For some reason the access road to Cilaos is unique.
It took advantage of the exceptional section in which the almost vertical slopes of the heart of the island give a little of itself and, even so, it only reached its interior with a daunting engineering effort that began in 1927 and 32 arduous kilometers later, ended in 1937.
Before the road, the access to and from the village, perched on the edge of the mountain, was dizzying and so tight that it made it impossible for hikers to cross in different directions.
Villagers advancing towards coastal cities with ox carts crammed with goods had to wait in strategic areas or for them to retreat to allow the flow of people.
As might be expected, crashes and deadly falls happened all too often.
We take the still adventurous RN5 out of Saint Louis, on the south coast of Réunion. The winding course of the Bras de Cilaos river meanders and narrows as we approach its high source. We are in the dry season. It hasn't rained seriously in these parts for a long time.
The wide and stony bed that we overlook a precipice below the asphalt proves how overwhelming and frightening the flow sometimes becomes, fed by the deluges that every year soak the island.
At its heart, Cirque de Cilaos can be as verdant as it is extreme.
From 7 to 8 January 1966, tropical cyclone Denise swept part of the Indian Ocean, including Réunion. In that 24-hour period, rainfall was counted at 1825 mm, an absolute world record.
We continue to climb. We feel, ever closer, the gigantic walls covered with vegetation, spaces, traversed by gentle bridal veils that break the homogeneity of the green.
Around the Îlet Peter Both, a slower pink bus stops us, which soon makes its way to the local tunnel.
We have the feeling that it was only a miracle that he could slip into that tiny underground passage.
The fact is that, even clogging it completely, the transport goes to the other side of the slope, with us in the glue.
Pull over at a stop off the main stretch and gather a group of young people who are discussing and listening to loud music.
Shortly after we passed it, we saw the sharp peaks of the Piton Papangue and the Piton des Calumets.
After a few more of these, we have the Mare Séche to our left, soon, we find the entrance of the elusive community of Cilaos.
Finally, from Entrance to Cilaos Remote, ends of Reunion Island
The afternoon is drawing to a close. The steep cliffs that impose themselves all around and only admit the sun when the star walks around the zenith, precipitate shadow and darkness.
This time, we had even prepared the overnight stay. After a few turns around the block, we found Casa Celina where we had booked a room. "Bon soir Monsieur, Madame, soyez bienvenus!" it is all that we effortlessly understand of the young lady who waits for us and welcomes us with sympathy but an apparently native French accent that quickly makes us despair.
We persisted and there we pioneered the exhaustive briefing that had to be transmitted to us.
We settled in, opened the porch windows. We enjoyed the view that the twilight was turning blue at that time. In front of us are the houses of Cilaos, made up almost entirely of colorful houses and, bordering the main street, some buildings with a maximum of two floors, overall, with little or no historical looks, or too picturesque or photogenic.
All the stars of the universe seemed to have installed themselves in the firmament that a rare absence of clouds exhibited resplendent. We went out for quick food shopping. On the way back, we had dinner under the stars.
The Piton des Neiges and the Boiler Surrounding Cilaos
We probed the silhouettes of the top of the old crater we had entered, determined to detect its peak and the terrestrial peak of the Indian Ocean, projected from the depths of one of its most exuberant islands.
With an altitude of 3069 m but situated on the map just above the Tropic of Capricorn, the Piton des Neiges attracts industrial amounts of rain.
It has not been known for a long time, visible snow, let alone eternal snow. These are meteorological phenomena that are so rare in the area that it is believed that the name prevailed from the last worthy of record, appraised with amazement in 1735.
Accustomed to life in an extraordinary nature, the inhabitants of Réunion and most visitors to this unlikely southern limit of the European Union are eager hikers, hikers and adventurers in near-perfect physical forms that challenge whenever they can.
The most extreme even do it in surreal ways.
This is what happens every year during the Grand Raid Réunion, also known as Diagonal dos Loucos, such is the hardness of its more than 160km, with almost 10 meters of positive slope and a 66-hour time limit.
of the slaves Brown Outlaws to the Current Refuge of Cilaos
The pioneer residents of Cirque de Cilaos also arrived in an insane rush. They fled up the island for freedom, some even for life.
At that time, Réunion still retained its original French name of Île Bourbon, given by the first Gallic settlers in honor of the then royal family. Around 1715, the export of coffee, soon assisted by a strong intensification of slavery, gave the island a decisive economic stimulus.
Owners called them brown or brown noirs. As it was the hallmark of this era, they treated us in a subhuman way and awakened in many rebellious servants the urgency of evasion.
According to history, it was these slaves, or just one of them, who baptized Cilaos. One of the theories argues that the name of the place came from the Malagasy word Tsilaosa, which means “where you are safe”. A competing thesis goes further.
He says that the cirque got its name from a single Malagasy slave named Tsilaos who would have taken refuge there for some time.
Cilaos to Îlet-à-Cordes along the Estradas Extremas da Caldeira
The new day dawns. We leave Casa Celina ready to explore the village and the interior of the caldera as soon as possible. We start by going through the fascinating D242 which, until its southwestern limit, has its own roller-coaster route.
We pass behind the Église Notre-Dame-des-Neiges of Cilaos, following the inaugural zigzag route of the route – by far its most curious and extreme.
We descend towards the bed of the river Bras de Cilaos, next to the Source Tête de Lion. After a few kilometers, we stopped to appreciate the now distant houses of Cilaos.
We proceed to those. Almost 15km later, we enter a rural village spread by the relief that allowed the settlement. It seems to us something dry and uncharacteristic which, in that lush surrounding area, surprises us.
Even so, we recognize the charm of the ultimate retreat that the modern and inelegant bus stops cannot cancel out, and which stars in the history made common in Cilaos. We had arrived at Îlet-à-Cordes.
A few days earlier, in the country house of a couple of young French hosts, on the outskirts of Saint Pierre, Guillaume, unconditional supporter of a simple life – as he spread his t-shirt – had advised us: “I, if I were the you didn't stay in Cilaos.
I prefer Îlet-à-Cordes, it's much more genuine.” We soon felt that he could be right, but that if we followed his phobia for the stains of modernity – which made him, for example, reject Wifi at home – it would compromise our work plans.
Genesis is also a Slave of Îlet-à-Cordes
With its vineyards, lentil plantations, beehives and other biological productions exploited by almost 431 residents, Îlet-à-Cordes was one of the first villages in the Caldeira de Cilaos where slaves took refuge.
Most of the current residents preserve their genetics.
The browns accessed their kind of mountain flank using ropes that, once installed, removed so that they would not leave a trace of their presence, although, instead, they managed to see the sea and much of the south coast of the island from there.
Still, in 1751, the most famous of the Reunion's slave hunters, Mussard, managed to gain access to the hideout. There he found two fields of browns, felled three of them, and confiscated a lot of weapons and utensils.
Before dedicating ourselves to Cilaos, we return to pass behind the village church and continue to the “sister” road of the D242, the D241.
Back to Cozy Cilaos
We found those sides that led to the opposite end of Bras Sec far less appealing than the path to Îlet-à-Cord.
Except, of course, for the beginning of one of the trails that led to the summit of the Piton des Neiges, a six-hour ascent that most hikers inaugurated around midnight, set to reach the top in time for sunrise. magic of the sun.
We'd already had our fix a few days earlier with the endless climb from Le Maido to the Grand Bénard, two other crucial summits over the edges of the Cirques. We were about to surrender to the tiring discovery of the Piton de la Fornaise, the island's active volcano.
With no time for everything, we were forced to reject once and for all the conquest of the Piton des Neiges and return to welcoming Cilaos.
With most of the hikers recovering in their homes from the strenuous trails, the village surrendered to the peace of a new twilight. We surrender to the fame of the sweet local wine.
We took them from a stake on a terrace in the center and, before the establishment closed, we asked for two glasses and a samosa for each one. "Only two?" questioned the owner of the bar as if the desire did not make sense. “Look, these are the best samosas in Reunion.
Don't you want a set of each filling first? “We made little or no effort to refuse the offer. Instead, we enjoyed the snack and recharged our energy to go out and discover the village.
Genetic Diversity, at every step through Cilaos
Like what happens on the rest of the island, it is shared today by inhabitants of the most different ethnic groups: French, African, Indian, Malagasy, Arab and Chinese, among others.
As we walked down the main street and made new purchases at the local bakery and supermarket, some of the surreal ethnic combinations we found in residents' faces and hair left us in awe.
Large curly, golden trumpets matched with latte skins and deep blue or aqua-green eyes.
Others, markedly Indian figures, surprised us with almond-shaped eyes, lack of eyelids and an unintelligible French-speaking Creole, a consequence of their genetic combination with Chinese immigrants.
Similar to what was happening in the rest of the island, in remote Cilaos the island also lived up to the last of the baptisms.
There too, far from the always overcrowded coastline of Boucan Canoe, it proved an exotic Reunion.