Thursday, December 18, 2014

Noumea's Rich History

Unfortunately, we have had five straight days of rain with more in the forecast. A couple of days were totally socked in, while the rest have been on and off. Since we are getting cabin fever in the saloon (yes, that is the correct spelling for what you may call a salon) and have done enough Internet and reading for a while, it was time to grab the foulies (jackets only) and head off to explore in between showers.

There are several museums here and they are all very well designed and full of interesting items and information. We started our "museum crawl" at the Musee de la Ville. This is the Noumea City Museum focusing on the history of New Caledonia from 1853-1953. It shows the history of the developing government and setting up of the penal colony. The basement of the building was dedicated to World War I.

A beautiful spiral staircase from the top.

The architectural details of the building were outstanding. There was a beautiful oval opening between the first and second floors. The woodwork was solid and well maintained. I don't think I could have climbed the spiral stairs too often without getting dizzy!

A view from the second floor

Even though we cannot read French, we could listen in
English and follow the graphics to get the history.
Our next stop was at the World War II Museum. Personally, I had not been aware of the role New Caledonia had played in World War II. This museum was an outstanding lesson in history and interactive, as well. It took us several hours to listen to the program, watch the videos and read the many walls of documentation. Most of it was in French so we used the recorded program and the photos to guide us along through this era in history. Dennis' father would have enjoyed this one as he was very involved in WWII and had a collection of memorabilia from his service. My father had been a medic in Europe, mainly in Italy.

This was a major US Navy facility during WWII
The museum is actually in a preserved Quonset hut, but you don't realize it when you are inside or at the contemporary entrance. We were very impressed with the size and number of items in the collection here. Also, the audio commentary was informative. With so much of our WWII history focused on Pearl Harbor, this was a fresh view of the staging in the Pacific.

Our next stop was the Musee Maritime which is a tour through the history of the maritime in New Caledonia. Being an island surrounded by reefs caused many ships to wreck and sink in the area. In addition to the early explorers all trying to find the Southern Continent, ore ships carry natural resources of nickel and other products.

Coke bottles recovered from the land and
sea. Some encrusted with coral. The bottles
have the name of the city or state where they
were produced stamped on the bottom.
Models of early vessels
During the war, there was an active US Naval base here. There was a great amount of ship traffic just bringing supplies to the area. One of the exhibits stated that over 5 billion bottles of Coke a Cola were consumed by the American troops. That must have been the "drug" of choice back then!
New Caledonia had several waves of settlement beginning as far back as 3000 years ago.

A most interesting "navigational chart" made of sticks and
sea shells representing ocean currents and islands.

One of the most interesting items in the exhibit was the "navigational chart" made of sticks and sea shells. The natives recorded the position of islands upon which they landed and marked them with shells. The sticks in the chart represent ocean currents. Amazing! And who says you need all of the electronic equipment!

There are several other museums: coffee, handicrafts, artisans, art to name a few. Hopefully we will have time to see them also. I want to see the native handicrafts.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Here in Paris (of the South Pacific)

Noumea is a contemporary city with good infra-structure.
Noumea is known as the "Paris of the South Pacific" and it is obvious with the French language, wines and food. We were looking forward to a change of cuisine and also found a change in temperature and humidity. It is less tropical here. In fact, it feels like spring or fall - cool nights and sun-warmed days.

Crabs and shellfish galore!
Fish of every color, size and shape.
We won't see all of the islands in this group this year, but it will give us something to do next year! I think our cruising is going to extend out another year if all continues to go well. There is just so much to see and so many places to visit and people to meet!

And some really huge lobsters!
Many, many stalls with much of the same stuff.
Our first day in Noumea took Dennis on a long wander around town for Customs and Immigration while I stayed on the boat waiting for BioSecurity. Rumors had it that they were going to take all meat, dairy, eggs, fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds. I was bracing for the frustration of watching our provisions drop into the big black bag. Luckily, we had a lovely agent who believes if it is good enough for us to eat, it can stay on the boat as long as the meat is cooked. Just don't take any food ashore. Great! So we did not lose too much. 

Can't you just smell these goodies!

Saturday was a day off the boat to explore the city. We started at the market near the marina. They have a fabulous seafood market right on the quay. It is open from 6 AM to noon everyday except Monday. There was every imaginable kind of fish and shellfish there. Some of them were huge.

And a coffee break in the middle of the food market.
In this market area, there are several other buildings that house the fruits and vegetable stalls, as well as handicrafts. Outside in the parking lot were artisan tents and others selling clothing they obviously purchase to resell. There are a lot of fun things here. I may have a unique wardrobe when I return!

Fresh cheese; many choices. Yummy!
I had fun with the lady at the cheese counter. She spoke no English and I speak no French. We did a lot of hand motions and apologizing for not understanding one another. Then she offered me samples until I found a cheese I liked. Then Dennis came along and we went though it again with the sausages. After sampling, we bought one as we were hosting Sundowners that night.
Their version of Rice Krispies!

Craft tents with some real nice things and then some
others with interesting clothes.

We found the big Casino supermarket and checked it out for future provisioning. Then we explored the town. Several others said it wasn't a very nice place, but it wasn't terrible. There are areas I would not go at night, but that is true everywhere. And I wouldn't go off on my own here, but I don't do that in strange places either. We even saw a McDonalds! Didn't try it, though. But we probably will as it seems to have the best free Internet in town!

Salade Verte with Seafood
However, we found a lovely park with the Tourist Office and a nice French restaurant where we had lunch. We don't speak or read French so the menus are going to be challenging here. This place did not have an English version and the waitress did her best. Between the two of us, I figured out the majority of the menu before Dennis joined me at the table. I took a guess at what looked like we might like and it was just fine.
Seared Tuna Plate
The Finale: Chocolate Lava Cake
Our lunch was most enjoyable. Of course, a bottle of wine and fresh baguette will make anything taste great! Then we checked out the dessert menu. The only word I knew for sure was: CHOCOLAT! So we order it.

Heavenly! It was a warm chocolate lava cake with two spoons! Life is very good!!!
Dennis even found China Town on his wandering.

After lunch we wandered through China Town. What a collection of "stuff" for any occasion, but not great quality. A lot of "knock-off" designer items. I doubt if you could get them past US Customs if you tried to take them home. Anyway, I don't need designer purses to wear with my sulas!

Then we spotted a cathedral high on a hill so headed up there. Not only was the view of the city and harbor great, but Mass was starting in 45 minutes so we took a seat and enjoyed the peacefulness of the place.

It is the Cathedral of St. Joseph and we sat in the row across from a stained glass window of Saint Monica (Dennis' mother's name). Totally unplanned. I sat down and settled in for some quiet time and looked up to my right and there she was! We haven't been to Mass in a while since we have not been on land on a Sunday or close enough to walk to a church.

Then it was back to the marina as we were having guests on board for Sundowners. Mike and Catherine, who we met in Fiji are on the same dock as are two of the German boats from the World ARC. S/V Starblazer has gone out sailing with family who arrived from Hong Kong.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Rough Passage from Vanuatu to New Caledonia

Next destination: Noumea, New Caledonia
A meeting of ships in the middle of the night! It
suddenly became a small, small world out there!
After a full 24 hours of rain (6" in the dinghy!), the weather was looking favorable for a Tuesday 0500 departure from Port Vila, Vanuatu to Noumea, New Caledonia - about 320 nm. It will be two overnight sails. We completed the process of clearing out, provisioning, and buying duty free fuel for the boat - and for Sundowners! The price is right here! Trackers are on, waypoints charted and everything stowed - almost. There are several other boats leaving tomorrow, too.

The winds should be good, but strong. That will make for more sailing and less motoring. However, the seas will be rough with the swells from the fronts that have just come through. I have my patch and pill ready and hope they work. I never know when mal de mare is going to hit me. It usually comes in rough seas and when I lose sight of the horizon at night. But not always. The Pacific Ocean has been kinder to me than the Atlantic.
Coming into Havannah Passage with the flow.
We left the harbor at 0600 and were on our way south-southwest. Of course, the wind had shifted following the fronts. The wind was right on the nose! The ride was doomed to be uncomfortable - but fast with the winds in the twenties. We were flying along between 7-9 knots SOG (Speed Over Ground) and making good time.
Timing is very important on this passage. Actually, estimated arrival time (ETA) at the next anchorage or port is always important as you want the correct light and tidal flow. This trip has an extra challenge: there is a 40 mile passage around the southern end of New Caledonia through the Havannah Passage and a series of reefs.

This should only be done in daylight and when the tide is flowing into the lagoon. Our goal is to be at the eastern entrance to the passage early in the morning of our third day at sea. Hopefully the winds and waves will be amenable to that! Every yacht has to make their own calculations depending on the speed at which they sail or motor, so we often leave at different times while still arriving somewhat together. This time we will be traveling with new people we have met in Port Villa, but they are catamarans to they will blow right by us at some point!

All tucked in at the dock in Port Moselle Marina. Whew!

During my watch between 2000 and 2400 on the first overnight passage, I saw a big bright ball of light coming at me and another big light coming after me. I was seasick and thought I was delusional. However, it was two passenger cruise ships switching ports, more or less and I was in their shipping lane, I guess. So I called up one on the VHF and made sure they could see me. It is not often that you have a gathering out there in the middle of no where in the middle of the night! At least it livened up the night! We were not in any real danger. It was just startling to see a light coming from both ends of the tunnel! And it distracted me from hanging over the rail!

NOTE: Dennis does not participate in mal de mare - it is my curse! In fact, he was so healthy that he spent most of the trip trying to repair both heads! I don't know how he does it!

Next stop: Baguettes, Croissants and Latte at the market
Coming through the Havannah Passage at the southeast end of New Caledonia wasn't as bad as everyone made it out to be. This is known as a ship graveyard (we did see one on a reef) so we were ready with good light and a flood tide. That means we were going in with the tide and we had a 2 knot tidal flow pushing us along. Much better than trying to sail against it. It is not recommended to go in on an ebb tide as the outflowing current can be up to 5 knots against you with a lot of turbulence. It took about 8 hours to complete the trip through the reefs to the dock at Port Moselle Marina in Noumea.

I am glad to be here! Hopefully, my stomach will settle down so I can enjoy the local cuisine. Now for some baguettes and croissants!

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

The Maskelyne Islands: Part 2

Joyce and John helped two women who were trying to
sail their dugout to the island where we were headed.
After the dance ceremony, we were guided back to the village for Kae Kae (food) tasting and  Kava. Their diet is all natural, organic from land and sea. The meat comes from chickens (definitely free range here), pork (little pigs running all over the place) or fish. 

A good harvest of bananas and other vegetables.
They eat the reef fish which we don't as we don't know if it is contaminated with ciguatera, which is commonly found in reef fish throughout the world. It causes neurological damage to humans. I don't know if they can develop an immunity to it or not. (Maybe that is why their life expectancy is 62 for men and 64 for women.)

We found it interesting that they do not eat the chicken eggs. Considering the number of chickens and roosters we saw, the eggs must be fertile and they just allow them to hatch to keep providing Sunday dinner! Roosters, hens and baby chicks roam all around pecking the ground for food.

This lady was peeling a root vegetable
 with a machete! They need kitchen knives.
Each family is assigned a garden plot on the mainland so they paddle their dugout canoes fitted with outriggers several miles across the water each day to work in the gardens.  At the end of the day, they paddle back with a canoe filled with whatever they harvested that day. And that is what they have for dinner. If there is an abundance of something in one garden they trade or share with others. 
Breadfruit grows on trees. In French Polynesia,
they fry it like French fries.
Here they roast it and mash it up.
Mangoes will not be ripe
until December.

Typical cooking fire: wood
with rocks piled on top.
The mainstays of the diet are the starchy vegetables such as breadfruit, taro, manioc and several others. They are cooked on hot rocks that have been layered on top of an open fire pit. It appears that the whole clan may use the same fire as we did not see pits near each house. They make a traditional dish call laplap. It is breadfruit and coconut milk wrapped in a leaf and cooked until tender. Very starchy!

Of course, they have banana and papayas, mangoes in season and a variety of other fruits from trees. And an abundance of coconuts. Pumpkin, which tastes like squash to us, is another popular vegetable. I have been putting it in curry.

Sunday dinners to come!
They come to the yachts to offer gifts of their harvest and ask for nothing in return. Of course, we can always find things they would accept as a gift from us. After accepting a large squash in trade for some canned meat, powdered milk and rice, I worried that I had just taken their dinner. I wonder what the lady of the house said when she didn't have the pumpkin she had been expecting! We have even accepted fish, but tossed it back after they have gone.

Aside from some kids with really runny noses, people appeared to be healthy and not overweight. Some real young ones were walking around chewing on sugar cane - their form of candy. As a former Dental Hygienist, it made me cringe to think of what was happening to their teeth.

This well is no longer safe for drinking water.
I would not use that water for anything
from the looks of it.

The water is an issue as it is in many islands. For drinking, they rely on rainwater which is not steady during the dry summer season. We learned that they carry water from another island by way of their canoes.
Almost everyone is barefooted with a few wearing Crocs and flipflops that were probably gifts or trades from yachties. The children are often bare-chested and the clothes are mismatched and gender non-specific. If it fits, you wear it. They have wonderful chocolate brown skin and big white smiles!

The local bakery when there is flour!
We saw the local bakery or at least we saw the sign for it. Unfortunately, there is no flour on the island and won't be until the supply ship comes. Joyce gave them flour and we gave them yeast so hopefully they were able to make some bread to hold them over.

They have a gas generator so they can have lights on a few hours a week. Supposedly, it is for the church. Although, Dennis looked at it for them and saw that no maintenance has been done. We are trying to find service manual for it so we can send it to Vincent. We saw little solar lights sitting around on stones near houses soaking up the sun's energy. This would be the little light they have each night. At least solar power eliminates the need of regular flashlights with batteries that need replacing and are harmful to the environment when thrown away.
A typical village house and yard.
The houses are a mixture of materials, with corrugated metal being a popular building material. I am not sure how they acquire it. Some houses are made from plant materials: bamboo, sticks and leaves. The roofs may be leaves or metal.
One of the metal dwellings.
The floors appeared to be dirt and we saw no furniture as we walked by the various houses. They weave mats for floor coverings and sleeping areas. There is a specific plant used for stuffing pillows. It sounded like it was similar to our milkweed plant.
The men and the women have separate ablutions (washing up/bathing areas) and it is tabu (taboo) for one to enter the ablution of the opposite sex. Dishes are washed in dishpans outside of the house. Laundry is also done in buckets or dishpans probably using sea water.
This is the bathroom over the water.

Preparing something with a machete
working on the ground.

She is weaving a basket from palm leaves.
The people are very friendly and seem happy. Their lifestyle seems very difficult to me, but they know of no other way. They are a very poor village and do not have representation for political support. As a result, they get no help from the government. It is survival of the fittest at its best!

There are no stores and they have no money. When a supply ship comes from the mainland, they trade fish, fruits and vegetables for flour, rice, yeast and other things they need. They are in need of so much, but have no money to purchase things.

Lollipops are a big hit with kids and adults!
We asked how we could help get some of the things they need. It was suggested that money would help them, but we don't give money to individuals. There is a protocol in villages and everything goes through the chief. We prefer to give to the community as a whole so we know it is not going in one person's pocket. They are in great need of clothing and request used clothes for all ages and sizes. We will buy a bundle of used clothes in New Zealand and bring them back next year. We can also help by transporting goods from Port Vila to the island.

Demonstrating how to remove rust from saw blades.
Dennis worked on their generator and cleaned and sharpened one of their rusty handsaws. He taught some of the men how to keep it oiled to protect it from the salt air. He gave them his handsaw and file so they could keep theirs sharpened.

In addition, we gave fish hooks, foods, school supplies, cloth and thread, The biggest hit was when we handed out lollipops to all of the children - some of the men wanted one for after their kava drinking!

Everyone wanted to see photos of themselves!
Everyone was fascinated with the photos I took in the iPad and showed them. Everyone wanted to have their picture taken! Unfortunately, there was no way to print them off and leave some behind for them to keep.

One of the things that struck me was the clothing the women wore. They wear a dress known as a Mother Hubbard. It is not very stylish - somewhat like a moo-moo. They must keep their thighs covered so it is loose fitting so when they sit in the ground it can be tucked over their legs.

A couple of ladies in Mother Hubbard dresses.
Although as clean as they can make them, every dress I saw was in tatters - almost beyond the ragbag stage. Women have no status in these villages and their role is to care for the children, pigs and their husbands. In fact, very few of them even came out to see us. As I mentioned before, they no longer have their front teeth knocked out to show they are married and unavailable. But the men were all sitting around relaxing. Humm ... but, they had probably been working in the gardens and carrying back fresh water.
I have this crazy idea to buy each women in this village a brand new Mother Hubbard. I doubt that any of them have ever had a new dress. There is probably some village protocol that I would be breaking if I made this happen! That only makes it more challenging to me. I am working on resources through the Vanuatu Women's Council.

I think I will call my project "Dresses for Dignity!" Once I find out the cost per dress and see if I can buy them from a supplier (who may be a group of women sewing), I will buy as many as I can. If anyone cares to help in this effort, I will put your dollars to good use securing enough dresses for the whole village. Can't you just imagine how a woman would feel with a brand new dress just for her! And maybe some new underpants, too! Let me know if you want to help.