Tropical Trials and Tribulations

Okay, so here I am in the South Pacific trying to be upbeat and finding the good in all things – see my last post – but the truth is I’m feeling pretty sorry for myself so unashamedly I’m going to dump my disgruntlement here.

I’m sitting in our little rental car, sheltering from the rain. It rained all last night, all this morning and has been overcast and showery all afternoon. It’s rained every day for the past 5 days and has at times being blowing a hoolie too. Yes, it remains warm I’ll grant you that, but this much rain every day …. it ain’t right.

It wouldn’t be so bad if I was sitting in a little cafe, sipping a good coffee and watching the rain through misty, steamed up windows. Unfortunately, cafes are as rare as hens teeth here and to be honest even I wouldn’t expect to find a cafe at the end of a mile long track in the verdant rain forest, which is where I am right now. This is where we are staying tonight but the owner is not here … on his way apparently, so we wait. New Caledonian time is rubbery.

Getting accommodation secured is one of the many frustrations in this country. Few people have emails, those that do don’t always reply and many seem to have an allergy to picking up their phones, so getting anything arranged can be painfully slow. Our cunning plan this time was to get the helpful woman at the tourist information centre to ring around for us and so it is due to her we have any accommodation at all but also why the small details of arrival times and welcomes have gone awry.

We have had a snoop around, in between rain showers, and though we are supposed to have a gite which to my understanding is a small self-contained studio or bungalow – here all we can find is a rough wooden shed with a number of mattresses stacked inside. Hmmm, is this my home for the night? Through the window I spy a kettle and a little lamp and there’s a loo which you get to down a muddy set of slippery stones … what more could I want? To be honest this is an idyllic spot nestled in the cleft of a valley with a foaming white waterfall in the distance and a river running just to the side. If the sun was shining and if I wasn’t slapping away mosquitos and if I could use that kettle to make a cup of tea I would be feeling more inclined to be positive about the place. But I’m not. I’m tired, grumpy, hot and itchy.

The itch is not just from the mosquito bites I’ve accumulated, but from a beastly heat rash. This is a new experience for me. I love the heat, I thrive in the heat, my body relaxes and becomes healthier in the heat. But not this time. Now the warmth just makes me feel like I’m too big for my skin. So much so that I’m breaking out of it. The sun may be hiding behind a bank of grey cloud, but it’s still hot and the humidity makes me perspire and so the crop of unattractive, itchy pustules – the word so unattractive in itself describes them perfectly – continue to breed.

Anyway, I digress, let me get back to wallowing in self pity and disappointment …. where the hell is our host?

In my last post I described my dismay at the dearth of brochure perfect beaches. That hasn’t changed and now we can add the affect of the weather. We took a detour today to picnic on what actually was quite a nice beach. A gentle curve, a few palm trees, no sea grass, no sharp rocks or coral giving an easy entry to the water. But the recent deluge and continuing wind made the water too choppy and churned up with sand – which was dark grey, not the longed for sparkling white – and the grey clouds reflecting in the water made the prospect of a swim and snorkel uninviting. We walked along it holding hands, we picnicked, we commented on how pretty it was (or could be), we gasped in wonder at the tiny crabs who scuttled away from our encroaching feet – see, I am trying to have a good time – and then we left, somewhat satisfied, but not fully so.

Finding good food is another challenge. If you read the last post you’ll know it’s expensive here so to make things easier on the wallet we’ve been trying to self-cater as much as possible. Investing in a small cool bag and a blue plastic ice block seemed like a good idea and a fun one too. Visions of farmers markets tasting exotic, unknown foods, interacting with the locals and buying homemade pies and cakes filled my hopeful imagination. The reality was a bit different. The markets were few and far between and those we attended were rather sorry affairs. Very few stalls, very few locals or foreigners and very few goodies to tempt me.
The supermarkets aren’t much better. They are often quite small and often shut so we always make sure we have some emergency rations with us and are letting go of the mindset we had in India where you can get pretty much anything whenever you want it. There’s a poor choice of food and as I’ve said before the range of fresh fruit and veg is pitiful. A lot of the basics are sold in huge family packs which isn’t appropriate for just the two of us, despite our healthy appetites, so it’s a challenge to find anything that we can make a meal from. The other difficulty is that the accommodation, if it has any cooking equipment at all is usually limited to either a microwave or one hot plate. So, you can imagine that our culinary experiences have been pretty unexciting. It’s been food as fuel rather than as a exotic, mouthwatering delight.

Hooray, here is Marcel our host …. at last. On with the damp cagoule and off to discover our fate for the night!
Post Script – 3 days further on, feeling distinctly more upbeat!

Yes, the little shed was our accommodation. The mattress on the floor was surprisingly comfortable, but sharing it with ants was not so. Sharing the space with 4 very active geckos, was much more desirable as they were fun to watch and they ate a lot of flying insects. However, they didn’t get all the mozzies, so I have more bites to scratch! There were no eating establishments in the local village which we had expected so our emergency tin of ravioli was heated by Marcel’s wife. We had to scramble up to their little house and back to our shed in the dark and the rain, returning with the steaming hot pan and we ate, under the little lean-to cover of our shed listening to the rain and reminiscing about eating ravioli as children – oh the glamour of it all!

In the morning things took an upward turn. We had a picnic breakfast overlooking the river and took a walk through the forest to the top of the waterfall and skinny dipped in the natural pool at its base – this was a glorious, refreshing morning bathe and made up for all the swimming we’d missed out on.

That night we had a more comfortable experience staying with a tribal family and ate a delicious meal of octopus and yam and salad – this and Mathilde’s river crevettes were the 2 best meals we had. However, the weather deteriorated in to full on torrential rain and the island received a cyclone warning! This resulted in us having to make a dramatic drive to run from the impending doom early the following morning. David has written about this http://www.ashbysworld.com
Thankfully it petered out later that day so no lasting damage was done.

Tomorrow we leave and I admit to being quite glad!
We arrived tired and ill and in need of rest and I had built an image in my mind of how I wanted it all to be. That was my mistake! Interestingly it comes back to desire and attachment which I’ve explored before and here it comes again for me to work with! I was attached to an idea, a desire for some perfect paradise which I didn’t get. Ouch! It’s been one of those travelling experiences that in an odd way I’m getting more from as I look back at it. It gave me some gristle to chew on which wasn’t much fun at the time but has been enriching in retrospect both for myself and my relationship with David, which needless to say was also challenged and challenging at times!

It was what a teacher of mine once called an AFGO – Another F*****g Growth Opportunity!

We did meet some good people, saw some beautiful countryside and natural wonders and swam in warm seas and cool, clear river pools. Meals will be remembered, though not always for their deliciousness, and we have gathered some pretty good stories to dine out on! So, all in all despite some grumpiness along the way I’m happy to have been here.

Breakfast picnic spot

Breakfast picnic spot

Early morning bathing pool

Early morning bathing pool

Octopus - deliciously tentacly!

Octopus – deliciously tentacly!

One of the better beaches

One of the better beaches

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