Sunday, February 14, 2016

Where Are The Used Cars?


Yesterday we visited the main island in the country of New Caledonia, Grand Terre, and docked at its capital, Noumea. The Island of Grand Terre is quite large, but the capital city of Noumea is confined to what amounts to a relatively small peninsula on the southern tip, and is home to over 140,000 people. Outside of the Loyalty Island Chain, which we visited when going to Mare’, most of the population of the country lives here. During the Second World War, Noumea became home to the South Pacific Headquarters of the United States Military. Today, Noumea is considered the “Paris of the Pacific!” This country is officially a part of France, and has been so since 1853; indeed, the citizens of Noumea carry French Passports.

Our little party of four arranged for a van and a guide to show us around the city. Because of traffic congestion, believe it or not, it took almost four hours just to see the city itself. We started with the van climbing to a hilltop not far from the port to get an overview of the magnificent surroundings. The island tip is ringed by smaller islands and islets, and the coastal drive, which we would later take, is lined with fine hotel and beaches. When standing outside on the hilltop, I became aware of the high humidity which limited visibility and made it quite uncomfortable in spite of a light breeze. When we got back into the van, our guide pointed out the large size of the mangos on the nearby trees and noted that they predicted the likelihood of a cyclone nearby which would account for the high humidity that was quite unusual. If the mangos were larger, he would say the island itself would soon be hit, but since they were only moderately swollen, he predicted simply a storm nearby in the next day or two. Now to digress, I had heard nothing about any bad weather, and judging from the perfectly clear skies, I thought this was just so much rubbish. Imagine my surprise when as the ship prepared to depart the harbor that evening, the Captain came on to advise us that the area we had just left in Fiji was experiencing a cyclone that was headed our way, but that it should soon turn away from us. However, there was a monster cyclone to our north headed our way which would require a close watch. So, I guess I better learn to watch my Mangos!!

Returning to our city tour, our little van climbed to yet another hilltop, this time occupied by a statue of Mary and surrounded by a small grotto and shrine. Back into the van, and up yet another hilltop, but by now we were all becoming uncomfortably hot. Yes, the day was heating up, but the van appeared to be heating faster. Thus, we welcomed yet another opportunity to get out into the breeze and take a picture or two before dragging ourselves back inside. From our vantage point, we descended down and joined the very modern freeway system to travel north for quite some distance to visit what we were told was a beautiful Catholic Cathedral. I would make two points, the road system was quite amazing, and filled to capacity with rush hour traffic. Second, the “beautiful Cathedral” turned out to be a fairly non-descript little cathedral. It would have hardly been worth the long drive in the increasingly hot van, except there was a family with two young daughters preparing them for their Baptism. Everyone looked lovely in their white outfits and dresses. Now having traveled almost out of the city, we had to fight rush hour traffic to get back into the city and visit yet another hilltop. We welcomed any chance to get out of the hot van – it was so much nicer outside in the heat than in the stifling van. So when offered an opportunity to visit the local aquarium, we jumped at the chance to get into some cool air.

The aquarium was small, but really well done, and offered some very unique specimens. It did have small air conditioning units blowing some cool air, but still the building was hot and humid; so much for that idea. I did get some good pictures, but Lisa actually got some that were much better. Reluctantly we climbed into the van to drive the coastal road and to head into town to see the WW II Memorial to the United States. During this drive, it dawned on me that every car I saw looked almost new, and almost everyone was French built. I pointed this out to the group, and we started looking to see if we could find any older models, and I don’t think we saw a single one. Then it hit me – The French Connection! The new cars, the modern roads, the obvious affluence! It reminds me of two sister islands just east of Madagascar. Mauritius Island, which is independent, as I recall was rather undeveloped as compared to its neighbor, Reunion Island. Reunion Island is actually a Prefecture or State of the French Republic, and the Island was so highly developed that if dropped onto the island blindfolded and told to open my eyes, I would have sworn that I was in the French countryside. I got that same feeling when visiting Noumea – no used cars, super highways, and affluent lifestyle. It was all there.

Today we are at sea on the way to our final destination, Sydney, Australia. Unfortunately, and for some unknown reason, our ship will not be docking, but instead will be required to anchor in the harbor. That means that all turnaround operations will require the use of ferries to move 500 people and their luggage ashore, and then to move 500 people and their things back to the ship; not to mention that after 21 days at sea, the ship will require a great deal of re-provisioning. Quite a mess I understand.

Anyway, tomorrow we will have the day to visit this great city. Lisa and I have decided to go ashore and take a taxi to the famous New South Wales Museum of Art. We enjoy visiting art museums, and a short visit with perhaps a coffee down by the wharf will be just the thing considering that we also have to finish packing for our 6am departure the following day. For that reason, I am going to make this my last blog for this trip. For those of you who have followed my previous travels, I suspect that you have read between the lines at my disappointment in this cruise. I am not disappointed in the ship or service; quite the contrary. I still would rate this one of the finest cruise ships in the world. However, the itinerary was not what I had hoped. Of the 22 days we spent on board, 13 days were at sea. We spent four full days doing nothing, but anchoring off beaches. We made five ports of call, but two of those were just for half a day, including Honolulu.

I guess Lisa and I have gotten spoiled with the activities surrounding expedition cruising as compared to spending 22 days on a floating hotel. Crystal’s motto seems to be that “getting there should be more fun than what you see along the way.” Anyway, my pictures are all posted at; I hope you enjoy, and with good fortune, we will be headed out again in May.


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