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FIREPOT in the Field: Réunion
A conversation with geologist, climber and photojournalist, Vivien Cumming 

Réunion is a French island just off the coast of Madagascar, so small it could fit inside the county of Dorset. The subtropical rainforest is home to some of the most diverse wildlife in the world. Mountains drop away into the ocean, clouds cling to sharp peaks and volcanoes bubble with lava and steam. Dr Vivien Cumming from Exeter spent three weeks exploring this dense wilderness, eating FIREPOT when she went remote.

Why Reunion?
I’m a geologist by training, so Réunion fascinates me. It grew out of the ocean some three million years ago and life just took hold, evolving into the diverse island we see today. It’s a melting pot of different cultures, races and religions — but there’s no conflict. It’s curious how such an inclusive society grew out of such isolation.

Neighbouring Madagascar is regularly cited as a place that has undergone extensive ecological rape over the last century. How is Réunion faring?
So much is still so wild. There is some deforestation for farmland, but this has lessened since 40 per cent of the island made the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2010. Parts are like a real-life Jurassic Park — few people, few settlements, just rainforest for miles and miles.

What was your greatest accomplishment on this expedition?
Réunion was about climbing for me — getting up high and seeing the rainforest from a different perspective — so reaching the highest point on the island was a big achievement. It was a gruelling, almost vertical ascent up to 3,690m, but I’d do it again. We could see the whole island stretched out before us, with its dense forest, jagged peaks, and the Indian Ocean beyond.

And your biggest frustration?
My initial plan was to go to Réunion in February, but everyone had warned me against it because of the wet weather. Instead I went in March, only to be greeted by a cyclone, and a volcano that had stopped erupting three days before my arrival. I wish I’d seen it blow.

If you could go back to one place on the island, where would it be?
Without question, the rim of Piton de la Fournaise. There’s nothing like staring into the crater of one of the most active volcanoes in the world.