lundi 5 janvier 2009

Reunion Island

Discover Reunion Island

Reunion Island is located in the South Hemisphere, in the Tropical area, about 800 km East from Madagascar and 250 km West from Mauritius. It is a French island but very far away from France (about 10 000 km).

Reunion Island should be more famous all over the world for its wonderful and amazing landscapes. Landscapes of Reunion Island are definitely unique. On a very short territory, you can admire mountains of about 3000 m. high, blue ocean, lagoon and cliffs, rainforests, bush and desert, an “alive” volcano and a “dead” one. There is an incredible variety of landscapes, so you could imagine you are travelling all around the world during your visit in Reunion Island.

A tropical island

There is not one climate but several in this small island. On the coast, you can feel two main climate types : on the Eastern part of Reunion Island, the climate is warm and wet because rainy clouds are coming from the ocean. On the contrary, on the Western side, the climate is very dry but warm too. This coast is protected by mountains located in the middle of the island, where the climate is generally colder, rainy and cloudy. It can even freeze in winter on the top of higher mountains : Piton des Neiges and Piton de la Fournaise. In the heart of mountains, circus are hidden. Salazie is the western circus and it is also the more humid one. Cilaos and Mafate are drier than Salazie but more humid than the Western coast.

Because of these manifold climates, you can admire various plants and animals, particularly birds. Some plants are very rare and exist only in Reunion Island, sometimes even only in a very special part of the island. There are many laws to protect them and recently a National Park has been created to preserve these natural treasures. Sadly, some of the plants have already disappeared, as well as animals, because of humans’ poaching activities and hunting. For instance, three centuries ago, there were thousands of turtles on Reunion Island, but no one is still alive since the 19th century.

Thanks to great and various climate and to the hilly landscape, you can find many different natural products growing on the island. The agriculture is very important here. For nearly 200 years, the main culture is sugar cane. Reunion Island is the French department producing the more sugar cane. But you can also find very nice coffee and vanilla, despite these products are getting very rare. Ylang-ylang and geranium, grape and famous lentil in Cilaos, many kinds of vegetables and fruits, some spices are other products of the island.

Thus, the local cooking is very nice, sometimes spicy. You can feel a lot of different influences: from Europe, from India, from China. That makes the local meals so unique and tasty. The main local dishes are rougail and carry. A lot of little shops offer cheap but delicious meals.

A young but rich island

The reason why cooking is so “exotic” is because the Reunion’s population is coming from nearly every part of the world. There are French and Europeans, Malagasy and East-Africans, people from Mayotte and Comoros islands, Indians from North and South India and Chinese. Then, many religions coexists in this little heaven. Christians are the larger part but Muslims are numerous as well. You can meet also Hindus people, some people practising traditional Chinese or Malagasy religions – first of all, the cult of ancestors. Many people have two religions, for example they are Christian and Hindu at the same time. All people try to live together in peace, with a unique identity: they are all creoles and many of them are mixed.

You will understand why so many different people live in the same place if you have a look on the history of this island. Before the second part of the 17th century, nobody was living there. Then, the French Navy came from Madagascar and the first people decided to stay here. The first baby was born in Reunion Island in 1667. At that time, Reunion Island was called Bourbon Island. The first inhabitants were quite happy living on this small paradise, because of the nice climate, plants and animals everywhere. So, the French Indian Company decided to force the first colons to cultivate coffee for exportation. Each inhabitant was due to grow hundred coffee trees! It was too much work for them, so they went to Eastern coast of Africa and Madagascar to capture slaves. The number of slaves grew very quickly. During the French Revolution, slavery was abolished in Paris, but not in Reunion Island. At that time, Bourbon Island became Reunion Island, because the French authorities could’nt stand such a reference to the Monarchy (Bourbon was indeed the Family name of the former King). But when Napoleon the First became imperator, the name of the place changed again (Bonaparte Island). In 1810, during the war between Napoleon and most of Europe, Reunion Island was occupied by the British Royal Navy. Reunion Island became French again in 1815. Because France lost some other sugarcane colonies during the Revolution and the war, colons of Reunion Island had to cultivate sugar cane, no more coffee.

In 1848, slavery was finally abolished in French territories, so all slaves became free. Most of them refused to stay in the fields and work for their previous masters. Then, colons decided to find other workers. Indian coolies came from South India at that time to replace the former slaves. At the end of the 19th century, Chinese and Muslims from Northern India came also and most of them built up little shops. At that period, the population of the island grew very quickly, despite of high mortality because of diseases and poverty. Prices of sugar cane collapsed, so many colons were ruined. Some of them tried to cultivate other plants like geranium, ylang-ylang, vanilla or spices, but it was not enough to preserve the island from poverty. During the first part of the 20th century, several hurricanes destroyed cultures. After the Second World War, Reunion Island became a French department and became by the way richer and more developed.

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