Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Ground Hog Day at Isle of Pines

Isle of Pines

Mark hiking

Rocky windward shore

Circling Black Tip reef sharks

More beautiful shoreline

White sand on Ile Brosse

Sea Snake ashore for the night

Dog Poop tree?

Bush whacking wounds

Festival dancer (Snake group)

Another festival dancer (Bird group)

Exploring the island by bicycle

Beautiful wood carvings

Sand snowman

We had a sunny and warm day of sailing/motor sailing to Ile de Pins (Isle of Pines), located in New Caledonia’s southern lagoon, but as the island appeared upon the horizon, we noticed a dark cloud hanging over it.  That should have been our first clue as to what to expect in the 16+ days we would ultimately spend here.

The island itself is quite beautiful and covered in pine trees and shrubs very similar to the vegetation we have in the Pacific Northwest.  Around it are many pristine beaches with incredibly fine white sand. They are quite spectacular.  Since Ile de Pins is a popular vacation spot for the French, we expected there to be some infrastructure in place for tourism but, to our surprise, that is not the case.  There are a few resorts and camping areas but surprisingly little in the way of restaurants and shops. The island tends to come alive once a week when the cruise ship makes an appearance.  It’s interesting to see the little food venues and resort wear stands appear out of nowhere in time for the bloated and pasty tourists to leave their buffets and come ashore.

Since we have been here, we’ve had mostly chilly, overcast conditions and frequent periods of rain ranging from a few sprinkles to heavy.  At this point, I am beginning to worry about our Vitamin D levels and have wished more than a few times I was home in the States where it is summer.

Despite the overall poor weather, we have gotten out almost every day for some hiking or biking. Waking up each morning to the same gloomy weather and seemingly repetitive activities reminds us of the old movie with Bill Murray where he relives Ground Hog Day over and over. Unlike Fiji or Vanautu it’s been a breath of fresh air to have the freedom to walk anywhere, anytime without having to ask permission from a village chief.

 On one of the rare sunny days, we and our friends from “Evergreen” & “Fruit de Mer” attended a Catholic church festival celebrating “The Assumption” in the tiny town of Vao about 3 miles from our anchorage.  A large crowd of mostly locals, all nicely dressed, were in attendance and food stands were set up near a decorated, communal dining tent.  Our group walked about, taking-in the sights and sampled some of the fare.  Most of us settled on beef brochettes cooked over a BBQ...tasty but not perfectly cooked.  After our lunch, we walked around a bit more and waited for an afternoon dance presentation.  That proved interesting with two groups, accompanied by singers and drummers, performing in costumes different than other cultures we had experienced so far. Their use of body paint was new to us as well. 

We have been snorkeling twice now and have been quite disappointed once again with the lack of sea life and the cold temperature of the water.  Our newly purchased 5mm wetsuits are barely adequate and we find ourselves getting chilled quite quickly making it a less pleasurable experience.  However, just yesterday we hiked along the coast at low tide peering into beautiful tidal pools and found a few interesting creatures looking back.  So....who knows, rain or no rain we might brave the waters once again today to try and capture them on film.

Even though the inclement weather has dampened our spirits a bit, we’ve had some very enjoyable times here as well like the night where Annemieke and Gerrit, from “Fruit de Mer”, served our group a traditional Dutch winter meal of delicious split pea soup and pumpernickel bread.  Appetizers that night were accompanied by a body and spirit-warming Dutch, alcoholic libation that, they say, is usually consumed after hours of outdoor skating in the bitter cold. What a great meal, made even better by the company we shared.  Another high point of our time here has been reconnecting with friends Steve and Dorothy on the amazing catamaran “Adagio”.  We benefited greatly the other day from the hours they spent patiently helping us improve our skills with our i Pad and Mac computer.  As we’ve said before, one of the best things about cruising is the friendships we make.  Sharing the anchorage also with Danny and Yvonne, from “Ocean Pearl”, whom we hadn’t seen since meeting them in Vanautu last year, again reinforced our feeling about what a wonderful lifestyle this is.

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