Epiphany

Years ago I learned about the tradition of Epiphany in southern France and Spain and how it is considered the last day of Christmas. Is this where “the twelve days of Christmas” come from? Anyway, ever since I have used this date as the absolute deadline to send Christmas/New Year’s greetings. With little over 2 hours to go I barely make that extended deadline.

 

One thing I learned about myself: I am not a blogger. My last blog actually dates back to mid-2012, so that point in proven. Unfortunately this may have left some people out of the loop, which I was embarrassed to find out a few days ago when someone send me a Happy New Year-email, thinking I was still in a time-zone ahead of him. If I have to come up with a valid excuse for not updating the blog, I would have to say that it was that we had become so accustomed to the lifestyle in New Caledonia. Or better, it had become our life-style; not much surprised us anymore and hence was not worthwhile writing about. Unless it was in the form of a one-liner of Facebook. So for all of you that do not have a Facebook account shared with me, my apologies for ignoring you.

Obviously the holidays are behind us and tomorrow life is back to normal with work and school. But while they were going on I became a bit sentimental as I always do and I reflect on the year passed. 2013 may well have been one of the most eventful years I have ever lived. Not to be beaten by the year in which I got married to my beautiful and wonderful wife, nor any of the years that our children were born, but still one that I will remember fondly for a long time if not ever.

Before the year had even started Nathalie and I had already decided to make good use of our time in New Caledonia to visit different parts of the island as well as some other countries in the area. Our sights were set on New Zealand, so far away from Canada and The Netherlands, yet only 2,5 hours by plane for New Caledonia. But before going there Nathalie and the kids escaped the summer heat to experience some real Canadian winter again. The four of them flew all the way back to Timmins to spend more than 4 weeks with grandpapa and grandmaman, snow and a freezing cold! Temperatures went well below -40ºC, so they got what they bargained for.

In the mean time I stayed behind alone in New Caledonia. Not that I was alone a lot, because our many friends kept me socially active (with a special thank-you to Aude and her Thursday night dinners). And for this first time since getting my PADI license (in 1998!), I went scuba-diving again. What a treat! No wonder the lagoon around the island is a World Heritage site. Highlight was definitely encountering a shark at maybe 2 meters away (and equal in length).
IMG_0134

 

With all the free time on my hands during the weekends and my 40th birthday approaching, I finally got to do what I have been wanting to do for at least 10 years: I rebuild all my childhood Lego (and all of Matthé’s new Lego while I was at it). Just to give you an idea of the scale of this task, it took me a good part of a week to just sort out all the different pieces and the full 4 weeks to complete everything. And this is the result:

 


(Matthé makes much better still-movies that I do)

 

Just after all the Lego was done it was time to pack up and travel to Auckland to meet up with Nath, Matthé, Mireille and Éloïse, for our long-anticipated trip around the North Island of New Zealand. We had rented a camper and traveled to all the tourist sites and spend some extra time at some wonderful beaches we found. The weather was perfect pretty much the whole time and we enjoyed every minute of the trip.
Mount Doom

 

Before I continue about some more travel stories, I’ll just repeat that our life had become pretty much routine after more than 2 years in New Caledonia. Between work, school, children’s activities and a social life we had our days filled and life was good. Occasionally we would go out with a gang of friends to camp in another area of the island and these would always make for great outings (and great photos).

 

As the months progressed, we came closer and closer to the end of my assignment in New Caledonia. In May we were informed that my next job would be in Timmins again, which meant that we would have the grandparents nearby again, but also that we would have to say good-bye to our life and friends in New Caledonia. So with the little time remaining, we did one more outing as a family and went to visit Vanuatu. If you don’t know where it is, just look it up. Those of you that have spoken to us after trip have heard about it (in too much detail), so let me just say that it was an absolutely wonderful trip to a country full of surprises and nothing like we have ever experienced before.
Yassur Volcano

 

Then July came and it was really time to close up shop. Two other befriended families were leaving on the same weekend as us, so we threw a big farewell party for all our friends which was everything I had hoped for. Shortly after the movers came, our belongings went in a sea container and our life moved back to Canada.

 

Coming back to Timmins was pretty easy, since we know the place well. So we immediately focused on finding ourselves a new house. This proved to be a bit more difficult than expected, although in great part due to our pickiness. We were happy when we finally found one and very disappointed after the deal fell through during the very last minutes. Everyone said that this would be for a good reason, which turned out to be true because we found another house soon after and we actually liked it much better. Done deal! Now we just had to wait for our sea container to arrive so we could move in!

 

In the meantime Nathalie had taken up her old job at the hearing clinic again and the kids had started going to the school that Matthé first went to before we moved overseas. We all picked up some after-school and after-work activities and our new routine was established pretty quickly.

 

Not even a week after we moved into our new house we had our first visitors: opa and oma came to help up get settled in and spend time with the grandkids of course. They were a great help and did loads of work inside the house. By the time they returned to The Netherlands we were pretty much all unpacked and our house was now our home!

 

And this brings me already towards the end of the year. I could have written a lot more, but I tend to bore people with my details, so I am glad you made it all the way to this part of the blog. Let me just finish with a bit of weather talk. Perhaps I have forgotten while away from Canada, but it seems to me that winter has come very early this year and that it is a lot colder than I have ever seen since moving to Canada. Perhaps this is my punishment for gloating about the climate in New Caledonia for 3 years. Or perhaps I am just not used to it anymore.

 

Anyway, we are in the dead of winter now, but from the comfort of inside our warm house we wish you a very Happy New Year and hope that your year will be bring you what you need and deserve.

 

Gertjan, Nathalie, Matthé, Mireille & Éloïse

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Home Heating

It is winter in New Caledonia. In fact, we are in the dead of winter so to say. I am aware that I have often been rubbing it in to many back in the Netherlands and Canada (and elsewhere of course) about how nice the NC climate is, but we do get cold as well! At time time of year, when we get up (fairly early) and the temperature is in the single digits, we are cold! Very cold. Sure part of it may be due to the fact that we have become acclimatized to our weather, but I don’t care what you say, when it is 8ºC in the house, it is COLD! Especially when you consider that our house is slightly elevated, on short posts, and all the floors are tiled. But most importantly: we have no heating!

Some of our neighbours have gotten to the point where they turn on their kitchen oven and leave the door open. Matthé asked me to do the same the other morning. I refused. Socks and sweaters will do the job. Besides, as soon as the sun gets up and hits the windows, things warm up pretty fast. It does still easily get to 25ºC during the day. But yet one day I may have to cave.

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Raid de Ponerihouen

(OK, this is at least the fourth time I am writing this entry. All previous versions got wiped clear when I tried adding the elevation map. I think I finally got it. Needless to say that the original post was much longer. So perhaps a blessing for you…)

This weekend I ran my first “raid”, which is a cross-country race hosted on the land of one of the “tribus” (tribe). These events are pretty popular (a few hundred participants), but I never participated before. Because I am not really a runner. In fact, I don’t really like running. Give me my mountain bike any time. But these raids attract both fast and let’s say less-fast people, so I figured I should be able to blend in and see how I would do.

The “Raid de Ponerihouen” looked like this:


And more importantly, like this:

So yes, I “only” did the 12km mini raid. The big one was only 5 kms longer, but had another 600m to climb.

Well, so far so good for the first one. I completed the trail in 2 hrs 15 minutes. Which made me 44th, out of about 200. Not bad for a first time. And especially since I walked a lot. The views over the lagoon from the top of the mountain where fantastic, but even though I had a small camera with me, I couldn’t stop to take a picture as I knew it would make continuing even harder than it already was.

I did have to take a picture though of the showers that were set up for us:

Next raid is on June 2nd. I think I’ll go. And train for it even. Who knows, one day I may actually start to like running. Oh who am I kidding?

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200, rue des Palmiers

That’s our address. And why would I care to announce this? Because up until this week we had none. No address. We have a house, yes. Which is on a street, yes. Which is in a village, yes. But only the latter had an identifier (Koné). You see, outside of the capital of Nouméa (where half of NC’s population lives), villages (there are no towns let alone cities) have streets with no name, and houses have no numbers. Mail comes to a mailbox at the post office, which you have to go pick up.

But then again why would you need street names and house numbers, on an island where pretty much everyone (foreigners excluded) knows everyone? Case in point, one of my (expat) colleagues had ordered some furniture in Nouméa and arranged for them to be delivered in Koné (~300 km). On the delivery day, as he was waiting for the truck to show up, he realized he never gave them any directions on how to get to his house. Needless to say he did not give them an address. As he was going around through the paperwork to find a phone number, the truck pulled up… (on time too, which makes two mysteries for the price of one).

Anyway, Koné, or rather Voh-Koné-Pouembout region is booming, due to our mining project. We have gone from 3,500 to over 5,500 in less than 18 months and new houses are being build (slowly…). So it became necessary to add street names so fire trucks can get to the fire etc. And we can get mail delivered at the house.

We also got a new garbage can.

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Happy Gelukkig Joyeux 2012

I am going to skip right past the apologetic part (of not posting more sooner) and get right to the subject. After all, the end of the year is a mere 27 hours away.

Initially I wanted this posting to touch on just about everything we did or experienced in 2011, to make up for non-existing posts earlier in the year. And I was going to include links to I-don’t-know how many pictures, but let’s face it, no-one other than my own parents would go through all of that. And they are already the best informed.

But I have taken to writing a year-end letter rather than sending out Christmas cards, and by doing this electronically and distributing to subscribers, Facebook friends and email contacts it is even environmentally-friendly. This is actually the second time I am writing this, because even my first ‘short’ attempt was getting way too long. Must cut down!

So here we go:

This year we: experienced our first (and only) cyclone, celebrated that 6 other new friends had their birthdays very close to mine (one even the same day), moved away from the construction site,to a new house, had our first overseas visitors (my parents), discovered the semi-kid-friendly caves of Koumac, did our first ‘home-visit’ back to Timmins (and Toronto), saw Nathalie get addicted to running ‘raids’ (cross-country races through beautiful scenery in the North of New Caledonia), got a taste of the still-present traditional lifestyle in a ‘tribu’ (or tribe), saw Gertjan travel to Australia twice for work (which was a very different experience from the first time in 1996), closely followed the Rugby World Cup with a large group of friends (and felt really sorry for the French loss. NOT), explored the stunning southern region beyond Nouméa (the Goro mine-site not included under the ‘stunning’ label), got Gertjan more interested in mountain-biking after doing the 29-km distance during the Megarando (mega-cool, mega-exhausting and no picture, because who wants to see me in spandex), continued the Halloween party tradition in the neighborhood, got the family hooked on camping after buying our first 6-person tent, saw Gertjan spend more time traveling than visiting during a work-visit to a mine in Colombia (beautiful country, questionable safety situation) and ended the year with a wonderful local Christmas dinner hosted by new friends (seafood galore!) followed by an awesome camping trip at the east coast of New Caledonia.

When I look back at the year I can see that we went from newbies to integratees (I know, I know, but what other word can I use). Less and less things here shock or surprise us and we have a real routine. Matthé and Mireille are in school and now speak Canadian French (at home) and Caledonian French (at school). Nath runs the household like a tight ship and manages to find time to exercise and get ready for the 2012 Raid-season. And as for myself, I work. Long days and never done. Fortunately no need to continue working during the weekends, so we use those well to spend time as a family, and with our friends.

2012 already has a lot of exciting things ahead of us. It will be the year that we are officially starting up the nickel mining operation for which we came here. But we will also host our second overseas visitors in just over two weeks (Nath’s parents) and with them we will be traveling to and through Australia. We hope that this will be an early highlight of the year. We also hope to make our way back to the Netherlands at some point in time (but are still working on the logistics). And of course we will continue hauling our tent and family out to unexplored corners of the island, and some of the smaller islands around us.

So as we slowly close the books on 2011 and turn a new leaf for 2012, we want to wish all of you out there a joyful, healthful and prosperous New Year. We will do our best to keep you abreast of our urban-expat-adventures and we are always happy to hear about what is going on in your lives.

There, I kept it to under 700 words. Just.

Happy New Year – Gelukkig Nieuwjaar – Meilleurs Voeux

Gertjan, Nathalie, Matthé, Mireille & Éloïse

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Boat clip

Delinquent? Yes I know, don’t remind me. To keep you at the tip of your seat, I have a neat clip to share. I got the link in my mail last week and it is of a video of a module shipment delivery. Allow me to explain:

As you probably know, we moved here to be part of a project that is building a large nickel mine and processing plant in New Caledonia. The processing plant was actually pre-constructed in China and divided up in 17 modules. These modules were then shipped to NC and put into place like a gigantic Lego project.

This clip gives you a good indication of the scale of this part of the project:

 

Even though this took place over a year ago, it still impresses me every time I see it.

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OK, so this post has nothing to do with us living in Koné. Rather, I am just copying a small news items that I found this morning in my daily Dutch email newspaper. It concerns a small Pacific island ‘next door’ (3000 kms)

(link to English article below)

Eerste bankroof in geschiedenis Aitutaki

De ongeveer 1800 bewoners van Aitutaki zijn zeer geschrokken. Voor het eerst is op hun eiland in de Stille Oceaan een bank beroofd. In het filiaal van de Cook Islands Bank is de afgelopen weken ongeveer 139.000 euro gestolen. De Aitutakianen bidden dat de dief niet een van hen is, schrijft de Nieuw-Zeelandse
krant New Zealand Herald. Het bij toeristen zeer geliefde eiland heeft een oppervlakte van slechts 18 vierkante kilometer en behoort tot de Cookeilanden.
Kleine criminaliteit is op het eiland niet onbekend, maar een bankroof kan niemand zich herinneren.

http://www.nzherald.co.nz/world/news/article.cfm?c_id=2&objectid=10745807

I am posting this article because it hit ‘home’ a little bit. We spend part of our honeymoon (2003) on Aitutaki. The island is truly tiny and its lagoon is downright gorgeous. By far one of our most memorable travel destinations. Just have a look using Google Maps:

 

And that’s about it. Just something I wanted to share a small new article about a speck on the world map.

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