Tuesday, 5 November 2013

New Caledonia, Noumea - 4/11/13

We woke up yesterday to the gentle sounds of French music, the kind you would be serenaded with in a fancy restaurant, and a small child calling out 'papa, papa.' Noumea is just so sweet. Very few people actually speak English, and I can't help but giggle every time somebody lets out a string of French. I really can't help myself - there's just something so charming about the French language that I love. It was a real novelty for a while, wandering around in a foreign country where nobody understands what we're saying. We've got an English/French dictionary, which makes life slightly easier, but trying to explain that you'd like to buy a spring to go inside a winch is almost impossible, even with the aid of pictures and some solitary translated words. 

We haven't been able to eat at a restaurant, which is kind of annoying. We wander in, look at the menu out of habit, then wander out again when we remember we don't speak French. We could ask somebody, but I can't exactly get them to translate the whole menu in order to see if they have anything we want. The other day I felt like a cold drink - a slushy, or an iced tea or a smoothie or something refreshing. We went past a cafe that seemed to sell desserts, and I could see them making a milkshake, but I couldn't really ask 'do you have anything not milky?' So we kept walking. Maybe it would help if we actually knew what we wanted.

There's usually somebody around that understands at least a bit of English though - we found a little pastry shop yesterday filled with delicious looking things. 'English?' I asked the shopkeeper. 'Non non non' she said, emphatically shaking her head and looking slightly annoyed. So I just stood there staring at all the pretty little treats. They were like presents, all wrapped up and decorated so nicely, but I had no idea what was inside them. Eventually another customer came in - he spoke broken English and was very enthusiastic about all the desserts, so was happy to help. I picked out a little round thing in the end. 'Chocolate, Oui Oui! Very good!' was the description. It turned out to be a little cake, and was indeed very good.

The people here are lovely. They're all so chilled out and friendly, but I get the sense that some of them are slightly irritated that I don't speak the language. I don't even know a little, which would get me by. I've figured out that if I want one of something, I just grunt. I think my pronunciation is pretty accurate for that at least. I can't even say the words in the dictionary, I just point to them. I wish I had come across even a little bit of French in my lifetime - I understand 'Merci,' and 'oui,' but that's about it. 

On our first day here a cruise ship was in town, and we were looking through the market stalls for a replacement wedding ring for Garth. The prices were all in AUD, and we asked how much it was in the local currency. Garth did some quick math and figured out that she wanted even more in Pacific Francs than the AUD worked out to be. We somehow managed to casually tell her that we were staying on a yacht and not with the cruise ship - the price immediately dropped in half and she ended up chatting to us for about ten minutes. So the people are obviously more hospitable to yachties than to all the regular tourists - the French do love their yachts. 

The marina here is really lovely - it's quite fancy without feeling too posh. The people are nice, there's free wifi and the vege market is next door - pretty much all my requirements for a good stay. There's a little fairground next to the vege market, that seems to only run at night. It just has rides for little kids but the kidliwinks were all having a blast. It was lit up with so many flashing lights - a little section of the night shining  brightly through the darkness. It was a little bit surreal, peering into this tiny haven of fluorescent fun. 

The edge of the marina is lined with soft coral. The part that's usually rocks and garbage and concrete is packed full of beautiful fish and bright colours, underneath crystal clear water. That's pretty special. The coral continues along next to the walkway as you leave, so you can wander along looking down at all the pretty things - we haven't been snorkeling yet, but we hardly need to.

There's a little cafe right outside the marina. On Friday night they had a live band playing and the music drifted out through the night, bringing with it suggestions of fun and cocktails. The people inside were lively, dancing to the music and having a blast. When we eventually heard the band stop at 10pm, there was a muttering from the confused patrons. And then they started singing without the aid of background music, getting louder and more enthusiastic as they went along. We could hear the guys from the band come onto the mic a few times, telling them that it really was closing time and they had to go. But the singing and dancing continued on for a while - they didn't want the evening to end. They weren't drunk or rowdy, just collectively having a good time. And that pretty much sums up the general attitude here - everyone appears to just be enjoying life. 

Which probably has something to do with the food. There are SO many cheeses and types of bread. The vegetable market is half fruit and vegetables, half pastry stalls. There's a huge variety of sweet, dense bread, kind of like croissants. It's a bit strange having a sandwich on sweet bread, but it was the only bready looking thing we could find without a sugary glaze on top. Then there's the pastries - so many pastries. They're all filled with something, or sprinkled with something... The apple parcels are my favourite so far, along with the chocolate croissants. Garth is loving the mass amounts of doughnuts. Then there's the cabinets of pretty little desserts - all tiny and extravagant, covered in cream or fruit or icing and filled with various exciting things. I was trying to be good at first - I thought I'd just have one treat. And then I decided that it would be unfair to the French if I didn't at least try one of everything... I haven't moved onto the desserts yet, because they're expensive and decadent, but I think I'll get a little tray before we go. 

Our meals have been pretty French so far - our first night here we had a French stick, ham and cheese. Although I made Garth eat a carrot as well. Last night we just had wine with cheese and crackers, so I think we're doing well. We've been eating big lunches - there's a delicious take away place in town which is easier for us - we can just point to what we want. We tried asking what was in the food, but the lady just replied in French. And then she'd repeat the French word very slowly when we didn't understand. Everything there is good, so we've decided it doesn't matter what's inside - it's fun being surprised!

I also managed to find me a coconut at the vege market. They have stacks of them which they cut open and stick a straw in for you. Yes! They're not the huge green kind we had in Fiji, but they're not ripe yet either so the juice is refreshing and delicious.

Our provisions for our next trip are going to involve kidney beans, tinned tomatoes, cheese and bread. That's it. We're done with food. Garth tried to send me to the supermarket yesterday but I legitimately couldn't find it, and everything was closed anyway. So we'll try again today. It was probably too dangerous leaving me on my own anyway... I want all the French food. 

We went for a walk on Saturday, unintentionally. There were just weird fittings at the marina instead of taps, so we couldn't plug the hose into them. We went in search of a hardware store but the only one open was really, really far away - we spent the whole day walking around. But it was really pretty and we got to see a bit of the real city instead of just the centre of town. There were beautiful little streets, people walking around with bread sticks, and I found an awesome Tarzan tree with vines hanging down everywhere. Garth refused to swing on it with me because he's a buzzkill.

Just when my legs were about to collapse, Garth decided we were going to climb up a steep hill. I had no desire to walk any more, especially in an upwards direction, but I had promised to follow my husband off cliffs on our wedding day, so up the hill we went. The view was spectacular. You could see the ocean in almost all directions, with all the little houses nestled in amongst the hills. It looked like the city should have cobblestone streets. It has beautiful stone walls instead, which isn't that far off.

The city centre is beautiful too, with massive trees everywhere. The parks are filled with them, and they have to be really ancient - the trunks are huge. The shops are all so quaint - they have stacks of fake flowers outside them, lining the streets. I'm not sure if they were for the holiday on Friday or if they're always there, but it's beautiful. Everybody is walking around carrying bunches of flowers - the shops appear to work in the same way as a florist. You pick which ones you want and arrange them in a bunch with some greenery, and they no longer look fake. They even wrap them up properly with pretty paper.

There's not much else to say about Noumea - all we've done is walk and eat. Which has been marvelous. We anchored at an island very close to the city last night so Garth could go kiting. There's a resort here but it seems to be a hotspot for kiters - we could see at least 20 kites from the boat at any given time, it was crazy. So we went to go ashore quite late in the afternoon to launch his new kite, but the dinghy started playing up and we had to row back. Which was unfortunate, but we had both wine and cheese onboard and the sun was about to set by the time we got back, so it wasn't a bad way to spend the evening. 

We have to go back into town today to do the immigration paperwork, and hopefully we'll come back here tonight. Garth wants to keep going to Australia, so we'll probably leave tomorrow or the next day. There's not a lot of wind on the cards, but we should still get there. I want to grab a souvenir before we leave and stock up on pastries, and then we should be good to go. Once the boat looks less like a cyclone hit it.

Xxx Monique 

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