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It was 5am on a grey, drizzly Wednesday in the southern wilds of Reunion Island, and Darrel Bristow-Bovey’s face was filled with regret. The night before, likely persuaded by the local rum, he’d agreed to join me for sunrise. It’ll be fun, I had said. He seemed somewhat less convinced now: I couldn’t quite tell through the rain.

It was all fine, really, up until I reached for my camera bag to change memory cards. We had walked out of our accommodation and down the road, skirted the puddles glumly reflecting our faces and reached the volcanic coastline. And that’s where we sat, raindrops falling into the swirling sea at our feet before crashing into sharp black cliffs, while I figured out how to tell Darrel that I had forgotten my memory cards back in my room.

I’m not the best at lying, but perhaps this would have been a good time to try. Instead, water streaming down his cheeks, an incredulous Darrel silently questioned my professional ability with a raised eyebrow.

We walked back in silence and parted ways, myself retracing my steps to the beach where, magically, the world had transformed. The skies had cleared, a local dog danced around me in a yipping chorus and a rainbow curved a smug grin through the sky. It’s too late! I silently berated the sparkling morning for its poor timing.

We met up for breakfast later. Darrel sat in front of me, morosely picking at his fruit and looking at his cellphone. Strange, I thought.

Suddenly my mind clicked. Oh. 

‘Oh my God Darrel… it’s your birthday!’

He looked up at me, a smile forming at last.

For the July 2016 issue of Getaway Magazine, Darrel Bristow-Bovey and I climbed an active volcano, swam in rivers coloured ice-blue, sipped gin-and-tonics while watching boules and ate questionable food (can anyone say tinned kangaroo?) in a place of surreal, natural beauty. It also just happened to be his birthday.

 

“We reached the rim of the crater. One minute you’re climbing and the next you’re one half-step away from the abyss. Down in the crater steam rose through vents in the earth and drifted up into the blue sky to join the high clouds. We walked around the perfect circle of the lip and sat with our feet dangling in the void. Or Fred did – I was too scared. Even where there was solid rock and no empty air, there were cracks and fissures running through the solid rock, so how solid could it be?”
Darrel Bristow-Bovey

 

the Grand Gralet- grand indeed. I shot this slow exposure using the  LEE Little Stopper ND filter.

The Grand Gralet: grand indeed. I shot this slow exposure using a LEE Little Stopper ND filter.

 

Swimming in the clean, cool water of the Grand Galet waterfall on Darrel's birthday

Swimming in the clean, cool water of the Grand Galet waterfall on Darrel’s birthday.

 

Arguable the best way to see the dramatic landscapes of Reunion Island is by helicopter

Arguable the best way to see the dramatic landscapes of Reunion Island is by helicopter.

 

High mountain ridges followed by steep, stomach-plunging drops

High mountain ridges are followed by steep, stomach-plunging drops.

 

The forest, far beneath our helicopter

The forest, far, far beneath our helicopter.

 

Mooon-like surfaces on the way to Pas de Bellecombe, the viewpoint over the caldera formed by Piton de la Fournaise

Moon-like surfaces on the way to Pas de Bellecombe, the viewpoint over the caldera formed by Piton de la Fournaise.

 

The summit of Piton de la Fournaise, one of the most active volcanoes in the world.

Soaring over the summit of Piton de la Fournaise, one of the most active volcanoes in the world.

 

The hike to La Nouvelle, a small, isolated village, took us down through mist-covered forests

The hike to La Nouvelle, which is a small, isolated village, took us down through mist-covered forests.

 

We hiked with mountain guide, Mickael, along the Mafate cirque to reach the tiny, rural village where supplies either have to be walked in or flown in by helicopter.

We hiked with mountain guide Mickael along the Mafate cirque to reach the tiny, rural village where supplies either have to be walked in or flown in by helicopter.

 

Rhum arrangé, local rum infused with flavours ranging from citrus to orchid, is happily foisted upon visitors.

Rhum arrangé, local rum infused with flavours ranging from citrus to orchid, is happily foisted upon visitors.

 

Theatre in the (very French) capital, Saint Denis, and the ornate church of St Anne

Theatre in the (very French) capital, Saint Denis, and the ornate church of St Anne.

 

Cannons line the walkway along the pebbly coastline of Saint Denis

Cannons line the walkway along the pebbly coastline of Saint Denis.

 

The very-popular game of boules, or pétanque as it is called in Reunion

The very-popular game of boules: or pétanque, as it is called in Reunion.

 

Hard hats and shrouded lava fields

Hard hats are needed before you can explore underneath the shrouded lava fields.

 

The wonderful Fred Melon took us through his narrow, dark realm, where silence is broken by the dripping of water and darkness is utterly complete.

The wonderful Fred Melon took us through his narrow, dark realm, where silence is broken only by the drip of water and darkness is utterly complete.

 

Halfway up the steep slopes of the Piton de la Fournaise

A breather is needed, halfway up the steep slopes of the Piton de la Fournaise.

 

Sheer cliffs fall away into a still-steaming crater floor at Piton de la Fournaise

Sheer cliffs fall away into a still-steaming crater floor at Piton de la Fournaise.

 

Fred Melon, one of our guides, at the base of the volcano ascent

Fred Melon, our guide, at the base of the volcano.

 

Looking back towards the volcano, last light of the day catching the summit.

Looking back towards the volcano, last light of the day catching the summit.

 
 
 

This story first appeared in the July 2016 issue of Getaway magazine.

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