Tribute to a life in New Caledonia

Photo by Julie Harris

Photo by Julie Harris

“Live life to the fullest! You’ll go far! Never change – always stay the same!”

These are the things I remember reading in my high school yearbooks over 30 years ago. Another phrase that knocks around in my skull at the moment is, “The little things are the big things.”

And they are.

Our time here is winding down and I find myself stopped in my tracks. It isn’t enough to say I have loved it here or that I will miss it. Words such as these seem but easy, empty, to mutter while smiling, as our friends start to stay goodbye.

Photo by Julie Harris

Photo by Julie Harris

Of course I have loved it in New Caledonia – and with this second stay of 3 years, I have come to love it even more. And I have hated some of it, too. With this last time here, I’ve seen a bit more of New Caledonia’s underbelly – bloated and putrid and needing a good clean. But it has made me love it no less.

Regular readers know I have grappled with the lack of efficiency, with the lack of a true vision, with the slowness of progression on this island. But having traveled to other islands this year (Vanuatu and French Polynesia), I can tell you that New Caledonia is developed, modern, and developing at a rapid rate, in comparison. I do wish it would consider its future in more than just depletion of its natural resources. I do wish it would see the true value of its indigent cultures, its pristine waters, its towering forests, its many endemic species, its talented youth and wise women – and thus its potential for true sustainability. I do hope it will never let itself be bought or raped or poisoned – that it helps us keep our foothold in good, clean living.

I do hope New Caledonia will find a way to peacefully resolve its disagreements over independence – that it will find a way to respect this nation’s people – the Kanaks, the Caldoches and the Metros. That this nation’s peoples will find a way to respect one another, work through their racism, work through their fear, and work through and change this country’s deepening inequality. Work must be done to lower the cost of living and to spread the wealth. Barring such work, I am afraid New Caledonia will see even greater educational and social disparities, greater crime and even greater fear. All of this can be avoided, but an inclusive, far-and-wide-reaching vision is needed.

Yes, I will miss New Caledonia. Some days I ask myself what I will miss more: New Caledonia or the life it afforded me.

New Caledonia has provided us with such an amazing life. If you’re here, you know how beautiful it is, especially as you get up north or off to its islands. If you’re not here, all you have to do is look at these photos. Having traveled a fair bit in recent years, I do think New Caledonia is still an unexplored and under-appreciated island. Its waters are clear, its coral are healthy, it is home to sea turtles, dugongs, tropical fish, sharks, dolphins and passing whales. Its “terre rouge” is just stunning. It is quiet. It is calm. And it is still healthy.

The life I’ve had here has been one of “no stress“. With views like these from my “office” (see below), with walks along the promenade, with dips in a warm, clean ocean, I’ve been able to think, to be and to create. Clown fish have kissed my snorkeling mask and brought me among life’s greatest happinesses. I have swum for hours, yes hours over the last 3 years, with sea turtles nearly my size. I have spent that time you lose track of underwater, just being, surrounded by tropical fish and marine life. I have known what it is like to slow down so much you feel the slowing of your pulse and the utter peace of mind that is always waiting for you to get there.

Photo by Julie Harris

Photo by Julie Harris

Life here has also meant that I’ve been able to live and work in peace, with palm trees, and crystal waters and long, happy beach walks. It’s also meant we’ve been able to:

  • Pet lions in New Zealand
  • Swim with a dolphin and dive into the Great Barrier Reef in Australia
  • See samurai and sumo in Japan
  • Hang out with wallabies, wombats and Tasmanian Devils in Tasmania
  • Witness the splendor of the Sydney Fireworks
  • Stand on the edge of a live volcano in Vanuatu
  • Swim with sharks and rays in French Polynesia

New Caledonia has served as a base from which we could jump, explore, grow bigger and more open, and return. Without our lives here, we would not have known such adventures, here and in other parts of the Pacific. It has been an entryway, a passage, into both a peaceful and exciting life.

Photo by Julie Harris

Photo by Julie Harris

In the end, it is the little things that are the big things, though. It’s the ice cream guy at the Baie des Citrons, it’s the smiling faces who know you by name in the post office, the shops. It’s the judo classes and the windsurfing lessons and the art classes and the walks by the bay. It’s the biggest shrimp you’ll ever see and the no tomatoes or onions for 3 months. It’s the tabloid newspaper and the island radio stations, the twinkling lights at nightfall and the scary drive to the airport. It’s the regular workouts with your friends and the coffees and the lunches at Ptit Café. It’s that turtle who just happens to be there and that day at Ilot Maitre. It’s those trips to Ile des Pins that are forever etched in your brain, in your heart, with Nouka and his family. It’s the “Tata bisous”, and the thought that we’ll always be here, doing what we’re doing, now and for always, no matter what.

Tata bisous, ma belle. I love you and will miss you.

It’s been a while … at New Caledonia Today

Photo Julie Harris

Photo Julie Harris

What the heck happened? Several among you have sent me messages to know if I am still in New Caledonia. Where did I go? Why did I stop writing? The truth is, 2015 hit us with a wallop. In mid-January I found myself in the emergency room and then a few days in the hospital with every battery of heart and brain test you can imagine. If anyone wants to know what medical care is like – or my experience of it – in New Caledonia, shoot me a note and I’ll think about blogging about it. Yes, New Caledonia has trained medical staff and all the modern equipment (if perhaps in limited quantities). Yes, hygiene is good. Yes, the food is bad (but isn’t all hospital food bad?). Yes, it’s horrible waiting around all day in a hospital bed. But again, I think it’s the same everywhere. Would I want to spend a lot of time in the hospitals/clinics here? No. But then I wouldn’t want to do that anywhere. February saw a world school trip to Vanuatu which was out of this world – and just ahead of Cyclone Pam. We were extremely lucky to see and taste and smell the beauty Vanuatu has to offer before it experienced such destruction. We met and spent many an hour with the locals on several islands (Efate, Malekula, Santo, Tanna) – and our minds and hearts will be forever etched with their kindnesses, with their pure happiness with next to nothing. March and April have seen full-on work and school for Pablo and I, without a break. We’ve learned that we are moving to the south of France for August of this year. And so starts the return move machine. We’ve purchased our around-the-world return tickets (they feel like around-the-world, but as we’re not returning to New Caledonia, they aren’t really), started sorting our things to sell and to give, have met with movers, talked with the quarantine about moving our pet and are facing the inevitable end of our stay here. What has been happening in New Caledonia?

And of course we still have the car accidents and the road deaths, the random fights and the stolen vehicles. We have the high cost of living and problems with the nickel plants, the polluted beaches and the political disputes. On the bright side, we have leopard shark love in central Nouméa (see below), the most beautiful weather you can imagine, stunning views, a pristine lagoon, clean air and a high quality of life. We are free of much of the crime we see on TV in the United States and Europe, we live simply, unconsumed by consumerism, we live with the sun and spend much of our lives outside. Would you live here, if you could (and you don’t)? I guarantee you would miss it, having had it for a few weeks, months or years. I’ll do what I can to keep writing before we leave. If there are any topics you’d like to know more about before this chapter closes, shout, and I’ll see what I can do to accommodate you. Knowing you’re there keeps me thinking about all the best things there are to share about life in New Caledonia.

New Caledonia in solidarity

With the horrifying events this last week in France, New Caledonia has stood in solidarity with France. Within hours of the news on Thursday morning our time, 1,000 people met at the Place des Cocotiers to express their shock, pain, disbelief and solidarity with the victims, and with France. Others gathered throughout the day throughout New Caledonia.

It is very hard for those of us who have friends and family in Paris and France as we text, Skype and email our support, our love and our encouragements back 22,000 kilometres – and harder still for those in France. Facebook and Twitter feeds document living with sirens, terror in unexpected alarms, deep sadness during moments of silence, anger at such dramatic and sudden loss, a complete defense of freedom of expression.

Photo Victor Raison, Les Nouvelles calédoniennes

Photo Victor Raison, Les Nouvelles calédoniennes

At least 1 million people are expected to march in Paris today in solidarity against this week’s terrorist attacks in the city. New Caledonia will be with them, among but many around the world. 1 million will march. How many millions will be there in heart, mind and spirit?

Best northern New Caledonia experience ever with Brousse O’thentik

Photo Julie Harris

Photo Julie Harris

Looking for a bit of the “back of beyond”, marooned on a desert island, with only a knife, matches and a little salt and pepper to get you by? Have we got the adventure for you!

A few weeks ago, we ventured back up to Poindimié for a long weekend. It’d been a while since we’d been up north, and we missed it – the crashing waves at night (and the niggling feeling, “Will we be swallowed up whole in our slumber?”), the fresh air, the friendly people, the break from everyday life. With the aim of doing some geocaching and discovering the Poindimié area a little more, off we flew on our next island adventure.

Photo Julie Harris

Photo Julie Harris

Casting about for something to do on our first full-day visit, our hotel (Hotel Tieti) advised against visiting the waterfalls (nearly all dried up due to a drought), but suggested a walking adventure or a tribal visit. We opted for a bit of both with Alain, of Brousse O’thentik. Though we had visited the Oua Tom tribe 18 months before, this visit was as instructive, if not more so. Unfortunately, we were unable to meet the chief (and faire la coutume – offer our gifts, show respect and ask for permission to visit his lands), but Alain spent all morning with us explaining many of the Melanesian traditions and customs (and showed us the lands anyway (leaving the gifts with the chief the next day), ending with a lesson on making bougna and properly throwing a fishing net).

Photo Julie Harris

Photo Julie Harris

In the north, the tribes live very simply. Ernest (the chief), had for example, only just purchased a kitchen stove (as you can see in the photo). Retired, he and his family had lived for years with an outdoor fire to cook their food. No electricity, no warm water, no running toilet, no washing machine (and he is considered prosperous, as he is a chief and owns quite a bit of land, which he cultivates with bananas, root vegetables, coconuts, etc.), a visit puts our lives into perspective. No books, no toys, one mattress, one hut where the four family members sleep, a hose for a shower, no refrigerator, no car, but organic food (he uses natural, rather than chemical, pesticides), access to fresh fish and a strong community.

Photo Julie Harris

Photo Julie Harris

We were very impressed to learn more of Kanak law during our visit. The Kanaks have their rules and punishments in addition to the French law, and to my mind, they are much stricter. Alain gave us an example. Recently some youth stole the pastor’s 2 pigs. According to Kanak tradition, the pastor is a highly respected member of the community. Any harm to him or his property is gravely punished – the only more highly respected member of the community is the chief. Just after the 2 pigs were stolen, the 200 members of the tribe were summoned by the chief: he pressed them to identify the guilty parties (or to come forward). Eventually, 2 young men came forward. They were publicly beaten within an inch of their lives.  Alain tells us they were right to come forward early, for it they had not, if they had ever been found out, they would have been banished from the tribe. To regain their place in the tribe, they would have had to replace the pigs, repay the pastor via work or other ways, request forgiveness of the pastor and the chief and the community, and make an offering to each member of the tribe. Alain explained that rather than face banishment, youth (and adults) go away to work to be able to repay their debts and rejoin the tribe – as being ostracized results in much harder lives (homeless, without work, no support, hungry, etc.).

Having learned so much with Alain, we decided to spend another day with him the next day. Brousse O’thentik provides cultural visits in the north in an “a la carte” fashion. If you want to go biking and learn how to fish for shrimp, Alain will take you. If you want to go hiking up the mountains for an incredible view of the lagoon, he’ll take you (and you’ll learn about all the plants on the way). Is canoe-ing and net fishing your deal? He’ll take you. How about doing stand-up on wooden rafts or discovering the waterfalls or discovering the countryside on a horse? Alain and his brother offer all of these visits at reasonable prices – and he is not only professional, but funny, personable and a fountain of knowledge. Does he do these visits in English? He assures me he’s been working on his English. If you speak a bit of French (even if only a little), my guess is you’ll be able to communicate and you will learn a lot from him (he has a pedagogical, hand-on approach, which accompanied by gestures, will make sudden sense in context – throwing a fishing net, climbing, doing stand-up, cleaning fish, etc.).

So what’s this adventure I’m talking about?

Photo Julie Harris

Photo Julie Harris

Well, before the adventure (and the one I have for you), I am somewhat ashamed to say that I didn’t know how to:

1. Fish with a net

2. Make a meal on a desert island.

Many of you may be experts in the field, but fishing and cooking with nothing are not among my skills – well until now. We had a survival course of sorts during our one-day outing with Alain to Ilot Tibarama the next day.

We met Alain at the dock at 7:45am with protective shoes, bathing suits, sun protection, snorkeling equipment and plenty of water. He provided all the rest (breakfast, lunch supplies, a few wooden bowls, chopsticks, a net, more snorkeling equipment, table, coffee, water, lemonade, matches, salt and pepper, a knife or two) and off we went to a sliver of an island (I like to think of it as “Gilligan’s Island”), 5-10 minutes away by boat.

Photo Julie Harris

Photo Julie Harris

When we landed, we off-loaded the boat and said goodbye until 4pm that afternoon. Things stored away, off we went around the island in search of fish (which Alain taught us to look for, not on land or in water, but from the tops of trees). Parrot fish dine on coral and when eating in shallow waters, their beaks dip down and their blue tails stick out of the water – this is what we were looking for. We were also looking for schools of sardines. Unlucky at 8am, we collected coconuts and wood for later.

Back at “camp”, Alain taught us to clean some fish he had brought, in case we were unable to catch any ourselves (we did later that day, but after lunch). They had been caught 2 days before on another outing. Cleaned fish, we chopped it up for Tahitian salad, which is a raw fish salad. Table installed in the water on the beach, we chopped and seeded cucumber, chopped a carrot, sliced half of an onion, squeezed a lemon, and checked and double-checked the fish for bones.

 

Photo Julie Harris

Photo Julie Harris

Photo Julie Harris

Photo Julie Harris

Then, we learned how to make coconut milk. Alain cracked open the big coconut exterior (this is bigger than the coconut you are imagining – it is its exterior). You want the brown coconuts for this, not the green ones – and you’ll need to make sure that when you shake them, you can hear liquid sloshing about. Once he had the coconuts out, he cracked them in two with a machete – best to do with a very sharp knife or a hammer at home. This is the hardest part done. Then, we grated the coconut flesh into a bowl. Finally, we put the flesh into a tea towel and squeezed it over another bowl – out came the most delicious coconut milk you have ever tasted in your life! Who knew?

Having “cooked” the fish in lemon juice, we now added the carrots, onion and cucumber, and added the coconut milk last of all. Et voila! Tahitian salad!

Photo Julie Harris

Photo Julie Harris

We then set to grilling fish on the fire in papillottes (wrapped in aluminum), made with the wood and fronds we had gathered, and shortly, everything was ready. Tahitian salad, freshly grilled fish, another salad prepared by Alain, lemonade, water, and my, it was the most delicious meal made fresh we’d ever had.

The afternoon saw more fishing adventures, and this time, we learned how to catch parrot fish with a net. Having spotted schools of parrot fish, Alain went gingerly out into the water and placed a huge net around an area. When he gave the signal, my husband was to make a lot of noise splashing his hands in the water and shouting, to drive the fish into the nets. My son was to throw rocks to scare the fish into the direction of the nets, and I, wearing white, was to run up and down the beach waving my arms (apparently white – moving quickly – can be picked up by the fish and scares them as well). What a sight it was! A communal effort, and after several tries, we caught 4 fish and threw a 5th one back. We replenished the stocks and would feed another family.

Photo Julie Harris

Photo Julie Harris

Photo Julie Harris

Photo Julie Harris

With time at the end, after coffee, for some snorkeling in pristine waters, the day was one of our best yet. Our little Robinson Crusoe experience had taught us some new skills, brought us together as a family, and made us a new friend. We learned even more about Kanak traditions and customs and walked away the wiser in body, mind and spirit!

If this sounds like something you’d like to do – an all-day outing on a desert island, learning about life in New Caledonia and gaining some survival skills – or if any of the other activities mentioned above strike your fancy, do contact Alain at Brousse O’thentik (email: brousseothentik@hotmail.fr | mobile: 97 59 69). Tell him I sent you!

Photo Julie Harris

Photo Julie Harris

Windsurfing: Airwaves Nouméa Dream Cup 2014

With a week that started off windless, those of us who love and watch windsurfing here in New Caledonia were a little worried. We’ve known windless days at Anse Vata (Nouméa), and weeks before we’d asked our friends at Aloha Windsurfing what would happen if there were no wind for the Windsurfing World Cup, a return to the island after 19 years’ absence. “That’s not a possibility,” said Gégé, “there will be wind.”

Gégé was right. The wind kicked up last Thursday and by Saturday, at 25 knots, we’d only seen wind that strong on pre-cyclone days. Thank goodness the wind held, the sun shone, and the champions from all over the world got what they’d flown so far for. Amazing! Sunday (23 November) saw just an inkling less wind and the fans were out en masse for the spectacular finals (watch the video above to get a sense of the extraordinary sailing and excitement).

The race in Nouméa was hailed again and again by the competitors as “one of the best spots in the world for the slalom“. As the newly crowned 2014 World Cup Champion, Antoine Albeau, stated, “The conditions were incredible, proof that this course must return to the pro circuit.”

Windsurfing Finals 2014 NC

Photo Julie Harris

Chatting with Sarah Quita-Offringa of Aruba, who placed 3rd in the race, she said this was the best spot for windsurfing she’d been to all year – just incredible sailing out there! The jubilation was all over her face.

Unfortunately, after winning the semi-final with a fabulous finish well ahead of her competitors, Sarah’s wishbone broke during the final race. We’d seen her go down and struggle to keep her sail steady. She says next year she’ll be ready and better organised – instead of thinking her wishbone will hold (it had already been breaking before the final) – she’ll be ready with another one. When she said she hoped to see us next year, we were surprised. She said, “Everyone is so happy with this race. They want it to come back!”

What a success for everyone – the competitors, the local windsurfers, the organisers, and the fans. Congratulations to all the competitors, including Matthieu Blavette, our son’s windsurfing trainer. You were all breathtaking to watch!

I do so hope Nouméa will see this race again in its near future: it’s time to share this site and conditions once again with the world.

To see all of the marvelous pictures and videos from this event, see: http://www.airwaves-noumeadreamcup.nc/en/ and http://www.pwaworldtour.com/index.php?id=2075

Photo Julie Harris

Photo Julie Harris

Geocaching in New Caledonia

bann_votre_passport_en

Geocachers’ delight: Treasures on Pleasure Island – or New Caledonia, for those of you who like exact locations. Geocaching, as many of you know, has been around for years now (14 to be exact) as well as for about 5 years in New Caledonia.

What is geocaching? According to the official geocaching site, it’s “a real-world, outdoor treasure hunting game using GPS-enabled devices. Participants navigate to a specific set of GPS coordinates and then attempt to find the geocache (container) hidden at that location.” In other words: great fun, for kids and adults alike – about 6 million of us worldwide!

 

Imagine my geeky excitement when on the back page of a newspaper I recently discovered that there’s a geocaching game going on in Northern New Caledonia. Way to go, North Province Tourism! Really! What a way to get people travelling the island, discovering its gems, and learning more about the country beyond its amazing outlying island beaches. With just your GPS (or smartphone, with or without the app), you can go off on an adventure to discover North’s most incredible views and wonderful people.

What’s the general idea of the New Caledonia geocaching game?

According to the North Province Tourism’s official site:

The Passport for the North Geo Tour is made up of 20 geocaches, numbered from 1 to 20. You can attempt the full circuit, in either direction. Allow 7 to 10 days if you want to look for all the caches. You can also concentrate on a single region depending on what you fancy.

Set out to look for the best-kept secrets and the most amazing spots in Northern New Caledonia, using the 20 geocaches hidden around the province. As you find the geocaches, complete your Passport for the North, so you can win collector geotags and holidays in the North Province.

Where are the geocaches hidden on the island?

geo4_petroglyphesAll over the island, but the geocaches in the game are found in the Northern Province – in Canala, St. Thomas, Poindimie, Hienghène, Koumac, Ouaco, Foué Beach, Col de Tango, Col de Poya and more. Wow!

The full geocache list is here.

What can you win?

Holiday packages in the North and maybe even a collector geotag. I mentioned a few months ago how much I loved Poindimie. Well, in December, you can win a one-night stay for 2 adults in a beach bungalow in the Tieti hotel with breakfast. That’s just an example! The full list of prizes is here.

How do you win?

Well, you need to find at least 5 geocaches to participate in the monthly random draw (for the holiday packages) and 10 geocaches to win a collector geotag.

geo18_tangoEach geocache found will win you 1 point. When you stay, or dine, in participating hotels and restaurants in the North, you will earn 3 and 2 points each, respectively.

When you have 20 points, you can drop in your completed Passport. The first 100 forms with at least 10 completed caches will receive a collector geotag (the game started in August of this year). A random draw takes place on the first Tuesday of each month, to win holidays in the North.

Even if you don’t collect a geotag or a holiday in the draw, honestly, speaking as a geocaching lover, you’ll win a wonderful way to have discovered the North, just by participating.

And if you don’t manage to get up North soon, you can certainly start in Nouméa or wherever you are. Check out the geocaches at Ouen Toro and Fort Tereka – and elsewhere in New Caledonia (including on Ilot Canard) here!

geo9_hiengheneIf you’re new to geocaching, I recommend reading the tips and tricks and starting with a fairly large, traditional geocache. Take a pen or pencil, and something to leave behind in the cache, and have fun!

We might just see you out there.

 

Making chocolate in New Caledonia

Photo Julie Harris

Photo Julie Harris

If you had told me a year ago that not only can you make your own (healthy, yes healthy!) chocolate in expensive places like islands in the South Pacific (where much is imported and little is mass-produced locally), but that you can do so easily, I would have said, “Do you have another bridge to sell?”

I’m here to tell you that I have no bridges, and I am no salesperson, but I can attest that chocolate can not only be made easily, but that it can be made by persons as young as five. Yes, indeed. (The chocolate we made is also healthier, tastier and cheaper than what you can find in the stores – can you get better than that?)

Just yesterday we attended a specially designed chocolate-making workshop for children by two extremely experienced and knowledgeable people here in Nouméa, Kimberly Grace and Sylvain Broucke. From the beginning, we were welcomed with friendly smiles, enthusiasm and kindness. We were 5 children and 4 adults, excited and happy to be learning something new.

Cacao fruitFirst, we were introduced to the different properties of cacao, or cocoa bean, which provides the basic ingredients for chocolate. We learned about its different parts (cocoa butter, cocoa powder), the fruit it comes from, where it grows (yes, it grows even in New Caledonia, though it is not for sale). Then we learned about the other ingredients we use in chocolate and had a number of interesting taste tests of the individual ingredients (some quite wonderful, others, well, surprising).

Photo Julie Harris

Photo Julie Harris

Then onto chocolate making! We worked first in groups through all the steps (melting coconut oil and cocoa butter being more like a science experiment – so fun!), patiently measuring out the ingredients (including learning about flat tablespoon measures), whisking, tasting (tasting is very important!) and setting in the freezer and finishing up in the fridge. We then moved on to working individually, the children choosing which chocolates they wanted to make.

Most importantly, we used organic products and products as close to their natural state (our children now know what refined and unrefined are and why this is important) as could be found (all of which can be found in Nouméa). Truly a boon, when thinking about our health and the curative properties of chocolate. We made a milk chocolate without milk (substituting in almond butter instead), dark chocolate and white chocolates.

We left with our children-friendly recipes in English (including one recipe for treasure chocolate, another super-easy chocolate mousse and a great chocolate sauce), and more recipes for the adults (in English or French). We left, that is, after more conversation, a last surprise taste-test, and packing away our chocolates into our coolers.

Photo Julie Harris

Photo Julie Harris

Photo Julie Harris

Photo Julie Harris

Truly a magnificent morning well spent (especially on a rainy day) – and one that you, too, can enjoy by contacting Kimberly and Sylvain at kgbeaudoin@gmail.com. We’d be up for doing the workshop again, if anyone would like to join us (or you can contact them independently of us, of course). I believe the workshop can be done in English or French, that the minimum age for children is five, that each child should be accompanied by an adult and that the maximum number of children is five. The price is very reasonable per participant (3 500 CFP), given the workshop lasts 2.5 hours and all ingredients and equipment are provided. The price doesn’t even cover all the fun you have learning together!

You might like to check all of the above with Kimberly and Sylvain when you sign up. Do so quickly – they’re leaving New Caledonia indefinitely on further adventures in mid-October.

Photo Julie Harris

Photo Julie Harris