When I stood on the edge of the immense caldera of the Cirque de Mafate, one of the French island of La Reunion’s three volcanic amphitheatres, it was hard to believe that I actually agreed to do this. As far as I could see what looked like million-meter walls encircled the 140 km hiking trails up steep inclines.
I already dreamt of the mountain Gite (a small cabin owned by a local family) where we would sleep that night, but this inhabited part of Reunion Island National Park is the only one of the three cirques where there are no roads. It is only accessible by foot. Or helicopter. And we didn’t opt for the latter.
We were going to hike.
I said this before I left: I don’t really hike.
We set off on the first leg of a three day journey, baguettes protruding from our backpacks and couples in matching lycra outfits – evidently a million times my fitness level – running past us with a jovial “Bonjour! Bonjour!”
The Cirque of Mafate is unquestionably a “mythical” place for trekking, but I am going to be honest: it nearly killed me. It was quite possibly the hardest thing I have ever done. But also the most rewarding.
I will do it again. In a heart-beat.
There is a tradition among mountaineers that when you pass a cairn in a remote area that you place a stone upon the cairn, and if you kiss the stone, you or your spirit will return to that place. I wish to return. I really do.
Words and Pictures: Daréll Lourens
Tips from a non-hiker on hiking the cirques of Reunion:
- Get a backpack with waist support. If I didn’t have my Deuter I would most certainly have no shoulders left.
- Get a water bottle that hooks to your backpack or one of those clever Camel-bag-inventions. You need free hands (both for photographs every 5 meters and support.)
- Go with a guide. You can totally do this without one, but I assure you, you will want to have the landscapes translated.
- If you are gluten intolerant make sure you take some form of food. Baguettes will not be protruding from backpacks for no reason: THIS IS YOUR GITE MENU!
- Pack your bathers at the top of your backpack and SWIM IN THE POOLS ALONG THE WAY.
- Get a power bank for charging batteries. There are limited plug points at the Gites where you overnight.
- Take cash with you. Believe me nothing beats a beer at the end of a day like this – credit cards are like cars in this part of the world: no one uses them.
- My friend Heather Mason shared a room with someone that snores. She (not a non-hiker like me) reckons you should bring earplugs.
- Even if you, like me, think you cannot hike, you should do this. No doubt. I think the above gallery gives you an idea of the splendour.