All this happened on the 10th of January, 2022. After asking around far and wide for a place that would rent us a kayak, someone came through. The caveat? The two-person kayak only had one paddle. But we made do and paddled to île aux Bénitiers and Crystal Rock. Watch the vlog to see what that’s like!
Green Village Saves the Day
During our stay in La Gaulette, we had quite some trouble getting both a scooter and a kayak. We eventually got a scooter, but the kayak was still such a difficult quest. We had messaged and called several people with kayaks for rent from Le Morne to Tamarin, but no one came through. As a last-ditch effort, I messaged this permaculture place called Green Village that’s in the lagoon of La Gaulette. My reasoning was that they’re right at the coast, so they must have a kayak. I first contacted their Facebook page and someone immediately responded and told me to message a guy named Alex on WhatsApp. Late at night, I sent that message. The chance we’d go kayaking tomorrow was extremely slim.
Alex messaged me back the next morning. He said we can rent it but that it only has one paddle because the other one got stolen. He said he’d rent it to us if we could find another paddle. That was obviously not something we could do, so I said we are strong paddlers and swimmers and could do it with one. The need for other equipment such as lifejackets was also not necessary. Alex messaged back after getting into contact with his director that it would cost us 600 Rupee (€12 or US$13.60). For today, yes. We can be at Green Village at 10:20, but Alex could only do 10:30.
We slathered on sunscreen, got our gloves out, packed our bags, and put phones into waterproof phone cases, then drove to Green Village. There we met up with Alex and walked to the kayak. It leaned on a fence in the grass and was covered in spiderwebs and little lizards. Alex grabbed the last remaining paddle from a shed. Then we carried the (heavy ass) boat via a rocky and muddy trail to the waterfront. We told Alex our plan to kayak to Île aux Bénitiers and then come back at 15:30 or something like that.
Before we left, we encouraged a few spiders and lizards to leave the boat before we put it in the water. We started paddling at 10:40.
Paddling to Île aux Bénitiers
Because this whole trip was my idea, we had agreed that I would paddle the both of us to Île aux Bénitiers. That meant that I had to sit in the back of the kayak with our single paddle. I’m not used to sitting in the back and being in control of the direction because the entire Danube trip, my main task was to provide reliable forward thrust and warn Jonas of shit in the water and other dangers. Not course correct.
It went quite alright towards Île aux Bénitiers. It’s hard to see the progress you’re making though. And Jonas found it very weird to sit in the front of the boat and not have anything to do. So sometimes he’d help me and paddle with his arms, which helped quite a bit but also meant he scooped water into the boat. At some point, he wanted to paddle, so I gave it to him. This gave me free hands to film a little aboard the kayak.
We landed on the southern tip of Île aux Bénitiers. That’s when I saw the little head of a gecko peeking out of a hole on the bow of the boat. What a journey it has been for this guy! I tried to convince the stowaway to disembark, although I wasn’t sure if that’s a good thing. I’m sure there are other lizards of the same kind on Île aux Bénitiers, but still, it felt like I was introducing cane toads into Australia.
Once on the island, we decided that Jonas would paddle the boat to the center of the island while I walked. From the center, it’s the shortest distance to Crystal Rock. Jonas looked very happy to be back in his usual spot in the kayak.
Close to the center were a few motorboats with tourists on the beach. There were many beach shacks and we sat down at an empty one to eat some food and discuss how to paddle to Crystal Rock with its distinct mushroom shape. It was a bit strange that there were two rocks, not one. Why hadn’t I heard of the second rock? I looked it up on Google Satellite view to confirm its existence. Not an illusion. I told Jonas that I’d like to visit both of them. He had no idea how far away the second rock was because it’s hard to gauge distances at sea. I said it appears to be closer, which is also what the blurry pixels on the map indicated. Anyway, I would paddle the both of us to these rocks, so it’s my choice in the end.
Mystery Rock + Crystal Rock
We left Île aux Bénitiers after some snackos. I paddled us to the first rock, which had a more tentacle shape. It really wasn’t far to paddle there and the waters were calm. Also, the entire way there it had been very shallow, so if we had capsized in our kayak, we could just stand in the water. Jonas confirmed right now was the lowest tide.
This mystery rock had loads of colorful fish hiding in its nooks and crannies. A few brave plants grew on this rock. But its name? No idea. It’s not the much smaller “”””Baby Crystal FlipFlop Rock“”” which I’ve only seen in pictures from one source in 2017. If it’s real, I doubt it would have survived for much longer due to erosion and/or a motorboat knocking it over.
Next, we paddled to Crystal Rock (French: corail de cristal). This one was protected by some buoys to tell the motorboats to go slower. Officially, it’s an exposed fossilized coral reef or something like that. Like the mystery rock, it has very sharp edges. I’m happy that today there aren’t too many motorboats out on the water because most pictures I could find online make Crystal Rock a hellscape of boats hovering around this small freak of nature.
Crystal Rock is actually big enough to host some woody plants. Unfortunately, someone decided to decorate them with Christmas tinsels. I’m also aware that people regularly climb this fragile feature, which only goes on to illustrate that we already live in hell.
Regardless, it was a pretty cool visit. Jonas paddled us around the rock while I took some photos and footage. At some point, a motorboat came by and circled the rock and then us like a wonky satellite. I’m convinced now that the urge to wave at kayakers and make them wave back is universal, but we’ve decided to return the acknowledgment of existence with a nod if our hands are busy. Also, please stay away from us with your motorboats.
Crossing Île aux Bénitiers on Foot/Paddling Around the North
We paddled back to Île aux Bénitiers in a diagonal fashion to a little north of the center of the island. Once we landed, we discussed what to do next. It again didn’t make sense to be two people in the kayak while paddling along the shoreline of île aux Bénitiers. So one of us had to go on foot again. I could have joined Jonas to paddle around the north, but I also knew from the OSM map that there was a hiking trail across the center of the island. Jonas said he’d be fine paddling around the northern end, though I did tell him he might have to drag the boat across the sandbank I’d spotted on satellite footage.
I began my hike at 13:40 and first passed many groups of people having a barbeque on the island. The tours were now really coming to Île aux Bénitiers despite the cloudy weather that reduced the turquoise shine of the sea. I found the trailhead and walked away from civilization. The trail was well-beaten but not recently used because many spiny plants caught on my clothes and I ate a few spiderwebs. The forest was pretty thick in places only to thin out and reveal low-lying marshes with saltwater. That’s when I heard some animal noises and decided to make a dash till I was out of the forest and on the other side of the island where you can see all of La Gaulette.
Jonas was nowhere to be seen, so I walked northward along this less-picturesque piece of coastline to meet him halfway. He eventually popped around the corner while walking in the water and dragging the boat on the boat leash I’d made. He hopped back into the boat and paddled towards me till beaching the boat. What happened?
The sandbank was pretty endless. He considered paddling northward till he could cross it completely, but he saw 300 meters in the distance that there were still long-legged birds standing in the shallow water. So the only choice was to drag the boat across, which would have been easier with two people.
Paddling Back to Green Village/La Gaulette
After a rest and rehydrate, we began our paddling journey back to Green Village. The skies looked angry and the wind had picked up. Also the tide was coming in. I messaged Alex to tell him we’d be back in half an hour.
I sat in the back of the kayak again since Jonas’ arms were more tired. Though the wind was in our backs, I had a really tough time maintaining my course. We discussed several times if it would be better to kayak to the La Gaulette embarkation point and then paddle back to Green Village with the protection of the shoreline. But that would make our overall paddling distance much longer. And in general, the lagoon of La Gaulette is so shallow that flipping the boat is not really a problem, but more an inconvenience.
Once we passed the wind shadow of île aux Bénitiers, things really went wild. I had a hard time maintaining a course and I quickly tired. Moreover, it started to rain a little. Jonas and I decided to pass the paddle back and forth every 500 meters of progress. We tracked this with our phone maps in their waterproof cases. The small tidal waves were encouraged by the wind. The best moments happened when we could actually surf them a little bit by going at the same speed as the waves.
We made it back to Green Village in a good time. Jonas was very happy that I’d marked the entry spot before we departed this morning so we could find our way back to these mangroves. We carried the boat out of the water and brought it back to Green Village. Alex opened the gate and he and Jonas carried it the last bit to its hibernation spot. The spiders were probably happy to have their shelter back.
It had been a successful trip and a lot of fun as well, but it would have been much better with two paddles. Jonas and I definitely learned something again about things that work for us when kayaking and things that don’t work.
Little did we know that we’d visit Île aux Bénitiers again by pirogue sailing boat and pass Crystal Rock very closely by pirogue and catamaran!
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We paid 600 MUR for the half-day we rented the kayak. If they find a second paddle, the price might go up.
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