Today we were meant to be going on a tour of the Parc Provinciale de la Rivière Bleue, which was declared a World Heritage Site just two days ago. As most of our attempts to organise ourselves onto tours have been thwarted, we were both looking forward to the day, despite or perhaps partly because of advice to wear dark clothes because the day involved contact with a lot of dirt.
But it was not to be. The rain came bucketing down in the night and was still bucketing when we were due to be setting off. The Man at Caledonia Tours (MCT, who incidentally speaks excellent English and has a sense of humour that communicates across the language divide) didn’t hold out a lot of hope, but the tour may yet happen before we leave for home on Friday.
In a lull in the downpour this morning, I went for a stroll around the neighbourhood, enjoying the vegetation that is so reminiscent of Queensland, stickybeaking at the houses, trying to remember which way to look when crossing the streets, and getting a stupid amount of enjoyment from the street names: Verlaine ran into Rimbaud; Baudelaire isn’t far from Jules Verne; Mallarmé, where we’re staying, crosses du Bellay and Heredia; and so on. My enjoyment was all the greater because when I had phoned to organise the tour that hasn’t happened, MCT asked where we were so he could pick us up, but said street names were no use because no one in New Caledonia knows them. As it was useless to invoke Symbolist and Renaissance poets, I had to give him the Majestic corner shop and the statue of the petite vierge (Our Lady of the Pacific) to steer by.
Luckily, Sunday was a spectacularly beautiful day. Just as well, because we’d paid a spectacularly large sum to go on a day cruise to the Ilôt Amédée ‘Where the weather is always nicer’, and where the first iron lighthouse to be constructed in France now stands. The weather was indeed very nice, the lighthouse was remarkable (though we didn’t climb it), the all-you-can-eat lunch was delicious. We cringed just a little at the traditional Polynesian dance performance. We saw turtles, a striped snake, large number of charming sea-birds about half the size of seagulls (so much more interesting than the unhappy caged birds at the Parc Forestier). We swam, lay about, people-watched, read our books. The Art Student drew and did watercolours. We met some people who were even nicer than the weather, and who invited us to dinner chez eux last night.
Although our hosts were European – a young Frenchwoman who has been here for two or three years and her Belgian mother and aunt over for a six-month visit – they had explored the local cuisine and treated us to nuts from the Solomon Islands, poingo bananas, and other delicacies, and were able to satisfy our curiosity about much of what we’d seen and heard, and about the political landscape as a vote on independence approaches over the next couple of years. It was fun navigating the language divide, though bilingual skills were much stronger on their side. They confirmed my impression that people here generally tutoient each other – that is, they use the tu form of address that was reserved for children, social inferiors and people you want to insult in the French I learned at school. ‘They’re not being insulting,’ our host said. ‘It’s kind of nice. But I don’t do it.’ They gave us some plump mangoes and drove us the significant distance home. It was such a pleasure to receive such warm hospitality – it’s not as if we’d been finding New Caledonia unwelcoming up to that point, but we now feel that we have been very cordially welcomed.
Now we’re cooped up, staring out at the rain, wondering if it will be possible to go out to dinner, and hoping that tomorrow we’ll visit the Blue River and perhaps see New Caledonia’s distinctive native bird, the kagu, in the wild.