story about one of the most fascinating populated
remote islands that I visited.
We were in Mauritius Island for about 2 months in 1995. We were leaving for Madagascar
then off to So Africa
. When we left Mauritius, I noticed a small (very mountainous) island on the chart that I simply hadn't taken time to notice before or even heard of. (Any French people reading this thread can sign-off now). It was Reunion Island, located just SW of Mauritius and is actually the same size as Mauritius.
We were sailing close to the island anyway so I decided to go right up next to the island, to see what I could see. I didn't have a chart of
the island and fully expected it to be uninhabited. As we came close to the island, I slowly started noticing cars (way off in the distance from us). The cars seemed to be on some sort of road but I fully expected it to be a small dirt road and old cars.
I saw more and more cars as we approached closer. Now, my curiosity is peaked. I figured, with all these cars (and trucks....big trucks), there must be a port. Without approaching too
closely, I sailed along the coast, which was obviously very
steep-to with a high mountain that fell sharply into the sea. This indicated that it was an old volcanic island that probaby had little to no off-shore obstructions.
Suddenly, I saw a fishing
boat (what looked like) coming out of the side of the mountain (about 3 miles ahead).....AH-HA!!!!. Knowing that boats can drive out of mountains, I figured that must
be the port. I traced the fishing
boats track on my radar
and used that track to navigate into the port.
As I drew closer, the entry was extremely well marked. There was a sharp turn to SB going into the harbor but the view of the harbor was obstructed by a sea wall until I got to a certain point. Once we reached that point, it became obvious that this was a fairly largish harbor.
I pulled along side a dock
where there were several private yachts hauled out. I quickly found out that this was a French speaking island but I was able to find someone that was willing to lower
himself to speaking English
(tongue in cheek). He told me where to find the Harbor master and accompanied me to his office. I found out that there is no customs
or immigration at that port and I had to go to the airport
about 20 miles away.
The gentleman that escorted me to the office handed me the keys to his brand new BMW and told me how to get to the airport
. He said, "I'll be here working on my boat for a few days, use the car all you want". I thought, "What....are you nuts???? You don't know me from Adam". He said...."What.......am I supposed to be worried about you stealing my car???. Where would you go on this small island?".
I took the car and followed his carefully mapped instructions. Remember the road that I saw from out at sea?. I thought it must be an old dirt road.........It was a freaking 6-lane super highway that looked like the most modern highway in the US or Europe
. I was shocked but the best was yet to come.
Remember, this island is very steep mountain terrain. I could not see the town from the port but as I drove down the highway, I began to see these big beautiful homes, nestled in the trees and side of the mountains. Then....I rounded a bend in the road and there was this huge, modern city with high rise buildings and crowded streets. It was like I entered the Twilight Zone and was instantly transported to Paris, France
. That had to be the biggest culture shock that I have ever had.
It ends up that Reunion Island is actually a suburb (of sorts) of Paris. I don't know any other way of explaining it. All I can tell you is that these are the most friendly, outgoing French people that I have ever met. People were dragging us into their homes and struggling to understand our language to hear stories of how we got there.
I'll never forget that small island in the middle of the Indian Ocean
. What an incredible experience. I only wish that we could have stayed longer.