bird in the sky, you know how I feel
Most of the lodging options for St-Leu, our first stop in Reunion, are apartments that are rented by the week. It’s easy to see why one might be tempted to linger there. From diving with dolphins and turtles to paragliding and surfing the famous Gauche de St-Leu, this town draws both adventure seekers and ocean lovers. In fact, “we could spend weeks here” became an oft-repeated refrain with us in virtually every place we visited in Reunion. Instead of a week, we intended to stay only one night in St-Leu. There were two guesthouses listed in the guide we picked up at the airport tourism desk. We asked the owner of the ice cream shop where we had stopped to use his phone, but the woman who answered was unable to give us directions so she sent her husband for us to follow.
The house, it turned out, was up in the hills above St-Leu, a half hour drive away. It was while following – or rather attempting to keep up with – Pascal that S got her first taste of Reunion’s curvy, hilly roads. With hairpin turns so frequent that they put San Francisco’s “crookedest street in the world” to shame, S was happy to be behind the wheel rather than riding shotgun. Concentrating on keeping the car on the road somehow helped lessen her motion sickness, which has come back with a vengeance from her childhood days.
Our hosts Pascal and Marie were incredibly friendly, helpful, and easygoing. Reminiscent of S’s experience with couchsurfing, their chamber d’hote (something akin to a B&B) felt more like a home than a hotel. We ate dinner together with the owners, another pair of tourists, a boarder, and visiting friends. Homemade rum punch was served on the deck with mouth-watering hor d’oeuvres while a full meal and delicious desserts awaited us inside. Pascal is an avid paraglider, and when we expressed interest in going the next morning he not only helped make a reservation for us with a reputable company but also said he’d fly with us.
After another harrowing car ride up to 1500 meters, this time sharing the backseat of Pascal’s car with his chute, we tromped across a cow pasture and got ready to take flight. We unfurled our parachutes and waited for the right gust of wind. Paragliding, it turns out, is not an activity for the impatient. It took more than an hour for the wind to change directions and blow our way. But when it did D took off running, quite literally, with his tandem, Lolo, strapped behind him. Up, up, and away they sailed as S got ready to take flight.
Though it does not have the spine-tingling adrenalin rush of bungee jumping or skydiving, paragliding for the first time is a breathtaking experience. It also lasts quite a lot longer. It took us somewhere between half an hour and 45 minutes to descend from the mountaintop to the beach as we sailed high over the ravines around St-Leu before landing by the water’s edge. Our tandem pilots showed us how to steer and then busied themselves with taking pictures while we made lazy zig-zags in the air, soaking up the bird’s eye views of Reunion’s coastal towns and spotting sea turtles in the shimmering blue waters of the Indian Ocean.
As we approached the landing area, our pilots once again took control, treating us to a minute of stomach-dropping acrobatics before gently touching down. If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a thousand pictures would not be enough to convey the incredibly liberating feeling of gliding, whirling, and twirling through the air on that bright, sunny morning. It is no wonder that so many superheroes are endowed with the power to fly.