Thursday, October 2, 2008

The Ile des Pins

Two weekends ago (been slow with the blogging!) we had our first trip out the one of the Iles. If Googling photos of New Caledonia, chances are that the beautiful pics with white sand beaches and palms that you get coming back to you will be from one of the Iles.

New Caledonia consists of one large island (Grand-Terre) and several smaller islands within' the reef, notably the Loyalty Islands in the East (Mare, Lifou, and Ouvea) and the Ile des Pins in the South.

The Ile des Pins (Isle of Pines) sits about a 3 hour boat trip from Noumea, and is named after it's towering pine trees. An early rise to catch the boat at 6 am (regretting that last glass of wine the night before!) and we were off for our first weekend at the Iles!

Once the boat neared the Ile the water quickly changed from blue to turquoise and the sun burst through the clouds. Our first views of the island did not dissapoint, nor would they! Too bad we only had 1 night, as the boat runs only Wed, Sat and Sun, and unfortunately we're here in the Pacific to work and not just lie on beaches!

The boat docked around 9 am where we were picked up by a shuttle van that brough us to Gite Relais Kuberka where we spent the night. A Gite is basically just a French holiday house where you can rent fully equiped efficiency units, double units (like we had) or a tent ground. The Gite was was having a French speaking wife! We placed our order in the restaurant, dropped our bags, cleaned up, and were off to explore.

First stop was close to where the boat came ashore, Baie de Kuto...

Trying the Panomama on the cam!

After grabbing some lunch we headed back to the Gite and called a taxi to take us to Baie d'Oro on the other side of the island. Here is located the piscine naturelle or natural aquarium, a great swimming hole embedded in the coral filled with thousands of tropical fish. It's "off-sea" location make it great for snorkelling as there are no waves and zero chance of sharks (susan particularly likes that!).

We kind of got lost trying to find the place out of the cab, and spent over an hour walking around the woods. When we finally made it there we quickly pulled over our gear and hit the water. Still no underwater camera, so you'll have to take my word for it that the snorkelling was great!

Wandering around the wrong paths

Geared up to go!

In front of the Natural aquarium

Back to the Gite for a delicious dinner of chicken (at this point we were still afraid to try the local seafood!) and some relaxation. We slept with towels under the bathroom door, as Susan was a little weary of waking up with our roomie (a large Gecko we spotted in the can) cuddling into her! I have to admit I really didn't want to wake up with him cuddling into me either!

The next morning we hiked around the prison ruins before spending the remainder of the day on the beaches (Kuto and Kanumera). Some swimming, snorkelling, lounging, a great buffet lunch and some beers for awesome weekend in Paradise!

The penal church

A cold one on Kuto!

Kanumera beach

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The Morning Market

Every morning between the hours of 5 and 11 the Noumea morning market comes to life. Located near centerville (Noumea's "downtown"), the market consists of 5 polygon shaped huts filled with farmers, vendors, locals, tourists, and of course, mounds and mounds of colorful produce. Much of the fruit and vegitables found at the market were hand picked the day before, sometimes even that morning, so fressness is almost guarenteed.

Among the most populous produce lies carrotts, bananas, potatoes, tomatoes, and of course yams, the staple vegitable in New Caledonia which has been farmed for hundreds of years. A little apart from the market huts with the produce lies the fresh fish market. Many different fish of various colours and sizes, all of them freaking us out a little! Must get a local recipe book!
The band outside the Market on Sunday

Thursday, September 11, 2008

A Day at the Races

Susan in the Grand stand

Last Sunday we headed to the Hippodrome, Noumea's horse racing track, to watch the Noumea Cup. The first time either of us had ever been to a horse race, we found it was a great time...especially when you wager! I would only assume that if we had actually wagered right and won some money than it really would've been a blast!

The Hippodrome is a very modern horse racing track, located just a couple of minutes stroll from our place. New Caledonians share a love for horses, as we seen the day before during a day trip to Dumbia. All along the roads here were fields full of horses and cattle, and strange to me, cowboys! Never would have thought to see so many cowboys in a South pacific country...

Anyway, back to the races...

The first horse we wagered on was called Milly Green and hailed from New Zealand. It was exciting watching the horses run around the track in the hopes that Milly would make us some grocery money to subsudize the outrageous cost of food down here! The excitement however died down a little when we seen that the horse and rider taking up the tail (by at least the length of 6 or 7 horses) was none other than Milly Green.

When the race was over and all the horses and riders were prancing around the finish line, cries of astonishment and horror erupted at the sight of the one and only Milly Green. Turns out that during the race (maybe because they were losing...?) Milly suffered from a large gash in her side and was bleeding badly. Not sure if it was her jocky smacking her with the whip a little too hard, or if maybe she cut herself as she went around the ring of tires (as this was sort of a "slolam" race). Whatever the case, we knew possibly why Milly came in last...

The next race we wagered on (only small wagers mind you!) was a little better as we could see our horse was pushing the lead right off the start. "Italiano Das" was givin' 'er, and we were sure we would be winners...but then...she fell back...way back! It seems she spent all of her energy at the start, and near the end of the long track she was well tired. Oh well, it was fun thinkin' we might win!

After a couple of hours at the races and a few beers we decided we'd had enough and headed down to the end of Anse Vata to join the rest of the gang from the Rock...a few more beers and some great swimming on a great stretch of beach. A great Sunday. I could get used to this!

Milly being led off the track :-(

Back to the beach...gettin' rid of the beers before they went bad!

Friday, September 5, 2008

Mounds of "Trash"

This morning we regretfully had to throw out our trash. For several days now the kitchen counter had been getting smaller and smaller, as the ever growing collection of bottles and cans grew. I had heard upon arriving at a friend's house last week that there was no recycling program in New Caledonia, yet we held hope that we would hear tell of one...until today. I guess it may be hard for such a small country (population 250,000; size, about that of the Northern Peninsula of Newfoundland) to find a use for all the cans and bottles as we do in Canada and much of the world. But then, sometimes I think that alot of the recycling we do in Canada is a fraud, and mostly ends up in the land-fills anyway....especially being the Pepsi drinking culture that we are.

Although there is no program, it seems the waste generated is alot less that would be in Canada anyway. For example, you cannot get plastic/disposable bags in the grocery store (you must buy the re-usable ones), most fresh food (fruits, veggies, and meats) are bought at the market with minimal to no packaging, and fast food is virtually (except for Ronald's) non existant. But with that being said, I'm sure the wine bottles generated alone would be close to that of the entire country of Canada!

I hope that in the future New Caledonia does find some means of dealing with their recycables, because being a bit of a tree hugger, I find it hard throwing them in the trash.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Ronald McDonald for World President

Today for lunch at work we headed out to McDonald's. McDonald's is the only "fast-food" american restaurant in New Caledonia. In fact, there are 2 here in Noumea. I've seen or eaten McDonald's all over italy, France and England, but I've never seen the hoards of people lined up for a greasy Big Mac like I did today. People of all ethnicity, all sizes, all languages, all there for 1 thing....le Big Mac. It did not matter what language you was the easiest time since I came here that I could communicate with a local that did not know word of English.

As we all know from "Pulp Fiction" the only big difference on the menu is the quarter pounder... known here as the "Royal with cheese" simply because of the metric system. Another notable difference being that there are no double quarter pounders/Royals or double Big Macs...maybe part to do with why the obesity rate here is much much less than it is in North America. Sure, the French love their high calorie cheese, consume more carbs through bread than you can imagine, and drink wine with every meal; yet they maintain (for the most part) thier slim physique and overall healthy lifestyle....could it have something to do with the double Royal and the Mac, or more to do with the beach lifestyle of the French south pacific? Maybe it's just because they all smoke cigarettes...and smoke them everywhere, all the time! I wonder will future generations begin to slope the scales as we do now in North America?

Will I go back to McDonald's for le Big Mac or a Royal with Cheese (note, not a Royal avec Fromage as one might expect)? Almost definately...without the almost! I guess it's the familiarity to home that will draw me it's the taste, and the smell!
In conclusion, I have to say if Ronald McDonald (whoever the hell this guy actually is) were to run for world president (move over George W), he would certainly win.

Monday, September 1, 2008

An outing with our group of fellow Newfies.

Sunday we had our first inclination to actually get in the water. Jason's work friends and their families were going out to "Ile aux Canards" for a day of sunning and snorkelling. This "Duck Island" is about a five minute water taxi across from Anse Vata beach, and was well worth the 2000cfp it cost to get us both there (about 25 $ Canadian).

Jason has been very anxious to try his fins at snorkelling while I have been more weary. We brought our own gear with us, so we wasted no time in diving in. It was a bit strange at first, being restricted to only breathing through the tube, and I took in a few mouthfuls of salt water before I got used to it. Jason found it much the same. I expected to see big colourful pieces of coral, but what I saw was more yellowish and pale. Fish seemed to appear out of nowhere. There were schools of little zebra fish and other tiny varieties that one might have in an aquarium. Then there were the much larger angel fish and parrot fish that came around in groups of 4 or 5.

There were several others that I could not possibly name, one fat rainbow one that was pretty cool. Right into the shore there was a very large school of white, almost transparent fish. I was suprised by how close they would come, not at all skitish. Jason ventured further out than me, trying to find the manta ray that some other people had seen. I'm still a little nervous of what could appear out of the deep. I hope to be more courageous as time goes by.

After this excursion, we walked around the (very small) island a bit and had a drink in the little bar that was there. Some interesting wooden carvings around and we took quite a few pics. There were a lot of chairs set out around for people to sun bathe, but they attract waiters, so unless you wanted to pay, you had to bring your own blanket to sit on. Next time we go, we hope to have an underwater camera....

The island from Anse Vata...

Me, all geared up!!!

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Two Months Late, We're Finally Here!

We've finally made it to Noumea! The visa process took a little longer than expected, but we are here now and all is well. The 45 hour trek to get here was gueling on the bodies, yet it seems so far that it will all be worth the wait. Susan is now 6 months pregnant, and we discovered Friday that our baby will be a member of the European Union when they reach the age of 14...he or she will be very fortunate!

We will be staying at La promenade, located on Anse Vata beach. Here is a picture of Susan on the Beach. This is a rather touristy area of town, but this makes it easier for expatriates to adjust....and it as absolutely beautiful here!

We arrived Thursday evening, along with a few other couples who will be working with me here, also from Newfoundland. Friday we had a quick tour of the city showing such highlites as the market, the public square and the lookout views over the surrounding bays and islands. So far we both think that Noumea is a lovely city, and we look forward to the next 18 months, and sharing our adventures with you!