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".

31 January 2007

A New Franco-American in Caledonia

Today was a big day for the little fella above. Pablo Killian Guiader met with US Consul Debra Towry here in Nouméa to apply for a Consular Report of Birth Abroad along with a US passport. His mother had been preparing for weeks, it seemed. She'd spent hours pouring over old passports, electronic calendars, journals and letters, sending notes to friends, family and past employers, and generally being an all around boor to all and asunder. The main task at hand was the preparation of a list of all the precise dates Pablo's mother had been in the United States since her birth - along with all the dates and locations of her life abroad. With proof, thank you.

Pablo would like to personally thank US Ambassador Larry Miles Dinger for having sent US Consul Debra Towry to Nouméa. As New Caledonia does not have an American Embassy, his parents had been organising a trip to Fiji (the presiding US embassy for the region) - and as there had been a coup recently in Fiji, things were looking a bit iffy. Particularly when Pablo's parents learned that the French Minister of Foreign Affairs had warned French citizens not to travel to Fiji. What to do?

Our thanks also go to Consul Towry who was both kind and helpful. Laurent was impressed with her French - and Italian! And Julie with her clarity and professionalism. Thanks, too, to the staff at the Suva Embassy who replied to the numerous questions Pablo's mother was wont to ask.

Finally, congratulations to Pablo, our newest Franco-American in Caledonia!

30 January 2007

Video: Life in Nouméa

Have any of you ever wondered what we do all day in Nouméa (known as "paradise on earth" to some)? True, it is a sporty capital, so there are some who kite surf, rollerblade, windsurf, run, walk. There are others who see the sights, shop, get on and off the cruise ships. For a taste of "Nouméa in September", see this two-minute video by YouTube member, helyonmandi (remember to turn up the volume on your machine to get the full effect):

Many thanks to helyonmandi.

27 January 2007

Maré: Last Day

We ended our trip in Maré with a day on the beach and at the pool. Laurent went kayaking, Sophie listened to music, Laurent and I got some great snorkelling in (right at our hotel - highly recommended at Nengone Village), and Pablo hung out with his new sand toys. When the novelty of his new toys wore off, Sophie stepped in with a dance on her hip and a song. Great (relaxing) fun was had by all.

Would we recommend a visit to Maré if ever you get to New Caledonia? Yes, definitely. Is it often visited? No. Why? Probably because there are so many other lovely places to visit in New Caledonia. But, that's no reason - if you can find the time - to skip Maré. It is a wonderful place to both relax and discover.

Photo by Laurent Guiader, 2006.

25 January 2007

Maré: A Long Walk Through the Forest

Have you ever read a guidebook, followed its instructions and wished you hadn't? On our second day in Maré, just after our half-day tour of the island, we decided to walk along the beach to a secluded cove: Pede Beach. It is reported to be the best on the island for snorkelling.

The guidebook mentioned that it was an easy and pleasant walk from our hotel - just along the beach. So off we went. I was sure from what I had read that it would be 20 minutes, maximum. Well, 17 verses of "Old MacDonald Had a Farm" and 2 hours later, Sophie and I were convinced that we would be camping in the forest that night - along with all the other island folk. Mind you, this was not a camping ground we were traipsing through! Islanders had simply mounted temporary homes out of palm fronds (yes, palm fronds!) and scraped together whatever cooking utensils they could find.

City Sophie and Slightly Worried Mother Julie trailed slower and slower behind Laurent, the intrepid soldier. If you ever have to feature in "Survivor" or "Koh Lanta", Laurent is your man. He'll get you through!

After several hours we did find our little cove. Exhausted, we managed to thank our lucky stars, not for guidebooks or mobile phones, but for our determination and optimism, as waning as it sometimes was. Everyone plopped down (except Pablo of course) and swore never to trust a guidebook again.

How was the snorkelling? Well, okay. True, there was no wind - but as it was by then the end of the day, there was also little sun, and thus little visibility. Alas. We laughed.

And how did we get back to the hotel? We took the road back and hitched a ride!

Photos by Laurent Guaider, 2006.

23 January 2007

Maré: As in Death, Life

Besides its wild and remote qualities, one of the things I loved about Maré was its simplicity. By this I mean the lack of artificial barriers between good and bad, life and death, land and sea. There were no complications, no analyses, no complexities. Everything on the island was what it was.

An example of this is the Maréan burial grounds (pictured). There are no looming tomb stones to mark an end or a separation between life and death. Instead, the Maréans are buried surrounded by living plants, colour, natural wooden fences, towering palms and the sea. One would say that their burial grounds are a place of celebration, of vibrancy and of all things, life.

My thanks to the Maréans for letting me share a photo of this sacred place with you.

Photo by Laurent Guiader, 2006.

21 January 2007

Video: Snorkelling at the Phare Amédée

Regular readers may know that while living in New Caledonia, I've come to love snorkelling and count it as one of my all-time favourite activities. Just last week we were at the Phare Amédée again, and though I was tied up with Pablo, Laurent and the girls got to go snorkelling. Last Sunday, we also went to the Ile aux Canards, where this time, I got to swim with some of the largest fish I've yet to see in New Caledonia.

Why all the excitement over fish? See the two-minute clip below on "Snorkelling at the Phare Amédée" by YouTube member, bivele (click on the arrow and turn up the volume on your machine). The clip starts with one of our famous sea snakes (tricots rayés), moves onto the adventures of a sea turtle and shows off our beautiful coral, angel fish and more.

Many thanks to "bivele"!

20 January 2007

Maré: Warrior's Leap

To continue our tour of the Loyalty Islands, which we undertook over Christmas 2006 ...

Legend has it that a warrior, harassed by his enemies, leaped across this gaping 5-meter wide crevice in the cliff that dominates Allier Bay in Maré. All of his enemies fell to their deaths as they attempted the same feat.

A terrible fear of heights kept both Sophie and I from trying our luck, though Laurent most likely would have tried in his younger days.

Photo by Laurent Guiader, 2006.

17 January 2007

Sophie and Pablo Up and Out

Photo by Laurent Guiader, 2006.

We interrupt our tour of the Loyalty Islands with this newsflash on Sophie and Pablo.

I have been amiss on the blog as of late as Sophie has had her exchange partner from New Zealand visiting for the last ten days. Nicky was an absolute delight - it was fun to see how other anglophone (English-speaking/culture) teenagers view and operate in the world. We came away thinking that New Zealanders are wonderfully cool and easy and spontaneous and full of life. She was a true pleasure to be around. To give Nicky a feel for New Caledonia, we took the girls camping in Poé (two and a half hours north), we took a day trip to Phare Amédée (home of the famous sea snake story) and spent an afternoon at Ile aux Canards (great snorkelling). Of course there was shopping and afternoons spent at the Baie des Citrons as well.

Now in a few days, Sophie is off to Europe for four weeks! Ack! We are running around getting everything ready for her trip to Paris and London - and I am missing her already. Her summer break has flown by - what with ten days in Loyalty Islands, ten days of her in New Zealand, ten days of having her exchange partner here and now she is up and out across the world for a month. What a charmed life she leads!

Meanwhile, Pablo is up and walking around the room (holding onto furniture), any room, whenever he can. He has also taken to waking at 5 in the morning and talking (loudly) until nap time between 8.30 and 9.00. He has much to say. He is still not sleeping through the night ("Sacrée Mary", as Laurent says - as our friend Mary predicted that Pablo would not sleep much before he was born) and both Laurent and I wonder where he gets his energy. Pablo is nonetheless one of the world's happiest babies, so no complaining here!

14 January 2007

Maré: Its People

Photo by Laurent Guiader, 2006.

We were lucky enough to meet and talk with some of the locals in Maré (Maréans) - not so in Ouvéa (which was where we went next). We found them to be very warm and welcoming - but not warm and welcoming in the touristy kind of way. They were genuinely open and willing to share their culture, not for money but out of pride for their island and their way of life. Unlike on the main island (Grande terre) of New Caledonia, the Maréans (largely Melanesian) control how things are run on the island (which is also true on the other Loyalty Islands and Ile des Pins). Only about 2% of the population on this island are French - so you really feel as if you are in direct contact with the locals, the minute you arrive.

On our tour day of the island, we spent a morning with our Kanak guide above (click on the photo for a larger image). Not only did he take us all over the island, but he talked about what his life was like. As it was the holiday season, and Santa Claus had arrived by boat the night before, and there had been fireworks and parties into the night and early morning, he was a little worse for the wear. (Kanaks like to party in a big way - we saw a number of them flat out from all the partying during our tour and our guide explained that all the shops were closed, because after they had been drinking, they could get aggressive and either walk out with the shops' merchandise or get into nasty fights ...)

In the photo above, our guide had just taken us down into an enormous cavity that led to an underground water hole. He explained that the names we saw on the cave walls were the result of competitions - the men like to climb the walls (as high as they can go) and then carve their names in the walls. Mind you, our guide was about 35 years old. When I asked if women and children came down into the water hole, he said that they all do. They all love to swim there - and that the more women there are, the higher the men climb.

Throughout our tour, we saw children playing in the dirt roads. We are accustomed to seeing them bare foot (you often see them running and playing soccer bare foot in Nouméa), but due to the heat, they were also entirely naked. Smiling, laughing, they would continue their games in the street despite the approach of a dusty Peugot 206 and look after us with a vague (and passing) curiosity. They made me hanker after their total simplicity and unshakable "joie de vivre".

07 January 2007

Maré: A Tour of the Island Begins

Photo by Laurent Guiader, 2006.

To continue our story of our tour of the Loyalty Islands, we spent the second day (16 December) in Maré touring the island with a local guide. We started here, at a picturesque (and often photographed) corner of Maré, not too far from our hotel (Nengone Village). A stone's throw away, you can get down into the cove where you have one of the nicest beaches (la plage de pede) and snorkelling locations in Maré.

We then drove to the natural aquarium (pictured below), which is an outdoor inlet fed by the sea flowing under the coral formations. It provides a wonderful refuge for fish and turtles and it is forbidden to swim or fish there. We were thoroughly impressed with the number of fish you could see and the water's transparency.

Photo by Laurent Guiader, 2006.

Stay tuned for the rest of the tour ...

04 January 2007

Video: A Typical Drive in Nouméa

Would you like to see a typical drive in Nouméa? If so, you'll enjoy the three-minute clip below. (Click on the arrow and turn up the volume.) This clip is brought to you by YouTube member, ipiroro. This is his drive to work: you'll love where he works.

The drive begins on Promenade Vernier and continues past Ouen Toro past "The Roof" (a great restaurant on the water" to the tourist office (look for the hut) and the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (not shown, but it is across from the tourist office) at Anse Vata. Nouméans will recognise the drive easily and those at a distance will remember it fondly (I am thinking in particular of Caitlin and Xavier).

Laurent runs this stretch, Sophie is learning how to drive here, and this is my favourite bit to drive with Pablo (we do it at least once a week). Doesn't it make you dream, smile, want to visit?

My thanks to ipiroro.

03 January 2007

Maré: A Great Place to Rest and Relax

Photo by Laurent Guiader, 2006.

As we had an early departure for Maré (by early I mean the taxi to the airport arrived at 5 am) and thus an early arrival, Laurent, Sophie, Pablo and I spent the first day resting and relaxing. The last few days leading up to our departure had been a little busy, what with Sophie taking her big exam (brevet), Laurent finishing up work, and me trying to finish up a guide I am working on (which I am still working on!) and getting everything ready for our trip. Pablo was busy learning how to pull himself up to wander around whatever room he happened to be in.

Maré, being quiet and secluded, was the perfect place for R&R. The first day, we settled in, napped, visited the hotel pool (pictured above) and went for a walk on the beach and a roll in the sand (Pablo and I). We also just sat on our terrace and enjoyed the view:

Photo by Laurent Guiader, 2006.

01 January 2007

Happy New Year from New Caledonia!

Photo by Laurent Guiader, 2006.

All of us in New Caledonia wish all of you wherever you are a VERY HAPPY and HEALTHY 2007. One of the first in the world to celebrate the New Year, along with Sydney and Auckland, Nouméa's skies lit up at midnight as fireworks painted the sky. From Ilôt Maitre to Baie des Citrons to Anse Vata and beyond, it seemed as if all the world were happy with the dawn of a new year. Boats, little and tall, tooted their horns, cars beeped out their drivers' joy and laughter and popping champagne filled the air in Nouméa's early hours. All the best for a magnificent and memorable year!