Four countries from home – transit in New Caledonia
Day 3,277 since October 10th 2013: 199 countries out of 203. No flight, no return home, min 24 hrs in each country and 1 pandemic!
(The opinions expressed on this site are my own, and do not reflect the position or policies of the Danish Red Cross which I represent as a Goodwill Ambassador).
Making the best of the situation
Thanks to recent support from governments and shipping companies we are now down to the final four countries. The road ahead is however long and complicated. And I am tired.
Last week’s entry: The Kingdom of Tonga and “Highland Chief” – passenger no. 1
New Caledonia is a lot of things, but not a country. The history is fascinating, the landscape is gorgeous, people are nice, the capital is modern, the main island is large, and there is plenty to explore. Remarkably the pandemic appears to be over in New Caledonia. As soon as I had left Swire Shipping good ship Highland Chief, I was told I could take my mask off. I wasn’t tested negative for COVID-19 before entering New Caledonia because nobody cares. The health care system can handle which ever complications there might be I was told. Hand sanitizer, temperature checks and QR codes are not a part of every day life. You might have to put on a mask if you visit the hospital. But apart from that it appears that life in New Caledonia has returned to pre-pandemic conditions. Meanwhile it appears I’ll have to do three weeks hotel quarantine in Tuvalu if I can make it there at all. I’m happy to do that quarantine – I’ll play by any rules to get this project done.
Place des Cocotiers is a lovely park in Noumea which has been around for more than a hundred years. It fills up with people around lunch time.
On my very first day I went to a marina. It seems hopeless. There are also no cruise ships and no ferries to Vanuatu. And Vanuatu is only 250km (155mi away).
We are rapidly approaching October 10th which has a psychological weight hanging over me. It will mark nine years of hard work, dedication, motivation, creative solutions, and keep on keeping on attitude. Not nine years as for most working people. This will mark 9 x 365 days of waking up in mission impossible. Keep in mind that I once had to become a resident in a country in order to apply for a visa for the next. And keep in mind that four of the countries we have reached this year were in collaboration with foreign governments. Looking back, I carry mental baggage from lying sick with cerebral malaria for weeks, from being at gunpoint in a highly unstable situation, from finding five dead bodies during a high risk visit to a country, and naturally the stress of having a complex target of historical proportion ahead of me for nearly a decade. I recently updated my profiles at Nomad Mania and Most Traveled People and found that I am now comfortably within the 300 most traveled people in the world. I’ve been there before but as we were going nowhere for nearly two years in Hong Kong, while other parts of the world remained open for travel for others, I fell back to be among the 400 most traveled people. This is essentially the Olympics of travel. Elite level. This year we will reach eight billion people on this pale blue dot of ours. That places me in the 0.000004% - isn’t that crazy? It has come at a cost and I do struggle with inner demons. It has also come with a great knowledge of much and a phenomenal number of personal experiences. I can testament to that most people are good and well-meaning people simply based on a sizable sample size.
Senegalese chicken yassa made by a Cameroonian in New Caledonia. The best!!
New Caledonia is very French. I have opted to use Airbnb and my host is a lovely woman from Cameroon who cooked Senegalese Yassa for me on my first night in Noumea. Oh, the memories. And two absolutely amazing countries to be reminded of. She works in insurance and comes from the French speaking part of Cameroon. I haven’t really had to speak French since 2016 where it was a necessity to learn and learn fast!! Central Africa remains the hardest part of the Saga. That speaks volumes all things considered. It hasn’t been easy to move about in the Pacific during pandemical times. And yet, it is still easier than what we accomplished in Central Africa years ago. I never had any issues with ordinary people. It was always the officials and especially those in uniform who became monsters. The Saga went through Senegal twice and Cameroon four times. Beautiful countries. Interesting countries. Wonderful people. Good food! Nice to stay with Rahissa in Noumea.
On my walk to Parc Zoologique I randomly came across this?!
Yes, those are two female peacocks in the tree and a male on the ground. Parc Zoologique, Noumea.
I’m not sure what to do with three weeks in New Caledonia? I was really hoping to make the best of it by reuniting with my beloved ultra-wifey. But she is unfortunately tied up with work and couldn’t make a visit now. I don’t really know anyone in New Caledonia. There is no Maersk office to give a talk at, I don’t need to do the project related tasks, I’m not overly motivated to do much on my own, and during a visit to Parc Zoologique Et Forestier Michel Corbasson I found 99% of the writing to be in French. The Parc Zoologique was however nice enough. A kind of botanical garden with a lot of birds on display. I walked to the park which was about 5km (3mi) under the scorching sun. The humidity is right up there too. The drivers in and around Noumea are surprisingly considerate! Truly surprising given the aggressive driving I have experienced elsewhere in the Pacific. The people are always nice but most places they become terrorists when they get behind the wheel. In New Caledonia drivers slow down and hold back by the slightest indication that you might cross the road. So nice.
I love ANYWHERE which sells Danish made leverpostej!! :)
“So nice” could be a tourist slogan for New Caledonia. It really seems like a perfect tourist destination. I’m not at all in the right mindset to enjoy it though. I am very much ready to go home and have the Saga behind me. Four more countries. Sure, “only four countries”. But we need to get special permission for nearly everything. Special permission to join all the ships and special permission to enter the countries when arriving on a ship. And PCR test, rapid tests, and COVID-19 regulations are still very much a part of most of the Pacific. Here’s essentially what we have ahead of us: 6-7 months. Nine container ships. Three revisits to countries. Hotel quarantine. Covid-19 procedures. Transit periods. Bureaucracy, logistics and lots of work right to the end. I made a new status update for you which explains the progress we have had this year and what we still have ahead of us. In a glass half full world we have had tremendous support from shipping companies and governments this year.
Click HERE or on the image to watch the latest status update (8min).
People generally smell nicer in Noumea than in other places I have been. Maybe it’s a French thing? While I speak limited French and most people here speak limited English, they are very willing to try. And we always seem to find a common understanding speaking some French and some English. The food is good too! But I feel really alone. That loneliness like being in a room full of people and yet feeling lonely. I managed to reach out to Charlene Ducrot at the French Red Cross in Paris. We met back in 2017 and she was quick to connect me with Sandrine Buffeteau at the French Red Cross in New Caledonia. As such I’ll be meeting with them next week. And I had a lovely interview with Sophie from Le Figaro (a newspaper of record in France) which I look forward to share. I made a video promoting Salomon, which turned out so well that they want to use it on their platform – so that is good. And our friends at Ross.dk and GEOOP have been reaching out which has been really lovely. Ross.dk and GEOOP have been project partners since day one and without their loyal support there would have been no Saga to begin with. I got to meet three new faces at Ross through a video call: Freja, Cecilia, and Danek. Great guys. The call was in preparation of the completion of Once Upon A Saga. Mentally that is still quite distant to me. But they are there for me! :)
Click HERE or on the image to watch this interview with Patryk from March 2022 (10min).
When in doubt: hike!! While visiting Parc Zoologique I noticed a mountain in the horizon. It was Mont Dore which peaks at 772m (2,533ft). It had a magnetic draw on me and I soon knew it was good for my mental health: physical activity, sunshine, fresh air, a firm goal, a reachable challenge, and spectacular beauty. A taxi got me to the trailhead. The first driver I approached got really confused really fast. But the second driver (standing next to him) saw no problem at all and away we went. It wasn’t long before we were small talking and he obviously sympathized with Ukraine in the dreadful ongoing war. We could both agree that it was horrible.
Not hard to spot who this taxi driver sides with. Many would agree with him too.
Heading up Mont Dore.
On Mont Dore.
The hike was something. The route was well marked and it wasn’t long before I felt like I was back in Hong Kong but without the nutcases. There is much I miss about Hong Kong. It was the closest I’ve experienced to normality during the past near nine years. Crazy to think that during the height of a global pandemic – but it is true. I had routines, friends, I unpacked my bags, and I slept in the same bed for more than a year. The landscape around Mont Dore looked a lot like Hong Kong to me. Beautiful. There was very little shade. I had brought some bread and some Danish leverpostej (pork liver pate). It was a tough hike for me. I’m certainly not in the shape I was last year. But it was good for me. I had my bread and leverpostej at the peak and then made my way down the other side of the mountain.
Looking down at Noumea (across the bay) from the peak of Mont Dore.
Fontaine de Plum.
When I finally reached paved road again, I followed it for a while hoping to reach a bus stop. Interestingly I came across a fresh water spring called Fontaine de Plum. An elderly couple was there filling up water bottles. I quenched my thirst in the fresh water, greeted the couple, and continued down the road looking for a bus stop. It wasn’t long before the elderly couple caught up to me in their van and the husband shouted something, which I interpreted as an offer to get a ride. He didn’t speak much English but I was able to explain in French that I was heading back to town and just needed a ride to a bus stop. Such kindness is common in the world. Isn’t that reassuring? While seated next to the wife in their van, the husband expressed his sadness about the situation in Ukraine. I agreed full heartedly. I spend about 50 minutes most days listening to news updates and the situation in Ukraine has been a part of the news since the war broke out. A tragedy for sure. Yet – still interesting that two New Caledonians independently of each other would approach me about it on the same day?
I'm not a religious man. But I do enjoy sitting inside a hundred year old cathedral. Cathedrale Saint Joseph, Noumea.
The following days I could feel my body as if I hadn’t used it all year. Good though. I have looked up what the highest mountain in New Caledonia might be and it turns out to be Mont Panié at 1,628m (5,341ft). I actually knew before disembarking Highland Chief. Mont Panié is almost at the far north-western point of Grand Terre which the locals call “Le Caillou” (the pebble). The “pebble” is nearly 400km (250mi) long and Noumea is found around 400km (250mi) away from the trailhead. I’ve rented a car and will make a weekend of it. Friday will mostly be spent driving, Saturday will mostly be spent hiking, Sunday will mostly be spent driving, and Monday morning I’ll return the car. Seems reasonable to me. This year we made it to the highest point of Hong Kong, Fiji, and Samoa. We might as well add New Caledonia.
Looking at Neptune Pacific Direct Lines (NPDL) Capitaine Magellan, which is heading to Vanuatu. Unfortunately NPDL did not get back to me in time and she left.
Noumea seems nice. I’ve been walking about here and there. My mind isn’t too happy about three weeks of “waiting” although I’m clearly in a lovely part of the world. It would have been fantastic to share it with ultra-wifey. But it wasn’t meant to be. I might not even get on the ship when it arrives? The ship is third-party meaning that it is not owned by Swire Shipping but they are using it. Kind of like a rented car. Swire Shipping has said they will ask the owners if they are okay with taking a passenger. It is a short voyage. Who knows if it works out? Hopefully it does. I cannot even begin to explain how tired I am of uncertainty. I know a lot of people are rooting for me and I do feel the love. Thanks for all the support. It will be good to get out of Noumea and have the freedom and solitude and freedom of a rental car. I’m sure I will return with some stunning footage to share with you. It is truly beautiful around here.
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Mr. Torbjørn C. Pedersen (Thor) - battling inner demons (again).
"A stranger is a friend you've never met before"
Once Upon A Saga