Saturday, May 27, 2017

New Caledonia

Y'all ever heard of a country called New Caledonia before?  I sure hadn't, prior to moving to Australia.  Here it is:

Nouvelle-Caledonie (parlez-vous francais?) is a mere two hours from Brisbane, halfway between here and Fiji.  You can't get anywhere in Australia by flying two hours!  Yet you can get to France.  Actual France!

One country, two flags
Wikipedia tells me that New Caledonia is a "special collectivity of France" and if my spellcheck is to be believed, that isn't even a word, so let's just make it simple and call it a territory.  Because it has all the French things.

French bare necessities

French indulgences

French elections!

The people of New Caledonia are legit French citizens, members of the EU.  Citizens who, as it turns out, can be trusted with a democratic election!  God bless 'em.

So full of surprises this place is.  This being France, everything's written in French and they're reluctant to use their English.  They're quite frosty towards the idea of hosting tourists and you can buy baguettes literally everywhere.

Despite its obvious French-ness, it is also so different from France.  First of all, it's ridiculously tropical.

Yet has pine trees all over the place.

So comes the name Isle of Pines, a tiny island (off the main island) that is on the next level of natural beauty.

Here we went on a boat trip to see what natural wonders lie above the water.

And below it.

Look at that gigantic stingray!  It was HUGE!  Adult human sized, probably longer than I am tall.  That sighting alone made the trip to Isle of Pines completely worth it.

But I was shocked by how casually our guide (and several guests) swam down and poked the damn thing.  I mean, seriously people, has history taught us nothing?

Here in Australia we know not to eff with nature!  Well, some of us anyway.

Though 99% of the time I am very pro leave-nature-alone you better believe I was all up in this:

Our tour guide jumped out of the boat to snatch up this turtle for our petting pleasure.  Which she does everyday, so it's not like the turtle was scared or surprised by this.

Childishly, I think I got more enjoyment out of this wildlife encounter than the stingray or turtle:

Crabs!  Hundreds and hundreds of crabs the size of your fist.  Crawling along, going (as far as I could tell) nowhere in particular, leaving really awesome sand art in their wake.

They were just delightful!

Back on the mainland we continued our exploration of all things French-meets-Pacific and spent the day touring the sites in the capital of Noumea.

Despite being relatively un-touristed, we were not the only tourists by a long shot.  Do you know why?

Cruise ship passengers.  By the boatload!

Several times per week a cruise ship from Australia rolls in and unloads heaps of tourists onto the city for the day.  Tour busses fill up and the streets are filled with backpack wearing holidaymakers.  I'd like to think we blended in a little better than your average tourist, since we wear our sandals without socks.  Because we're fancy.

We spent a good chunk of our day in Noumea at the WWII museum.  In my old age I fancy myself a bit of a WWII buff, and New Caledonia's role in the war is actually quite fascinating, (well, to me anyway).  With its strategic, close proximity to Australia and, get this - no malaria - it was the perfect place for American servicemen to start their overseas tour to get acclimatized to a tropical climate.

Over a million Americans passed through New Caledonia during the war.  Spoiler alert: we won.

Noumea is also where we did our best eating of the trip, and holy crap was it good.  Authentic French bistro food is so, so good!  I haven't had French food in a long time, and I haven't eaten this well in as long as I can remember.  It was nothing short of fabulous.

And don't forget the escargot!

Snails es muy delicioso.  Didn't see frog legs on any menus, though, which is an exotic French dish I've never had but want to try.

If you go to New Caledonia and see nothing but the inside of restaurants it will be time well spent.  If you've stumbled on this blog while looking for travel tips (resources are quite sparse; my apologies you've had to stoop to this level) I implore you, eat at Zanzibar.  A top meal of my entire life.  I have 3 words for you: Duck. Fat. Fries.  Let me tell you what, it changes a person.

We headed to the northeast coast, an area that's less populated, completely devoid of cruise ships and more lush than the west coast.

There we hiked up a literal mountain - in flip flops - to get to this waterfall.

Upon first inspection it might not look overly impressive, but check out the guy in red on the bottom right!  It was pretty darn big and exceedingly difficult to get to.  Holy shit were we out of our league with that hike!  The selfie game was worth it, though.

Just barely.  Uff da it was a hard slog.

I think the main reason Martin insisted we rent a car and drive across the country was to experience...wait for it...

A barge.  A really simple, 24/7, free barge that briefly replaces the highway and took less than 60 seconds to cross.  Tourist attraction of the century, people, step right up!

The area is undoubtedly nice, though.

Even more so than the super "exciting" and "interesting" barge we were there for one thing.

Squinting required
The first and only manta ray sighting of our lives!

But this was literally it.  A singular manta ray, that we had to chase, in a fairly dangerous current to view in poor visibility.  Worth it?  Debatable.  But damn it after our failed attempt at seeing mantas on Lady Elliot Island we can at least tick it off our bucket list.

Of approximate excitement to the manta ray we also saw a rock shaped like a chicken.

Wild times on the east coast of New Caledonia!

New Caledonia is, unfortunately for us, expensive.  Legitimately expensive.  This is the reason there are very few tourists besides cruise ship passengers, because getting around, hotels and eating cost the same - if not more - than Australia.

That's a tough pill to swallow for Australians when Bali is three times farther away but ten times as cheap, but as a friend pointed out, it keeps the bogans away!

For white trash-free travel in the southern hemisphere, in a tropical climate where everybody smokes and the food is out of this world, now you know just the place.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Ridiculous Obstacle Challenge

One of my crazy ass friends asked, "Hey, do you want to run a 5K?"

"Uhh, not really." Replied my lazy, unfit self.

"Yeah but what about one with obstacles?"

This is how 8 people on the continuum from marathon runner to heavy smoker came to be on an un-televized episode of Wipeout.

Starting line of the Ridiculous Obstacle Course, or ROC race.

We even got t-shirts!  Which were promptly desecrated into fashionable 80's-style belly shirts.

Speaking of the 80's, did you notice me wearing one of these bad boys?

Except mine is even less fashionable.

Haters gonna hate
In Australia, "fanny" means ladyparts (by which I mean vag).  So calling it a fanny pack brings many LOLs.  In polite company here this is called a bum bag.

My bum bag made this blog post possible, because I could carry my (water proof) camera around throughout the course.  A few other bits of information about it:

1. I didn't buy it just for this; I've had this thing for years.

2. I've worn it before.

3. Yes, in public (but in my defence only when exercising).

4. I originally put it on intending to fill it with gummy worms, but knowing what's in store during the race realized wet gummy worms would be pretty gross.

Have you not heard?  Eating gummy worms during a 5K is a thing that people do.  For sure.

There were 12 obstacles, each with unique and exciting opportunities to break a bone.

Apologies in advance for water smudges on the lens.  Being soaked from head to toe left me with no dry clothes to wipe the camera off for optimal photography.

Aqua Drag

And we're off!

You're not staying dry throughout this race, so get moistened early on this easy, non-sloping water slide.

Wrecking Balls

One of the more difficult challenges, because you have a slippery, narrow path to concentrate on with huge ass balls flying around.  I believe 2 of the 8 (a mere 25%) of us made it across successfully.  Here's Martin mere seconds before he hit the water:

You can see that left foot slipping straight into failure.

Barrel Bounce

A fairly simple concept just scramble over these barriers.  This was my first massive faceplant of the day, as the barriers roll, and as I was going over it rolled me back to the side I came from and onto my...fanny.

Jump Balls

They should call these Impossible Balls.  We didn't see anyone make it all the way through here, or even past the first ball.

These are also the reason I will probably have to roll out of bed tomorrow morning and army crawl around all day.  Someone said "the trick is to jump one foot on each ball" so I went into it with all my weight on one leg, which promptly crumbled and sent me flying.  I could've snapped my leg!

Cool Runnings

In addition to being the best named obstacle, it was also the most fun.  It's a big slide you ride down in an inner tube!

After hauling yourself and your tube up a big staircase, that is.

I did veer out of my lane and into Martin's, which resulted in his "sprained thumb", an injury which lasted mere minutes.

The Drop

Smaller slide, no inner tube.  Fairly uninteresting in comparison to the previous.

The Sweeper

This was a good one, and what you think of when you think of Wipeout.

Run your ass across and don't get knocked over by the spinny things.

Pro tip: you can crawl underneath and get through just fine.

Those things spin fast!

Sky High

Not much to report here.  Just jump like a kangaroo through what would better be used as a bouncy castle.

Check out those foreboding clouds!

Leap of Faith

a.k.a. Jump of Death.  Such a simple premise, with not-so-simple execution.

Look at this!

3 meters, 9.8 feet.  All you gotta do is jump.

It's hard to get over the mental hurdle to jump 10 feet!  A quote from me: "I don't like this one bit".  But I figured if I can jump out of an airplane, I can jump 10 damn feet.

Definitely the scariest obstacle of the bunch!

Badger Wall

A fancy name for just a wall.  The only obstacle that wasn't soft and squishy, and possibly borrowed from a military training facility.  This one resulted in the most elegant and ladylike photos.

Possibly of all time.

Foam of Fury

Actually I stand corrected.  This was my favorite obstacle.  Nearly identical to the very first one but with tons and tons of...


It's snowing in Brizzy!  Many a story about foam parties of yesteryear were shared, trust.

If you weren't wet before then you are now!

This was also the time the heavens opened up and started raining on us.  It was actually pretty convenient to clean the foam off, before the final obstacle.

The Hippo

Why run across the finish line when you can slide?

I'm not sure if it's actually 5 kilometers, it didn't feel like that much, but I can tell you our jogging between obstacles ceased after the first one.  There is no competition to see who can get done the quickest.  It's about having heaps of fun!

It took us about 1.5 hours to get through the course, and we were all soaked from head to toe.

It was super fun and I would totally do it again.

And next time I'm totally bringing gummy worms.