saint_paul09_belvedere_du_maido_-_credit_irt_-_emmanuel_virin.jpgBelvedere du maido
©Belvedere du maido|Emmanuel VIRIN

A hiking expedition to the village of Mafate

It’s time for lunch and we can hear the familiar drums of a traditional Maloya song on the radio. I take a sip of Charette rum.

A cat jumps up onto my knees and settles down comfortably. I take pleasure in stroking it. I asked Nico, our guide: “How do you say ‘I love cats’ in Créole?”.  He laughed and said something I didn’t understand. “You know you don’t need to tell us. We can see that”.

It was a bright and sunny day and we had just sat down around a plastic table covered with a colourful tablecloth and bottles of local rum, flavoured with orchid leaves, known as “faham”. Our surroundings are incredible, with sheer cliffs and lush vegetation, and at least eight cats.


A break to try some local and traditional food

We stop for lunch in a small family-run restaurant in Cayenne, one of the three villages of Mafate. Most of the people who live in Mafate work for the national park or in the tourism industry. They offer accommodation or catering services to the many tourists who come hiking in the cirque. Those looking for a hiking expedition enjoy walking here at the weekend, spending a night in a gîte and exploring the region.

The food is delicious and traditional: big bowls of steaming rice, beans, duck and sausage rougail (a delicious dish made from pieces of Créole sausage cooked in a sauce of diced tomatoes, green mango chunks, crushed ginger, chopped onions and chilis) are lined up on the table in front of us. We pile the food onto our plates, all the walking has worked up quite an appetite. We make a toast with our Dodo beers: To the morning’s activities! Cats rub themselves up against our legs and try to jump onto our laps to get a taste of our food. For this little village with only 30 inhabitants, there appears to be a cat for every person.

3rd step, the descent: exploring new horizons

There are different hiking trips available in Mafate, with varied levels of experience required. We didn’t have much time (and honestly, not much energy left), so we decided to make our way back down on the back of a pick-up truck, to a place along the Rivière des Galets (the river of the locals), from where we would only have to walk for another two and a half hours. For the more motivated hikers, there’s an eight-hour walk to the superb summit of Maido (a breath-taking view over the whole of the Cirque of Mafate).

If we’d have had more time, I’d have loved to spend a few days exploring the region and to get to know the locals a bit better. The views here are breath-taking and wherever you look, you’ll want to take a photo.

First helicopter ride

We didn’t spend much time in Mafate, but it was a great experience. In the distance, we can hear the noise of the helicopter coming to pick us up, it arrives and lands with ease and precision so we can climb aboard. I’ve always wanted to go on one of these incredible contraptions and I duck down as we step aboard, my heart beating fast once again. When I’m on a helicopter, I always feel like I’m in an action film and as we take off, I look over towards Mafate and think about all the great memories and magnificent landscapes, and I feel so happy.