The streets are alive with anticipation. A parade of young, old and all ages in between move along the seafront. The crowd's pulse beats in time to the rhythm of drums. We watch from our balcony as the race begins. Cheers, claps and roars of encouragement fill the air as we stand in awe of the people running through the street; ready with headlights, water and determination.
Every year Réunion Island hosts the Grand Raide, also named La Diagonale des Fous (The Madmen’s Diagonal), which is a 162 km race from the south of the island to the north. The trail goes across the mountains with a very challenging change in altitude. Some runners manage to do the race in just 24 hours.
Back in England, most of my friends and family had never heard of Réunion Island. I’d never heard of it either. My backpack and I arrived a year ago, meaning to stay for a few months, and we’re still here with no plans of leaving anytime soon. I’ve spoken to a lot of people who came over and never left. I can see how the island would steal your heart.
So where is Réunion Island? It’s in the Indian Ocean just East of Madagascar and is a department of France. It is home to 844,994 inhabitants from all different cultures, races, backgrounds and countries.
The majority of people here speak Creole, as well as French. Réunion Creole is a unique mixture of many different languages, including words from French, Malagasy and Tamil. Réunion Island was uninhabited until the late 17th century, where it was first inhabited by people from France and Madagascar and later by slaves from East Africa.
In 1848 when slavery was abolished, people from India and China were brought over as labourers. The 20th December in Réunion is a very important day, where everyone celebrates the abolition of slavery. Maloya music plays across the island. Maloya is a type of music, song and dance created by the slaves of Malagasy and African origin in the sugar plantations.
Réunion in French means 'meeting' which signifies the multi-cultural society of an island that welcomes people from all over the world. Every single day here brings a new lesson, an appreciation for life and a willingness to keep hearts and minds open.
Had you ever heard of Réunion Island? Would you like to live on an island? Why or why not?