This blog on New Caledonia is for those of you who ever wondered what life on a tiny island in the South Pacific might be like. Tired of bracing winter winds, the stress of an inner city or simply dreaming of a life change? This is a blog about what happens when, in the words of Yogi Berra, "you come to a fork in the road, [and] take it".

27 February 2006

Dancing with Fire at the Phare Amédée

After lunch at the Phare Amédée in January, we were treated to a show of South Pacific folklore dancing. This wonderful show highlighted beautiful young women in grass skirts along with a young Melanesian who flirted with fire. The show made me think I was in another world, living another life.

More on a day at Phare Amédée. / Photo by Laurent Guiader, 2006.

24 February 2006

7 Things I Love about Living in New Caledonia

Photo (taken on Mont Dore) by Laurent Guiader, 2005 .

1. The ease of life.

2. The weather: mostly warm and sunny.

3. The people: entirely warm and friendly.

4. The plant life: palm trees, frangipani, hibiscus, irises and more.

5. The blue of the sea, the blue of the sky.

6. Being able to swim, snorkel and go for long walks on the bays.

7. The mountains, la terre rouge, the return of a horizon!

Game inspired by JD Riso (another fabulous writer in New Caledonia - check her out). More lists of 7 to follow. If you like the game, do the same and pass it on ...

21 February 2006

News from Nouméa

Photo: Baie de l'Orphelinat (our closest bay).
What is the news from our little corner of the world? Well, local merchants are beginning to worry as electronic commerce is starting to take off: one in ten packages received here have been ordered on line. Oh dear. (Actually, I'm surprised it's not higher, given the cost and limited availability of goods. But my guess is this is weighted against the small number of Internet subscribers in New Caledonia - 70 000 as of September 2005.)

But as for us, all is well. Sophie will be going back to school on Friday (24 February), following two months of summer break. This morning we went to buy her a new pair of flip-flops and a few of her workbooks to start the year off with a bang (no, a whisper). She is at a crêperie at the Baie des Citrons this afternoon with friends, and is enjoying her last few days of vacation.

Laurent has solved most of his Access database problems but is at another standstill: his superiors do not want him to pursue developing it further as they are not sure that his replacement will know how to use Access ...

And as for me, I've been visiting a few doctors (ear problems - all taken care of!); cooking new recipes (last night I set up the laptop on the kitchen counter so I could read and follow a recipe for herb chicken and grilled red peppers and simultaneously stream jazz from Paris); reading and catching up with work. A fun project for work yesterday concerned a set of blogging guidelines. Thanks to the likes of Jakob Nielsen and others whose ideas are freely available on the web, I had great fun with the project and found a number of tips and interesting facts about blogs (the term dates back to 1999). For all of my French-speaking friends, for example, see the January 2006 news report from TF1 on blogging in France, Internet : la mode du blog chez les adolescents (copy and paste the title of the video report in the search on and click on the link provided). The report goes on to address the effect of blogs by French politicians as well. Speaking of work ... it calls ...

18 February 2006

Somehow Safer: Reef Sharks

Compared to sea snakes, I have to say I find reef sharks that much safer. Okay, I don't have occasion to swim with reef sharks very often (though we did see one while snorkeling at the Phare Amédée), but even so the thought of a swimming snake worries me more. Left, a reef shark that came to visit while on our barrier reef cruise at the Phare Amédée. If you want to see him up close and personal, click on the photo.
More on a day at Phare Amédée. / Photo by Laurent Guiader, 2006.

16 February 2006

Arrival at Amédée Lighthouse

Hard to tell from here, perhaps, but the waters around this islet are transparent and heavenly. I had seen photos of Phare Amédée (Amédée Lighthouse) while still in Paris, and I am embarrassed to admit that as the photos had been labeled "New Caledonia", I suffered a few moments of heart-stopping panic. New Caledonia is that small? Oh my goodness! I'd read that we could drive around it in a weekend (it's 400 km long and 50 km wide), but the photos made it look tiny! And wasn't New Caledonia the last place to give up cannibalism? Where will I hide if push comes to shove? Yes, I am ridiculous. Amédée Islet is about 30 minutes away from Nouméa (New Caledonia's capital) by boat, and is but an islet. It takes 20 minutes to walk around it. There are no cannibals.
More on a day at Phare Amédee. / Photo by Laurent Guiader, 2006.

14 February 2006

Welcome to Phare Amédée

Photo by Laurent Guiader, 2006.
Back in January we made a day trip to Phare Amédée, a marine reserve noted for its clear water (and I'd add sea snakes) and a 56-metre-high lighthouse, designed, built and imported from Paris in 1862. It was a full day and we literally never stopped. Our programme for the day:

09.00 - Departure from Nouméa by boat
09.30 - Arrival at Amédée Lighthouse
10.00 - A bit of snorkeling and swimming in the transparent waters
11.00 - Barrier reef cruise (to see the reef sharks)
11.45 - Pre-lunch cocktails (as welcomed by the hostess above)
12.00 - Buffet lunch (copious - lots of salads and fresh fruit and grilled fish)
12.30 - South Pacific folklore dancing (including fire dancing)
13.15 - Coffee and biscuits
13.30 - Pareo tying and coconut tree climbing demonstration
14.00 - Glass bottom boat (Laurent jumped in and swam with the trigger fish, blue spotted cod, butterfly fish, lady fish and lion fish)
14.30 - Swimming with sea snakes
15.00 - Quick tour of the island and visit to the lighthouse
15.45 - Departure
16.30 - Arrival in Nouméa

More pictures to follow ... but in sum, I would say this was a wonderful way to spend a day in New Caledonia. We look forward to returning with visiting friends and family!

12 February 2006

Listening Pleasure

One of the things about living so far away from Europe and the United States is that one can easily feel cut off from the rest of the world. Sometimes, this is not such a bad thing. However, this weekend, while I was puttering around the house (one of my favourite activities) and listening to one of my many radio programmes, it occurred to me that though I had listed books I had been reading, I hadn't yet mentioned what we listen to. Thanks to the Internet and a few great little sites, we have a nice range of books, music and programmes that we listen to:

  • War News Radio - reporting en direct from Iraq. This fabulous project from Swarthmore College does weekly shows on life in Iraq - from the perspective of local Iraqis. There is also a great little section called "Iraq 101" which I am looking forward to exploring.
  • FIP - great jazz and other genres from Paris. After 16 years in Paris, one does miss FIP from this far away. The day a good friend of mind suggested I stream it, my life changed.
  • BBC Radio 2 - for excellent programming from London: for news, talk shows, and good music! I'm a regular "Melodies for You" and yes, "Sunday Love Songs" listener.
  • - books, books, books, and radio programmes like "Car Talk" and a weekly show I try not to miss: "Marketplace Money" (a financial planning programme out of Los Angeles). Audible is a paying subscription service, but thanks to audible I've been able to listen to great books while working out - or puttering around.

Thanks to these, and a couple more sites/stations, we feel pretty connected. There aren't any jazz or classical stations on the island - so we're always looking for good jazz and classical programming. If you have sites/stations you like in particular (no matter where you are in the world), send them along!

09 February 2006

Daily Life in New Caledonia

Many of you may be wondering what daily life on our little island must be like - in reality. You must be saying to yourself, "It can't all be sea snakes and breathtaking views and jet skiing and sunny skies." Sophie, who just returned from Europe reports that she was asked, "Do you have supermarkets there?" A ha. Indeed we do. And our lives are somewhat similar to yours. There are some differences, though:

  • We live with the light. People here rise and set with the sun. It is not unknown that they are up between 4.30 and 5.00, have lunch at 11.30 and dinner at 18.30. They are in bed between 20.30 and 21.00. (As for us, Laurent gets up at 5 some days and 6 on others. I get up at 7.30 -- I just can't manage a 6 o'clock rising on Paradise Island. Sophie gets up around 6 during the school year as school starts at around 7.15).
  • We live outside. That is, when it is cool enough to be outside. Right now it is summer, so we take care of errands and do sports earlier in the day - or later - when it is cooler.
  • We do a lot of sports. You see a lot of runners, walkers, roller skaters, swimmers and bikers. Laurent runs a lot, I swim (yes, in the sea - and at the outdoor pool).
  • We eat lightly - lots of fruit and salads, but we also eat chicken, beef, fish, bread, cheese and yogurts.
  • We find life expensive as most everything is imported. When we first landed, we were shocked by the price of salmon imported from Ireland (not that we need to eat salmon from Ireland!) - €80 for a piece the size to feed the three of us. Another friend of ours didn't realise the price and bought a portion of cheese for €25.
  • Telecommunication costs are exorbitant. Our Internet connection costs us €125 a month on average. The phone (before calls) costs about €40 a month. Cable runs just over €80 a month. (And every time we see a commercial for unlimited calls, Internet and tv for €29.99 a month, we, well, drool.)

There are things we do individually. Sophie is very creative and puts together the most amazing collages of photos on the computer. I've been taking a sand painting class and have been patiently bringing colour to (my) amateur drawings. I very much miss my piano and singing, but have yet to join a group. Sophie will start her drums again soon. Laurent has been studying English with a great software called the Rosetta Stone. I begin and end my days reading, and I probably spend more time thinking than I do writing about how to improve websites. We eat dinner together every night and we watch the news from France and we laugh out loud at our kitten's frantic night-time antics. Our daily lives are not that far off from yours ... really!

Photo by Laurent Guiader, 2005.

05 February 2006

The Sea Snakes Story

Photo by Laurent Guiader, 2006.
A couple of you have noted that I reported swimming with venomous sea snakes in January. I should tell you that you do not see these snakes as a matter of course everywhere in Nouméa (though they are endemic to New Caledonia). You can see a couple here and there near the Meridien and on the Baie des Citrons, but otherwise, they are not out in force. On one particular outing (to Phare Amedee), however, we saw 10-15 of them. They are called "tricots rayés" (or striped sea snakes in English).

A little something about the tricot rayés. They are the most poisonous snakes on the island. They spend half of their time in the ocean and half of their time on land: they can stay under water for up to an hour at a time. Their venom is deadly - powerful enough to kill a human (as it is ten times as powerful as that of a cobra). They are not aggressive, however, and are even somewhat afraid of intruders. They tend to swim away from you as soon as they see you. They also have rather tiny mouths, so you would really have to be in their way (and they would need to be frightened or defensive) for them to be able to (or want to) attack you with their tiny mouths - between your fingers, for example. I should perhaps add, however, that a bite from one of these will kill you in five minutes. There is no known antidote.

We saw these beige and black striped snakes swimming in the sea, swimming through the sand (yes, swimming is the right word - it is really rather beautiful to watch) and curled up in trees. We also saw a black and blue one whose blue was a blue I had never seen in nature (see below). The Australian tourists really liked the tricots rayés and were far from aware of the danger as they would approach them and allow their children to swim with them unknowingly.
Photo by Laurent Guiader, 2006.
Now for the story: As I am not especially used to swimming with snakes, I was wary of snorkeling under the dock where I knew the snakes gathered in mass. Laurent wanted me to come swim under the dock to the other side where we knew there were a beautiful collection of fish. I said I would go only on the condition that the minute I saw a tricot rayé, I could turn back. The deal was sealed. So I happily snorkeled alongside Laurent and friends. At one point, under the dock, Laurent took both my hands and pulled me towards him - swimming with me. I had a feeling something wasn't quite right, but I kept swimming. We got to the gorgeous fish on the other side and I was in heaven.

On the way back, we swam around the dock, which pleased me no end. When we got back on the beach, Laurent quietly explained that he had taken my hands under the dock, because, yes, swimming behind me, raising his head above the water and ducking back down, was a tricot rayé. Laurent was moving me out of the way in case he needed to become between me and it ... so wholly unbeknownst to me (and a good thing, too), I'd been swimming with venomous sea snakes.

01 February 2006

A New Caledonian Gem: La Rivière Bleue

Photo by Laurent Guiader, 2006.
In early January, we set off for the Parc provincial de la Rivière Bleue (Blue River) with a couple of friends. We had been told that it was beautiful and well worth seeing. About an hour outside Nouméa, we drove into the 90 sq km nature reserve, equipped with a map and more than a few bottles of water. It was a very hot day and we were happy we had started out early. By mid-day it was impossible to keep walking in the direct sun.

The soil is bright red (stripped of its nutrients by years of mining), and the stunning blue river had evaporated to almost nothing at all (it is summer in this part of the world - and we had not had much rain). But dismayed we were not, as the park was nearly empty and we had the mountains, waterfalls, hiking trails, thick forests, birds and swimming holes to ourselves. We resolved at the end of our day (about three hours of hiking, a well-deserved picnic lunch, more hiking and a dip in a mountain stream before trekking back) to definitely come back when the river had returned.

More photos and tales of la Rivière Bleue to follow ...