All right folks, time to take out your hiking gear and use some muscle, we are going on a walking tour to Mafate cirque using the 'sentier Scout' as entrance way.
Longtime members of Dave's Garden have already followed me into Mafate cirque (check our first encounter with this unusual place, followed by a second encounter here) and I bet you are certainly more than eager to get back there! This time we are going to Aurére;I made a reservation in the 'Piton Cabris gîte' where we will have a nutritious local meal before sleeping in one of the quietest parts of Reunion island. But in order to reach the place we have some 25km to go and an average 7 hours of effort. The starting point of our journey is at Le Bélier which means we have to drive to the Salazie cirque and leave the car by the side of the road. As the trail can be rather steep I will cut a walking cane for you, the strawberry-guava (Psidium cattleyanum) provides excellent material for this and will make long-lasting natural gear.
Let us hit the path now, it starts right behind this large clump of Hedychium gardnerianum which is an amazingly showy flowering plant but alas also a terrible invasive one (just like the Psidium you have in hand actually!). The beginning of the walk is like going under a large green porch, the lush vegetation making natural arches over the path and keeps the air cool as we are still high (1600m or 4800 feet). The large tree-fern here is one of the three species endemic to the island and needs both coolness and high humidity levels to thrive. You will never see it in coastal areas. Here comes the local reception committee, this friendly bird know as 'tec-tec' (Saxicola tectes) is endemic and protected, not a bit shy he may follow us along the path until his curiosity is satisfied and will then wander further on. We are now reaching a turn and you can see the narrow path going up along a rather bare slope in front of us; do not be deterred by this sight, a handrail has been set in the form of steel cable which allows one a steady pace.
What about a short break? There's no need to hurry, we are here to enjoy the place and take our time. A ripe banana will provide some energy to get back once we are ready to go. You may want to take out your camera and make a few shots of this nice white flower here, it looks to me somewhat like a Dombeya spp., a genera from the Malvaceae family with several species endemic to Reunion island. Fine, now pack your bananas and cameras and let us proceed. After some more sweating we reach "Ilet à malheur," which translates as "misfortune hamlet" which is not a very happy name although the place looks as peaceful and quite as the surrounding cirque...so what is it about? We have to time-travel back to the 19th century in order to understand what happened here; at this time the cirque was inhabited mostly by maroons or escaped slaves from coastal large plantations. Those slaves were hunted by white people called "slave hunters," a rather dark part of Reunion island. So in 1829, a bunch of hunters reached this place where some 40 maroons had been living in full self-sufficiency for some time and the encounter resulted in the death of all maroons, hence the name given to the place! One final last gruesome detail I must add: such hunters had to bring back the proof of their 'work' in order to get paid and as they would not carry corpses they would chop the victim's ears and show those as proof. As we are in modern times there are no more slave hunters but choppers are of primal importance for the cirque and its inhabitants. Helicopters can carry huge loads of goods, from rice to corrugated iron boards. Of course, in former times people would carry everything by hand (though most often on the head--the African way) but times change! Helicopters bring medical supplies and staff, tourists (the lazy kind, not folks like us!) and locals get special fares in and out of the cirque, this is why you can see this Psidium-made chopper just before reaching the village of Ilet à malheur.
We stroll by the village cemetery, pass by the church and after a few minutes we are already out of the ilet and back on the track. In order to reach Piton Cabris and the resting place, we have to cross a river called "Bras Bémale." We can either take the long way by walking down to the river bed, crossing over and walking back up or use the bridge. All right, I can see from the frowned faces that you choose the bridge, so let us go and enjoy the view! The rather recent bridge is of course only for walkers and allows one to see how steep and deep this river is, if you do not like heights just cross over and wait for us while we take a few pictures. The gîte is now only a few minutes away, where we will register with the charming owner Mr Libelle Charlemagne (yes, folks on Reunion can have strange first names), drop the bags, have a hot shower and relax. I will check with Mr Libelle what is on the menu for tonight; usually there are some very flavourful and nutritious foods cooking on wood fire, just beware that the special rum for appetizer can be treacherous--especially after a long walking day!
Regarding the way back I had in mind to use a different path called 'le sentier Augustave' which offers stunning views and requires stamina to cross the ladders and suspended paths but Mr Libelle told me that the local forest service has closed the path because of landslides. Actually if you were listening carefully, you might have heard some rumble as we reached Aurére. The recent heavy downpours have weakened the cliff and made the path dangerous, so we have to use the sentier Scout back to Salazie, then you can take the pictures you missed on the way down!
Well, I think I will now head to the shower and get rid of the dust and sweat, and make myself presentable for supper!