Lucía had never travelled, especially outside of Spain, “she was lucky to go out to the beach for a few days during the summer”, her mother said, while she was preparing her suitcases before going on Holiday. She remembers her trip to Palma de Mallorca her father’s cousin´s wedding. Apart from that trip she never left mainland Spain.
Hello everyone! Let me introduce myself. I am Lucía, I am eleven years old and I am from somewhere in la Mancha, in a place whose name I do remember, but not now. One year, one month and eleven days ago, I came back from the journey of my dreams to a wonderful and unknown place on earth, a tiny island in the Indian ocean, called Réunion Island.
My auntie Luz gave me an enveloppe as a present when I turned 10 years old; when I openned it I didn’t understand what it was. The truth is that I was disappointed. After that, they explained it was a flight ticket to travel to Réunion Island, our flight was leaving at 15:30 from Paris Orly airport, in only six days!
It is an experience that has changed my life, I have learnt a lot from this trip, everyone tells me that I have changed. But where is Réunion? I didn’t have a clue. It was a small island, but I didn’t know anything about it. Now I know everything about it, it is part of me and I want to share this trip with you to the unkonwn and wonderful Réunion Island.
Our adventure started on 11th of January, we flew from Madrid airport, with a stopover in Paris, I was travelling with my auntie and her french boyfriend, Pierre. The flight was very long, it was over 10 hours, and I felt very unrested on my seat with butterflies in my stomach, I couldn’t stop moving!
Pierre was raised in Reunion till he was 9 years old, at that age his parents got divorced and he had to come back to live in France with his mother. Now after 20 years, he is coming back with his father, who still lives on the island. Pierre has the opportunity to meet his father´s new family. Rona his stepmother from Madagascar, and her little sister Ophélie, she is 7 years old and she prefers to be called Caramel, like her skin color. Ophélie is very beautiful, her appearance is a wonderful mix between african and french. She is going to be my best encounter of the trip, she is about to become my best friend. According to my auntie, we are “like two walking radios”, together we are talkative and naughty, in the middle of a paradise island whish is about to erupt.
Réunion Island is a small territory, very far away from the map and unknown to most, it is an overseas region of France, which is located in the middle of the Indian ocean, next to Madagascar and Mauritius, over 10.000 km away from my home. The island is part of the European Union territory and the oficial currency is Euro, which surprised me a lot as it is closer to Africa than Europe. French and Creole are the spoken languages, no English, to communicate with Ophélie I need my auntie to translate for me.
When we arrived to the house I was surprised with the few things they lived with, only few furniture and appliances. My auntie told me: “Lucia, look the few things they live with, and they are very happy, they don’t need anything else.” When Caramel showed me her bedroom I was surprised that it was all in pink, with colorfull butterflies on the wall, and her bed was simply a foam mattress on the floor, full of teddy bears and notebooks. In her bedroom she also had a blackboard she was playing a lot with, because there were no video games or other entertainment around, they only had a tv in the living room to watch documentaries in the evening to learn about the planet we live in and how humanity is destroying it.
When it comes to food I am lucky to like rice, as rice is present in all meals, and people all have a special pot just to cook rice, they call it the “rice cooker”. What I like the most is their plates, they use the leaves of banana trees and eat on them, after that the leaves are disposed of in the compost, which will be used as soil to fertilise other plants. On this island everything is reclycled.
Réunion is a volvanic island of 2500 square meters, well, at the time I went. When major eruptions occur, the volcanic lava goes in the sea, making the island a little bigger each time. With new erruptions every nine months, the massive Piton de la Fournaise is one of the planet´s most active volcano, it errupted over 100 times since 1640. I was lucky enough to see it erupting, it was the most violent eruption since 1903.
After having a break from the trip we went to discover the surroundings of the house, and as it is a small island you can see the sea from almost any spot, and I was looking forward to go for a swim. My surprise was when Caramel recommended me to go to the waterfalls instead. There is a natural pool where six waterfallls pour into, it was so wonderful that I cannot describe it with words. There are many beaches on the island, but swimming is forbidden because of frequent shark attacks.
“Sharks Caramelo! What are you saying?!! There are sharks in Réunion?”
“Yes, yes, there are many sharks Lucía, we cannot swim, it is not safe even with the anti-sharks security nets. A few years ago, a dog was bitten while it was going out of the water, and a 15 year old girl was attacked while swimming only 5 meters away from the coast”.
During the dinner Michel, Pierre’s father, who spent all his life working as a veterinary on the island, told us that the shark crisis started in 2011, and since then the island became the most dangerous spot for sharks attacks in the world. Rona told us about how the attacks had changed, before attacks mostly happened during the night and in murky water, but the shark’s behaviour had changed. Rona said that one of the possible reasons was that sharks are now looking for food closer to the coast, as there is a lack of fishes in the ocean. What is happening in the oceans is telling us we are doing something wrong with our planet, something is failing.
Michel saw that I was scared, and to calm me down he explained that some beaches are protected by a coral reef and it is safe to swim there. Michel told me that the coral reef is also called the rainforest of the sea, the corals are the lungs of the oceans, capturing carbon dioxide (CO2) from the athmosphere and allowing the formation of hundreds of marine organisms. The coral reefs are fragile and easy to destroy but very valuable. Conserving them has to be our priority.
The day after we went diving to the coral reef and it was the best experience of my life, something wonderful, Caramelo could recognise all the fish, that was very surprising for me, despite being four years younger than me, she knew everything about nature.
Ophélie loved all fish, and she didn’t understand why I was so scared of the barracuda, she said that the lack of fish in the ocean was a symptom of the coral reef disappearing. She also told me that Réunion was very populated and that was another problem. With the disappearance of the forest, contaminated water ends up in the sea and harms the coral reefs.
It is a problem that if not stopped in 50 years the coral reefs will cease to exist forever. It was difficult to realise that our oceans are sick because of us, it was hard for me being so small, for a moment I thought I was happier before knowing it. What could I do? What had I done until now? Nothing, absolutely nothing.
In Réunion the quality of the water is great, it is drinkable and healthy, even at the restaurants tap water is always served free of charge and it comes in a glass bottle instead of plastic. Suddenly I thought about the amount of plastic bottles that we use at home every day… Even the bags given when buying vegetables are biodegradable, they are very thin and they can be disposed of in the compost after use. In every house there are solar panels on the roofs to heat water and produce electricity, the houses generate all the energy they need for cooking and lightning, everybody on this island takes care of the nature.
After 19 days on the island, one morning when I woke up it was very noisy, more than usual, I wondered what was going on. I got up and went to the kitchen and saw the whole family talking, but I couldn’t understand a single word. My auntie explained to me that the volcano of the Piton de la Fournaise had erupted, but they had warned that it was much stronger than expected. It was forbidden to drive anywhere on the island, the volcanic ash could reduce visibility on the roads and possible damage the car’s engine. There was no danger to people as the area around the volcano was uninhabited, but we had to stay at home to prevent the ashes from damaging our respiratory system.
The brutal eruption of the volcano lasted for 8 days, so I made some research as I was bored and I got to know about the extinct specie of the White.
Dodo, also known as solitaire. By the end of the XVIII century, only a hundred years after its discovery, this bird disappeared because of human activity.
There were two kinds of specimens, the Dodo from the nearby island Mauritius, and the white Dodo, which lived in Réunion island. The Dodo was a huge bird, measuring up to 1 meter in height, and weighing up to 18 kilos. His name comes from Portuguese and means “stupid” because it was a clumsy bird and easy to be hunted as it was unable to fly. I couldn’t imagine how the dodo could have looked like, and as we didn’t have an internet connection, Michel checked his old zoology books and he found an old illustration of the Dodo in black and white that left me speechless…
When humans came, along with dogs, cats, pigs, rats… the Dodo’s eggs were eaten by the animals and the Dodos were hunted to feed the sailors. Humans ended the life of all Dodos, an innocent species. The same will happen with the coral reefs, and possibly many more species in the future… It was very sad to know what happened to the Dodo. Ophélie knew everything, my auntie was right, “she was a walking radio”, but she was also “a walking encyclopedia of nature”.
When the volcano eruption ended, we could finally go out of the house. We were told that the Dolomieu crater had collapsed and that another eruption took place underwater, creating a new small island which was named Espoir (which means hope in French).
After I returned to Spain I was told that the crust of the new island cooled down and plants began to grow on it, it was decided then that Espoir would be used to place a large center for the protection of animals in danger of extinction. A research team was created to use the DNA extracted from the skeletal remains of the Dodo and to work on cloning him in the future. As I loved so much Réunion Island, I was happy, there was a place for hope and that place was called Espoir.
For a moment I forgot all about the CO2 emissions, the warming of the planet, the water pollution, the disappearance of the corals… There was a place for hope, Luz, Pierre, Michel, Rona and Ophélie will keep fighting from Réunion Island to protect the planet. And me, from Tomelloso and with my eyes full of tears, I will do what I can to save energy, buy only things that I need, and recycle the wrapping paper of my chewing gums, which is made with plastic and aluminum.
There is still a lot to do, and our generation has to do it because unfortunately, we don’t have so much time left before it´s too late. Today, right now, species are disappearing, our ecosystem is being impoverished, the coral reefs which are the lungs of our oceans, are disappearing. If our ocean dies, our planet will also die, it is only a matter of time. And what are we doing each one of us to avoid it? We need to know the problem to be able to do something, to try to stop the death of our oceans.
As for myself, since I came back from Réunion Island, I have slept peacefully. We have something to hold on to, it isn’t all lost, an unkown place can always appear in the middle of nowhere, an island of hope.