Doing the tour of La Réunion, what a great day. And a half.
Yesterday I left Saint-Leu on the west coast of Réunion, intending to cycle the ~210km around the island on that day. Not a problem in theory, but if you have to stop every now and then to admire the beauty of the countryside, then this quickly becomes difficult.
The western coast of the island are inhabited in large parts by the French expat community (they are not strictly expats since Réunion is an integral part of France, and as such of the European Union, by the way). This part of the island is busy and rich. The east coast is poorer and inhabited mostly by those immigrants of non-European descent. There are no indigenous people here, as the island was uninhabited before settlers came in from all corners of the Indian Ocean after it’s ‘discovery’ (by Europeans) in the 16th century.
Anyway, the cycling went smoothly in counter-clockwise direction until I came to the lava fields of the Piton de la Fournaise, the 2621m active volcano at the southern end of the island. The latest eruption had been in 2007 but there were more than 100 recorded eruptions since the 16th century. The road crosses the caldera (and has to be rebuilt regularly) and of course I spent some time there (along with numerous other tourists) gawking at and walking across the encrusted but still hot lava.
I was travelling light, basically with just some water and my credit card, so when night fell I started to look for a place to sleep. However, this being off season, the few hotels I found were closed. I arrived in the town of Saint-André. I stopped at a police station and asked there whether they knew an open place, but the outcome was meagre. Eventually they even refused to let me sleep in one of their cells because they were “dirty and smelly”.
I ended up behind a pillar of a house in the city centre but a couple of stray dogs prevented me from relaxing. So I cycled on and through the night. with first light I arrived in Saint-Denis, Réunion’s capital at the northern tip of the island. Of course everything was closed and my only option for breakfast was to wait – or move on. I hopped on a bus because the stretch of road between Saint-Denis and Le Port further to the west is off limits for cyclists (in hindsight I should have cycled there anyway…).
I had breakfast in Saint-Paul or Saint-Gilles-les-Baines (can’t remember) and arrived back in my hostel in Saint-Leu after 25 hours.