Day 3: Bourg-Murat (BOG-MAN-RAT)
More rocky terrain on day three, the soil was reddish this time as we followed the white and red trail signs passed cloud-covered mountaintops and bucolic fields of cattle fit for a postcard. My legs still were still working somehow and, despite the rain, I felt at peace moving one wet boot in front of the other.
I walked mainly by myself for the majority of the third day. Sometimes you need that, which is the beauty of hiking for hours on end in a group because you always have the choice of getting really philosophical by yourself (What am I going to do with my life?!) or allowing yourself to be pulled along by the spirit of the group, and poo banter.
As we reached the road to take us into Bourg-Murat, a 45-minute detour from our path, to resupply our food stocks and say goodbye to the three, three-day hikers, we noticed that Alex (small sleeper, tall otherwise), who was in front of us, had not arrived with everyone else. He had missed the partially concealed right turn towards Bourg-Murat, instead going left.
I selflessly volunteered to go back for him, setting my fears and concerns for personal safety aside. Fueled by paternal adrenaline, like that mother from that one urban legend who lifted up a car to free her pegged son, I ran and thought of nothing but his potential tears and confusion. Alex, I’m coming!
“ALEEEEEX!” I yelled periodically along the trail. After 20 minutes of running, I heard a reply.
“MAAAATTTT?!” he cried.
“ALLLLEEEEEXXXX!” I screamed louder this time.
“ALEEEXX! HEEEEEY! YOU TOOK A WRONG TURN!”
As he limped towards me in his makeshift garbage bag rain jacket, I began to make out defeat written in the hard lines of his face. As many who know him would agree, Alex is a shining 60-year-old man in a 23-year-olds body. He is paternal, well-read, and interested in getting to know everyone, that sweet old man you’ll move in next door to someday that’ll bring you tomatoes from his garden every week. For the first time since meeting him, his physical appearance matched his internal age, 60. Taking his pack, we made our way back to find the others who had taken shelter from the rain in an unoccupied cattle barn.
Leaving the cattle barn, we walked towards town waving our thumbs enthusiastically as the rain poured. Can you not see by the energy with which we’re waving our thumbs in the pouring rain that we have entertainment value! At least take pity on us! I thought. In the end, two of our companions caught a ride, Alex being one of them.
The three, three-day hikers of our group caught buses back home while the five of us, Marta, Will, Cora, Sam, and I, continued on to our final destination, St. Denis, the end of the GR R2 trail.
We set up camp an hour or two outside of Bourg-Murat in an open space along the trail, laying out garbage bags beneath our tents to prevent rain from coming in the bottom. Huddled in our sleeping bags, we ate a dinner of cold canned food, did our best to massage the tension out of one anothers’ shoulders, and fell asleep.
Day 4: Xmas Eve
Cilaos. Destroyed knees. Rain. Rain. Rain. Thermal baths. Magic gîte!
After a long day of hiking, we made our final descent into our first cirque, Cilaos. It was the first day I truly considered giving up. My knees felt wrecked, a sharp pain stabbing both kneecaps with each footfall. By the end, I was taking each step sideways, gently lowering myself down as if I were landing on the fragile surface of a crême brulée.
We had a delicious lunch of gourmet canned food at a picnic area, cursing the happy French family nearby for no apparent reason other than wanting to blow off some steam.
“Fuck the French!” we said happily to ourselves, cursing their motorized transportation and decadent picnic meal. I bet they even have wine! The nerve! Was our manner of dealing with our personal problems healthy? Probably not, but it worked.
After hitchhiking into the main part of Cilaos, we stopped into the thermal spa for a sauna and massage bath. The interior of the sauna was bizarre. Rounded white plastic seats that became slippery beneath our sweaty bums extended through to the ceiling, giving one the impression that the florescent red numbers indicating temperature and remaining time were actually coordinates for a day in the past. The bath was a single tub with brown stains and a bar across the top to help you get out. The room was bare. I attribute the questionable bottom rash that persisted for three days to that bathtub. Other than that, I was warm. Victory!
Stench is one of the realities of backpacking/travel that gets pushed out by the stunning views and freedom from the day-to-day grind. It should be given it’s due credit, as it truly plays a large role in any hiking story. It walked with us along the GR R2, sat with me while I ate tuna, and slept in our tents. A greedy and stubborn bastard, it wore all of my clothes, even. Thankfully, we never allowed it to come between us, and for the first time in four days, it left us for a time. The gîte, La Roche Marveilleuse, gave us a chance to wash all of our clothes, hang out wet sleeping bags, tents, and properly clean the trail off our bodies.
Later, we celebrated in town with a 20 euro meal and experienced the forgotten joys of hot fresh food prepared by someone else and served to us without any effort on our part. I had a salade exotique, a rougaille with potatoes, sweet potato cake drizzled in caramel, a rum and coke, a rum punch, and another shot of rum that accompanied the dessert. It was the best 20 euros I have spent since coming to the island. It was as merry a meal as merry can be. It was Christmas Eve, and all was right in the world.