Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Tuesday: Auckland -> Noumea, New Caledonia

Sigh. I need to find a way to shut down my brain sometimes. I got to bed early Monday night but awoke just after midnight, and had trouble getting back to sleep. Maybe I got four hours in all, but it was crummy sleep. I had a light breakfast in my room, checked out, and crossed the street to the Airport bus stop, arriving at 5:48 for the 6:00am bus. Ha, it turns out that 6:00am is the time the bus leaves downtown; it gets to that stop at 6:11, so I was extra early. It was a nice morning, so I read a bit, a chatted with another guy who arrived, whose rolling bag almost took off down the steep hill when he set it down!

I got to the Auckland airport and checked in for my flight. I was unable to carry on the folding chair I had bought when I arrived in New Zealand (I knew that was a gamble), and its weight together with that of my bulging suitcase put me over the 23kg limit (I had just moved 3 books from there into my backpack to keep the suitcase itself under the limit). So they wanted to charge me $120 to check my $10 folding chair, at which point I donated it to the check-in guy (not the one who told me the cost of the extra luggage). So that clever plan failed.

I relaxed at my gate for a while, and then most of Canada's Youth National Climbing Team showed up. They had a layover in Auckland after flying from San Francisco or Vancouver, and were on the same flight as me. This included Olivia and Jack Wyett, the two young athletes who train at my gym, True North Climbing. They all looked pretty good despite already having travelled for about 30 hours (they had a long layover in San Francisco).

It was an uneventful flight to Noumea, the capital of New Caledonia, which is mostly a large island north-west of New Zealand (or north-east of Australia, depending on your perspective). I passed through the Customs and Immigration and Biosecurity checks, collected my luggage, and picked up my rental car, which is an adorable little white Peugeot 107. I had forgotten that it was a manual transmission; it was fun to drive standard again after two years with my hybrid Toyota. I'm back on the right side of road again, and once again I found myself signaling turns using my windshield wipers! My brain has adjusted to the Aussi/Kiwi stalk arrangement. They have roundabouts here, and it feels very strange to be entering a roundabout counter-clockwise.

I managed to find my hotel without any wrong turns, and checked in. I'm quite pleased with the hotel. Everything is very expensive in Noumea, and on this long trip I've been trying to keep to a modest budget per day, averaging about $100/night for hotels. Sometimes that has gotten me a really nice room, and sometimes it has been pretty basic. The reviews on TripAdvisor suggested that this one was decent, but a little run down, with unreliable wifi and a pool that had been shut down. It's called Le Pacifique, and is part of a 3-hotel complex that share the pool and restaurants. Mine is the cheapest of the 3 hotels, and while it does look a little bit tired and outdated, the room is large, clean and comfortable, the pool is beautiful, and the wifi (so far) has been fine. And I have a fabulous view of le Pacifique (the ocean) from my 9th floor room (and I never care about the view from a hotel room):

View from my room

Sign at handicap parking spot at hotel

The shower head is also set at a height greater than mine! I think I will be very comfortable here for the next nine nights, and after a lot of bouncing around it will be nice to stay in one place for a while.

As soon as I was settled in I went out to find some lunch. It was 2pm (3pm Auckland time), and I was really hungry. I was apprehensive because I had heard that everything is crazy expensive here. That's mostly true, but there are a few smaller, less formal restaurants between my hotel and the Hilton down the street that offer more affordable options. I had some fish & chips and a cold drink for about $20. I wandered up and down the street, across form a beautiful beach, exploring what's in my neighbourhood, somehow winding up at a gelato stand. Mmm.

I returned to my room and relaxed and read about Noumea for a while, starting to figure out what I want to see before the competition starts. Tomorrow (Wednesday is open). I have a volunteers meeting Thursday afternoon, and I expect to be working registration Friday afternoon before the open ceremonies that evening. I should also have next Wednesday free, unless bad weather interferes with the competition and they have to use that scheduled backup day. I've identified a few things I want to see, and will plan partly around the weather, and partly how I feel.

Before dinner I headed out to pick up some groceries. My hotel room has a kettle, fridge and microwave, and I want to have a lot of my breakfasts in the room, and also take lunches to the comp when I can, to save some money. When I got to the car with my sketchy map of where a grocery store was, I realized I had left my phone (ie my detailed map & GPS) in the room. I decided to wing it, and did not get lost! I found the grocery store about where I expected it, did my shopping, and made it back to the hotel, with a slight detour when I found I could not turn left where I needed to. The groceries were a little pricy but not outrageous: 2 apples, 2 oranges, a box of cereal, some salami and cheddar cheese, 2 muffins, and a litre each of apple juice, orange juice and milk came to 3252F (Cour Franc Pacifique, used in overseas French territories), or about $38.65 Canadian. I had trouble finding the milk, as I was looking for bottles or jugs of fresh milk in the refrigerated dairy section. I finally spotted it in tetra packs; they do not sell fresh milk in the grocery stores here, presumably because it's just too expensive to do that. Hmm, it turns out they do have local cows (and I've seen local beef advertised in a restaurant), so it's still a bit of a mystery.

New Caledonia (Nouvelle Caledonie) is a French territory, and I have been trying to speak French as much as possible. I'm a little out of practice, and I think some of my pronunciation is off (or maybe they're having trouble with my Canadian-taught-Parisian accent!). The woman at the rental car office switched to English pretty quickly. The conversation checking in at the hotel went fine, all in French. At the pharmacy the conversation about antacids went well. At the grocery store I had to repeat myself once to be understood, and I had to pantomime a bit because I didn't know the French word for "shoelace" (lacet). I think I'll get better as the time goes on and my French re-emerges out from under all the Russian I've learned more recently!

I went back out for dinner, and found a pizza and pasta place that was pretty good. Back to the hotel, read a bit, but by 9pm (to be fair, that's 10pm Auckland time), I could not keep my eyes open.

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