Enfant Nomade

» Posted by on Oct 14, 2012 in Blog | 15 comments

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.


  1. Seeing that you have a new post in Alpine Works always brings a smile to my face, knowing that all I need to do is click on the link before I may, once again, read your beautiful writing and view your amazing photographs. Thank you, as always, Joe.

  2. You really see and love what you are passing through. I'm with Sarah, thank you for taking us to these places.

  3. Great post man, Very inspirational. What type of bag and sleeping bag was that?

    • Thanks, Phil. The sleeping bag is an old mont-bell bag that I’ve had for years but I’m unsure of the name. The pad is a standard thermarest z-lite – bulky but light and hassle free.

  4. Welcome to Reunion island! Thanks for sharing your experiences. It's very strange to know that a trail runner that I follow on through the web is in the mountains, here, close to where I live 😉

  5. What a spectacular place. "Lost Land of the Dodo" by Cheke and Hume is a great ecological history of Mauritius / Réunion you might enjoy.

  6. Thanks Joe for the beauttiful photos…and words

  7. Thanks for sharing Joe! Stunning landscapes, beautiful piece of writing.

  8. Remarkable commentary and photo's, while I like that opening quote the best.  
    Note that Reunion has some of best canyoneering in the world.

  9. Everything about this post makes me happy, my good friend. (except for the visual of you dancing, which I've seen before and it's not pretty. 🙂

  10. Great post Joe with absolutely stunning photos and prose.  You've gotta be stoked for the trip across the island.  Hope the foot is doing better; sounds like your head is in the right place.

  11. Thanks all for the kind words. Having a great time here and excited for the race.

  12. What a lovely adventure I’ve just had by way of your beautiful words and photos. Thanks for sharing the sights and sounds of your life, Joe.

  13. Stunning in both words and pictures……thank you for sharing this adventure.

  14. Really beautiful landscape, very hard… Thanks 4 sharing


  1. Tues, Oct 16 | UltraRunnerPodcast.com - [...] Joe Grant does some trail reconnaissance and takes some fascinating pictures on Reunion Island. [...]
  2. Neste utfordring: La Diagonale des fous! | Sondre Amdahl - […] Joe Grant har laget et bra blogginnlegg fra Reunion med mange fine bilder. Ta en titt her.  […]

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