I just climbed to the highest point in the Indian Ocean. Piton Des Neiges is a mountain in Réunion Island with 3070 metres of elevation. That’s three times higher than England’s biggest mountain, Scafell pike, which is 978 metres.
I’d been feeling pretty down in the week before so seeing the sun rise from a viewpoint above the clouds and feeling literally on top of the world, was exactly the dose of awe-inspiring energy that I needed to boost me up. Nothing like climbing a mountain to lift the spirits! Life’s full of surprises, so let’s start from the beginning…
My Spanish and English housemate plus our German guest and I rushed out of the house on Saturday morning, bags packed full of snacks, warm clothes and sun cream. We met two other English girls at the bus stop and were all feeling pretty smug about not only being on time, but early for the bus. THAT’s how super organised and sensible we can be. Only the bus did that thing it often does here, where it just doesn’t turn up. Because, you know, bus timetables are more of a proposal than an actual plan.
So, we waited, and waited, and waited some more. In the end we got on the next bus and arrived at St Louis bus station with a 2 hour wait for our connection up to our starting point in Cilaos. I was very grumpy about this. Until, lo and behold, I realised that the universe had a greater plan for me because guess what I remembered? That St Louis, probably one of least exciting places on this island, is actually home to a gluten-free bakery!
Off I trotted in search of this mysterious hidden gem that I had only heard about but never seen. I must have asked about four different people for directions and ended up walking around a very long way to a street that turned out to be right next to the bus station. The last people I asked was a young lad working in a snack bar and his much older dad sitting watching the world go by from his chair. They joked in Creole with me and I only half understood what was going on but joined in merrily with the laughter anyway.
I tried to pronounce the name of the street I was looking for loads of times but it wasn’t until I said I was specifically searching for “the gluten free bakery” that they both nodded enthusiastically and said “yes of course the gluten free bakery, it’s just up the road!” We were all very happy to have found what I was looking for but I was still a bit suspicious about whether or not I’d fully understood the French/Creole conversation because normally people don’t know what gluten is, never mind where to find gluten-free places. However these guys did not disappoint because there it was, a gluten-free bakery full of cakes, bread and traditional treats.
I marched in and declared in French “this is the BEST day of my life” before hurriedly choosing as much as I thought I could eat on the hike and running out to get back in time for the next bus, babbling about how great it was that they thought to open this place.
In Cilaos we joined about ten other friends and all began the hike up to the hostel we’d be staying in that night. When we arrived everyone screamed with delight that the first day was done. After an intense game of cards and an early dinner, we hit the hay with all the other hikers at around 8pm. The alarm went off at 3:30am and we rolled out of our cosy little nests in the triple bunkbeds and into our hiking shoes.
It was pitch black and had been raining all night, all the bleary eyed hikers were deliberating whether or not to still set off in search of the sunrise from the summit or wait until the conditions were better. Onwards and upwards, we optimistically set out with anoraks and head torches and determinedly marched off.
Except from none of us thought to check which markers we were supposed to be following or which direction to go in. And we ended up walking down hill, picking our way through rocky puddles in the dark, for over an hour before we realised that probably we should be going uphill given that we were trying to climb a mountain. So we all turned around and marched off back in the direction we came, getting the beautiful sunrise from ¾ of the way up the mountain instead of from the top. But that’s okay, it was incredible none the less and we got a, ahem, 2 hour warm up to help us with the climb up to the top and some sunlight to show us the sign for the right direction. Always look on the bright side of life, dee dum, dee dum dee dum dee dum.
And oh how the aching legs, tired muscles and constant sweating were all worth it in the end! We got treated to the most amazing views at the top and got that beautiful feeling of achievement swelling up in our chests. Fueled with a sugar high from my little gluten free cupcake and a natural high from the breath taking surroundings, I was ready to start the 6 hour hike back down to civilisation and more bus fun.
That’s another challenge ticked off my list of things to do on the road, and who’d have known that a missed bus would mean gluten-free snacks on the hardest hike I’ve ever done.
Until next time and thanks for reading : )