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Noumea

Our tracks in and around Noumea (Jon) Noumea was an interesting mix of cultures and expectations.  After spending the last 2 years very much in the third world, Noumea's high-rise buildings and bustling economy was actually refreshing.  Yet there was still the open-air market every morning until about noon, right on the water, where we could buy good quality fruits and vegetables, as well as delicious (and relatively cheap at $.50) croissants, pain-au-chocolates and other pastries.

Downtown was only a short walk away and, true to French tradition, seemed to consist largely of fancy clothing, jewelry and shoe shops.  The central park was pleasant if not extensive, and various cultural shows were put on every Thursday evening, complete with different ethnic dance troupes.  Supermarkets were well stocked and it was fun to get back to fine French cheeses.  Prices were high compared to the rest of the Pacific, but we expected that - virtually everything was imported.

It was in Noumea that we reconnected with Dave & Marie, who we hadn't seen since the 80's when they'd been working at The Moorings in the British Virgin Islands.  They graciously showed us their beautiful home, and drove us around when we needed parts.  Marie teaches Kanak kids and Dave now runs the chandlery, Ship Shop, and practices extreme sports - competing against international teams in 5-day sleepless cross-country marathons that cover hundreds of kilometers.

High hills frame the buildings of downtown Noumea, New Caledonia
High hills frame the buildings of downtown Noumea

But most important, Noumea is where several other family boats finally caught up to us - Safari (St. Francis 48' catamaran), Peregrinata (55' ketch), and Leprechaun (a steel Roberts 53' ketch).  While the kids ran off together shopping, socializing, and whatever fun kids get into, the parents also got together for many enjoyable social evenings.  Good fun!

Kanak totem pole, topped with a sacred shell
Kanak totem pole,
topped with a sacred shell

(Sue) I enjoyed the European combined with South Pacific feel of Noumea, its expensive shops and expensive grocery stores not withstanding.  Although there is a large nickel smelter right in town, the wind usually kept the pollution off the anchorage. We did find bargains for clothing at some of the small Chinese shops and fresh fruits and veggies (if you comparison shopped) at the dock-side market in town. It was great fun to be speaking French again!

It was a special treat getting re-acquainted with cruising friends from the early 1980's who we'd known in the Caribbean. Dave Christopher owns the Ship Shop chandlery in Noumea, and Marie, his French wife, is a teacher.  Marie teaches Kanak teens at a trade school, and said it was very challenging because there is so little motivation. When you understand that in Kanak village life no one has any personal belongings you can see why there is so little motivation to get ahead. Any young people moving to Noumea (the capital, and only city) must share with other villagers all their earnings, their car, even their clothes when they return (even for a visit) to the family village. It sounds like an enviable lifestyle, but it does not mesh well with the 21st century.

The distinctive architecture of the Tjabaou Cultural Center, Noumea
The distinctive architecture of the
Tjabaou Cultural Center, Noumea

The Kanak culture has been greatly suppressed, and it is only in the past 20 years or so that the Kanak people have rallied to preserve their heritage. In contrast to other South Pacific islands, New Caledonia's indigenous peoples are more downtrodden and much less self-determined. A new Cultural Center in Noumea, and the National Museum are helping to renew and preserve the cultures. We did not get to the the Loyalty Islands, east of Grande Terre, where the Kanaks have more control in the economy and government.

(Amanda)  Noumea.  Back in the land of the French.  At first it was weird, seeing all the Europeans.  Even in French Polynesia, two years ago, the majority of the population was the native Polynesians.  But some things were the same - French croissants, French baguettes, French cheese... aaah.  The prices of things were sometimes alarming, but perhaps we should have just considered it a preview to first-world economics.

Amanda, Alex, Tianna & Katrina -- Halloween girls
Amanda, Alex, Tianna and Katrina
The Halloween girls

All the teen boats caught up with us in Noumea.  Scud, with two guys onboard, was with us the whole time, but then came Safari, with three teens, Peregrinata with two, and Leprechaun with five kids!  It was a bit overwhelming at first after a year without anyone in Fiji, even with the few weeks we'd had with Scud.  Suddenly my afternoons were all full, what with shopping, swimming, playing Scrabble, hanging out, wandering around town, basically anything we could think of to do.  I loved it.  We went to the weekly little market/festival thing in the center of town, and watched the dancing (which was right next to the surf video, which we all enjoyed but especially appeased the guys) and saw all the interesting stuff that was laid out.  A lot of it was either tourist- or local-oriented, rather than that in-between, tourist-who-thinks-she's-not-a-tourist hazy region that most cruisers put themselves into.  For satisfying the shopping bug, we mostly went to Chinatown or just the shops of Noumea.  I didn't do anything but window-shop, though.  Too expensive for my non-budget.

I'm not sure if I can write this off as a cultural experience, but another thing we teens did was go to a local night-club (or discotheque, as they call it).  It was Halloween, and we had a blast dancing the night away.

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