6 June 2015
One of the lessons people learn when travelling is that one needs to be flexible. All the planning in the world can fall apart due to circumstances that truly are beyond anyone’s control. Things happen, and plans end up changing. Flexibility is key.
Our vague outline was to drive up the west coast of Grande Terre, cross over to the east coast while up north, and drive back down along the east coast. Explore the deep south end, head west again, and end up in Noumea.
Sounds great, right?
Didn’t happen quite that way.
We were up in Poum, having a nice time. Went back to Malabou Beach, enjoyed the afternoon with the hat, who had a great time exploring the little island, the faux tumbolo, and the beach. Started looking for hotels along the east coast, but decided to not book anything ahead of time. We figured we'd just drive for as long as we could, and find something.
So Friday morning, we checked out of the Malabou Beach Hotel, saying goodbye to our sweet little bungalow. Chatted with the friendly staff at the desk as we dealt with the paperwork, which was a little confused because we used two different online sites, one to book our first night and then a different site to extend for a second night. It took a little while for the staff to find our two different bookings and sort things out. As we were chatting, they asked which direction we were heading, and I said we thought we’d head east and head toward the town of Hienghene. (I know, took me a while to pronounce that one - hye-ENG-ghen.)
Our friendly reception person said, oh, maybe don’t go that way. Yesterday, the hotel manager was trying to drive to Hienghene, and the people on strike had the road blocked off. They wouldn’t let anyone pass. The guy had to turn around, drive back, drive south, cross the island, and then drive north on the east coast.
Uh oh. As former union employees, we don’t like to cross picket lines. We also didn’t want to risk having to turn around and take another route when we didn’t know where we were heading to begin with. And the east coast, which gets more rain than the west coast, had a 100% chance of heavy rain over the weekend. With the ever-present risk of flooding (risque d’inundation) along the coastal plains, where the national highway is located. One of those situations where it could go either way - and while it was a little frustrating, and potentially scary, it was also kind of funny. (Have you ever been on strike and decided to block the main highway in your state? No? Neither have I. Can’t you just picture doing this?)
Yeah, so, the plan changed. Quickly. Richard and I talked about maybe staying one more day, but we wanted to have time to explore the far south. So we figured we’d head south on the west coast, and try to make it back to Turtle Bay, which is just past the halfway point. Then we’d head to the south the following day. Took about five minutes to make a new plan, such as it was.
Okay, no problem, we just went back along the same road. Stopped for lunch at the same sandwich truck in the park at Koné, and our friendly sandwich dude recognized us, wanted to know all about our time up north. Headed south and made our way to our hotel on Turtle Bay, where the staff and one of the guests also remembered us from earlier in the week, and they too wanted to know about our travels.
Side note - the road in to Turtle Bay, which runs behind the beach, was littered with beach debris - coconuts, driftwood, piles of shells, etc. All that hadn’t been there when we left, about four or five days earlier. I asked, and apparently they had large waves and heavy surf during high tide, so the waves came all the way over the beach and onto the road! Wow, those were some huge waves!
We had a nice night in Turtle Bay, and tried to find a place online to stay in the far south. School break has begun, so many places are booked up. Plus the south is a little more off the usual tourist route, most people do day trips and don’t spend much time down there. One town was super pricy, the other town has only camping. And that was about it for accommodations.
So, another plan change - book a place in Noumea again, and do day trips to the south. We really want to visit the Blue River National Park, so that’s the general plan.
Our previous hotel was booked, so we’re now at a hotel we had seen down the road. Nice, good location, but the wifi is only in public areas. Okay, we can adjust.
This hotel also has a small casino, which we visited one afternoon. (No major wins.) But now, the workers are on strike, and sitting around the entrance of the casino, with signs and flags, and have totally closed down the place. So the casino is a no-go for us while we’re here.
Regarding the strikes, which seem to be spreading - there are numerous issues and sides, as there always are in these labor strikes. The majority of the workers on strike haven’t had a pay increase in over 5 years, while the businesses continue to be profitable. That’s the financial aspect. The management and administration tend to be people of European descent, while the workers on down the chain tend to be from the indigenous groups - so there’s the built-in segregation of employment, based on both prejudices as well as educational opportunity and chances to move up within the businesses, which is frustrating for those working at the lower pay scale jobs. And then there are all the other issues, such as benefits, working conditions, etc.
You can tell where our sympathies lie.
At any rate, the strikes seem to be spreading to other unions, and we just hope it doesn’t affect the flight on Friday!
And thus far the strikes haven’t spread to hotels or restaurants.
Richard and I both have chatted with the workers at the casino here,
because holding down the picket line is SOOO boring! One man told us
they show up and make sure the casino is safe, and then just sit until
their shift is over. Oh, and the bankers have negotiated a deal, which
he said is a very good contract for them. So things are settling down,
and the strikes are helping the workers. Power to the people!!!
The rain has arrived in Noumea. We drove back through some rainy spots, but it wasn’t too bad. Navigated our way to our hotel and settled in. Then went out for a walk, picked up food, the usual. Walked back in the rain - even with a rain jacket and an umbrella, we got fairly wet. Tonight is a quiet evening in the hotel. Just as well, it is now a tropical downpour out there, rain drumming on the roofs and bouncing off the puddles on the pavement. The rain is usually more intense on the east coast, so we’re happy to be snug in our hotel in Noumea.
So life in New Caledonia continues to be exciting!