Sunday, 29 March 2015

Scuba Diving in Rodrigues

The island of  Rodrigues, about 600 km ENE of Mauritius, is probably one of the remotest places I've dived after Saipan in the Pacific. The island covers only 108 sq. km, but the lagoon covers 230 sq. km! Its coral reefs are very rich, and we saw many species of reef fish while there, including some enormous porcupinefish, as well as some green turtles and lots of trevallies.

Rodrigues and its lagoon

We did 11 dives on ten different sites while in Rodrigues, all from the Cotton Dive Center in the east. The two most memorable were the St François Pass (which we dived twice), and Canyon where we had to used ropes! Below are a few photos.

Phyllidia varicosa nudibranch

Sea cucumber

this type of angelfish is only found in the waters around Rodrigues 

Yellow teardrop butterflyfish (Chaetodon interrupts), only found in the Indian Ocean

Blackspotted pufferfish (Arothron nigropunctatus)

Black-saddled leopard grouper (Plectropomus laevis)

Scorpion fish, possibly a humpback scorpionfish

Blue triggerfish (Pseudobalistes fuscus)

Moray eel

Pipefish (Corythoichthys)

Great barracuda (sphyraena barracuda)


Me (holding a Gopro) at Karlanne dive site

Bigeye trevallies (Caranx sexfasciatus)

Leaf fish (Taenianotus triacanthus)

Spiny lobster (Panulirus versicolor)

Giant clam (tridacna maxima)

Other articles about diving in Rodrigues:

me, watching a shoal of fish go by

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Saturday, 28 March 2015

Rodrigues 2015

Rodrigues has not changed much in nine years since my last visit. The people are just as friendly, there's maybe just a few more cars on the road and houses, but that's it. This year's visit was essentially for scuba-diving, but as the dive centre closes on Saturdays (market day in the capital, Port Mathurin) we hired a car and headed out and about.

view of Port Mathurin

The island, which has a population of about 40 000 inhabitants, belongs to Mauritius and is ≈600 km to its north east. Its surface area is 108 km2, it is 18km long by 8 km wide, and the highest point is only 355m.

unidentified bird seen at Port Mathurin

Rodrigues has two 'claims to fame' - it is the part of Africa closest to Australia, and it is the furthest place where the 1883 eruption of Krakatoa was heard.

boats, Port Mathurin

After visiting the market we headed to the François Leguat reserve in the island's southwest, near the airport. The reserve is a conservation project that was started in 2007 by a zoologist whose dream was to recreate the fauna and flora as it was when the first settlers arrived in Rodrigues. In 1691 François Leguat wrote that there were so many tortoises on Rodrigues that 'one can take more than a hundred steps on their shell without touching the ground'. The 300,000 giant tortoises were exploited for their meat and oil by the sailors and thus became extinct, but similar species have been re-introduced to the reserve and they can now be seen during the visit. Thus the domed Rodrigues giant tortoise and the saddle-backed Rodrigues giant tortoise have been replaced by the Radiated tortoise and Aldabra giant tortoise respectively.

An Aldabra giant tortoise 

The breeding programme has been successful and there are currently 2564 tortoises of both species! Radiated tortoises, having been introduced to Réunion, are fairly common there so I  more was interested in seeing the adult Aldabra giant tortoises which roam all over a large canyon in the reserve.

view of part of the canyon 
The reserve's oldest tortoise (left) and heaviest (right)

So as to re-create the fauna more than 130,000 endemic and native plants have been planted: some virtually extinct in the wild and many quite rare otherwise.

Bats are the only mammals found naturally in the Mascarene islands.  The Rodrigues fruit bat was described in 1970s at the rarest bat in the world, with only 70-100 individuals, but the population has now grown to 5,000 as forest cover has increased. They are important pollinators and seed dispersers of native trees as well as exotic fruit  trees. At the reserve they can be seen in an enclosure.

The giant fruit bat is Rodrigues' only endemic mammal

The second (optional) part of the visit is to Grande Caverne, whose name means 'Large Cave', but which is actually somewhat smaller than Caverne Patate that we visited in 2006. There is actually a network of eleven caves extending below the reserve, but only Grande Caverne, the largest at 500m in length, is open to visitors. 

Inside Grande Caverne

Inside Grande Caverne

Equipped with a hardhat, you are taken on a guided tour along specially-designed boardwalks with handrails and lighting which illuminates stalactites and stalagmites formed over thousands of years.

The well-informed tour guides point out quirky rock shapes and discuss the island's interesting geological history. Unlike the other islands in the Mascarenes which are composed of volcanic basalt, Rodrigues has a limestone platea, known as Plaine Corail.

King Kong?

The reserve also has its own museum, a small souvenir shop and a café.

See also:

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Monday, 9 March 2015

Second Chance & Second Chance Sister: book review

Once again Reunion Island is the setting for romantic fiction in Second Chance and its sequel Second Chance Sister. I believe the author, Linda Kepner, originally wrote them as one book, but that the publisher preferred to publish as two stand-alone books in 2012 and 2013 respectively. Ms Kepner lives in southern New Hampshire and has worked as a librarian, researcher, and editor, and has also written science fiction and fantasy novels as well as short stories for magazines and anthologies. 

cover of Second Chance by Linda Kepner

The story: At East Virginia University in 1969, Bishou Howard is a female Yankee graduate student in a Southern man’s academic world. Her parents are ill, and she and her brother Bat (a retired Vietnam vet) are raising their younger brothers and managing the rest of the family almost by themselves. Because of her French-Canadian background as well as her tight budget, Bishou accepts a job as an interpreter for an attendee at a university conference. Louis Dessant, a French-speaking visitor from Reunion Island, is an attractive, wealthy, lonely, and somehow vulnerable tobacco millionaire. (SPOILER: He has a dark secret in that ten years previously he fell in love with the beautiful con artist who had - unknown to him - killed the mail-order bride he had actually arrange to marry on Reunion and who taken her place. After Louis allowed his bride access to both his personal and company bank accounts, she disappeared with his fortune. Louis found her again in mainland France and killed the private detective who was tracking them; his wife committed suicide. He was sentenced to 7 years hard labour for the detective's murder). As Bishou unravels the secrets of Louis' life, she feels drawn to him, the people who staunchly support him, and the beautiful island he calls home. Bishou takes the risk and travels halfway around the world to see Louis’s tropical island. Will Bishou be welcome there, or has this all been a mistake?

cover of Second Chance Sister

In the sequel Louis and Bishou are together on Reunion. Louis struggles to return to a respectable place in island society and atone for his past sins. Bishou Howard, deeply in love with Louis, diligently works her way into the all-male bastion of the University as its first female professor. Bishou’s brothers travel to Reunion for an exotic, joyful wedding. However, Adrienne Bourjois has not forgotten that Louis was affianced once before, to her little sister Celie - who was betrayed and killed on her way to marry him. She has neither forgiven nor forgotten that Louis fell in love with the wrong woman, and killed a man to protect the impostor from justice. But Adrienne has not reckoned with the sincerity of Louis, the determination of Bishou, or the strength of Bat Howard to vanquish her bitter loneliness.

As works of romantic fiction the books follow all the typical criteria: virgin heroine meets handsome, rich, older but damaged hero, they fall in love and there's a happy ending. They are pleasant enough to read and you know what to expect: the question is not 'will they get there?' but 'how will they get there?'. However a number of points irked me: French is used quite frequently but there are lots of mistakes ('embracez-moi'  or 'mon treasor' etc. etc.) although unlike Island Awakening, at least the author didn't assume everyone spoke English. There are also some genuine mistakes (mangoes in September anyone?!); other mistakes that may be plot devices for further sequels (an American ambassador based on the island); or cultural or geographical mistakes that come from the author never having visited Reunion (the author says here that "[the Reunion] part of the story was part internet and part imagination").

What she fails to mention anywhere is that in fact the story very obviously takes its inspiration from the 1969 François Truffaut film "The Mississippi Mermaid" (La Sirène du Mississippi), itself based on the novel Waltz into Darkness by Cornell Woolrich writing under the pseudonym of William Irish. Here's a synopsis of the film: a tobacco millionaire on Réunion island, Louis Mahé (Jean-Paul Belmondo),  becomes engaged through correspondence to a woman he does not know. When his bride Julie Roussel (Catherine Deneuve) arrives she is not the same woman as in the photo she sent, but he marries her anyway after she explains that she had forwarded a picture of a friend instead. After Louis allows Julie access to both his personal and company bank accounts, she disappears with most of his fortune. Heartbroken and bitter, he tracks "Julie" down in the south of France, where she reveals her real name, to be Marion. She professes that she fell in love with Louis, and he believes her. They try to make a life together in France, but a private detective whom Louis and Julie's sister, Berthe, had hired to find Marion, tracks them down to a house they have rented. Louis finds himself compelled to murder to keep Marion from prison, forcing them to go on the run. Does it sound familiar? Some major details (e.g. Louis, a tobacco millionaire on Reunion Island in 1969 whose mail-order bride is not the woman he expected) as well as a multitude of minor ones indicate that the novels have more or less been written as sort of sequels to the film.* While this doesn't particularly bother me, my question is - why not state this outright in the acknowledgements? Did the author think this was such an obscure Truffaut film that nobody would recognise the similarities?! Why thinly disguise some resemblances (such as the names of everyone but Louis) and leave others the same?

French theatrical release poster

* The main difference being that at the end of the film the characters, on the run, head hand-in-hand for Switzerland where they will be safe. For Second Chance to work the first wife had to be dead, hence the novel's plot point of her having committed suicide and Louis having done jail time to atone for his crime.

Further reading:

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Sunday, 1 March 2015

Cité du volcan museum

The Cité du Volcan museum re-opened in August 2014 after several years of refurbishments. It tells you everything you need to know about Reunion's Piton de la Fournaise in particular, and volcanoes in general.

Exterior of the Cité du Volcan

It's located in Bourg-Murat, the small town where most of the eating and accommodation options are to be found nearest the volcano.

Exterior of the Cité du Volcan

Initially opened in November 1992, its existence is largely due to the French volcanologists Maurice and Katia Krafft, who had studied La Fournaise closely. They both died in a pyroclastic flow in Japan in 1991.

Exterior of the Cité du Volcan

It used to be known as the Maison du Volcan until 2011 when it closed for refurbishment. It reopened on August 5th 2014.

multi-sensory  lava tunnel, entrance to the Cité du volcan

Covering 6200m2, the new museum includes a 4D cinema, a 270°C auditorium screen, and has innovative and interactive features such as holographic projections, augmented reality, wide 'multitouch' surfaces, and audio-visual environments.

one of the exhibition rooms

In a bathyscaphe the colonisation of underwater lava flows is explained, including how a lava flow becomes a coral reef and the birth of living organisms.

one of the exhibition rooms

part of the Piton de la Fournaise timeline

A large part of the exhibition lets you explore Reunion island and its geological and geographical features, including the island's birth, more than 3 million years, up until the present day.

a copy of the first-ever map of Reunion

Other parts let you seen the human effect the volcano has had on the island, and explores the legends surrounding it.

exhibition room about the Volcano observatory 

The Cité du Volcan is one of four museums operated by the Regional Museums of Reunion group. The others are Kelonia, Stella Matutina and the MADOI.

exhibition room about the Volcano observatory 

The museum is open every day (apart from Christmas Day, New Year's Day and May 1st) from 9:30 am to 5:30 pm. The ticket office closes at 4:45 pm.