Wednesday, November 4, 2015

A New Country; A New Culture to Explore

We were nearly the last boat to arrive in Lifou.
Since leaving the USA in October 2013, we are about to clear into New Caledonia for the second time. This makes 24 Customs and Immigration clearance into 20 countries plus our around the world flight to Istanbul, Paris, Munich and USA. Even with that, there are so many places we haven’t been out here in the ocean.

Of course, that means much paperwork and many boat inspections. We have tried to visit different places in Tonga, Fiji, Vanuatu and New Caledonia where we have been before to have new experiences. And, of course, we continue to meet wonderful people who are out here doing the same thing as we are: enjoying the beauty of the world and its people.

The water here is the most beautiful cerulean blue I have
ever seen anywhere in the world! Indescribable!
Stopping in the Loyalty Islands of New Caledonia is a real treat. Usually one must sail all the way west to Noumea to clear in and then back against the wind to the Loyalities. As a result, most yachties don’t stop here. They are missing a special place!

I think we have found one of the most beautiful places in the South Pacific: cerulean blue and turquoise waters and snow white beaches. It is indescribable and the photos just cannot capture it. Sometimes my senses are on total overload from the beauty of the sights, sounds, smells, tastes and textures of the environment. It can be overwhelming and take your breath away. I have to pinch myself to see if I am really here!

John and Lyn Martin welcoming Dennis to the event.
The Rally’s gathering point was on Lifou, which is the largest and most populated island in the Loyalties. It was a good stopping place as the officials could fly here for the clearance procedure, then John flew to Noumea with all of our passports to complete the process while we soaked in the beauty of the place. This service alone is worth the rally fee!

We all anchored in Baie Du Santal (Sandal Bay 200 48S 1670 08E) which is sheltered, but full of reefs and coral heads so navigation must be right on the way points. Then you must watch where you drop the anchor so you don’t wrap the chair around a coral head. We tend to anchor at the back of the fleet so if we slip, we don’t slide into another boat. Also, Dennis likes to put out a lot of chain which increases our swing. Many of the European boats anchor close to others. I guess they are used to crowded conditions. We like to have space around us.
Rally festival put on by the local village.
The village on shore was our Rally base and they presented us with a festive meal one evening. It was the traditional Bougna, which contains chicken, fish or lobster with vegetables of sweet potatoes (also called kamala), yams (they are not the same as sweet potatoes) unripe bananas and coconut milk. The mixture is wrapped in banana leaves and cooked over hot coals which have been placed in a hole in the ground. It was very tasty.

The hot Bougna was wrapped in this beautiful "carrying dish."
This is a typical island method of cooking and not too unlike the way we cooked in Girl Scout campouts, except we placed the food in a covered pot before putting it in the ground and covering it with earth to retain the heat. Then we would go off hiking for the day and come back to a cooked meal. It was wonderful then, too!
Not only do the women make the meal, but they also make
the woven serving dishes or whatever you would call them.
The ladies held a market for us so we could buy fresh fruits and vegetables from their gardens. They also had some baked goods which were a real treat! Fresh dark chocolate cake without frosting – my favorite!

There are several tiny little stores in the village where fresh baguettes were available each day. Yeah, bread – and good bread! When you are at sea, fresh bread becomes a real treat. Even if we buy several loaves before leaving shore, they are usually moldy before we use them up. That is when you know what preservatives do!

Now the unveiling begins!
The ICA Rally had arranged for a bus trip across the island to We for shopping and phone SIM cards. I think the locals thought the grocery store had been invaded by aliens when we all started grabbing for the limited produce selection. Then a huge line formed at the deli counter to get meats and cheeses. Of course, we bought baguettes, brie, pate and a few other French treats!

There were seven or eight different Bougna of different
ingredients and flavors: chicken, fish and vegetarian.
Once our groceries were in the bowels of the bus, Dennis and I went in search of the OPT phone store which is in the post office. Where? We were not sure so we kept walking in the direction we were told. We walked and we walked and we walked! After several inquiries, we managed to find the post office, but it had just closed. It was 3:30 PM. Of course! We are in the islands! No SIM card today. No Internet tonight!

Several small market areas were set up for us.
The senior village women.
So we walked back to the bus which was at least 3-4 kilometers away! That was our exercise for the day! Another boat arranged for the bus driver to come back the next day to take us to the post office. So I went with Donna of Chez Nous in search of SIM cards once again.

It seems that four people had been in line the day before and only one of them was processed for a SIM card! They had been there several hours! Well, there is only one person at the desk and it is a long process to complete the forms that can only be done by that one person on her computer. With 20-some of us wanting SIM cards, we came up with a plan!

She had the chocolate cake in her market!

Our groceries were the first in and last out of the bus.

Two people could communicate in French so they asked how many cards they could buy on one application. Five seemed to be the number! So only four people registered for cards and we were able to get enough cards for everyone in less than two hours. I am sure we set a record for group efficiency on this one. Sometimes you just have to think outside the box to get around the systems that seem ridiculous in the first place. Mission accomplished!

This is what a mass provisioning trip looks like as
everyone heads to their boats with dinghies full of goods!
Now for the next challenge: setting up the phones on our own with the instructions in French! It was a group effort again, but one by one, we managed to get everyone up and running. Then came the next problem: these were phone SIM cards, not data cards! Therefore, you need a smart phone with a hotspot to access the Internet. Those with iPads could not use them!

The joys of waiting and waiting and waiting for a SIM card!

Fortunately, we had purchased an unlocked Samsung Galaxy in New Zealand so we can swap out SIM cards in each country and use it as a hotspot! I have had to learn a lot about prepaid phone cards, etc. Now the challenge is finding 3G coverage areas. It seems that the older phones are sold to the less developed countries so they do not offer the latest service. You can tell when we have found the right place as everyone is on their devices!

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