Thursday, July 09, 2009

Thursday 9th July, 2009: shopping confessions

Another cloudy day, alas. We are lapsing into slower and slower time, and breakfast is a long leisurely affair. I have finally come to terms with the knowledge that I really am not terribly keen on croissants. The occasional one is fine, but after two or three days I don't want any more. I reached that point a while ago. I am not a big bread eater either, nor cheese. My mother likes some soft brie or camembert every day. I eat cheese maybe once a week.

With the slow pace and the cloudy weather, not much was on the agenda yesterday. We are pretty much out of attractions. Our old Lonely Planet Guidebook gives some examples of things to do like...

"the brochures say that (Yaté) is reminiscent of an Alpine village, but in reality it is just a small hamlet overshadowed by an enormous white power station generating so much electricity that the village is enveloped in a constant crackle and hum."

"Today this gritty little town (Thio)with its colonial building and bare surrounding mountains is a cheerless place where shop windows and homes are covered with a rusty hue."

"Hidden by the central mountain chain the east coast mining region ... tends to leave travellers in a mixed state of awe and unease. The mountains droop with the burden of mining and most people's lives are veiled by the sombre day-to-day burden of work."

Unless you are big into hiking, camping, active water sports like scuba diving, parasailing, windsurfing, and full-on snorkelling, there isn't a great deal more to do than we have already done.

We look out of our balcony and count the swimmers. Today there were a couple of fishermen.

We finally roused ourselves to go out around noon. We thought there might be some interesting shops at Le Meridien, a big classy resort nearby. This shows how desperate we are now for things to look at. It being noon, everything was closed until 1.30 or 2 pm. Fortunately we didn't see anything in the shop windows in the hotel that we couldn't live without. Pearls are lovely, of course, but mostly these shops cater to the Japanese tourists.

Next on the agenda was to shop at the supermarket, to keep supplies of essentials up. We opted for the supermarket at Port Plaisance this time. They had almost nothing in the way of fresh fruit and vegetables. No bananas (shock horror! We are in a banana crisis!), no avocadoes, no pawpaw or pineapple. They do have local vanilla pods in a jar at the cheese counter though, so I bought three of those. I bought whitlof because I love it, and a lentil salad from the deli. That would be lunch today. Whitlof leaves make excellent scoops for things like lentil salad.

Our freezer now holds five different kinds of ice-cream. Chocolate for Mum, coconut (very rich) to go with the intense vanilla (nearly finished), the butter pecan for me, and a refill of the vanilla for Michael.

Shopping always includes chocolate. Cadbury Fruit and Nut for me, everything else for Mum and Michael.

Sodas are included - Coke Zero for Michael and Orangina (light and regular) for me. I join with Julie and Martin in having developed a taste for this drink. They discovered it on their honeymoon in France, and I will take some home for them (if I don't drink it first). Michael claims with no evidence at all that it is just like Fanta, but there is a world of difference. Michael can never resist a baguette, particularly as they are still warm from the bakery. I don't think a baguette has made it home (or even to the boot of the car) intact. I see at the checkout lines that it is de rigeur to pull off the ends of one's baguettes and eat them as soon as possible. I thought I'd try a palmier to see whether I liked it better than croissants.

As we come into the last days of the holiday I realise that my swimming opportunities are dwindling. The water temperature is 23 C, so despite the cloudy day I decide to swim. Nobody else joins me. I swam along the rocks where the fisherman could be seen above, and saw an array of tropical delights. Anemones with clownfish, a seasnake slithering away from me, coral with iridescent blue tips, large brain coral and other varieties, clouds of small pale green fish, sergeant majors, moorfish, a large long squid, neon blue and yellow fish, lots of brown/yellow fish that looked like mini-sharks all lying still on the bottom, striped, coloured, spotted, clear, big, small, round, long, fish of all kinds. Then swam back to one of the pontoons, and back to shore. It was great. I have never been for a swim where I've said "I wish I hadn't done that." (Except, maybe, for the time I had to be rescued at Whale Beach, although I've had many a good story out of that.)

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Wednesday 8th July - Parc Forestier

Not every day is an active day. There is plenty of inaction around here. This is a pretty standard sight:

The entertainment centre contains lots of books, headphones for the iPhone, the score I am learning for the Verdi Requiem (next choir performance) and so forth.

The round dark object is my favourite "Flat Hat" my sister gave me. The woven bag was purchased at the Market in Place des Cocotiers on Monday.

When we managed to rouse ourselves, we went out. On our list of attractions for a non-swimming day is the Parc Forestier, the Botanic Gardens and Zoo/aviary in the hills behind Noumea.

We set out in mid-morning with map in hand, noting that the map does not run to street names apart from the major roads. That doesn't really matter, seeing there are very few street signs. We headed northeast, thanking the designer of roundabouts again, as we circled one a couple of times. The road headed up to the hills, and then seemed to peter out. It became a dirt road, and then there was a temporary traffic light around a big building site. Our guidebook has alerted us to a road elsewhere in the island in which traffic goes one way for the first twenty minutes of every hour, then the reverse direction for the remainder. We hoped this was not an example. We were pretty sure we were lost, and then, there we were. They really aren't ones for signs around here!

We entered the grounds, and began reconnoitring. Viewed the site map,

viewed the vista

viewed the grounds

and decided we would proceed down the hill to the lake and look at the aviaries of native birds, including the flightless and endangered cagou.

It was beautifully done, with lush vegetation all around. The aviary where the cagou birds are, along with the notou and other pigeons and parrots, was really well done. A kind of airlock system of doors operated to let us in and keep them in. I am not much of a one to take pictures of birds behind wire, but eventually I did.

We have noted that the fashion for boys here is to wear hoodies, and almost always with the hoods up. Fur lined ones (great for these freezing days of only 24 degrees C), polar fleece, windproof, all kinds of hoodies. Hooded boys are everywhere. Viewing the danse nuptiale of the cagou, which we were lucky enough to see, gave us a clue as to where this might have come from. The cagou have very long white crests on their heads which flip up during their courtship.

Perhaps this is the inspiration for the hoodies? (I am joking. I am pretty sure that the hoodies are a direct import of US black gangsta fashion.)

After walking around and taking some pictures and generally enjoying being out in the fresh air, we settled at the Snack le Cagou for lunch. A Hook Mister (croque monsieur) each for Michael and I, a salade au jambon for Mum, and some pommes frites to share. The menu offered many delights, including the Dimension Pig (spine in bone), the Steaklet Spotted Apple, and the Pie Chart. A rumsteak perhaps? How could I have gone past them?

From Noumea2009

We returned via a scenic road (they almost all are, it being an island, and hilly) and back to reading and knitting.

I'm reading a terrific book - Rich Desserts and Captains Thin, by Margaret Forster. The story of the factory, the family, the Quaker principles set against the politics and the business practice of the time, are all fascinating. They form part of the utopian scene we travelled about a few years ago, alongside the Cadbury Family in Bourneville, and the Frys, and the Rowntrees.

Monday, July 06, 2009

Sunday and Monday

It was a watery and cultury couple of days.

Sunday was a glorious day, but Mum wasn't feeling too well, so we took things slowly. The Aquarium is very close to our hotel, so we walked down there. It is a terrific looking building, low, and with a blue glass wall with water coursing down the sides into a moat. Quite something. It was a fabulous display, segmented by fresh water, reef, medium depth, very deep. There was a display of fluorescent coral that was really beautiful, lit with ultraviolet light, glowing orange and purple. There was a sad exhibition about sharks, with an electronic display counting up as we watched, showing the number killed since the museum opened. A shocking number, and the knowledge that most of them are killed by having their fins sliced off, then thrown still alive back into the sea, is the stuff of nightmares. We spent a lot of time there, and it was a beautiful display.

It gave me a taste for snorkelling. On previous walks I had seen a sign (on Anse Vata beach) showing an underwater walk on Duck Island, or Isle aux Canardes. One got there by taking a water taxi. So that's what I did. Got there just as the taxi was leaving, and a couple of minutes later I was on the islet. Did a quick walk around the crushed coral perimeter, dropped my stuff, and put on my mask. Didn't take my camera, so no pics. What a treat. Numbered buoys had submerged signs telling what was to be seen, and what things there were! The most brilliant fish, zillions of them. At least as many and in as much variety as at Molokini Atoll, or at Hanauma Bay in Hawaii. What really distinguished it was the amount and variety of coral. There was a whole forest of it, all brilliant colours and shapes, it was just fantastic. Enough to take one's breath away. I have my own mask and snorkel, which was good, and I almost never wear fins, preferring just feet. It was, for me, the highlight of the trip. Wowee.

We ate out last night, at La Boucherie. Mer et terre for me, with foie gras sauce. Delicious. I am impressed with the availability and range of frou frou non-alcoholic cocktails. Last night I had something coconutty and pineapply, with parasol and dyed green shredded coconut frosting the rim of the glass. Michael had a bananacolada, also with froufrou. Mum had a glass of white wine, and chicken liver/potato warm salad. My meal was terrific, the meat excellent and the prawns really good. A great end to a perfect day.

Monday saw more culture. First on the list was the Museum of New Caledonia, near the main market. Snapped some 'tribal art' on the way.

We parked easily, and paid about 70 cents as entry. What a great museum. The first display was a roomm full of carved wooden posts - some doorposts with faces and chevron patterns, others great poles that are the central poles for the huge thatched structures. These structures are called case, and are wonderful spaces.

I particularly enjoyed the weaving, and the netting for fishing nets, and the money skirts.

We had seen the P&O liner Pacific Dawn arrive this morning, so there was a market on the first floor of the maritime terminal to greet the tourists. Mum and I went to look at it, while Michaell went into town to a shop with nic quality stuff, and bought a shirt. Mum and I will go back to this shop and look at the beautiful handbags and some of their clothing. No, you will NOT see me in a Mother Hubbard muu-muu (comfy though they appear). There are sosme nice old buildings where the French influence is quite evident.

We then had to go to the supermarket, because amazingly enough we were out of the ch's - chocolate, cheese, chips. Not to mention icecream, Orangina, bacon and eggs, and fruit. Shopping is constant. I can see the appeal of being on an ocean cruise where all food is provided constantly. That might be the only appeal, though.

After lunch and a nap, Mum and I decided on a late afternoon swim, this time at Anse Vata beach. The water was pleasantly cool, but lots of churned up sand. I couldn't see much at all - just some sea grasses and a few shells and corals on the bottom. I was feeling a bit disappointed, when I saw something large and moving in front of me. I thought at first it was a big ball of seaweed, but it was a turtle, quite a large turtle, swimming underneath me and off to my left. I let him go, and felt utterly blessed to have seen him.

We returned happy, and had our afternoon game of cards and some knitting. I have almost finished my socks.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Friday 3rd and Saturday 4th July, 2009: City walk

Friday wasn't a swimming day - too cloudy, cool, and windy. However we had been led to believe that local oysters would be available at the central market, so we went. They weren't. Instead we bought New Zealand oysters, and had to ask to get them opened as our apartment does not run to an oyster knife. (It didn't run to any kind of chopping knife, so we bought one on our first day here.) We also stocked up on Poingo bananas, pineapple, pawpaw, more sesame doughnuts with the yellow pea stuffing, and much more.

From Noumea2009

After taking it home and having lunch, we headed for what was marked on the map as the Handicraft Centre. This turned out to be a special event in the line of a trade show for plants and flowers, and gardening equipment. There was one shop selling fossilised shark teeth, but we passed on those. Across the street is the Musee d'Historique de Maritime, so we went there and had a good look around. It was interesting, but we passed on the movie about the Mystery of La Perouse. It was 90 minutes, in French, so we thought we could live without seeing it. Cap'n Jackson and Convict Kate were snapped.

Saturday too was grey and windy, the water looking too choppy for much swimming. There was a market in town, in the Place de Cocotieres, so we aimed for that, and perhaps a wander around the shops. They would be open, it not being lunchtime.

We passed a very large demonstration, the Kanaks are seeking greater independence. There were many people.

Yes, the market was on. We saw lots of stalls and I bought a woven basket. We saw some dancing girls,

and dancing boys,

and men.

and a pug, dressed in raincoat. The little boy in his walker was very protective of his pug, and every time I bent down to coo over it, he wheeled right between me and the pug.

We walked around town and bought a few souveniers. It being just below thirty degrees, the women were all rugged up. This means their Mother Hubbard dresses, with woolly scarves, cardigans, coats etc. The look for the women is all exactly the same style. Their dresses vary not at all in style, only in colour and the amount of lace adorning them. They look comfortable, but not stylish. They dominate the stores.

The poncho over the muu-muu is also a good look:

I haven't managed to snap anyone, but the look for the boys is the hoodie, with hood up.. Sometimes a fur-lined parka against the freezing weather.

A nice variation on a manhole cover was sighted and snapped:

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Thursday 2nd July: Nouville and Anse Keunde

Another glorious day. The mission for today was to drive through Nouville, just outside Noumea, and find the little beach called Anse Keunde. It was no trouble at all. There was a little traffic jam, perhaps caused by the docked liner, Pacific Sun. The road took us straight there with no trouble at all.

The little beach was charming, and not many people there.

Mum and I togged up, got our masks on, and waded out.

And waded, and waded, and waded. Well, paddled, really. I went out a long long way, and nowhere did it get above thigh deep. I went out almost to those boats in the background and still was only knee deep. Here I am emerging after the swim..

Still, one can swim and snorkel in very shallow water, which I did, being careful not to scrape tummy on coral. There was a bit of coral, lovely colours of purple and pink. There were some bright fish, big and little. Around one lump of coral was a cloud of tiny iridescent blue/green fish, the tiniest I've seen.

After our swim (Michael sat on a shady bench with his books for the duration) we lay in the sun, and enjoyed the sound of some children splashing and playing - all in French. We strolled around and took some snaps of the small resort that is there.

I was particularly amused by the steel shipping container with the thatched roof. It turned out to be a toilet block.

We drove home, ate some lunch, and spent the rest of the day lolling about. Reading, knitting, playing cards, snoozing in the sun. This is my idea of a holiday. We have just watched the sun set, so will get ready soon to go out and eat dinner.

There was NO SHOPPING today of any kind. Nothing, no fruit, vegetables, fish, cheese, bread, anything. We have enough for breakfast tomorrow (bacon and eggs is on the menu) and will enjoy our evening out.

Mum and I played Malice and Spite, and yes, it was her turn to win.