indian Ocean", page 309).

If you're not familiar with the DOM-TOM you'll probably learn a lot. If you do already know them you might enjoy the family romp. In any case it's interesting to see these little pieces of France through British eyes, warts and all.

Rosie Millard & youngest child on Réunion (source)

P.S. Talking about France's DOM-TOMs, did you know that France is the country in the world with the most time zones? And that if you include all of France’s overseas dependencies and territories, France borders 34 independent countries, or 43 countries and dependent territories - a world record (see here).

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Sunday, 10 March 2013

Hiking the 3 cirques

The beginning of this month saw us hiking Reunion's three cirques (Salazie, Mafate, Cilaos) over a period of several days.

Col des Boeufs

To be honest we didn't really hike in the cirque of Salazie (this time) ;-) , we only set off from there, from the Col des Boeufs (2011 m) to be precise. From there we hiked to the hamlet of Marla (1600 m), where we spent the night in a gîte, before hiking up the Col du Taïbit the next day.

Marla church (and church bell) 

This was the first time I'd been back to Marla since 2007 or 2008. There are now at least nine gîtes, two  chambres d'hôtes (guest houses) and three épiceries (grocery / convenience stores)! As recently as 2003 there was only one gîte!

view of Marla from the Col du Taïbit

After a good night's sleep we set off to ascend the Col du Taïbit (2090m), which is the gateway to the cirque of Cilaos from Mafate (col means 'mountain pass'). 

Col du Taïbit seen from Marla

The climb from Marla takes an hour or less; the descent on the other side about 2 hours.

Piton des Neiges (3070m, Reunion's highest peak)
seen from the Col du Taïbit

To the left the Gros Morne (3019m, Reunion's 2nd highest peak)
seen from the Col du Taïbit

Tree dripping with beard lichen, Cilaos side of Col du Taïbit

road leading to Ilet à Cordes, seen from Col du Taïbit hiking path

One of the more pleasant stops when you're hiking this path is the herbal tea stand that's been set up by the Trois Salazes Association. They sell 'uphill' (ascenseur) and 'downhill' (descendant) herbal teas for €1; the ingredients depend on, and are adapted to, whether you're climbing or heading down the path! The ascenseur is made from lemon grass, marjoram and St John's wort; the descendant contains mint, cinnamon, geranium, heliotrope and St John's wort.

herbal tea stand, Trois Salazes Association

After this halt it's only about 20 or so minutes down to the Cilaos <>Ilet à Cordes road (known as CD242) which is at an altitude of 1260 m.

We then spent the next two nights at Gîte Grondin (more of a guest house really), the same gîte where we'd stayed on our two previous trips to Ilet à Cordes (see here and here).

sign outside our accommodation, Gîte Grondin

On the following day we did a short hike to picnic at the Bras de St Paul, which I visited last year (see here).

Bras de St Paul

The next morning we had an early start as we were going to be hiking in one day what we'd done leisurely over two days in the other direction (Cilaos>Col du Taïbit>Marla>Col des Boeufs).

sign at the bottom of the Col du Taïbit hike, Cilaos side

Needless to say we stopped off for an ascenseur herbal tea on the way up! Further uphill we had good views of the Trois Salazes (2132 m), three rocky pointed outcrops perched on the ridge separating Cilaos from Mafate. These geological curiosities gave their name to the îlet (hamlet) where the Trois Salazes Association is based.

the Trois Salazes

After an uphill climb of 830 metres we were back at the Col du Taïbit for our last views of Cilaos before heading back down into Mafate.

small shrine near the summit of the Col du Taïbit 

view of Cilaos town from the Col du Taïbit

looking towards the Dimitile & St Pierre (from Col du Taïbit)

Looking Mafate side we had a clear view of La Nouvelle (1400 m), the largest and only village  of Mafate (other places are hamlets), and the easiest to hike to from the Col des Boeufs.

La Nouvelle seen from the Col du Taïbit

We had a 470 metre descent down to Marla, where we had our picnic lunch next to the school.

crossing Marla

After Marla we still had this ahead of us (see photo below)! Marla is separated from the plain area of Plaine des Tamarins by a river valley, which means a steep climb (or descent, depending on which direction you're coming from) of about 400 metres.

Col des Boeufs from Marla

Once at the Plaine des Tamarins we could look back and see Marla. Unfortunately by this time of day the Col du Taïbit was shrouded in clouds.

Marla from Plaine des Tamarins, Maison Laclos in the foreground

Plaine des Tamarins

After the Plaine des Tamarins there remained a final climb of 250 metres up to the Col des Boeufs, followed by a 15 minute walk to the car park and our hike was finished ... until next time!

Our final destination, Col des Boeufs

Altitude and distance of our final day's hike

Useful maps:
  • Saint Denis, Cirques de Mafate et de Salazie IGN 1:25,000 topographic map 4402 RT
  • St Pierre & Cirque de Cilaos IGN 1:25,000 topographic map 4405 RT