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".

29 November 2006

Care for a Swim, Dear?

Photo by Laurent Guiader, 2006.

Meet one of our newfound friends, at the Club Med in Hienghene. Imagine our surprise (and enchantment) when two deer wandered up and sat down beside us at the pool our first afternoon in Hienghene. Much better than a "spider who sat down beside her" of Little Miss Muffet fame!

In early November, readers might remember that we drove up north to Hienghene, an absolutely stunning site on the sea, best known for its enormous rock (calcium) formations (such as "Le Poulet" or "The Chicken") and its "Club Med". We stayed at the Club Med for a night or so to see what it was like.

Originally, we were to stay in a traditional Kanak "case" (or hut) at the "Club Med". But upon discovering mice droppings on two of the beds, we lucked into a bungalow that was both clean and cool (yes, it is hot here in November) - and had the added advantage of having a bathroom and shower included. Though we thoroughly enjoyed our stay, we weren't convinced that this was a real Club Med ... apart from the deer!

27 November 2006

Delays at Goro and Aquaculture Increasingly Important for New Caledonia

I read two wholly unconnected articles recently and wondered about a possible link between the two.

The first concerned the new delays and increased costs for the nickel mine that is being built in southern New Caledonia. Inco, the company behind Goro Nickel, has a new head. At a press conference in Rio de Janeiro (yes Brazil took control of the Canadian company and its Goro project last month), it was announced that the mine would not start producing nickel until the end of 2008 and that costs will rise to US$3 billion. See Costs at Inco's Goro nickel project soar.

The second article concerned the importance of aquaculture in the Pacific region in coming years. Dr. Tim Adams, who heads the Secretariat for the Pacific Community's Marine Resources Division, told Pacific government representatives at a recent meeting of SPC's governing body that aquaculture "will become increasingly important for exports and food security. As wild stocks come under increasingly rigorous management (...) the economic balance will tip further in favor of aquaculture." See Aquaculture increasingly vital for Pacific.

Now, the Goro Nickel mine is purported to present a tremendous threat to marine biodiversity. In addition, I'd read that there were plans for the development of large-scale industrial coastal shrimp aquaculture operations in the area.

Will Goro Nickel really be for the good of New Caledonia and the Pacific region, I wonder?

(And a thank you to Dr. Adams for his recent post on this blog.)

20 November 2006

Lucie's Dashing Coffee-Drinking Soldier Man

Since my post about The Quietly Remarkable Mlle Lucie Agez, I have received both proof that her young American soldier man was a coffee lover and indeed, dashing (as pictured above). I've also learned that there were other young New Caledonian women who left New Caledonia to follow their American soldiers. One wonders how many. One wonders how many Americans have New Caledonian ancestry. One wonders how many Americans are proud of such ancestry ... in any case, many thanks to Lucie for showing young women the way of courage, strength and independence - 60 years before the world's borders opened and international travel became something of a regular occurrence.

17 November 2006

100th Post and a 40th Birthday

Here we are, 100 posts later. I started this blog upon landing here in August 2005 with the aim of sharing some of our adventures in New Caledonia - with friends and strangers both. I had had a devil of a time explaining where New Caledonia was when we learned we would be moving here. Most people thought it was in Canada. Others' eyes simply glazed over. Some asked if we had running water, electricity, hospitals and grocery stores. I hope this blog has answered some of those questions - and will continue to answer more!

I've reached my 100th post on 17 November, which is also my 40th birthday. What a thrill! I've had the most magnificent 40th birthday a person could have! On a tropical island with a wonderful husband, an amazing daughter and a hilarious son. My husband took me to Ilôt Maitre, a tiny island 25 minutes away from Nouméa by boat, for an exquisite lunch and a leisurely afternoon. Afterwards, we went to dinner (Japanese) with Sophie. It was wonderful to be out to dinner - just the three of us (Pablo stayed at home with his "Tata Gali" and slept through the whole outing). I received the most beautiful bouquet of tropical flowers from Laurent, good news about my friend Ben, a million and one wonderful birthday greetings from friends and family in France and the United States, and the most wonderful posts and e-mails about Lucie and her family.

Thanks so much to everyone - for all your wonderful words and your encouragement for my work on this blog.

16 November 2006

The Quietly Remarkable Mlle Lucie Agez

I have been very moved by a story that has been revealed to me over the course of this last week. It is not my story, but the story of a Ms. Lucie Agez, who is 83 years old. The story was told to me by her daughters - marvelous women I have never met - through e-mails and photos.

Lucie Agez was born on the southeast coast of New Caledonia, in Canala, in 1924. She was born to Caldoche parents - of German and French descent. Her childhood was idyllic until her father died when she was 12. Sadly, she and her older brother, Paul, were placed in an orphanage following her father's passing. But loss at such a tender age seems to have infused Lucie with tremendous strength and courage, which later helped her face life's later challenges.

Fast forward to World War II. In 1945, Lucie was 21 and worked at a local restaurant called the "Tradewinds". (You may recall that the Americans occupied New Caledonia during World War II - to prevent Australia from being attacked by the Japanese.) Turns out, Lucie was living with a cousin who had taken her in once she turned of age. Just across from her cousin's place there was a military radio station being guarded by a handsome young military policeman named Clarence Mickelson (aka "Mike"). Mike was also a talented mason. On his time off, he built a wall under the house Lucie and her cousin were living in. He also frequented the "Tradewinds" where he downed many a cup of java, his favourite beverage, and came to know dear Lucie.

When the war ended, the American soldiers returned home. Lucie's dashing young man, Mike, was one of them. What was to happen to our fledgling young couple?

Yes, Mike sent for Lucie. Upon arriving in the American midwest, Lucie's coffee-drinking military policeman drove across the United States to San Francisco. He wired Lucie to come.

Lucie, whose English was as fledgling as her new love, who had never left New Caledonia (a tiny unknown French-speaking island in the South Pacific), who had no promises before her beyond those proffered her by her coffee-drinking American soldier man, packed up what little she had, bought a ticket for $300-$400, boarded a cargo ship for Norway (the "Thor I"), travelled three weeks by sea and disembarked in an entirely foreign land. Folly, you say? Uncontestable courage, I say. Lucie left everything she knew behind (including a brother and cousin she loved dearly) - in 1946 as a single woman - to commence an unsure adventure where snow was exotic and unknown to her, midwestern Americans at times a little less than welcoming, and French bread, sunny skies and island life forever lost to her. (Lucie was to visit her native land nearly 30 years later when her husband died.)

Lucie and Mike went on to have four daughters and one son. She learned English and adopted American customs and traditions as her own. I believe she kept the story of her native land quietly to herself as she acclimated to the American midwest. I am certain her many grandchildren and great-grandchildren are extremely proud of her courage, heritage and strength. Lucie is truly une femme extraordinaire !

(Many thanks to Lucie and her family for giving me permission to share her story.)

15 November 2006

Walks Along Anse Vata

Photo by Laurent Guiader, 2006.

Anse Vata is one of the long stretches of beach in Nouméa. Many of you may recall my mention of it before. There are basically three beaches in Nouméa: Anse Vata (windy!), Baie des Citrons (crowded!) and Kuendu Beach (isolated!). My favourite is Anse Vata (pictured above), largely because I have spent many a good moment there with my good friend, Caitlin. Shortly after our sons were born, we took to walking the Anse Vata three times a week. The view was out of this world, the wind whisked away our "Am I doing this right?" new mommy concerns, and a fast and furious friendship was formed. In August, Caitlin moved to La Réunion, another beautiful French island. Pablo and I still walk the Anse Vata, though not as frequently. Today we will go to say Happy Birthday to Caitlin. If only she were here so we could celebrate it together ... on the Anse Vata!

14 November 2006

Roadside Stalls in Northern New Caledonia

Roadside stalls are scattered along the drive through Northern New Caledonia. You will find fresh fruit and vegetables as well as plants, flowers and shells at these little stalls, depending on what the owner has available. The idea is self-serve. The prices are posted and a little box is available for leaving your money. As dwellings (not to mention stores!) are few and far between on the mountain roads,we found this a fabulous idea. I did read that the stalls are probably watched from the bushes ...

12 November 2006

Long Drive Up to Hienghene

Photo by Laurent Guiader, 2006.

Hienghene is located up on the northeast side of New Caledonia. We were told it would take approximately 5.5 hours to drive the 400 kms or so, so off we went at 7.30 early one Saturday morning. As we had yet to visit the north, we were all rather excited. I had been hesitant until now as I had had "not good roads through mountains" experiences here in New Caledonia and did not fancy a long car ride in such conditions, pregnant or with a baby. However, we were pleasantly surprised! The roads were fine all the way up to Koné and then only an hour through mountains (and then another hour along the coast to Hienghene). My goodness, though! What a view through the mountains. Green, green everywhere. Plunging cliffs and river streams. It reminded me of photos I had seen of the Amazon. Why had we waited so long to see such beauty? Well ... the drive ended up taking 7 hours! And when we returned the following Monday, the drive took 8 hours (with a few breaks). Egads. We've decided we'll fly the next time!

09 November 2006

What Culinary Delights Follow Shark?

Photo by Laurent Guiader, 2006.

Some of you may recall mention of our tasting shark unbeknownst to us whilst on this fair island. By us, I mean Sophie. And the guilty party was Laurent. A few weekends ago, we ventured a bit further. While on Ile des Pins, we decided to partake of the lovely dish buried in the ground above: bougna. Bougna is one of the Kanaks' traditional feast dishes. It generally contains taro, yam, sweet potato, banana and either pieces of chicken, fish, crab or lobster. All of this is wrapped in banana leaves and buried to cook in the ground under hot coals. Above, our Kanak friends are uncovering the meal we later ate, below.

Photo by Laurent Guiader, 2006.

05 November 2006

Palm-Pruning Time in Nouméa

Every year at this time of year, workers from the local gardening company stop by. Not unlike the chimney sweeps in Paris, they offer a regular and much-needed service. Only rather than descending chimneys, they climb coconut palms. Right, a photo of one such fellow just in front of our terrace. He climbed the palm with the help of a ladder (I've seen them shimmy up without a ladder, but this one was a tricky one), pulled a machete out of his pocket and started hacking away. Down went the browning palm fronds and all of the coconuts. Why in heaven's name, you ask. Because during the hurricane season, the last thing you want is speeding wayward coconuts.

Photo by Julie Harris, 2006.

02 November 2006

Earth from Above by Yann Arthus-Bertrand

Yann Arthus-Bertrand, an internationally renowned French photographer, was in Nouméa last week for the opening of his "Earth from Above" (or "La Terre vue du Ciel") exhibition on the Place des Cocotiers. Since the beginning of the "Earth from Above" aerial photography project, over 500 000 photos have been taken in some 100 countries.

Some of you may be familiar with the image used for the Nouméa exhibition - and for the cover of the exhibition's collection of photographs. It shows a heart on the earth. This photo was taken in New Caledonia.

You may have seen Yann's aerial photography before - if not, take a look at his comprehensive site at Available in English, French and Spanish, the site contains links to his photos, information about his work and his commitment to raising awareness about sustainable development and our changing planet, e-cards, free wallpaper and news about upcoming exhibitions. (His "Earth from Above" exhibit is also currently on in Melbourne and the Netherlands; it just finished in Plymouth and Prague.)

Many of us were very happy to have Yann visit Nouméa. Laurent and I went to his book signing and later took in the exhibition. Sophie later said that one day she hopes to have enough money to be able to buy one of his original photographs. Me, too!