9 May

You may have noticed that since returning from Madagascar, I have not been very diligent about my blog.  To justify this gross neglect, I feel I need to explain the concept, or really the way of life that we English assistants have adopted, called “profiter.”  According to, the verb profiter can be translated as “to mean to make the most of” or “to take advantage of,” but like many really great buzzwords, profiter doesn’t translate well in practice, so we have resorted to “franglais.”  Over this last month, thanks in large part to the weather that has suddenly turned from hot and muggy to pleasant and glorious, we have be profiter-ing to the max; in 6 weekends, we did 4 day hikes, 2 overnight trips, and went canyoning (Canyoning is when you rappel down waterfalls.  Only THE coolest thing I have ever done).

So here is a picture summary:

 Trou de Fer- In the Cirque de Salazie, the Trou de Fer is a circle of waterfalls.  Unfotunately I could only see one of them from my vantage point.

Le Maïdo- a huge, sheer rampart that makes up one side of Mafate

Grand Bassin- another secluded, inaccessible village in the mountains nestled next to a waterfall-that we swam in of course!

Volcano- YAY!!!

Caroline, Liv, Me and Becky on the last day of our Cilaos-Mafate-Salazie trip

So there you have it.  My life as an English assistant on the island of Réunion is coming rapidly to a close—work at Lycée Bellepierre ended last Friday with much fête-ing with my kids, and I’m off to South Africa for 10 days with a quick stop in Mauritius this evening.  It’s been a wild ride, and I’m very thankful for this chance to experience this crazy, unique, ridiculous, diverse, volcanic island.  And THANKS for reading!


Side note:

How appropriate is it that I am writing my last blog entry from the island of Réunion at Planète Nature, my favorite café in St Denis that I discovered by chance my very first day here almost 8 months ago?  This lovely haven where recordings of bird song and whale noises play on loop, where the internet is free, and most importantly, where you can eat passion fruit macarons by the dozen, has been like an oasis of relaxation, gourmandise, and off-island communication.  The staff here also know me by name and say that I am their #1 VIP (I come here pretty often).  Check ‘em out, they’re good people!


More photos of Madagascar!

13 Apr

Check ’em out!



3 Apr

Mille ariary,” the young woman whispered breathlessly, a platter laden with corn on the cob in her hands.  One thousand ariary.  The situation had become charged with tension, and her eyes grew wide as she awaited my reaction to this price.

They had set upon us even before our taxi-brousse had come to a complete stop in Tsarakibany.  Smiling women clad in sarongs, their hair wrapped in colorful bolts of cloth thrust fried bananas, corn on the cob, brochettes, samoussas, and other unrecognizable foodstuffs through the windows and shouted prices.  It was noon and after 3 hours spent cramped in our minibus, dodging zebu and bouncing over potholes along the RN-6, we were ready for lunch, but unprepared for the onslaught of these most skillful and habituated vendeuses.  The nine of us—all Anglophone assistants living in Réunion—plus our two Malagasy guides, brothers Dino and Adamo, and their respective entourages all dislodged ourselves from the minibus while reaching into our hidden money belts for our many thousands of Malagasy ariary.  Bargaining had begun.

Though it was only my fourth day on this huge, exotic island, I knew enough to know that a thousand ariary was highway robbery for a piece of corn.  One thousand ariary is only about 50 American cents, but 10 thousand ariary could get you a night in a half-decent hotel.  Could 10 pieces of corn get me a double bed and an ensuite bathroom with toilet?  I didn’t think so.

“MILLE ARIARY!” I exclaimed.  Realizing that I wasn’t as novice as my skin color and western clothes had suggested, she laughed, and her face broke out into a huge smile.

“Deux cent,” she said.  Two hundred.  Much more reasonable.  I smiled and handed her the two purple notes imprinted with lemurs that I owed her.  As I wandered around negotiating the price of a Coke and some samoussas, the corn on the cob lady would giggle and smile every time she caught my eye, and I smiled back.

Scores of taxi brousses, or bush taxis, rumble across the country ever day, so for the women of Tsarakibany we were just another bus full of customers arriving at the lunchtime rush hour.  But not just any customers.  Vazahas—foreigners in Malagasy.  Stares of amazement from the locals and unabashed cries from children greeted us everywhere we went, but it only took a smile or a wave to incite an enthusiastic wave in response.

In two weeks we traveled from Diego Suarez at the northern-most tip of Madagascar, through national parks Montagne d’Ambre and Ankarana, to the island of Nosy Be, and then we headed south to the capital city of Antananarivo with a day-long stop in Ankarafantsika National Park along the way.

We saw lemurs, towering baobab trees, geckos, chameleons, bats, and turtles.  We ate freshly caught fish and langoustines on the beach, zebu burgers with fries in metropolitan restaurants, and mi-sao and banana beignets on the side of the road.  We sailed to remote islands by pirogue, spent hours in our taxi brousse, and trekked through 3 national parks.  All the while we were welcomed, guided, driven, lodged, and fed by the wonderfully hospitable and charming Malagasy people.

So instead of writing thousands of words, here is a pictorial chronicle of my two weeks in Madagascar…

Day 2: La Baie d’émeraude, outside of Diego Suarez

Day 2: On the way to a remote island by pirogue in la Baie d’émeraude

Day 2: Facepainter/chef extraordinaire

Day 2: Facial à la malgache

Day 2: Après facial photo shoot

Day 2: Lemurs at la Baie des Sakalava

Day 3: Chameleon near la Montagne d’ambre

Day 3: Tsingy Rouge

Day 7: From Nosy Be to Nosy Komba

Day 7: Nosy Komba

Day 8: Andilana Beach at sunset

Day 11: White Sifaka lemur in Ankarafantsika National Park

Day 11: Young vendeuse of lemons

Day 11: Gabriel, our intrepid guide at Ankarafantsika

Day 11: Baobabs!  We saw 3 out of the 8 species of the world’s baobabs

Day 13: Wandering Antanananananananarivo

I’m now back safe and sound in Réunion, and I only have 4 more weeks as a teaching assistant at Lycée Bellepierre!  Crazy!

Love and best to all,


Band-aids? Check. Anti-malarials? Check.

9 Mar

I am off to la Grande Ile of Madagascar for TWO WEEKS.  We’ll be starting up north in Diego and making our way south through Nosy Be, Mahajunga, and ending up in Antananarivo.

So let’s talk the 23rd!

Love to all and best,


You are more likely to be struck by lightning than be eaten by a shark…

21 Feb

Me jumping into shark-infested waters in St Leu…

Before my departure for the Mascareignes isles in September, I bought and pored over the Lonely Planet guide to Réunion, Mauritius, and the Seychelles.  I read about the beauty of the Cirques, the fiery volcano, and the delicious cuisine I was sure to discover.  Never one to be careless with my safety, I also glanced casually at the ‘Health and safety’ section.  To my great surprise, I learned that the Indian Ocean has teeth…

Attacks by les dents de la mer (sharks, or literally ‘teeth of the sea’) occasionally happen, and most years see a shark attack on a surfer or spear fisherman. This is no reason to be paranoid, though; the risks are statistically very low.

‘Statistically very low.”  Right.  How low?  And would I rather be struck by lightning or get eaten by a shark?  What would make a better story?

Kidding aside, I immediately Googled shark survival tips (and most certainly did not mention my research to my parents).  Here is what I found:

  1. Do not enter the water if bleeding, even if it’s only a paper cut.
  2. Do not enter the water if fishing is taking place in the area.
  3. Swim with a group.
  4. Avoid swimming in areas where visibility is limited. Cloudy waters increase the chances of being mistaken for a fish or other prey item.
  5. Do not swim near seals.
  6. Do not swim at dawn and dusk.
  7. Avoid swimming at night.
  8. Avoid wearing shiny jewelry.
  9. Don’t swim in sewage-laden waters (ew!).
  10. Avoid swimming near steep drop-offs and river mouths.

So every time I’ve taken a dip in the ocean, I have dutifully followed these instructions, but, unfortunately…

…Not everyone got the memo!  On Saturday in St Gilles (just a couple of miles away from where I was swimming just a few hours earlier) a surfer got his leg eaten off by a shark!!!!!!!!!  Apparently the surfer had arrived on the island that morning and proceeded to violate shark safety rules 2, 3, 4, 6, and 10, so locals aren’t terribly surprised.  Mais quand même! To read more about it en français click here.

In other news, as my contract as an English assistant ends on the last day of April, I’ve been spending most of my time job searching, but the process very quickly became internship searching, and then soon, volunteer-work searching.  Finally, I found myself on looking at tent specs with the idea of camping in the woods until the economy gets better. Yikes.  So if you’re hiring, you can go ahead and send me a courtesy email…

Best wishes to all and watch out for them sharks!



PS- Sorry for the lack of photos, but my camera was stolen along with some other stuff at the beach a couple of weeks ago.  Bummer.  I’ll hopefully get a get a new one this week!

Cool stuff about sharks:

Wwoofing in Réunion!

5 Feb

Want to work on an organic farm in Réunion? Check this out!

Wwoofing in Réunion!

What is Wwoofing?

Lesson #1 for the New Year: Never underestimate ‘rainy season’

30 Jan


It started during dinner on Thursday night somewhere between cheese and chocolate mousse.  The first few delicate taps on the glass ceiling of the kitchen turned into a deluge within seconds, and we rushed from the table to shut windows and bring in shoes and dogs.  I watched from the porch as the laden clouds finally purged themselves in a cathartic downpour after weeks of drought.  We slept well that night listening to the waves of rain escalate and abate and escalate once more on the metal roof.

By the following morning, the hitherto bone-dry ravine next to the house had been transformed into a rushing river, carrying runoff from the heart of the island to the sea.  And hours later, congestion on the route du littoral, only road from St Denis to the southwest, worsened considerably when authorities brought both north and southbound sides down to one lane in case of mudslides or falling rocks.  Foreign language assistants stuck in traffic in 25-year-old cars bought 10th hand for $800 soon realized their windshield wipers probably stopped working 15 years ago.

On Saturday, streets flooded, shops closed, and pools overflowed.  A woman was swept away to her death by a mudslide in la Montagne.  Late Saturday night lightning flashed and thunder rolled (cue Garth Brooks).

It’s Sunday afternoon, and it still hasn’t stopped.  The white noise created by the pounding rain on the roof that was once comforting and pleasant, has now become tedious and interminable.

So I underestimated rainy season.  My bad.  Seattle ain’t got nothin’.  We’re going on 72 hours and it’s supposed to continue all week.  The toughest part is that there isn’t a whole lot to do when it rains like this.  Even leaving the house is mission impossible thanks to the inundated streets and the holy-crap-I-can’t-see-out-of-the-windshield-put-the-wipers-on-super-drive downpours that happen on regular 15-minute intervals.  A group of assistants managed to get to the local movie theater to see Little Fockers, but we were so soaked after sprinting from the parking lot to the theater that we didn’t dry out until the end of the movie.  And there are only so many movies you can watch, books you can read, beer you can drink to stave off the boredom and the utter madness that may result if the rain doesn’t stop soon.  And apparently this isn’t even a cyclone (not enough wind).

Don’t worry, I did manage to get a pretty good sunburn during the few sunny days since my return to the island on Tuesday and before all this nonsense started.  But I must admit, posts may be sparse and subdued until I see the sun again.

On a lighter note, I hope you all had happy and healthy holidays seasons.  I had a GREAT time at home and here is a photo recap:

-11 at Vail

Powder day!

Backbowls at Vail!

Shredding at Snowmass

Quick jaunt to Harry Potter land…

…yup, you heard me right!


The castle

Cowboy outfitters in Paris…you know, just in case.

Meilleurs voeux for 2011, and I’d send you sunshine if I had any!

All my love,


Waterfall Wednesday!!

15 Dec

Visiting waterfalls is really the only decent thing to do on a Wednesday afternoon…

La Cascade à Trois Bassins, courtesy of Will’s hyper-chouette underwater camera

Nick, Liv, Me, Greg, and Libby under the falls

Up in the Air

13 Dec

Joyeux fêtes à tous!

Wait, what?  Holidays?  Isn’t it August?  I got sunburned at the beach yesterday…  Where the heck am I again??

So how can natives of the southern hemisphere tell that it’s Christmas without snow, icicles, and frozen fingers?  Does Santa need to wear sunscreen?  Here in Réunion, there are two sure-fire indicators that the holiday season has arrived:

1. The sudden flowering of the bright red Flamboyant tree

2. The advent of litchis (letchis) in the local markets.

Easy enough.  But as my grandfather might have said, “What in the Sam-hill is a litchi?!”

Here is the definition according to my computer: litchi |ˈlē ch ē| (also lychee or lichee) noun

1 a small rounded fruit with sweet white scented flesh, a large central stone, and a thin rough skin. Also called litchi nut when dried.

And they are DELICIOUS.  Trust me, if I could bring them back with me for everyone to try, I totally would, but the folks at TSA don’t really care for the importation of foreign plants, so I apologize in advance.

Fun fact: the very first time the Euro currency was used was in all of Europe was in Réunion in 1999.  What was purchased?  A kilogram of litchis. Go Réunion!

So other than stuffing my face with exotic fruit, I have been doing the usual visiting of waterfalls and beaches, AND Hervé, my host dad, took my flying!!  He is a part of a local ULM plane club, and he woke me up early one Friday morning asking if I wanted to go.  After two seconds deliberation, I dragged myself out of bed and off we went!  We toured the island in about an hour and saw everything…Trou de Fer, the volcano, Piton des Neiges…it was crazy to fly around the mountain that I had climbed a few weeks before.  The photos do a much better job describing how cool it was, so check them out!

More exciting news!  I got another job as a waitress at this swanky café/bar in St Denis called KTDral (Créole for cathédrale—it is right behind the cathedral in town).  I go there all the time with other assistants, and I thought I would ask if they needed a serveuse and voilà!  It’s a lot of fun—I get to talk to all sorts of people, and I haven’t dropped any glasses yet, but holy crap my lack of restaurant experience is pretty obvious.  Luckily the owner of the place is really into diversity and interesting people, and being American qualifies as interesting!  I only do extras, so I’m not a part of the regular schedule and they call me if they need me, which is actually ideal.  Plus, I’m not complaining about a little extra cash…

Oh yeah!  And my birthday!  We celebrated on Thursday by meeting up at KTDral—the whole place sang, so embarrassing—and then going out to a Moroccan restaurant for dinner.  Then this past weekend we met up in St Pierre for a picnic on the beach and a big free concert organized by the local radio station NRJ (énergie in Créole/Hooked on Phonics à la réunionnaise).  It’s funny though, without cold weather and all, I kept forgetting that it was my birthday…  Seeing the Christmas decorations around town is SO bizarre.  And I really feel for the guys that have to dress up all day as Santa.  Talk about sweltering.

I’ll be spending this week futzing around and finishing up Christmas shopping before heading to the airport on Saturday night!  I’ll be freezing my butt off in Denver for 4 weeks and then in France for another week before flying back to the south seas on January 25th.  Give me a call if you find yourself in the Rocky Mountains!!

Love to all and best wishes for the holidays!


Appeee Zanksgeeeveeng!!!

26 Nov

Happy Thanksgiving all!!

Unfortunately all of Réunion had to postpone Thanksgiving until today (Friday) because yesterday I was horribly sick in bed (the whole shebang: cough, sore throat, throbbing headache, shivers…).  I woke up this morning, and felt fine, so I spent the day in the kitchen. Naturally.  As I am often wont to do.

I roasted a whole chicken (no turkey here). Made green beans, gravy, and mashed potatoes. AND. I made a pumpkin pie all from SCRATCH. Even carved out the inside of a pumpkin. Sort of an oblong pumpkin, but it still counts.  Here is proof:

And in honor of this familial holiday, I thought I would introduce you all to my host family!

To the immediate left we have Emmie, my youngest host sister.  She is in 8th grade and the athlete of the family. She runs cross-country, plays volleyball, and rides horses.  Next to Emmie is Marie-Agnès, my host mom.  Emmie gets all of her atheletic prowess from Marie-Agnès; my host mom is super intense and ran this huge race that crosses the length of Réunion a million times in only 39 hours.  Marie-Agnès is also an excellent cook and works part-time as a nurse.  At the head of the table is Hervé, my venerable host dad.  He’s a big cheese in some sort of garage door installation company and likes to fly planes on the weekends.  Then that super-tan bombshell to his left is me, in case you couldn’t recognize me.  Then to my left is Léa, the middle daughter, and the artist-dancer-singer of the family.  She is a senior in high school and going to school to study nursing next year.  The oldest child is Simon who is studying at a business school in France and so courteously lent me his room.

Then we have the dogs:

This is Toffee trying to eat a coconut whole.  Not the sharpest tool in the shed.

…the always adorable Vendredi- so named because they rescued her on a Friday.

And finally, Lola, who looks exactly like this, but I forgot to take a photo of her…

And here is a bonus picture of the pool!

I hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving and love to all!