The house represents what we ourselves would like to be on earth: permanent, rooted, here for eternity. But, a camp represents the true reality of things: we’re just passing through. Roger Deakin
I climb the last few high steps of yet another steep ravine, sweating profusely from the hot, humid air. It’s early evening, the sun inches its way behind the appropriately named Piton Diable, a sharp, pointy, cone-like feature, glowing fiery red. I reach a small grove of tamarind trees, on the cliff’s edge, a most inviting place to spend the night. A cacophony of bird songs accompany the last fading rays of light, before darkness, silence. With the night, comes a cool, soothing breeze. The wind sweeps the rough-hewn land, carrying stories of the past. A history as wild and coarse as the Mafate cirque itself. Mafate, is the name of a slave, who like many others, fled from the oppression of colonialists to seek refuge in the untethered territory. The asperous visage of the setting mirrors the depth of strife sustained by its first inhabitants. I’m in the heart of the Mafate cirque to soak in its then and its now, to feel and learn.
Ten years ago, I came to Reunion Island to work for the summer for a small organization that builds primary schools in Madagascar. I was welcomed by a family with whom I was supposed to stay only for a week, but they adopted me and I remained with them the entirety of my visit. Their overwhelming kindness made a lasting impression on me and the values they conveyed of compassion and generosity have stayed with me ever since. The welcome has been similar once again with many, such as Jérôme Désiré, a local runner, reaching out to help in any way possible.
When I was last here, I circumnavigated the island in a day on a rickety, old bike. Excited by my undertaking my host family had urged me to come back one day to run the Grand Raid, a foot race from south to north across the island. Knowing little about long distance running at the time, I’d naively promised to return someday to take part. Now, ten years later, I am back to fulfill my promise, which happens to coincide with the 20th anniversary of the race.
When I arrived last week, I began a reconnaissance hike of the course, partly in preparation for the race, but also to immerse myself once more in the rawness of the island’s landscapes. I wanted to kindle a relationship with the land here. If you listen attentively, each place has a way of inviting you in, of showing its secrets, its unspoken truths. Lying down in the depths of the Mafate cirque, I can feel the slow, thumping beat of the island’s heart. The heart of the land joins the heart of the people. Slow at first, then drumming, louder, louder, extatic, electric, like the thundering rhythm of Maloya music – rhythm that catches you, soaks into your skin, gets your head bopping, your feet dancing, running. Running is movement, self-expression, the experience transcendental even when one communes with land and people, with heart.
As I pack up camp in the morning, I realize that I’ve never really left, yet I’m still just passing through.