October 15 – Ile des Pins, New Caledonia
CNN, the only satellite news station to reach the ship, has been offline for days, but the captain just announced that Harper is still head of a minority government in Canada.
News junkies are going through withdrawal, but the rest of us are sanguine about the lack of news. The economy going down the tubes? Hey, this is a ship load of retirees. We know the implications, but for the length of this voyage our daily needs are covered, and we’re enjoying the respite.
Your two intrepid travelers joined eight other brave souls to participate in the Volendam’s guest talent show this morning. Since the show was scheduled just before people could head for shore, we anticipated a small crowd. To our amazement, the two levels of the Frans Hals Lounge were pretty well packed.
Robin did a shortened version of “Waltzing Matilda” and won loads of kudos – not only because he was so entertaining but also because most people hadn’t a clue what the song was really about. Now they know, and they’re happy about it.
I told a story – surprise! – and had fun with the audience. By the time the punch line came around, they were ready to chime in.
Robin was not optimistic about the day’s port. That’s unusual for him, but he’s landed in other places where there were no ship excursions. Usually that means there’s no reason to offer them – rocky land, stony beaches, no transportation.
Ile des Pins (Isle of the Pines) exceeded everyone’s expectations. Picture a South Sea island paradise, and visions that match this island come to mind. Traditional dancers met us as we reached the dock. The water really was turquoise, the white sand as fine as salt. Sea breezes cooled the air. Both temperature and humidity were moderate.
Unusual for a tropical island, Araucaria pines rise like sentinels out of the lower palms. Their needles resemble somewhat the more familiar Norfolk Island pine.
Thick-trunked trees (anyone recognize the species – or the ones growing around each other in the second picture?) form canopies over the few roads that ring the hundred square miles of this island. It lies about fifty miles southeast of Grande Terre, the better-known island of the French-Pacific territory of New Caledonia.
In the 1870s what looks like paradise to us now was prison to nearly 4000 political prisoners. Conditions were severe, and the brutal treatment marked the survivors who were not allowed to return to France until 1880.
The Melanesians who form 95% of the island’s 2000 residents call the island Kunie. The island’s eight tribes each has a chief. All of them are governed by the island’s High Chief.
We didn’t make it to Vao, the island’s only village, where French is the official language of commerce, education, and government. The Kunie people we overheard were speaking a mix of their own language and a French patois I found impossible to understand.
Since we were in port only six hours, and we were not able to catch a tender until two of those hours had passed, we had no time for a shore adventure. But we did have enough time to roll up our trousers and walk along the sea’s edge – and think about what it would be like to live in this island paradise.