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Many Adventures of a Nomadic Poet A young poet with Asperger's makes travel his passion, and away he goes...

New Caledonia, s'il vous plait!

NEW CALEDONIA | Wednesday, 1 March 2017 | Views [609]

Oui! Officially I'm in New Caledonia. It's the first French country or territory I've ever visited, believe it or not. Why didn't I brush up on some French? It's the language of love after all. Aircalin is a rather flash airline for such a small locale. French wine is free on board; helpful during a hair-raising flight. Although I hardly drink nowadays, a few glasses of wine calm my nerves when it seems the plane is barrelling over potholes a metre deep. Hailstones hit the plane very hard as well. Toward the end of the flight, complimentary brandy or cognac is passed around. No shortage of alcohol, that's for sure! Going through biosecurity, my stuff was checked rather intensely but when it was all said and done I was my ninth Pacific locale.

Though the bus is reasonably priced, I thought I'd try hitchhiking into Noumea. An expat Vietnamese couple who were on my flight picked me up. They just returned from their honeymoon in Australia. On this journey, I'm without my phone and computer; the only electronic gadgetry I have with me is my camera. It's nice to have a break from technology, though I had to make sure to write down anything essential. Last week I had difficulty finding rue de Richard Bernier on GoogleMaps but with the husband being a taxi driver, that lovely couple knew exactly where to drop me. In Noumea, I'm staying with a French instructor named Cecile through CouchSurfing, and I had accurate instructions to reach her front door.

It was no trouble finding a CS host as she was the only one I messaged. Except for Fiji, the Pacific islands are rather tricky for finding CS hosts. I've now been to 38 countries but New Caledonia was the first foreign country I ever sighted. When I flew from LA to Sydney on my first overseas journey in '04 I spotted Grande Terre (the main island of New Caledonia) from the air. 

Last year I read an article that stated that New Caledonia is one of the few mosquito-free countries. Well, I can put that theory to rest as I was eaten alive last night even after Cecile let me borrow some citronella lotion. Although I haven't had a proper night's sleep in three nights I was on the veranda at 3 AM with a cuppa, nibbling on a Lindt dark chocolate bar with a touch of sea salt. The birds' morning calls are majestic. With only five nights in New Caledonia it's best to be up as early as possible. Cecile awoke early and we had a lovely breakfast on her veranda of a large pot of coffee, toast with locally made jam, and a delicious, fleshy fruit called pomme cannelle.

These fruits grow on the tree directly above Cecile's veranda. After the rather dull culinary monotony of many Pacific countries, French-influenced New Caledonia is a culinary delight. Two warm croissants from a boulangerie would be my brekkie. From there I went in search of and found my first geocaches in New Caledonia. My first find was a creative one made from a snail shell.

Without my phone, geocaching is trickier than normal. I'll admit it's nice without my phone and computer; it means I focus more on what's around me. A giant cruise ship was in port today. It seems many people visit Noumea for the day and say they've been to New Caledonia. Changing money is difficult as most banks either won't change foreign currency or if they do, they charge a hefty commission (anywhere from 500-1500 XPF). New Caledonia, Wallis and Futuna, and French Polynesia all use the XPF (CFP) franc. It's one of the most beautiful currencies.

All three territories issue their own coins but, like the euro, are legal tender across the CFP zone. If you're observant, you'll notice a few French Polynesian coins in your change.

An interesting fact is that there are only three countries with "new" their names: New Zealand, New Caledonia, and Papua New Guinea. Some would say there's only two as New Caledonia is considered a "special collectivity" of France. Part of my plan for this journey was to go to Isle of Pines for a couple of nights but today I found out the Betico ferry is in Australia being serviced, and the only possible flight not worth it. Now I have to make some other plans, as it would be unfair to spend all five nights in Noumea. 

Earlier today I broke one of my thongs and part of this journey would go slightly on the wrong foot, no pun intended. Across from the cruise ship terminal is a large supermarket and I walked in barefoot in searched of some thongs. A security guard who must be about 6'7" and with the physique of a rugby player came up to me and said something in French, first pointing to my feet and then to my camera, which was slung across my body. I spoke in English slowly saying "I buy shoes" and when he pointed to something again, either to my camera or my backpack. I couldn't get him to understand that I wanted to buy some thongs and then I tried to walk away but he instead just grabbed me by my throat and dragged me out of the market. This is where a few words in French would be helpful, and perhaps even bringing my phone could have helped as I could have pulled up a French-English translator to show him what I was trying to say. It scared me shitless, but down the street a helpful local pointed me in the direction of a surf shop where I got some new thongs on my feet.

The plan for this journey was three nights in Noumea and two in Isle of Pines, but when I inquired about the ferry I found out it's in Australia being serviced until 15 March. That means I'll either have to fly or save it for a future trip.

By noon my energy had completely run out, and I walked quickly to get back to Cecile's house. It was a beautiful sunny day and I wanted to see some French girls on the beach but I couldn't stay awake any longer, so a long nap was in store for me. Five hours later I woke up slightly refreshed. Oddly, it's illegal to purchase alcohol on Wednesdays. Cecile later said it's due to New Caledonia having the highest ratio of drink-driving deaths in the world. This evening I went for a lovely walk along Baie des Citrons.

Some quirkiness exists along the bay. Try sitting in the backseat of a vintage car over a sunset dinner.

Then I had a tomato mozzarella panini at a small cafe along the waterfront at Baie de Anse Vata. French food is amazing indeed! Even the simplest fare will send your tastebuds into convulsions. I was up for some Bordeaux red wine tonight, so when I called into a small Asian-run shop they sold it to me and the clerk came round, opened my backpack, placed it in and zipped it up so I wouldn't walk out of the shop with it in my hand. It turned out I took a much longer route home, and when Cecile returned she thought I'd be asleep. Sitting on the veranda with a glass of French wine, she suggested camping at a place called Poe. She says it's beautiful and that's where I'm making a run for tomorrow. 

With the exception of that thug security guard, my first two days in Nouvelle-Caledonie have been magical. More experiences, s'il vous plait? 

 

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