From New Caledonia in the South Pacific! – Emotional Pro

October 18th, 2008

We finally found a tropical island that’s the one of our fantasy.  Azure seas, calm inlets, wide white sandy beaches, lush tropical forests and plenty of sun.  Ile de Pin was our stop on the MS Volendam day before yesterday.  It was the first time the ship had stopped there, but I’m sure not the last.


I rented a bicycle from the owner of the local hotel and rode the 10 km round trip to the one town on the island, Kao.  It enabled me to do several things.  First, I was able to ride on open roads with no other vehicle or person in sight, free to drink in the scenery, smell the flowers, and listen to the birds.  The road was not very challenging, which was merciful, though the bike was poorly adjusted to my height and my knees seemed to hit me in the chest with each pedal!


Second, I was able to have a delightful encounter with some island children, a 14 year old boy named Philip, his sister Erica (about 12) and his baby brother, Cyril, 6 months old.  Philip and Erica are studying English in their Catholic Ecole, and eagerly shared their copy books with me, demonstrating how they can speak whole sentences and count to fifty!  I took their picture, they took mine, and Erica discovered that I had a package of chewing gum with me, which happily went into her pocket!  I gave her my business card and told her to come and find me in the U.S. when she comes over when she is older.  I have a strong sense that she will be “going places.”  It was a wonderful, warm and very human encounter, just up the hill from an white beach bordered by an Azure sea.


Third, it has provided me with physical challenges in the ensuing days, due to the rock hard nature of the poorly adjusted bicycle seat!  I’m just beginning to be able to walk normally today!  Next cruise, I’m bringing my own tie-on gel bicycle seat cover!


After my bicycle ride, I swam in the sheltered bay, which had occasional pieces of coral on the bottom, a huge rock in its midst around which a number of fish were swimming, and which had such salty water that it was no difficulty at all to stay afloat.  It was difficult to leave that lovely place.  Bob decided not to get off the ship (we were ferried to the island on Tenders—aka our lifeboats—and those are difficult for him to utilize).  So I went at my own pace, stopped exactly when I wanted, got plenty of exercise, and talked with people as I went through my day. 


For example, a man who was walking the 5 km to town, Paul, had started off with his wife and continued alone when she found it too much for her (it was a hot and sticky day).  He’s from Texas and we spoke briefly on the road.  When I went in for swimming, who should be next to me in the water  but Paul, who told me he has had several careers, ending with 17 years in the metal roofing business.  He waxed poetic about being in that lovely bay instead of atop a hot roof in the Texas sun, and when he learned I’m a marriage counselor, asked me to come meet his wife!


Yesterday we went on to Noumea, New Caledonia, for another beautiful day of touring, this time on an air-conditioned bus.  It has been amazing to get to know something about the history, ethnic origins, traditions and personalities of the different places we have stopped.  On Vanuatu, for example, they had, prior to independence in the 1980’s, two governments—the French and the English.  When visitors landed, they were asked to make a choice about which system of jurisprudence they wanted to be under.  The town of Port Vila, where we landed, is divided into numbered sections—1, 2 and 3.  1 is occupied by groups native to the area, 2 is English and 3 is French.  Depending upon where one lives, children are educated in the French or English schools! 


We’re now headed toward New Zealand, where we will be circumnavigating the North Island before disembarking in Auckland.  I’m looking forward to the possibility (depending upon the weather) of swimming with the dolphins.  We’re being met in Wellington by a gentleman Bob has long known via the computer, and being hosted in Auckland by Dr. Stephen Streat and his wife, Jane.  Streat is the director of the Intensive Care Unit of the government hospital and director of the organ donation program for the country of New Zealand.  He is corresponding with us via e-mail, promising to take us on the seismically and volcanically-active city of Rotorua for an overnight.  We should be having lots of fun!


Holland America now has an Open Seating plan for meals, which is the plan we have chosen.  This means that at each meal we are seated with up to six other people at our table, chosen on a random basis.  It makes for interesting experiences.  At breakfast today, for example, we ate with two other couples, one from New Zealand and the other from Canada.  The wife from Canada writes books on boating and safety, and she and her husband teach basic boating safety, particularly to retirees (whom they say often graduate from a rowboat to a big cruiser, which they don’t really know what to do with!).  The New Zealand couple has “a plot” on which they run about 50 head of beef cattle, having tried raising kiwis and found “it was not for us.”  Everyone except my husband had been raised on a farm, so we had a great time talking about the values such a life imparts and how sad we are that so few children get such an experience today.  This, of course, led us to politics……  We have talked about teaching bridge, training horses, developing a tool and die business, building Boeing aircraft, wartime service, being a judge in the Southwest, running a family business that employs four generations, Canadian politics (they had an election, too!), and a number of other things.  It’s been quite an education; and very pleasant.  I’m grateful for this pleasantness in face of all the dire reports from the “real world” to which we will return in about three weeks. 

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