Monday, 2 December 2013

Diving World Record in Reunion Island

(photo ©GPP)

Reunion Island's water sports and tourism sectors have been hard-hit by the recent spate of shark attacks. Although divers know that you have nothing to fear from a shark underwater, the general public has a different perception. This is  the main reason why on December 1st the local Groupement des professionnels de la plongée (GPP, Association of diving professionals) decided to create a positive action and break a world record by forming a human chain of 110 divers at a depth of 18 metres.

(photo ©GPP)

200 hours of preparation were necessary for the event, which also involved 40 extra volunteers, 13 dive boats and 14 dive clubs.

(photo ©GPP)

The youngest diver was 18, and the oldest 82!

(photo ©GPP)

Six photographers and cameramen were present.

(photo ©GPP)

It took place place at Saint Leu on the island's south-west coast, and although originally only a minute together was planned, in the end the divers managed 5 minutes and 12 seconds without breaking the chain, which measured 76.2 metres long.

At the surface (photo ©Laurent Figon)

Four independent judges were present to attest to the world record, which will be sent to the Guinness Book of Records for certification.

celebrating at the surface afterwards (photo ©GPP)

Sunday, 24 November 2013

La Vallée Heureuse, Le Brûlé

At an altitude of almost 1000 metres, in a part of St Denis known as Le Brûlé, you can find La Vallée Heureuse, a beautiful 6500m2 19th-century garden inscribed as a French Monument Historique (National Heritage Site).

entrance, La Vallée Heureuse 

The owner, Pascale Boyer-Vidal, inherited the garden from her grandfather, and she organises visits twice a month. 

La Vallée Heureuse literally means the 'Happy Valley'. 

tree ferns

Pascale is passionate about the garden in particular and nature in general and this really shines through during the visit.

grapefruit tree leaves, note the two parts (small then large)

The garden consists of three different parts: a semicircular 'pleasure' garden with azaleas, camellias, hydrangeas and tea bushes; a 'practical' garden with bamboo, fruit trees and other useful plants; and an endemic garden with indigenous and endemic vegetation typical of that found in a mid-altitude forest.

footbridge in the pleasure garden

pond in the pleasure garden

azalea flower

path, pleasure garden

Throughout the visit emphasis is placed on nature, including the observation of birds and endemic insects. Pascale explains how she fights erosion and tries to restore the environment, and how she obtains endemic species to replant.

this species of yellow bamboo looks as if
someone threw a pot of green paint at it!

Pascale standing next to some (aptly-named) giant bamboo

toadstools growing at the foot of the giant bamboo

toadstool growing on a tree

The garden also has several Ginkgo bilobas, a tree that my husband and I got used to seeing when we lived in Seoul. Ginkgos are a very unusual genus of non-flowering plants that first appeared on earth 250 million years ago; Ginkgo bilobas are the only species of the genus left and are considered living fossils. They adapt well to urban environments, as they tolerate pollution and confined soil spaces. They rarely suffer disease problems, even in urban conditions, and are attacked by few insects. For all these reasons, as well as for their general beauty, they are excellent urban and shade trees, and are widely planted along many streets in Asia.

 gingko tree leaves

camphor tree

unusually on this species of plant the flower grows directly from the stem

Jambrosades originated in South-East Asia but are commonly found in Reunion, having been introduced as fruit and ornamental trees. They are also known as 'rose apple', 'water apple' or 'plum rose' in English. As a non-native species they are currently present in the garden to provide shade, and will be chopped down once the endemic plants they are shading reach adulthood.

jambrosade flower 

camellia flower

The visit lasts for about two hours, and afterwards you can share a cup of tea with Pascale and taste some of her delicious home-made jam (ambarella, Costa Rican guava …).

passion fruit flower

Practical information:
If you read or understand French take a look at the Vallée Heureuse Facebook Page which has beautiful photos and also contains some practical information about visits. Pascale also makes some handicrafts, which you can see here.

Monday, 11 November 2013

Cimetière Marin, St Paul

The Cimetière Marin ("Marine Cemetery") is a historic cemetery on the southern outskirts of the town of St Paul, Reunion.

Entrance to the Marine Cemetery

The cemetery has been in use since 1788, although by the mid-1800s it was already full and another cemetery had to be opened to the north of the town.

old ship's anchor outside the cemetery

Over the years it has seen its share of natural disasters: a tidal wave in August 1883 following the eruption of Krakatoa, and cyclones in 1932, 1948 and 1962. It was renovated during the 1970s.

one of the cannons "guarding" the cemetery entrance

The name refers to its location next to the sea and not to the fact that it is full of sailors (marins in French), although there are quite a few sailors buried here.

general view of the cemetery, looking north-west

General view of the cemetery, looking north

The Ker-Anna was a French three-mast sailing ship which was shipwrecked off the coast of Reunion on 9th December 1894. Eight of the 14 people on board perished, and they are buried in the cemetery.

grave of the Ker-Anna sailors

Probably the cemetery's most famous grave is that of pirate Olivier "La Buse" Levasseur (1688 or 1690-1730), the scourge of the Indian Ocean during the 1720s. Together with John Taylor he perpetrated one of piracy's greatest exploits: the capture of the Portuguese great galleon Nossa Senhora do Cabo ('Our Lady of the Cape') (also known as Virgem Do Cabo ('The Virgin of the Cape')), loaded full of treasures belonging to the Bishop of Goa, (also called the Patriarch of the East Indies), and the Viceroy of Portugal, who were both on board returning home to Lisbon. After being damaged in a storm the ship had anchored off Réunion to undergo repairs. (This incident was later be used by Robert Louis Stevenson in his novel "Treasure Island" where the galleon is referred to as The Viceroy of the Indies in the account given by Long John Silver). La Buse was hanged for piracy in Reunion on 7th July 1730. Legend says that when he stood on the scaffold he had a necklace around his neck containing a cryptogram of 17 lines which he threw in the crowd while exclaiming: "Find my treasure, the one who may understand it!" What became of this necklace is unknown and the hunt for his fabulous treasure continues to motivate treasure hunters to this day.

Olivier "the Buzzard's" Levasseur grave

Another important grave is that of French poet Charles Marie René Leconte de Lisle (1818 – 1894). Born in Reunion he is mainly known, as a writer, by his family name Leconte de Lisle. He took a lead role in the Parnassian movement and also translated works from Ancient Greek. In 1886 he was elected to the Académie française in succession to Victor Hugo. In 1977 his remains were transferred from the Montparnasse cemetery in mainland France to St Paul.

grave of Leconte de Lisle

central alley of the cemetery

The grave of Madame Ombeline Desbassyns can also be found here, transferred from the Chapelle Pointue.

Jubilee cross 
general view, looking inland

"If one day I die
bury me under the Latan Palm.
Its roots will invigorate me
and its fragrance will revive me"

Just outside the cemetery is a tiny public square with the bust of Bishop Alexandre Monnet (1812-1849) "Father of the Blacks". It mentions that he was expelled from the island in 1847 (for his abolitionist views), ironically just one year before slavery was abolished on Reunion.

In 2007 during cyclone Gamede some 18th-century bones were uncovered just outside the cemetery on the black sand beach; they seem to have been part of a former burial area. They were later reburied during an ecumenical ceremony and a monument was erected.