Sunday, May 26, 2013

Just some apples

I went to the market for apples. Only apples. I came home with this.

"This" contains no apples. It does, however, contain what will soon be the first installment of "let's figure out this tropical fruit I don't recognize!"

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

An odd side effect of being highly mobile...

I got an email address at work today (yeah, I've been here thee weeks, there were vacations, it's France). I'll probably only ever get a handful of emails there, and when I leave in three months, it will expire and be closed. No big deal. But it did make me think about how many email addresses I've had in my life. I came up with 14! Many of them, like my newest one, were for short stints (a master's at a different university almost each semester results in several, for example), but the trusty Yahoo has been with me since middle school. And I am currently checking five of them. Ridiculous!

Sunday, May 19, 2013

A Perfect Weekend

This island has turned me into a morning person in three weeks flat. The sun sets reasonably early here--especially now, around 6pm, since it's 'winter'--but it rises early in the morning (around the other 6), so people here have adjusted and tend to get a very early start. For example, this went by my window at 8:30 this morning:

"This" was a parade led by a trumpet and drums.  Good thing I was already up! I suddenly can't even imagine being asleep at 8:30. Who am I and what have I done with myself??

Saturday morning I was up particularly early for a sightseeing adventure via one of the "long distance" buses. I took it from my town, on the southwest coast, around the southern part of the island across the expansive lava flows dating from various time periods and in different stages of returning to vegetation, which was very cool. The 2007 lava flow is still smoking in some places! On the other side of the lava, I stopped in a little town famous for its church that was not destroyed, but encircled, by lava in 1977. A miracle of course! From that tiny town there is a trail that leads along the coast through an unbelievable forest to a beach with waterfalls coming out of the cliffs beside it. The hike was honestly amazing. I still have trouble believing I'm here, seeing and doing all this amazing stuff, and it occasionally really hits me how cool this is. While hiking the trail, with the full force of the Indian Ocean at my back (I was on the east coast, so it was a "next stop Australia" feeling) and a verdant forest almost entirely full of plants I had never seen in front of me, I had a moment of absolute pure happiness, complete with a laughing fit! All alone in the forest. It was great. The whole day was awesome. Even the buses worked out, which seems to be a relatively rare event from what I've heard!

A flow from 1977

Part of my jungle hike

Ocean view from the jungle hike

The beach with waterfalls--they come out of the mountain you see in this picture.

This morning I enjoyed a lovely working breakfast on the balcony with some loquat (one of those many fruits you and I have never heard of) jam and a fresh local banana, which someone brought to work because the tree at her house was just too overloaded and they couldn't handle them all. So sad, but I helped her out by taking a delicious bunch home. They are short and fat and kinda orange on the inside and DELICIOUS.

This afternoon it was off to the lagoon for some snorkeling in the amazing aquarium that's attached to my beach. I saw a sea slug on the move today and wonder if that was the inspiration for the classically horrible series of Tremors movies... Then I headed home to get ready for a concert I went to with a coworker on the beach in a nearby town. It was awesome of course! We arrived just a bit after sunset and set up our picnic on the grass just beside the beach and talked and drank wine and ate amazing baked goods (one of the friends' friends is a baker in the process of opening his own bakery! Talk about a friend I need...) for hours. Seriously, it's been an amazing weekend. And tomorrow's a holiday!

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

I'm on Reunion Island!!

In light of all the administrative fumbling that led up to my arrival here, I was thinking of bringing back the WTF series. "Welcome to France," remember? But everyone knows that story (if not the details, how it usually goes at least). In short, the reputation of French bureaucracy is well deserved. Don't go down the rabbit-hole if you can avoid the allure of this strange lovely disaster of a country. I can't. It keeps pulling me back. But I made it through the admin, and here I am once again!

I'm not in what most people think of as France. My temporary new home is Reunion Island (La Réunion), a French overseas region located 430 miles east of Madagascar in the Indian Ocean. No, I'm not studying lemurs. I work on a database of birth defects at the University Hospital in Saint Pierre where I am...not sure exactly what my job is. I thought I was doing research with a tiny bit of teaching. Then it seemed to be mostly teaching (a program I've never used, in French). But now I think I may be a biostatistician. It's all a bit unclear. But hey, I was never coming here for the work!

What I was coming for, I have found :) I live in an apartment two minutes from the beach. The beaches here are awesome. The ones where you swim are the ones with coral rings around them (to keep out the hungry angry sharks). The coral fringes turn the beaches into calm lagoons full of coral and tropical fish. There is AMAZING snorkeling 2 minutes from my front door! As someone who almost went down the marine biologist track, I'm rather over the moon. So many good memories of other tropical snorkeling adventures, and I can still ID a lot of the fish! And as nice as the beach here is, I hear tales of much better options scattered along the coast, so I'll have to explore those! I already checked out a black sand beach near here (Etang Salé) over the weekend, and it was awesome as expected. I started at one end of the beach, in town, and wandered way over to the wild outer edge of the area, where there was no coral and there were big tube waves (the kind you see in surfing pictures, probably 8 feet tall) and an agave-filled forest behind the beach.

But as amazing as the beaches are, everyone here will tell you that you don't come to Reunion for them. You come for the interior. The island is volcanic, so it has lots of topography. The highest point in the Indian Ocean is on Reunion (the Piton des Nieges at 10,069 feet--I'll see if I can get myself into suitable hiking shape to scale it...). The interior is made up of three old collapsed volcanoes called cirques (they're vaguely circular), which are sufficiently awesome to have earned the interior the designation of a World Heritage site. I already went to Cilaos, the closest cirque, and I get the attraction. I would have been totally happy with just the drive into the cirque from the coast! The road was long and wound along the incredibly steep edges of a ravine. Once in the cirques, you find villages scattered in unbelievable places. There's one cirque that even now has no roads--if you want to see it, you park at the edge and hike in. And yet that cirque has several villages in it! From another time... The cirques are most known for the hikes though. I was only briefly in Cilaos, but we hiked down a ravine and across a river, coming up the other side, then went back around via the road that ran through an interesting high-altitude cool forest. And there were so many other trails we didn't have time for! I'll absolutely be going back. Plus I bought my travel guide for the island, so I'm plotting other adventures now!

View of the town of Cilaos from across a ravine

Cute beach trees in St. Pierre

Look at that water!

My black sand beach with wave show

Thursday, May 9, 2013

The chocolate-almond croissant challenge is baaaaaaaaack!

Look what I found yesterday!! It was kind of pathetic, burnt and deflated-looking, but it was the first one I've seen here so I sorta freaked out and bought it.

Walking away with my burnt prize I realized I should actually start looking for these things! Reunion Island is strange--it's very French in many ways but not all, so I didn't even think about finding them here. More on the island itself soon, but for now, just know that they have chocolate almond croissants, so I'll probably be ok. Although I must admit I hope the rest of them are better than this one. It was, in fact, burnt, and tasted so. It was also soggy--more of the almond bread type of confection with very little of the flaky croissant texture. And not much chocolate either! I'll probably give this place another chance because it's right by me and clearly this was a bad day, as I'm reasonably sure I've never before seen a burnt pastry for sale in a French bakery...