Culture shock can be shitty, simply put. There are a few different models that map out the emotional roller coaster, but they all begin with the honeymoon stage. Then there is a fallout as differences turn into irritations and irritations turn into homesickness, sometimes depression. After that one learns to cope, and by the end, hopefully, accept. A week ago, I woke up truly happy for no apparent reason. Without warning, I realized I was coping. All of it, the depression included, is a beautiful reminder that I’m truly immersed in a different culture.
Two, three weeks ago, I would have given anything to be heading back home. This is too much for me, I thought. I miss my friends and family, the pace of Minneapolis, autumn, winter, ordering a full 12oz cup of coffee, the speed of MetroTransit! Yes, it is extremely fast and efficient in comparison to Car Jeune. I missed wearing sweaters so bad I was turning up my a/c full blast just to do so. Slowly, but surely, I had nothing to write about other than I had finally arrived at the final season of Breaking Bad and that I felt closer to the dark, meth-entangled plight of Walter and Jessie. What a waste, right?
Thankfully, a week ago was Marta’s birthday, and every year, wherever she is, she “drags her friends someplace in the wilderness to watch the meteor shower,” she told me. This year happened to be a beach just outside of St. Joseph in the south of the island called La Grande Anse. We pitched our tents and strung hammocks like rebels next to a camping interdit (no camping) sign.
The day we arrived there were at least six different weddings taking pictures. “We’re by the green one,” our friends texted us (there were two we found out). Once everyone had arrived, we feasted on a picnic banquet of chicken and brie sandwiches, Pringles, cookies and cake, a can of sweet corn, Julia’s couscous concoction, red wine, and, of course, rum punch (my water bottle still smells of it). As night fell, so did our clothes in tiny piles by the water’s edge as we stepped nudey into the ocean.
With every movement that disturbed the water, bioluminescent organisms swirled around us as stars fell overhead in a shower of meteors. It was something out of a movie. We lied in a pile like Max and his friends from Where the Wild Things are atop a blanket on the beach and stared up at the night sky trying to name constellations. There were elbows in faces and heads resting on stomachs like a human funnel cake. We swam some more, doggy-paddling as close to the surface as possible to avoid the minefield of sea urchins lurking below. Scavenging wood, we made a fire in the pit next to our tents, passed around a bit of Reunionese Zamal, and fell asleep somewhere around 3am.
Five of us crammed into Marta’s car mid-afternoon the next day and drove to Bassin Langevin where we jumped from cliffs, ate several kilos of letchis, and practiced pulling each other up from the sides of large rocks (au cas où…). If the situation arose, Marta and I would most likely have to let each other plummet to our deaths or go together. Either way, now we know, so maybe it wouldn’t be as bad. I asked Will to pull me up, and he did it in two seconds. Thus, our survival depends on Will if ever we find ourselves dangling over the edge. A detour at Piton de la Fournaise led to us picking up a stray kitten we named “Volcano” so we could find him a home. What a moral dilemma! It was Marta who took on the responsibility of not leaving him behind to starve despite the impossible problem of stray animals left to their own wits on the island.
Samoussas at another waterfall for dinner, Marta and I drove back to her apartment in St. Denis after dropping off the others near St. Andre. We bathed Volcano twice, doing our best to rid all the flees from it’s dirt-encrusted white coat. Around 10pm, I borrowed a motorcycle from another assistant and drove the 30km back to St. Gilles.
I arrived home exhausted but content. It was an amazing, full weekend that dragged me from the cold dark confines of the cave that I had created. Standing with the bioluminescence swirling around me, looking in awe at Piton de la Fournaise, the motorcycle ride along the ocean-hugging-cliff-hugging road so amazing I was crying out, I could go on about the multitude of experiences that balance Reunion’s slow buses and impossibly small coffees. I would have loved to have come home, but I know that staying here will bring a lot of good as well.
A group of us is leaving Saturday for a 3-day/10-day hike from the south of the island to the north. We’ll pass by the three cirques, Mafate, Salazie, and Cilaos and hopefully Piton de Neige, the other volcano. It took time, is taking time, to adjust, but I am beginning to really enjoy this island experience.