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Oui, Oui, Nouvelle Caledonie

Written on: Friday September 5th, 2008

Leaving Vanuatu, we were once again forced into our quarters for the second crossing: this one to New Caledonia.  Fortuntely, this one was only scheduled for three days, and in reality it only took a shade over two, as we had consistent 20-plus knot winds from the south east.  Timing worked out well and we hit the Havannah Canal as the tides were going in, allowing us to sail unimpeded to Noumea, the capital of the country.  As an extra bonus, we were greeted by a school of playful dolphins just a few miles from the marina.  They swam at the bow of the boat, jumping and doing rolls...even swimming upside down to look  at us for extended periods of time!  Wicked cool!

New Cal is a French colony, and this fact is very apparent the moment you arrive.  English is rarely spoken, the food is wonderful, the people attractive, and the prices outrageous.  A beer at a normal bar is 9USD; at a nightclub it is 15!  Average dinners are 30 USD, with bottom of the barrel street food snacks over 10.  So much for my budget.

Nonetheless, Jesse and I were ready to get off the boat, and hoofed it to the only hostel in town, offering a reasonably priced room for 61USD.  Despite all the natural beauty on the off islands, we stuck to town and enjoyed walking on land, cold coca cola, and PIZZA!  Oh my was it good!

We met some locals at the hostel who took us out for homemade, flavored rum and to see a nouvelle jazz/poetry band.  Unique and interesting on both accounts.  We did our laundry, explored, and relaxed.  Last night was my last night with the group and Jesse offered to take everybody out in honor of my last day.  We found a Spanish restaurant and made a wonderful evening of it.  The last night on the boat was good, and the whole gang remenisced while looking through all the photos before I left the boat permanently.  It will be strange continuing the trip without them...especially Jesse, who really turned into a good friend and trusted companion.

So now I await the next step.  And unfortunately, the next step is not what I had expected.  I had originally hoped to go to Solomon Islands from here, then on to Papua New Guinnea, then Indonesia.  But sticking with the overpriced theme of the island, when checking prices just to Solomons then Bali, I was quoted a best fare of 2300USD!  Obviously that isn't going to work.  The only places to fly from here are the French colonies (Fr polynesia, Wallis/Futuna, France, etc), Vanuatu, Nez Zealand or Oz.  NZ is the wrong way, as are the French colonies.  Vanuatu is booked solid for about two weeks out, which left me with Oz.  I didn't have any plans to even visit Australia again, but as it turns out, I leave for Sydney in two days.  I'll spend five nights there and head on to Indonesia, allowing ample time to dive on some desolate islands before returning to Bali to meet my mother, who is coming for a visit and her own holiday!  Woo hoo!  

So now I have a bit more time to enjoy some good wine and work on my French.  Next time I write I should be down under, mate! 

Post scripte: What a fun last day in New Cal!  Waking up early, I spent the morning in the festive market just down the steps from the hostel.  There were vendors selling everything, and a group of Polynesian dancers entertaining the crowd.  After a tasty lunch, I went back to the hostel to find my friends Vincent, Marjorie and Anh playing ping pong in the common room.  It is so fun to be somewhere where any random group of five people will include four GOOD ping pong players!  I played with these guys a few days ago, and we went at it again today.  Pure enjoyment.  But the day was blisteringly hot and Vincent recommended a trip to the beach after the games were finished.  So we piled in his vehicle (nice to know locals) and headed off to Anse Vata.  A dip in the sea cooled us off as we watched the local guys play rugby.  Then, to my amazement they brought out an American football.  This was funny.  Nobody could throw it...or catch it.  So when I stood up and signaled for the ball, they were very surprised to see an actual spiral being hurled toward them!  We played catch for fifteen minutes before they stopped and asked where I learned to play.  I told them where I was from and it all made sense. 

After the beach we went to a kava bar outside the city.  A few belts of kava in the beautifully minimalistic place was a nice end to the afternoon.  After showering back at the hotel, we went back out for a rather ritsy French dinner.  I chose Maxi Carpaccio de la Mer:  raw swordfish, salmon and tuna slices complimented by a wonderful bordeaux.  MmmmmM!  Afterward we strolled down the boulevard and settled at the only microbrew bar in the country.  The band was playing and the drinks were flying as this was not only my lasy night in New Caledonia, but also Anh's.  We got back at 2:30am, and hit the ping pong table for another hour before drifting off to sleep! 

It was a wonderful end to a wonderful time in New Cal, and the hospitality of Vincent and Marjorie only made it all the more enjoyable!