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The Mountainous region of Mafate on Reunion Island, by Joost van Uffelen
The Mountainous region of Mafate on Reunion Island, by Joost van Uffelen

Visiting Mafate; going back in time...

Before we embarked on our trip to Reunion island I contacted Aurélien Meynieux, one of the top surfing talents of Reunion. Auri is a longboarding champion. He represents France and Reunion in particular in the international longboarding competitions. Longboarding is a much underestimated form of surfing compared to the popular shortboard or big wave surfing, if you ask me. We checked out Auri ride his board in the waves off St. Gilles and Sandy took this picture. He makes surf look easy. Trust me, it is not...

Auri is also one of the Vigies de Requin (the freediving shark watchers on Reunion). More on the Vigies and the Crise de Requin (shark crisis) on Reunion later. First some promotion on why this island (and Mafate) is a must-see-destination for you too. I hope a little report out on our hiking trip through Mafate will clarify things.

When asking Auri about the Vigies de Requin I had not anticipated something else. And that was that Auri was also willing to take us to his favorite spot on the island. This spot is called Aurère, a place in the Cirque de Mafate, located about 1000m up in the mountainous heart of the island. When talking about Mafate Auri's eyes would start to glisten. He would speak of the place as if he spoke about the very best of his childhood memories. When he proposed to us to go on a trip together with his girlfriend Apple we did not hesitate for long...

Back in time..

The trip started with a good half-hour-drive through the riverbed of Riviere des Galets. It was however not a regular drive, because we were standing upright in the back of a Toyota ute and there was no decent road, just some sort of track.

While balancing myself in between the bags that were scattered on the floor between us, our fellow-traveller James mused words in French. James was a local Rasta of Mafate and he was on his way back home from a visit to town. I did not get most of his words, but being a Rastaman, his words seemed to fit the character. "Rastafari, Rastafari" and "Haile-ai Selasie I.. Selassie I, Selassie I"! 

James was pretty drunk too. He seemed to have done this trip a thousand times however, since he coped perfectly well, while the Toyota Ute jumped in between rocks in the crossings of riverbeds. At times he would all of a sudden shout "JAH"! Maybe he had some sort of epiphany at the time, or he was just enjoying himself a lot. We will never know. Only once we had to remind him about his Rasta-hat, which he was about to loose to the riverbed, because of all the bouncing around. James pointed out his house for us when he got off the car. He seemed to live in a shack pitched on a hillside looking out over the river. And then was off, what a character to meet..

When the driver dropped us off at the start of the hiking trail, he mentioned that all drivers planned to strike the day we would return.

That would imply a long walk back into town, but who cares. We got the ride in.

The hike up to Aurère took us about 4,5 hrs with many stops in between to take photos. The view was simply amazing. Such an enjoyable hike with great company. We knew however that the hights got to Auri´s head when he started seeing "bulldogs" in rock-formations. It culminated in a funny conversation (completely lost in translation) between Sandy and Auri on whether it was a "Dog" or "Duck" that he was seeing. The conversation went from bad to worse. Anyways.. You should have been there, it was hi-la-ri-ous.. 

The Cirque de Mafate is a place where you expect to see flying dinosaurs glide into view at any moment in time. The Cirque was formed when the large volcano le Piton des Neiges collapsed. Such a collapse happens when the magma chamber of a volcano empties during an eruption. The chamber is then no longer able to sustain the weight of the solid soil on top and the roof comes down... 

Mafate has therefore become kind of a mystical place, especially when clouds start to form and roll into the steep, green hillsides. Being completely enclosed by these remparts (cliffs) there are no roads inside the cirque, only small hiking trails. All things that inhabitants and tourists need is carried or airlifted in. There is no main electricity supply so most electricity comes from solar powered devices (read: don´t expect warm showers). 

You get it I guess. It is the perfect place to smell the fresh air, listen to the surroundings and come to some sort of inner rest.

This place also has a good portion of history that goes back into the dark days of slavery. Maroons, slaves that were initially imported from Zanzibar, escaped from their owners and used the mountains of Mafate as a refuge. Apparently the fires of the slaves could be seen high on the hillsides at night.

We arrived at Jean-Pierre (Auri's friend) in the late afternoon, while the cliffs above us were already blocking out most of the sun into the Cirque of Mafate. 

Jean-Pierre runs a lovely camping called Bonne-Terre and is mostly visited by hiking tourists. Our tents for the night were already pitched and we got a warm welcome.

After putting away our bags in the tents quickly before dark I did a short fly with the drone checking out the place.

In the evening we joined Jean-Pierre who was cooking in the smokeroom. While entering the room I briefly felt like I was walking into an ancient indians tent. Smoke drifted in the room. Big pots were heated by the fire, fresh garlic and smoked saussages hung from the ceiling. We tasted one of the smoked sausages, which did not taste bad at all. 

We had some talk about everyday life in the village and Mafate and asked questions about how stuff gets transported in to the Mafate.

The next day we watched the sun rise over the steep peaks while the light grew in strength. Just an awesome place to wake up in.

After a welcome breakfast we packed our stuff and hiked out of the Cirque, which took us only a little shorter than the way in since many more pictures and video had to be taken.

Creating the image below lead to some nerve wrecking moments when both thermic winds and birds started bothering the drone flying at high altitude, while we were standing on the ridge looking out to the Piton de Neiges. 

As we were taking a break at the drop off point while preparing for our "plus-2-hour-hike" through the riverbed, Sandy heard the lowtone sounds of an engine closing in. Luckily it was one of the drivers who opted out of the strike. He was happy to take us back, which saved us the strawl back to civilization. Lucky us!

We did miss Mafate the moment we came back into town. Noise, sound, air pollution all around, but at least we had seen this authentic place.

I understand why Aurelien loves to come to Mafate.

It is not the hike. It is not the fresh air. It is going back in time.

Back to a place where life is simple and free from all of the hustle of every day modern life. 

Cellphones barely work. People talk to each other.

We all should visit such places more often.

And this one is for Auri.

This is a Duck.

joostvanuffelen's picture
About the Author:
Joost loves the oceans, travelling and (underwater)photography. Combining those three elements he creates ocean art, travel reports and ocean photo stories...


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