Thursday, May 28, 2015

Wild Windy Days, Bluest Blue Skies

28 May 2015

We're having a great time in New Caledonia - we have the occasional grey or drizzly day, but most of the time the sun is shining brightly and the sky is the bluest blue we've seen in a long long time.  But at the same time, there seems to be a fairly constant wind, somewhere between 10 to 20 miles per hour - and it really churns up the seas!

So of course, the wind surfers and kite sailors are out in full force, especially during the mid day when the wind is strongest.  We're not talking breeze, but full on wind, blowing sea spray in the air, creating white caps, and pushing the wind surfers along at lightening speeds!  It was fascinating to watch the colorful sails come zooming in to shore, and at the last minute the surfer would somehow slip to the other side of the sail while turning the board, and they'd suddenly be flying off back out to sea!  Incredible!

I've tried wind surfing, and it can feel deceptively easy when the water is smooth and the breeze is light and constant.  Turning is difficult, and the first time I tried, I absolutely couldn't go in the opposite direction.  Seriously, I sailed comfortably across a small lake, and ended up swimming back dragging the board and sail in back of me.  Then I took a wind surfing class in college - I got really really good at climbing back on the board.  I learned I don't have much balance, the slightest wave makes me rock, and changes in wind pressure or direction necessitate changes in one's hold/lean/pull.  So I spent half the class in the water, climbing back on the board.

I say all of that to explain that these wind surfers really looked professional out there, zipping back and forth between the shore and the outer islands.  No one fell, no one tipped over, everyone seemed to be having a fabulous time zooming around and not worrying about sharks or sea snakes or even falling in.  They looked as if they were just standing on the board, not as if they were adjusting their balance while maneuvering the sails in the strong wind, straining their muscles to maintain their tack - which is why they all looked like totally buffed athletes out there!  Trust me, this is not an easy sport!

It was exciting to watch these shiny and bright triangles of color flying across the brilliant turquoise and ultramarine blue sea.  A physics question for my friends (I was terrible at physics) - if the wind is 20 mph, and the wind surfer is angling across the wind, how fast is that wind surfer sailing?  I truly have no idea.

There were children on the beach as well, possibly a school or camp group.  The kids all had yellow shirts, often under a jacket or hoodie, so we couldn't tell if there was a logo.  But the kids were having a wonderful time, and the chaperones seemed to also be enjoying the day on the beach.

We've enjoyed walking along the road that runs by the beach, Promenade Roger Laroque.  Great place to watch the wind surfing, and easier than walking on the sand.  There are occasional hotels surrounded by stores and cafés, and of course the boulangeries and patisseries.  So hard to not stop at each one, but the baguette sandwiches are huge, big enough to eat half for lunch and save the other half for dinner.  There are also quiches (my fave is the spinach quiche), crepes both savory and sweet, tartines (huge slice of bread smothered with layers of salad and fish or meat and then sprinkled with cheese) - we're enjoying the decidedly French food.  We haven't gone to a real restaurant yet, the café and bakery items are more than enough for every meal.

We originally came to New Caledonia planning to swim and dive.  We've both tested the water and jumped right out - even though this is the Coral Sea, and we're only 22 degrees south of the equator, the water is COLD!  Okay, not cold if you live in cold climates, you'd think the water is warm.  But for people who lived for 20-something years in the Caribbean, this water is cold cold cold.  So we've let go of our idea to dive.  We also considered a live-aboard dive boat, but, well, the water is cold.  Rather than staying in the capital city, Nouméa, and taking side trips, we're renting a car to explore the rest of this huge island.  We pick to car up on Saturday, and will have ten days to tour around and see the rivers, parks, and mountains of Grande Terre.  And hopefully find warmer beaches up north.  The island is roughly 230 miles long, and between 30-45 miles wide.  (That's something like 400 km by 50-70 km.)  We have a lot to see, including the cagou bird, which lives only on Grande Terre and absolutely nowhere else in the world!

There are several tributes to the American troops who made New Caledonia one of their central bases during WWII.  In our neighborhood, Anse Vata, the hospital established by the US military once stood.  There's a sign along the sidewalk, stating:

 "During the Second World War, the Americans established their South Pacific rear base in New Caledonia.  The wounded were brought back here to be treated in the different hospitals dotted over the island, at Tomo, Dumbea, Sarramea, Saint Louis, and at Anse Vata opposite the beach.  The complete medical service comprised eleven American hospitals, one New Zealand hospital, and several dispensaries, all of which were open to the general population.  Caledonians were able to take advantage of modern medical techniques and newly discovered antibiotics."

In the center of the city, referred to as Centreville (pronounced sohn-treh-VEE in proper French), near the Museum of New Caledonia, there's a very interesting sculpture that is a tribute to the role the US played in WWII and especially their presence in New Caledonia at that time.  There are eleven flat rectangular pillars, in varying combinations of stars and stripes, creating an abstract version of the US flag.  The pillars are in a semi-circle around a low domed globe, which somehow has New Caledonia in the center and all the other continents in, well, a rather unusual configuration around it.

It's a very interesting sculpture, with a huge sign in front saying in both French and English:  "In honor of the U.S. forces who by their presence during the Pacific War from March 1942 to February 1946 insured the freedom of New Caledonia.  Her people are deeply grateful."

Rather nice, isn't it?  There's so much anti-American sentiment around the world, it's nice to see a nation that, at one point, realized that another nation made a difference in the lives of the people that lingers to this day.

Last event of today - yes, the bank workers are on strike.  Six unions from all the banks in NC have united and are on strike, protesting low salaries for union workers, high salaries for management, you know, the same issues world wide.  I chatted a bit with the men working the grill - yes, the bank employees are striking and having a huge picnic out on the street.  It was great, very reminiscent of my school when the teachers were on strike territory-wide - we were out with picket signs and barbeque meals, dancing while blocking the driveway.  The striking workers here were partying on the street as well.  

Fortunately, the middle guy spoke English - my French is limited, and I can only discuss basic subjects.  Strikes and the importance of unions is beyond my French.  We had a nice chat, they were very friendly, and were happy to have their photo taken.  And they assured me that everyone was keeping the ATMs in cash, because they didn't want the public to not be able to get money.

So of course I gave them a "Power to the People!" and they gave me a unanimous thumbs up!

Ah yes, making friends around the world!


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