A Drive around Ile des Pins with Cleo

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Generous to us as usual, Cleo carried us in her little white car from her home to Vao for the farmers’ market, and to two of the grocery stores (épiceries) on the island. I was able to re-provision really well, since the supply ship had recently visited the island, and the two weddings on the island were over. The past two weeks had been slim pickings for grocery and produce shoppers like us. Several of the women on the island are excellent gardeners, and sell at the open-air marché: billows of Italian parsley and Cilantro (which the locals call Chinese parsley), just-picked lettuces, interestingly-shaped and delicious tomatoes, tiny carrots still wearing their feathery tops, beautiful white radishes which we grate and serve sprinkled with cream, Bok choy for our Hong Kong fried rice dish, fresh basil to serve with the tomatoes, crisp and curly freshly-picked green beans (haricots verts) and more.

Other women sell: gorgeous papayas, green bananas (so they don’t all ripen on the same day), fresh local escargots if we want them, smoked corn on the cob (which we haven’t tried yet), fresh baguettes (better than what the bakery sells), sometimes fresh fish (which we have not tried for fear of Ciguatera poisoning), occasionally large, black crabs, and several items of produce which we have not yet identified.

At the two épiceries I bought a locally-grown large frozen chicken, a package of our favorite Toulouse sausages, a pack of frozen large pork chops and bell peppers, apples and pears just off the supply ship. We can also buy large purple grapes imported from Australia and lovely French cheeses and sliced ham for our lunchtime sandwiches on the baguettes.

We traveled with Cleo to the airport, where she received six boxes from Noumea containing fabrics for Albert to paint, calendars for 2015, copies of books she has published and more. Ian and Ellen were a great help to Cleo in loading the heavy boxes into the car, and then off loading them at Cleo’s house, and into Albert’s Cinema building.

On the way to and from the airport, we drove through the “plateau” of the island, where the minier soils (Peridotites and Serpentines) support an assortment of plants which are close to 100% endemic, including numerous orchids which we could see. Isolated from other lands, geologically and ecologically, large areas of New Caledonia have these ultrabasic soils, which are nearly completely lacking in phosphorus, potassium and calcium, elements considered as indispensable to plant life. In addition the miniers soils are also rich in nickel, manganese, magnesium and other metals considered toxic to plants.

The adaptation of the flora to these very special conditions has resulted in the multiplication of endemic species, which fortunately are not threatened by invasive species from overseas which cannot tolerate the soils. Many of the endemic plants could not subsist without the help of mycorrhizae fungi or symbiotic bacteria which fix atmospheric nitrogen in the soil or intervene in the mobilization of certain mineral elements. (Several of these phrases have been translated by me from the book, “Fleurs et plantes de Nouvelle-Calédonia,” Maurice Schmid, Les Editions du Pacific, 2000).

Also unique to the plateau region are the approximately 400 Tumulis. These are mounds of earth, about two to three meters in height and 10 to 15 meters in diameter, covered with shrubbery. Theories about their origin include nesting areas for a large, flightless bird like a New Zealand Moa. Numerous archaeologists have studied them, and there is still no resolution to the question of the origin of these quite ancient mounds.

Steve collected us and our shopping bags in ALLEGRO from the dinghy dock, after I had hailed him on our Motorola family radios.

We arrived back at ADAGIO just before the rain began, enabling us to put the final touches on pre-storm preparations. As it turned out, most of the forecast heavy rain was deflected by Grande Terre and never made it to Ile des Pins. The strong winds forecast did not arrive the following day, and we spent a pleasant day resting, reading and napping.

Steve had been helping Cleo learn about self-publishing resources. She has completed a novel and is putting the finishing touches on a collection of short stories. She has already published several printed books about the Ile des Pins. Deb has been super helpful with advice for Cleo, referring Steve to some of her publishing circle. Our New Zealand writer friend, Eva Brown, has been contributing ideas and sources.

Meanwhile Steve was helping Tony and Brigitte to get the most value from their Mac and iPad. Before long Brigitte had gifted us with a very large pumpkin/squash from her garden.

The following day, the weather was favorable for a passage from Ile des Pins to Noumea, so we enjoyed a pleasant 9-hour sail back to the Big Smoke of Noumea, in time to attend a Festival of the Lagoon near the Port Moselle marina over the weekend. We needed to re-provision with wine and other grocery items that cannot be purchased in Ile des Pins.

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