Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Not Quite Poum to Plum

10 June 2015

We tried heading south to visit the Blue Rivers National Park on Sunday, and again on Monday, but the rain got us.  Tropical downpours and strong wind aren’t the best time to go hiking.  So we gave up on the park, and explored our neighborhood around this new-to-us hotel.

I had an excellent gallette - the gallette is a buckwheat flour crepe from the Breton region of France.  There
were a variety of savory versions, which are wonderful for brunch.  But one can create their own gallette, so I did.  Bottom layer of ham, with a pile of sautéed apples, melted chunks of camembert cheese, and sprinkled with walnuts.  Oh man that was absolutely wonderful!  Followed by a glass of kir for dessert.  Tres French, tres delicieux!!!  (The restaurant is La Gavotte, almost in Anse Vata, in the Noumea suburbs.)
Of course, the sailboarders and kite surfers were out in full force, and it’s always exciting to watch them.  Like swimming and diving, it doesn’t matter if it’s raining - you’re already wet, right?

We found out from a friend in Australia (a friend of a friend, who showed us around Brisbane a few days) that there’s a certain kind of tree here in New Caledonia, the araucaria.  These trees are considered to be living fossils, because the species dates back to the early Mesozoic age, some 250 or so million years ago - the time of the dinosaurs!  Fossilized remains show that these trees existed in the northern hemisphere, but they no longer are native species there.  Most of the araucarias in the world are found in Australia, New Guinea, New Caledonia, and certain areas of Chile, Argentina, and southern Brazil.  The greatest diversity of araucarias exist in New Caledonia, due to the isolation and geographic/geological stability. 
So the trees that look somewhat like Norfolk Island pines are really a kind of araucaria.  The trees tend to have a single tall trunk with branches that grow in an upwards curl, somewhat circling out from the trunk rather than truly branching out like most deciduous trees.  The leaves aren’t needles, such as on conifers, but are more like short flat leathery leaves that are smooth to the touch, and are tightly overlapped along a central branch.  And yes, some of these trees produce cones similar to pine cones, but not exactly.

Very interesting to
find out about these trees!  (And, I found out, the study of ancient species of plant life is paleoecology.  Who knew?

So now I see araucarias everywhere!

Today we went to the monthly outdoor market and street fair, right across the street from our hotel.  All kinds of arts and crafts, some clothing, some local foods, and music.  Plus one of those mechanical bulls to ride, though we didn't see anyone on it.  We browsed, bought some food, and found a bench by the beach for our picnic lunch.  Then I found I had sat down on a bit of bird poop.  Yuck!  Fortunately our travel clothes are wash and wear, so my slacks are double washed (I was grossed out and had to wash them twice) and drying in the shower.  Yup, life of a rolling luggager.

We were hoping to get south to the town of Plum, just so we could say we'd seen New Caledonia from Poum in the north to Plum in the south.  But we've had too much rain these past several days to make a road trip at all appearing.  So, only Noumea to Poum and back.

I have to mention the music here in New Caledonia - it's quite a mix, with some traditional French music sung in French; some traditional Kanak music sung in one of the Kanak languages, and sounding vaguely Polynesian or Hawaiian; and more modern music which has a definite reggae beat and can be in either language, though more often French.  Really, the indigenous population has identified to a certain degree with Rastafarians of Jamaica, and we see some people with dreadlocks, or wearing clothes with Rasta designs or words.  Kind of funny to come halfway around the world and meet the culture of one of our neighboring Caribbean islands!  For us, the music is very familiar, even if we can't understand the words.

Somehow, we seem to make friends in our short few weeks in a location.  We've chatted a few times with the manager and chef at the little café next door to our hotel here in Noumea.  Well, it all started when Richard tried the fondant au chocolat, which is a mostly flourless chocolate cake, similar to what in the US is called chocolate decadence.  I asked the chef about it, he brought out his recipe book (in French), we discussed the cooking process (baked in a hot water bath, a bain marie), and I gave him the recipe for our chocolate decadence wedding cake.  We bonded over chocolate, obviously. 

Well tonight, our next-to-last night here in New Caledonia, we went there for a light dinner.  Many of the cafés here have a dessert item, the café gourmand - a cup of coffee with three mini desserts.  One of those desserts here is chocolate mousse (mousse au chocolat) - and I can't be in a French place without trying the mousse au chocolat at least once.  But we didn't want an entire café gourmand dessert.  So I asked, politely but perhaps not grammatically correctly in my French, if it was possible to have only the mousse au chocolat, thinking Richard and I would share one.  They comped us two servings!  Really, we were so surprised!  And of course thanked the waitress as well as our friend chef, Julien, over and over again!  (And yes, it was wonderful!  Not as dark and intense as the mousse au chocolat in Chiang Mai at that French restaurant, but really good!)

We have tomorrow to visit our favorite places one more time, and then we fly on Friday.

People ask us periodically what has been our favorite place to visit.  Difficult to answer, because every place is unique, interesting, exciting.  Every place has beautiful scenery in its own way, plus interesting people, tasty food items.  We haven't been anywhere that we hated.

But New Caledonia is special, and will always stand out as a favorite amongst all the other wonderful places.  Gorgeous scenery.  Friendly and helpful people.  Amazing views.  Wonderful food.  Not too hot.  And it's only chilly for us because we're spoiled by so many years in the Caribbean.

I could see coming back here during the spring, summer, or early fall so we could get in the diving we hoped to do.  

This really is a hidden treasure!

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