Author: Pam & Scott
After two months in New Caledonia here are some of our impressions and observations:
We are back in a land of cars driving on the right hand side of the road after being in New Zealand and Australia and trying to adjust to the cars driving on the left. The drivers here in Noumea are not good about stopping for pedestrians and it definitely feels like you take your life in your hands every time you cross the street. It has also been interesting being back in a country where you also pass on the right as you are walking after passing on the left for the past couple of years. It's good for Scott, he never got very good at passing on the left.
Many lights in public building's common areas i.e. hallways and restrooms are on timers, leaving you to often walk into semi darkness looking for the light switch.
On the surface New Cal looks like a dirty town, but as you explore you discover "galleries" which lead from the street to hidden mazes of "up market" (as they would say in Australia) boutiques and shops such as Hermes… The city has a distinct temporary feel to it, almost as if they are preparing in advance for the day that the nickel resources diminish and Noumea fades into a ghost town.
The showers at the marina have buttons you push to turn on the water, and push you must about every ten seconds. This is apparently very French and I suppose a way of conserving water, though I have not figured out how yet. It doesn't seem to change the length of the shower time, it just keeps you busy trying to keep the button pushed before the water actually turns off. It is also not unusual to walk into the "women's or men's toilet" to take a shower and find you are sharing the space with one or more couples sharing a shower and speaking French. The TP holders also have small padlocks; cruisers are apparently notorious for stealing toilet paper, go figure.
When you are out and about in Noumea you encounter many Melanesian woman wearing unflattering but bright colored moo moos. As well as, shops where you can purchase your very own moo moo, or the fabric to make one for yourself.
The internet service throughout the country is very slow and very expensive. We feel like spoiled Americans, but on the other hand we have experienced some incredible internet connections in the middle of nowhere, like Niue island. On Niue you could sit under a palm tree and access a free, fairly fast wifi connection.
The air quality in Noumea is very poor due to the dust from the nickel factory and the smell from the sewage that they don't have a good management system for. It is especially bad at times at the Port Moselle Marina. The running joke on the bad days is that we are all berthed in a dirty toilet.
There is a growing homeless population in Noumea, but we have not gotten to the bottom of why it is growing. We experienced blatant pan handling unlike anything we ever experienced in San Francisco (which is amazing to us). Two times while we were making a withdrawal from an ATM there was someone standing right next to the machine asking for money before we even started to make the transaction. We said "no" and they continue to stand there and ask. We encountered some pretty bold people in SF, but I have never experienced that at an ATM.
The people are very friendly and helpful. When you walk along the marina or any of the docks everyone says "bonjour". It is not the same when you are walking the city streets, but near the water it seems that is what you do. I have also been told that there is much more interest in learning English in the past few years then in the past. The other day we were in line at the grocery store and I had a very memorable and special experience. In front of us was a Dad with his approximately eight year old daughter. She wanted to step between Scott and I to choose the sweets her Dad had finally given in to (kids are kids all over the world) and she said, "excuse me" and "thank you" when Scott moved out of her way. I said "your welcome" and her Dad said to me she is practicing her English. He then asked her if she knew "your welcome", she said "yes". He then asked if we were Australian and was quite surprised when we responded American and that we had sailed from San Francisco. He translated this to his daughter, who then looked at us with wide eyes and a huge smile. She then asked her Dad in French how to say "have a nice day", (which I was amazed that I understood) and we ended our little "practice" session with warm wishes and smiles. It was truly lovely.
The school years are defined and delineated in New Cal differently than in the US. The first six years are primary school (5 - 10 years old), the next four years are college (10 - 15 years old) and the final three years are high school. Many teachers work a maximum of three hours a day.
I had to get a prescription filled here and the language barrier was an example of how you have to be very careful and pay attention to what you think is right. The medication in the US is one pill. Here to meet the dosage it is three that you take all at once. So, when I got back to the boat and opened the box I was expecting three pills (and I was told I should take them all at once, which I knew was right). Well, much to my surprise there were seven pills. So, we went back to the pharmacy to confirm whether I was suppose to take three pills or seven, which seemed wrong. Long story short, yes I was supposed to take three, which is all the Dr. prescribed. But, the pharmacy sells it in lots of seven. I was ok with getting a second dose of three, but what am I supposed to do with the ONE pill left over? "Well, that is how they do it here", was the response.
Food doesn't seem as expensive in New Caledonia as it was in French Polynesia, but it is still quite spendy. We have decided it is comparable to Australia, which we found to be an expensive country. However, fruit and vegetables are very expensive here and the options are definitely limited. I have yet to see a fresh mushroom, though I am sure there are some here somewhere and we saw a small container of strawberries for $15.00 US dollars the other day. I didn't need to have strawberries that badly.
Country Details (from the internet):
New Caledonia was settled by both Britain and France during the first half of the 19th century, the island was made a French possession in 1853. New Caledonia became an Overseas Territory of France in 1956.
In 1864 France set up a penal colony in New Caledonia. The prison closed in 1897. Agitation for independence during the 1980s and early 1990s has dissipated. The 1998 Noumea Accord allowed for increased autonomy for New Caledonia over a fifteen to twenty year period. Up to three referenda, carried out between 2013 and 2015, will determine independence from France.
Location: Oceania, islands in the South Pacific Ocean, east of Australia. Geographic coordinates: 21 30 S, 165 30 E. Area: Total: 19,060 sq km, land: 18,575 sq km (7,174 sq miles), water: 485 sq km. Coastline: 2,254 km Area - comparative: Slightly smaller than New Jersey.
New Caledonia consists of the main island, known as Grande Terre, the Isle of Pines, the Loyalty Islands and a number of small islands. Grande Terre was part of the giant continent of Gondwana which started to break apart over one hundred million years ago. The Loyalty Islands - Lifou, Mare and Ouvea are atolls.
Climate and Terrain: Tropical; modified by southeast trade winds; hot, humid. Coastal plains with interior mountains. Elevation extremes: Lowest point: Pacific Ocean 0 m, highest point: Mont Panie 1,628 m
People Population: 207,858 (July 2002 est.)
The indigenous population of New Caledonia are the Kanaks who arrived in the archipelago around three thousand years ago. New Caledonia is called Kanaky by the Kanak people.
Languages: French (official), 33 Melanesian-Polynesian dialects.
Government: Overseas territory of France since 1956. Capital: Noumea.
Economy overview: New Caledonia has more than 20% of the world's known nickel resources. In recent years, the economy has suffered because of depressed international demand for nickel, the principal source of export earnings. Only a negligible amount of the land is suitable for cultivation, and food accounts for about 20% of imports. In addition to nickel, the substantial financial support from France and tourism are keys to the health of the economy. The situation in 1998 was clouded by the spillover of financial problems in East Asia and by lower prices for nickel. Nickel prices jumped in 1999-2000, and large additions were made to capacity.
Statistics: Telephones - main lines in use: 47,000. Telephones - mobile cellular: 13,040. Radio broadcast stations: AM 1, FM 5. Radios: 107,000 (1997) Television broadcast stations: 6 (plus 25 low-power repeaters). Televisions: 52,000. Internet country code: .nc Internet Service Providers (ISPs): 1. Internet users: 5,000. Railways: 0 km Highways: total: 4,825 km, paved: 2,287 km, unpaved: 2,538 km. Airports: 29.) Heliports: 6. (these statistics were not dated, but it gives a reasonable example of the size of the population, country and advancements in technology).