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Reunion (Ray-yoon-nyon, accent on last syllable as in French) is the remains of undersea volcanic eruptions that occurred 3 million years ago, which formed the Mascarene Archipelago. The main part of Reunion was formed by the volcanic eruptions of Piton des Neiges at least 20,000 years ago, which over time collapsed into plunging curved ravines called cirques. Though now extinct, the peak of this mountain soars 10,000 feet above sea level, but it actually measures 23,000 feet in height from its base on the ocean floor, making it one of the world's tallest volcanoes. Reunion's other volcano is Piton de la Fournaise, which remains active and spewed molten lava in 1998 for 196 days, and most recently in January of this year, adding substantial land mass to the island. This mineral rich lava soil supports an extravagant jungle of tropical greenery that spills onto her rocky coastline. Reunion is about 30 miles across and lies several hundred miles to the east of Madagascar. The Arabs, who traded throughout these Indian Ocean islands, probably reached here as early as the 10th century. Reunion has had several names over the years, reflecting the parade of nations that once claimed her. In the early 1700s, French, English, Italian and Dutch colonists established sugar and coffee plantations, which they operated with imported African slaves. When slavery was abolished in 1850, indentured servants were brought from India, as well as a few from China and Southeast Asia, and their descendants inhabit the island today. Reunion is an overseas French departement so that Reunionnais enjoy the rights and privileges of French citizenry. The euro is the currency and French is the language. Saint-Denis, her capital of 140,000, is a picture book of well-preserved colonial and Creole architecture. Roman Catholicism predominates, however many of the Indian population, who are baptized as Catholics, continue practicing Hinduism simultaneously. On Reunion, people from three continents blend graciously into a fragrant blend of French-Creole, with a strong Indian-Hindu flavor. Tourists, 80% of whom are French, come here to trek, mountain bike and go canyoning in a breathtaking setting of mountain grandeur that might be described as a tropical Switzerland. We drove through miles of sugar cane, visited a vanilla bean plantation and carefully peered over the edge of plunging canyons at Bridal Veil Falls tumbling over the sheer granite shoulders of Piton de Neiges. An interesting footnote to our web of life is that Reunion was home to the now extinct Aepyornis, a flightless bird that grew as tall as an elephant and could weigh a half ton, but whose docile nature made her easy prey for hungry immigrants.


Bridal Veil Falls Highlands Piton Des Neiges
Spice Garden Drying of Vanilla Beans Vanilla Plantation