Category Archives: At four in the morning

Wait, its February?

Its 4:15 AM on January 4th, and I’m taking my seat on the A bus from Saint-Pierre to Saint-Denis to catch a morning flight.  Thanks to an unexpectedly diabolical strike by the power company on most of the island, the streets of Saint-Pierre are drowned in a sort of post-apocalyptic darkness, illuminated only by the disconcerting flashes of emergency lights in shop windows and the violet-blue bursts of heat lightening over the ocean.  This isthe beginning of my month long trip to Madagascar and the Comoros:  dark, terrifying, and tired.

Four weeks later, I’m dozing off in the backseat of my German housemate’s car as we drive south on the coastal highway from the airport to Saint-Pierre, as if no time had passed at all since my departure.  I’m sure it had.  Afterall, I had chased Indri Indri lemurs (described as four year olds in panda suits by Lonely Planet) through the jungle, enjoyed morning swims in the warm aquamarine waters of the Mozambique Channel, met a legendary Comorean activist/philosopher/chef named Zorro and a globe-wandering former Alaskan gubernatorial candidate in the same weekend, given in to the pressure of veteran gem sellers in the Malagasy highlands and ended up with a box of rubies, tasted organic Zebu steak doused in a white (Vermont?) cheddar sauce (in Madagascar), watched the floodwaters rise to my doorstep during a rowdy tropical rainstorm, spent four days in a Peugeot literally overflowing with mango, taken donkeys for walks through a red, sandy desert studded with enormous baobabs, ridden colorful rickshaws in the pouring rain, and made jokes about the witchcraft that Malagasy and Comorean story tellers loved to tell us about and consequently missed our flight back to French soil and spent three days stranded on a rain-soaked Comorean island.  I had done things.  But could this sudden deja-vu be proof that I had actually traveled through the fourth dimension and island hopped around the Indian Ocean without the friction of time slowing me down, as a Malagasy host had explained happens to normal people on a daily basis, and especially at the Antananarivo Airport?  I had left Reunion, that much is for sure, but had I left the world of time as well?

Sounds insane, but drawing an example from a conversation I had with airport security in the Comoros in which I explained the contents of my backpack (a sweatshirt) and they thought I was sneaking a live chicken out of the country (in French, a sweatshirt “un pull” and a hen “une poule” are tragic phonetic cousins), I’ve long since given up on sanity.

My trip was less vacation and more initiation to folklore, legends, prejudices, superstitions, and mysteries of the large and small islands of the Indian Ocean, and it was becoming more and more evident that I had been paying attention to it all.  But as I reintegrated back into my Reunion life of biking, teaching, and watching Latin American telenovelas dubbed in French with the AC blasting, all the mystery of January evaporated away, leaving behind the normalcy of December and November and all those months I’d already spent in Reunion, altered only by the arrival of unending downpours that so characterize the summer rainy season to become February.

So in short, that explains the lack of posts between New Years and Super Bowl Sunday.

I’ll put some pix of Madagascar and the Comoros up after I get back from the beach.  It’s so hot!

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Joyeuses fêtes et bonne année 2011 zot tout!

“Zot tout” is Creole for “à tout”.  You see, my Creole is improving, word by word!

Joyeuses fêtes is plural for a reason.  Since I last wrote, Reunion has celebrated not one, not two, but three massive holidays: Christmas, New Years, and the one you may not have guessed, Fête Kaf on Dec 20 to commemorate the abolition of slavery on Reunion in 1848.

Here’s a brief and probably incoherent summary of the past two weeks in photos.

Jumping from these cliffs is a popular past-time.  A friend of mine just fractured a vertebrae doing it.  I was there for the phone call: “Mom, I’m alright, so don’t worry.  But… I broke a vertebrae today.”  She’s recovering and won’t jump from as high next time.

Pétanque is the bocce of the Francophone world, and some neighborhood dudes invited me to play a round during their Fete Kaf tournament.  I have not been invited back.

Christmas dinner German style: I celebrated Christmas with 5 Germans and an Austrian high in the mountains where the temperature differential from the balmy coast made us feel more Weihnachtlich.  It was probably still 70 degrees.

Our Advent Wreath, or one of its candles, suffered greatly from the Saint-Pierre sun.

A quick visit to the local turtle sanctuary in Saint-Leu.

Lychees are inseparable components of Christmas on Reunion.  Street corner vendors began selling them for upwards of 5 Euros per kg at the beginning of December with the first harvests of the season.  By the end of the month, you can get 2kg for 1Euro50.

Twin lychees, like these, are the object of an odd Creole tradition.  The person who finds the twin lychees chooses a partner to wager dares with.  Once the players have agreed on each other’s dares, each player grabs a lychee and breaks the pair.  The following day, the first player to shout “Philippine” at first sight of the other wins the game and is immune from his dare, while the loser must face up to his own.  I won the  game and spared myself from singing the French National Anthem in front of all my colleagues in the teacher’s lounge.

The road to Cilaos where I celebrated Christmas and hiked the Piton des Neiges, the highest point on the Indian Ocean, for New Year’s.  I had to go through this tunnel on my bike.

At the 10,069 ft  summit of the Piton des Neiges.  Not pictured: extremely heavy backpack.  Daytime high: 65 degrees F.  Night time low: 50 degrees F.

Watching every firework show around the island burst and flash simultaneously from it’s highest mountain was one of the greatest New Year’s Eve spectacles I’ve ever seen, only made better by a coinciding meteor shower and the sunrise over the neighboring volcano (see eruption posts from October).

The shadow cast by the Piton des Neiges onto the tropical haze below on a brisk, 45 degrees F New Year’s morning.  All things considered, it was still probably the warmest New Years of my life.

Island fever is setting in, so I’m leaving Reunion for three weeks starting Jan 4th.  (Although I’m only jumping from one island to another right next door.)  I’ll be in Madagascar, the Comoros, and Mayotte until the end of January, so best wishes for 2011, and I’ll be back (on the blog) in February!

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It’s a vicious circle

Despite the heat and hills, both of which are pretty extreme on Reunion, biking is a much more reliable and timely means of getting around the city of Saint-Pierre, as long as you don’t mind arriving to your destination dripping with sweat.  Traffic here just does not flow.  “Embouteillages” – French for traffic jams – are said to be a Reunionese specialty.  Like a child carrying a mountain of laundry down stairs to be washed, piled far higher than he could ever see around and dropping socks along the way, there are trucks bursting at the seams with sugar cane that bump and wobble precariously down the streets, losing its load with every bump.  I have even seen “les charettes bouefs” – carts pulled by oxen –  backing up traffic on the main highway.  Not something you expect to see in “France”.

I think I have only seen two traffic lights in the whole south of Reunion.  Roundabouts and ralentisseurs – speed bumps – are the two most frequently encountered means of traffic control.  It makes biking really fun.  Apparently, roundabouts are on the rise in the US too, but the problem is that “Americans just don’t know how to navigate them“.  Get it together, America!

If I can’t find work for next year, I think I will take it upon myself to advocate against the unfair treatment of the roundabout in America.

I hope it doesn’t come to that though.

PS I’m supposed to be hiking Piton des Neiges, the highest point on the island and the entire Indian Ocean, but I stayed up until 4AM last night with some other English assistants and so we were too tired to go.  Conspiracy theory continues.

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4AM IS EXTREMELY EARLY

It’s November, it’s fall in the northern hemisphere, and residents of temperate climates are enjoying an extra hour of blissful slumber as they “fall back” to Daylight Savings.  Unfortunately, they do not fall back in the tropics.  My iPod, however, which serves as my alarm clock since my phone got destroyed by the morning dew on the volcano (yeah), has been doing all sorts of wacky and unpredictable things through space and time.  I’m really not sure what time zone it is trying to take me to.  Bottom line, it’s not the right one.

Today I woke up at 5:15 in order to leave home a little before 6:00 and bike to school with enough time to cool down for my first class at 7:30.  When I got to school, the first thing I noticed was that no one was there.  The second thing I noticed was that the clock on the wall said 6:10.  My iPod said 7:10.  Nice one, Apple.  Thank you for waking me up at 4:15 in the morning.

For lovers of conspiracies, here’s one for you.  (Great TED talk).

The last time I was awake at 4 in the morning, my plane had just landed at the Aden Airport in Yemen and proceeded to have one of the wildest taxi rides of my life with Matt and a qat-chewing cabby in a real hurry to get somewhere.

How many times do you have to be awake at 4AM to be considered a morning person?  That is, after all, at the top of my short list.

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“A proper night out” in Reunion

10 liters of gas to drive the sketchy mountain roads of the interior between the hours of 11PM and 5AM: $20

1 bag of imitation European marshmallows, a Reunionese chocolate bar, and “biscuits”: $8

Witnessing the Piton de la Fournaise erupt under the starry southern sky and pretending to make s’mores over molten lava:  priceless

 

Professional photography of the eruption so far:

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Here comes the sun, doo doo doo doo

I woke up at 4AM at the airport hotel in Amman unable to fall back asleep, so helped myself to some hummus and coffee in the hotel restaurant, skyped home, and watched my first sunrise in the Middle East.  On the topic of the sun, I read that Thursday is the solar equinox.

At this point, the hotel staff tells me the visa I obtained at the airport is only good for airport transit, and therefore to leave the hotel on the airport grounds, I have to go back and get a new stamp.  If I can manage that, my plan for the day is to take a dip in the Dead Sea and have a shish kabob in dowtown Amman before my midnight flight to Aden, Yemen, where I’m visiting a friend from Middlebury who is four months into a two year assignment to oversee a poverty alleviation program in Yemen.  Aden has historically been one of the most important harbors in the region and will provide my first glimpses of (the pirate ridden waters of*) the Indian Ocean.

*for my Mom

Also, to follow up on my packing, I did eventually finish.  My favorite piece of luggage is my banjo case complete with snorkel and flippers.

 

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