I met with Ludo and Fred on the steep slopes of Grand Brûlé in the south of Reunion Island late afternoon. I was going to discover a one-of-a-kind activity: an escape game in a lava tunnel!
An escape game is an activity that relies on teamwork. The players are in an enclosed location. The goal is to solve a series of brainteasers and riddles in an allocated time, in order to escape. Today’s activity was extra special because it was taking place underground, in the dark lava tunnels!
Helmets on and brain in gear, it was time to set off on an Odyssey on Mars!
Life-size escape game on the theme of Odyssey on Mars
As with any good escape game, there is a fascinating story behind it. When I arrived at the 2001 lava tunnel in the south of Reunion Island, one of the instructors, Fred, was waiting for me, wearing a lab coat. He was dressed as the famous scientist: Guy Pignolet. It is thanks to this scientist that a lychee from Sainte-Rose is currently orbiting the earth!
Here is the opening introduction to this underground escape game:
“In preparation for an expedition on planet Mars, Guy Pignolet has gathered the very best underground explorers, you, for the ultimate challenge: to get out of the lava tunnel unharmed, as a team, and as quickly as possible. In fact, the lava tunnel produced by the lava flow of 2004 on Reunion Island bears a close resemblance to the surface layer of planet Mars. During this activity, you’ll be tested on several aspects: teamwork, getting around a hostile environment and how you deal with unexpected circumstances. If your team manages to get out of the tunnel unassisted, then you will have completed your mission successfully. Otherwise…”.
The scene is set. We were equipped with helmets and knee pads, and we were ready to go and discover the world below our feet. The adventure could begin for our small group of underground adventurers.
An escape game… in a lava tunnel! Unique and original.
When we arrived at the entrance to the tunnel, we were given some advice and explanations. First of all, an instructor would be with us for the whole duration of the experience. He would be there to ensure our safety and to share his knowledge of the Reunion Island lava tunnels with us. He was also there just in case we were not able to solve the riddles. But if we asked for his assistance at any time, we would be penalised… We were warned!
We chose a team leader, then we set off into the depths of the Piton de la Fournaise, into the lava tunnel. Our life-size escape game could begin! We were immediately plunged into semi-darkness. Our very first challenge was in fact to find our head lamps!
As we went further into the underground tunnel, we came across boxes that were locked with a code, rebus puzzles, visual and logic puzzles that all had to be solved to be able to carry on… Some of the challenges really put our brains to the test, but often the answers were much simpler and more obvious than we originally thought. Some of the riddles included sound and the sounds and voices echoed alongside the drops of water falling from the stalactites.
The atmosphere in this majestic place is really unique. We came across some vast underground chambers, the walls of which varied in colour between red ochre and jet black, as well as narrow passages that we had more difficulty getting through. Our guide provided us with explanations and anecdotes along the way, so we could learn more about the Reunion Island lava tunnels. We always kept our goal in mind though: to get out as quickly as possible!
After one last puzzle that really tested our teamwork, we finally found our way out of the tunnel. When we left the tunnel, the whole environment had been plunged into semi-darkness, lit up only by the light of the moon. The atmosphere was magical. We went back to the car park and chatted to Ludovic and Fred about our experience. They entrusted us with a final mission. We were now the keepers of the secret of this one-of-a-kind escape game… Our lips are sealed!