All the feels. I can never settle down when I’m about to embark on an adventure. I’m like a child on Christmas Eve. Anticipation and apprehension in equal measure. Both excited and somewhat hesitant.
The twists and turns on the windy road ensure I don’t fall asleep. Or maybe it’s just my excitement! My fellow wanderers long knocked out; it has been a long travel day. A light drizzle mists the windscreen, soft rock plays softly – the considerate driver sees our weariness and reduces the volume. The lights of Saint Denis on approach were beautiful. But seeing them as we drive on the narrow roads, the different coloured lights cascaded on the slanting vista is a whole other experience. And they keep me company. There’s barely anyone else on the road. It’s midnight in this little French department. I can’t wait to see it in the light of day.
Ile da Reunion is paradise on earth. It is where the sun goes to happily set, where the turquoise waves dwell, and where they make a mean gin-ger tonic. It is beaches with sharks, acrobatic whales, scenic hikes, volcanic lakes and waterfalls. It is where you’ve always wanted to go but didn’t know it until you got there. It is in Africa, but not of Africa. You require a visa from the French embassy – which you can get hassle-free if your documents are in order. And, carry Euros.
We went to Saint Gilles-les-Bains. Saint Gilles is the seaside, playful little sister of the island. A person to whom things are always about to happen. She’s held her hair up and pinned a flower to it. Loose tendrils frame her face. She speaks French and a smattering of English, knows about 700 species of ocean creatures found on her island, can pour a crisp cool draft perfectly, and lets the ocean lull you to sleep. She has beaches with the most beautiful coves for amazing swims and she lets sharks in sometimes. Her friends love music, and you can find them dancing along on the streets, rolling up something (not sure it was legal) to get their party started – or maybe end the party?
Around her edges on Plage de Boucan Canot and Plage Roches Noires, dozens of pubs and fine restaurants were home for us. We had such delicious food, conversation and the best episodes of people watching. The little boy with a cast on his hand, and still on his skateboard. The musician shooting his music video on the streets – his beat blaring into the noon day. Saint Gilles weaved us into her delightful tapestry of wonder and we yielded to it. Honestly, I feel that if I were to write about Reunion I’d make this an extra-long post, so I’ll tell you what my highlights were:
Air Mauritius and the Mauritius airport: Beyond giving us amazing service on the flights, one of the wanderers left his wallet either in the sleeve pocket on the plane, or at one of the security checks at the airport. We realised this the day after we checked in to the hotel. We made a few calls and they set out looking for it. Yes, it was inconceivable that it would be stolen if he left it lying around. And true to their word, when we landed in Mauritius four days later, on our return leg home, he got his wallet from airport security. Intact. Let me repeat that, INTACT. Their customer service was astounding, and I know I will fly with them again very soon.
Hotel Boucan Canot:
Elegance and comfort, with the ocean’s beat to follow.
There are hotels you go to, and you never want to leave. This was one of them. We arrived quite late, and were just shown to our rooms. They were not about to take us through a check-in process at that time. I was grateful. Our rooms were literally the best the hotel had to offer. Going out on to the balcony at midnight because the call of the crashing waves demanded so gave way to the most breath-taking night view. And waking up to azure waters, with the shimmer of the sun caressing them – it demanded for bottle after bottle of champagne to be popped on that balcony. It was such a happy coincidence that World Champagne Day fell on one of the days we were there.
The entire team, from reception to the bar to the restaurant – tu étais superbe!
The beach was beautiful, just that it’s that coarse sand kind of beach. But once you navigate past that into the warm waters, it is like that one line in a song. The one that becomes you and you, it. The water yields to your form. And you will have the most epic of photo shoots in that water.
The sunsets – c’est manifique! And they continue to haunt me like a lost love. Whenever I am back in Saint Gille at twilight toward the end of summer, I will return to Boucan Canot and watch the evening sky close slowly on a last strand of daylight, fading quietly like a sigh.
On that beach, my friends, is where I learnt that my body is mine and it is beautiful. There were these two plus size ladies in the teeniest of bikinis and the grandest of esteem. Lying face up on their beach towels their bodies soaking in the sun, with nary a care in the world. And seeing them made me realise that how you see yourself matters. I was uncomfortable with my cute little pouch and the dimples that dot my thighs. But seeing them forced my heart to roar in a way that I found secretly exhilarating. And freeing. See, we can’t always be bound to looking a certain way for society’s sake. And I wanted to hug those ladies for their spirits spoke to mine, and boy did I rock my teeniest of bikinis! Merci mesdames!
Bassin des Aigrettes, Cascades Cormoran: We knew we wanted to take in a hike, at least less than 10km and not arduous. And we wanted that hike to end up at a waterfall and a natural pool we could swim in. Fabrice, at the hotel, recommended this place. We found out later that it is supposed to be closed to the general public. I feel that no description I give will do this place justice. The hike calls for caution, but is not treacherous. There will be plenty of wow moments when you look up over the precipice and view absolutely stuns you. You will halt, and simply take it all in. All of you, in unison.
You will get to a place where you have to remove your shoes and wade through the crystal, cold water to get past certain spots. And because you planned the wander, you will wonder what you’re taking your friends through and if they will ever trust you to plan anything for them again. But adventure and the sheer rapture of it all will overtake you. And you will take that one step that will bring the cascade into view and it’ll all have been worth it. You will make friends and converse using shivers and smiles. You will tell yourself to just suck it up and immerse yourself into the water. You will sit on the black rocks that dot the bassin and watch those who were more adventurous than you were and hiked to the top of the waterfall. And you will wonder why they are standing so close to the edge, so you will stop watching them.
It will be elysian.
Food and drinks: Because it is an island and because I eat seafood now, I enjoyed every meal I had. And they are big on local rum so every meal ended with a complimentary shot of tasty flavoured rum. We never refused it, obviously. And because of the French-ness, the wine was divine – from an unputdownable chardonnay to a perfectly chilled blanc de blanc. The service everywhere is great. Everywhere. They will go out of their way to accommodate your non-French-speaking selves and they will delight in being able to try their English on you. And they will always serve with a smile.
My wandering companions: Not everybody you know and love will be a great travelling companion. And that is ok. The trick is to find that out as early as you can. People who continue undeterred when wallets are lost, who look at the hike trail and look back at you and joke that this will be the last trip you plan (yes, they were joking), and people you can sit with on the couches facing seaside – each with their book open and a companionable silence that does not have to be broken. Those were my wanderers.
Who took in a trip to the aquarium and enjoyed it, and said that walking to the city centre would not be long – and turns out it wasn’t. Who don’t worry about bills because you already have a system of splitting them, and who look out for each other in entirety. Who will take the most flattering (and unflattering) pics of you and who will hold your hand through the precipices of life as they come your way. Who you will suggest getting tattoos and….well, story for another day. Those were my wanderers. Together with them is a wonderful place to be.
There are wanders that you take, and then there are the ones that take you. The ones that take you are the ones you want to have, because you don’t return the same. This one took me and continued the never-ending process of sating my heart’s constant hunger for the things it wants, as it decidedly provided for the things my heart needs.
All pics: Mine.