Bonjour from New Caledonia!
The majority of this week was spent in New Caledonia, which is not, technically, a country. It is a “special collectivity” of France [basically a territory]. So why did I come here? Outside of the rave reviews, New Caledonia is actively working towards sovereignty and expected to achieve it within the next few years. Meaning that while New Caledonia isn’t on my list now, it very likely will be by the time I’m done, so makes sense to pop in while I’m around. I also spent a few days this week in Vanuatu, and return there for a few before moving on. The itinerary is a bit broken up, but that’s just sometimes how the flight options shake out.
First, Vanuatu. Earlier this year Vanuatu was hit quite hard by TC Pam. And it was pretty well devastated. But in driving around the island, you would hardly know it. Just months after the storm, almost all tourist operations – accommodations, activities, restaurants – are back in business. The storm has left its mark though; also driving around the island you will see massive trees, ripped from the ground, their roots reaching into the air. You’ll see trees that look naked, stripped of their branches and leaves. And hopefully you’re paying attention and you’ll see all of the potholes, or the portions of the road that are just, missing (as in 10 ft drop from the road).
Now, New Caledonia. I felt like a thorn for much of my stay due to my very minuscule understanding of French. While I’ve been listening to French lessons via audio-book for a few months now, I only know the phrases that I’ve been taught, in their specific construction, and more importantly, I’ve only spoken French out loud to myself. I found that reading was mostly ok, but as soon as people spoke to me, my eyes got as wide as a deer in headlights. Worse yet, despite what my research told me, pretty much no one speaks English. Even worse yet, nowhere have I met people so indignant to someone trying to learn their language. Well, except, of course, the US. But their displeasure in me not being fluent made my wariness of practicing rise. A good reminder to be aware of how we can directly or indirectly totally discourage effort.
I remember very distinctly being in line at Mervyn’s when I was maybe 18. The man in front of me was trying to speak in English, struggling to remember the words he needed. Meanwhile the cashier in her late 30s, maybe early 40s, teased, feathered hair and way too many layers of red lipstick caked on rolled her eyes at him. He continued anyway. Practically ignoring him, she looked over to another employee and said, with no intent of subtlety, “I just don’t see why THEY don’t have to learn ENGLISH before THEY are even ALLOWED to be here.” I was mortified and embarrassed by her. I helped him find the words and get out of her line as quickly as possible.
This does not of course encompass everyone. Many people smiled and said something along the lines of “sorry, me English bad very.”
Respect. Me French bad very more.
BUT the good news is you don’t need to speak French to snorkel. I spoke snorkel-English to just about every creature I saw and it was just all around winning. There was a popular island that cost ~$150 round trip, but I found a transport to a closer island for ~$15 round trip, including gear. And it was closer. And they gave me a discount after I decided I needed to come back. Duck Island is a MUST. So so many fish. I went three days in a row and saw something new every day. All kinds of fish, heaps of turtles a few squids and a MASSIVE sting ray (luckily from about 20-30 meters above).
I didn’t, however, see an elusive dugong. I had no idea what those were until I Googled it after seeing it on a map of Vanuatu. Now I’m obsessed. I will find one.
In the meantime, here’s 30 seconds of turtle: