Saturday, 10 October 2015

Bonjour Bob!

Lifou, New Caledonia
When deciding to travel somewhere, we should always ask ourselves 4 questions:
1.  Why do we want to go there?
2.  What do we want to see/ learn?
3.  Where do we want to go within our destination?
4.  Who do we want to meet?
Sun, surf, sand...... bliss!
Stunning reflection of the boat on the water is clearer than the actual boat above!
I realise the answers will be quite, quite different, when asked before travel, and then if we ask ourselves the same question, when we return from travel.
Before heading off to New Caledonia,  we decided to prepare ourselves for the task ahead: Learn French!  So when we received a Helpx request from a French-speaking fella, we put the book away and we jumped on the chance to learn basic French from a real teacher. Thibaut arrived, prepared for a lesser challenge than we presented: for starters, we took several attempts just to pronounce his name correctly!!
The beauty is overwhelming!
It was downhill from there....... the basics took forever, simply because the English tongue is not used to all the softly rolled r's and petulant mouth shapes required to emit some of the romantic-sounds of le petite Francais.  However, after a week of daunting challenge,  belly-felt laughs and endless repetition, Thibaut left and we felt smugly in control of the basics.  We could say hello (bonjour), good bye (au revoir), baguette (bread) and fromage (cheese).  Mike also had a phrase which indicated we could not eat egg, due to his egg allergy.  Right!  We were ready to conquer Napolean Bonaparte, with our command of basic French!
The sand at Chateaubriand Bay is the finest, softest ground up coral sand.  Superb!  And it holds it's shape!  Wish every sandpit had this kind of sand for children to experience.
We were wholly and woefully unprepared for landing in a geographical area fiercely, patriotically, well.... FRENCH!  What were we thinking??? We had booked a car for the 4 days we were due to stay in a little AirBnB in Noumea but imagine our horror when we realised that the car's steering wheel was on the left side of the car!  And that we were to drive on the right!  It was truly crazy, the brain defaults always to it's patterns of old, ingrained, over 40-odd years of driving on the left, so it only took 5 minutes till we turned into the wrong lane, headed straight into oncoming traffic!!!  This happened several times over the first four days.  Scary!
These gorgeous little French vehicles, a cross between a shopping trolley and a golf cart.  Fiat.  It has just the two front seats and a luggage boot.  Must be super-economical to drive!!
Driving was hair-raising, spine-chilling and downright terrifying, kinda like being in a roller-coaster ride, with no seat-belt!  My butt was constantly clenched tightly in fear, it felt firmer than doing rigorous aerobic workout classes!  Anyway, we eventually arrived at our destination, sans GPS, only with a map, and a compass.  A what?? Yes, you heard right!  A compass!! My beloved decided to leave his iPhone behind, and take a compass instead, so we could know where we were headed!  Only, neither him nor I know how to actually use a compass accurately!!  But miraculously, after stopping to ask a couple of people along the way (both times, neither could speak English but pointed us in the right direction), we got to our first destination.  We also never knew how big the mainland was!
Shutters, shutters everywhere!

Every window is shuttered or has rolling garage doors over to protect the homes interior from the heat!

Windows are smaller than what we are used to in New Zealand.

Decorative detail on these shutters show the beautiful symbol of peace and tranquility.

Creating cool interiors.  Shutting out the sun.

We stayed in a delightful AirBnB for 4 nights, in a wooden Balinese fare in Evelyne's garden in Mont Dore, Noumea.  There were 3 very friendly cats, Bob, Titi and Zhuzhu.  We couldn't make out which was which, so we just called them all Bob.  Bonjour Bob!  
We had the pool to ourselves and explored the local area at leisure, especially the Boulangerie (bakery) 3 minutes walk away.  French breads and pastries - wow!!  One day we set off to explore the north to La Foa.  The area is dry, scrubby and Cowboy Country.  Yep, there are real French cowboys, with Stetsons, boots and cattle.  And horses.  Big dry horse Ranches.  Very interesting.  It was so hot that we didn't dare venture further than La Foa, and no-one could speak much, if any English, on any of our stops.  It felt like we were Earthlings landed on Mars, where all the road-signs, shops signs and language was Martian, and we were the only ones not speaking it!!  Now I know what it must feel like for other travelers who have limited English, and arrive in English-speaking countries!!  Even in places like India and Thailand, I never felt quite so out of my depth!  
This is a Lifou island cat.  But we also called him Bob.  Bonjour Bob!
Anyone for a game of ball?  Island style!  Coconut-ball!

We then flew to Lifou Island, cause that's what Henri highly recommended, having lived there with his wife for some time (in Katikati, people call him French Henry!).  Henri makes our pizza and pain au chocolat every Friday, at our local market.  We stayed in a chalet RIGHT on the beach at Baie des Chateaubriand.  STUNNING, if you can look beyond the litter (plastic, plastic everywhere, it makes me truly despair!).  Washed up on the beaches, from all over the world!
Trees are tagged by young island boys,while the colours of the water take your breath away!
Then we flew back to Noumea, to stay another 4 days at Baie des Citron in a hotel right across the road from the beach (the hotel which incidentally, was totally kitted out with plastic!!  I kid you not, from the wash basin and shower tray, to the chair, fittings, fabric coverings, doors, windows, decor - all some form of plastic!!!!)  But herein lies the jewel in the crown; in our first four days in Noumea, we had (of course) gotten horribly lost trying to find the local fresh produce market, so in sheer desperation, Mike has stopped the car, gotten out and rushed over to a group of people gathered outside a supermarket.  Apparently he'd blurted out (forget our hard-learned French), "I'm a New Zealand tourist!  We're Lost!"  We later learned that the two women were just about to meet each other for the first time, and before they could introduce themselves, this harassed tourist had burst in on their group, and they both, having been to New Zealand, had come to the rescue to explain (in English) how to get back onto the highway.  Seeing Mike was not keeping up with directions, one of the women had gallantly offered to drive there ahead of us, so we could follow her.  Once there, she gave us her email and phone number in case we became lost again.
View from within a church on Lifou

The red moon rising

The sun rising (I never did figure out how they both rose in the same spot??)
The rest of the story is the History of Newness.  New Zealand.  New Caledonia.  New Friends.  The second time we returned to Noumea after time on Lifou Island, we arranged to meet up, and both women who Mike pleaded with for directions, and their husbands drove to meet with us.  We struck up one of those precious friendships where lack of time forces the constraints of propriety apart, and allows for a kind of thrilling speed-dating-type-relationship to unfold at blinding speed!
Bays and water everywhere up North

Beautiful colours

Palm trees and Blue skies

Churches, churches to be found all over.

We spent the rest of our 4 days in the company of our new friends, as they enfolded us in their arms and transported us safely through a foreign world, making sense of everything unfamiliar for us.  Offering such generosity that we were totally blown away.  We ate lovingly prepared vegetarian meals (with no aloef - egg, in French), drank teas and coffees, chatted, shared ideas and were chauffeur-driven everywhere our hearts desired and more!  
Baguette, the French bread which inspired the chain of Subway!!
The Sunken forest.  Grand Terre Sud.
Shady picnic spot.
We were taken to the highest vantage points in the city, shown the immense nickel factories, the crazy lunar-like landscape of the South, a penal settlement from the 1800's, picnicked in a shady glade beside a waterfall = all things that we would never, ever have experienced or discovered on our own!  So when answering the original four questions of what, why, who and where, indeed the answers are very different, having returned home;  we saw so much much more than we could have dreamed of, met people we resonated with and felt drawn into an instant family connection, a powerful and lasting memory of our time in New Caledonia.  We were honoured and blessed to have experienced Nouvelle Caledonie from a French perspective, while speaking English!!  And if my Google translator is any good, below is written what I would love to be able to say:  

Nous avons laissé nos coeurs en Nouvelle-Calédonie .

(We left our hearts in New Caledonia!)