Eyewitness The intrepid postmen of Réunion
Cyril Abad and Eugénie Baccot
20 The Cirque de Mafate, one of three calderas on the French island of Réunion in the Indian Ocean, along with Cilaos and Salazie, is a valley more than 1,000 metres deep surrounded by huge cliffs and steep peaks that, for nearly two centuries, have been home to descendants of the “maroons”, enslaved people who fled sugar cane plantations. The community of 700 Mafatais lives, almost self-sufficiently, amid palm, banana and filao trees. But there are only two ways to get to the cirque: by foot or by helicopter. Every week, René-Claude and Cyril, the two postmen of Mafate, walk its 140km of paths to deliver mail and small parcels. Cyril’s father, Yoland, helps to sort mail in the postal centre in Salazie. René-Claude and Cyril have an essential role in the life of the Mafatais: they are the bearers of good and bad news, as well as providing small services such as writing letters. Their mission in these remote and hostile territories is to accomplish the primary task of La Poste, the French postal service; namely the delivery of mail. Every week, they deliver and pick up letters from 300 households spread over small villages, each one more inaccessible than the last. On these two postal routes, considered the most difficult and longest on French territory, it is said that the postman always rings twice – to avoid having to walk back without relieving his heavy burden.