Thursday, February 21, 2013

Tour des Cirques: Mafate

Mafate is unlike any place I've ever been in my life.  The scale of the place is overwhelming, yet the cirque is quite small.  My initial hike into Mafate was dubbed "the easy way;" an eleven mile walk in to  Ilet Des Orangers, a hamlet in Mafate.   Twenty two miles round trip, and my friend Camille and I left the cirque with an overwhelming sense of awe.  Two weeks ago, I ventured into Mafate yet again, this time walking in the same way, but hiking out through cirque and over the cirque wall into Cilaos.  Twenty five miles, three days, wicked blisters, and great laughs with my friends Amanda and Helena... The magic of Mafate struck again.  

The entrance to Mafate is on the Northwest side of the island, right about St. Paul.  From St. Paul, you can take a bus to the various beginning locations for a hike in Mafate.  Sans Souci is the easiest route in and out, and that was the beginning of both of my ventures into the cirque.  Mafate is a World Heritage Site.  Only one road is allowed into the cirque, and it ends at a village not far into the cirque on the river.  There are several villages in Mafate, and those that live in them grow a lot of their own food.  That which can't be grown has to be flown in via helicopter, or taken in on foot.  Trash even has to be flown in and out of the cirque because having open fires isn't allowed.   Everything in Mafate is super protected, and during my stays there, I was able to communicate with some of the people who live there and get some of my questions answered.  My questions were: what about education? Do the people of Mafate go to school?  What do they do with trash and how much does it cost to get things flown in?  A much more personal question: Why do you want to live in Mafate?  Isn't life hard?

The people who live in Mafate have access to schools located within the cirque until the age of twelve. After that, they can either go to school on the littoral or coast, or they can stay in the cirque.  If they choose to leave to go to school, they have to stay with a host family, and can only see their families in Mafate if they choose to hike in to see them.   On my first night in Mafate, our gite owner had gone to the littoral to attend high school where he met his wife.  She moved up to Mafate with him once they had finished school and the two run a backpacking hostel in Ilet des Orangers.  She explained that she loved Mafate, even if her parents had yet to hike in to see her.  

The trash in Mafate is kind of a problem.  I say that not because it is a trashy place, it's not.  But like everything else, trash must be flown out.  Around the villages, giant trash receptacles sit in not obvious areas, ready for pick up via helicopter once they are full.  For supplies being flown in, one hundred euros for eight kilos isn't uncommon.  Little epiceries or mini grocery stores carry supplies for the hungry backpacker, but be warned... they tend to be overpriced and occasionally past the shelf date.  

After having ventured into Mafate twice with a third trip coming this weekend, I have come to find that Mafate is a special place that is unlike anywhere else.  I would enjoy life in Mafate, if only for a little while.  Yes, it would be difficult, but having met some others who have made the transition from "city life" to Mafate life, I think I could do it.  I completely understand why people would want to live there. One of the nights in Mafate I stayed in Marla, a village right under the mountain pass Col du Taibit which leads into Cilaos, I met a lady who was Metropole.  That is, she wasn't even from Réunion, but rather mainland France and had moved down to the island, ended up falling in love with Mafate, and decided to open up a gite.  The courage that must have taken is overwhelming, but she seemed perfectly happy with large stacks of books, a couple of cows mooing in the back ground, a lovely decorated home, and the love of her life sharing it all with her.  So romantic. 

Supplies being flown in 

One of the gites

At the beginning of the hike


Ilet des Orangers

Me hanging out in Mafate

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