I’m sure I’ve imagined this island, probably at about 3pm on a Friday, when the “to do” list for the afternoon is drifting into the “must do” list for Monday. And it exists – Amédée Island, 24 kilometres due south of Nouméa, New Caledonia. Just sticking a few french accents above letters makes a name sound that much more appealing – it does to me anyway.
It even has its own shipwreck – not right on the beach fortunately, but clearly visible. (thanks to http://www.artificialowl.net)
I do have one regret. I should have brought a book. Having skin that alternates between white in summer and blue in winter, I’m not here with any plans for the perfect tan. I’m here because my workmate and drinking buddy Pat suggested a week up here would be a timely break from the office, and he wasn’t wrong.
Actually two books may have been a better idea, because there really is nothing to do on this island except swim, walk in circles, and sunbathe. Having sunbathed for five minutes, I can now tick that off my list. Time for a dip.
Being the generous sort, I’m going to share my lunch, which I grabbed earlier from our hosts weren’t looking. It’s just a baguette, but in a matter of seconds, I’m surrounded. It feels like hundreds of eyes are fixed on me, mouths open in anticipation. All for a piece of bread. The water’s only about eight feet deep, but with one hand I’m clutching a rock to hold myself down, and the other is offering up the baguette. They love it, and I’m in the calm at the centre of the storm. Unfortunately, the lack of a third hand means I have no photos, but according to the wikipedia page on the Biodiversity of New Caledonia, they may be cousins of these guys: or even.
Pat’s remembered his book, and he possibly doesn’t want continual interruptions, so I decide to do a lap of the island. That fills up another fifteen minutes.
It’s quite an enjoyable stroll, so I do it again. Then again in the other direction. Then back to the original direction, this time twice. And then again in the reverse direction. I continue this for some time, which gives me time to reflect on the week.
I accidentally kicked a soccer ball into a fellow guest’s face yesterday. These things happen in beach soccer, and it’s so typical that the one kick that I really timed well was the one where the goalie chose to stop it with his nose. He was only a few feet away as well – poor guy. While everyone else was laughing I was the only one helping him when he regained consciousness.
There hasn’t been a lot of culture on this trip. The closest we’ve come to culture is trying frogs’ legs. I’m the only one who’s tried them, and they don’t believe me when they say it tastes like chicken. Actually, if french beer counts as culture, then yes, we’ve had plenty of culture.
But we have tried to participate, unfortunately with success ranging from minimal to mixed. We were made very welcome for the aqua-aerobics in the pool. I think they appreciated having someone there who was born post-WWII. And archery was interesting. Possibly not surprisingly, my archery skills resemble my darts skills, and I’m rubbish at that. Pat suggests imagining the target as the head of one of my work colleagues, who we shall call “Jerk”. That does the trick – a perfect bulls-eye! Despite my new-found success and obvious potential, our instructor from the Maldives does not appreciate our attitude, and has a constant scowl. Maybe he sees me as a threat.
An Olympics Day is organised between the various nationalities, and we’re both keen to come away with a medal. There are several events where we think we have a show – tossing the boot on the beach, limbo, races in the pool, and maybe archery. Sadly our form has deserted us and we don’t feature in the medal table. Throughout the day, one elderly tanned and bearded gent from the States has been very vocal in his support, shouting “Go Kiwis!” at every opportunity. As the day concludes without any cause for celebration, we realise how badly we’ve let down our fanbase, known to us as Captain Nemo.
If they’d had a sailing race, we may have had more success. Pat’s an excellent sailor, and with him at the helm, and me providing ballast, we take out one of the hobie cats. We’re soon travelling with some speed, and it doesn’t take long before we’re a long way out, with a beautiful view back to the mainland. Not wanting to see my camera disappear into the Pacific, I’ve left it on the shore with newly-made friends. Eventually I’ll develop the film to find that they’ve kindly taken some surprising photos of themselves while Pat and I were offshore. How thoughtful.
There are many Australians and New Zealanders at the resort, with a broad spread of age. It’s my 23rd birthday during the trip, and we meet a few people with similar interests. We keep running into an Australian here with his wife and kids who seems more interested in talking rugby with us than being with his family. He seems genuinely sad when he has to leave us – it’s very touching.
There are also a few French people around, and I get the chance to practise my French again. It’s been over a year since I was in France, but it seems to come back quickly. I even get told that I don’t have an accent – and that was without wine. Languages are so much easier with the right drink in your hand.
There is one slightly awkward moment – actually it wasn’t awkward for me, so maybe it doesn’t count. A couple of the New Zealand guys are trying to chat up some local french girls on the beach. It really isn’t working, but these guys are persisting. The girls start to talk between themselves in french, with some fairly uncomplimentary comments. I leave them to it, and they are clearly unimpressed with the antipodean approach to romance. Finally I say something to them in French, and their jaws all drop. None of them reply to me, but they repeat among themselves several times “He speaks French, he understood everything” – which I could also understand, but it was a bit late by then. I’d always wanted to do that.
The other embarrassing moment is when we are sharing a table with two Japanese girls with limited english. Our “conversation” is soon reduced to names of cities where our firm has offices in Japan, followed by a series of nods and smiles. After a strong start with Tokyo and Osaka, the only names that come to my mind are Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and mid-sentence I stop myself from mentioning those. Unfortunately those names aren’t replaced by anything else. My brain becomes instantly empty and there’s a silence that no-one seems able to shift. Luckily dinner soon arrives, and the potential foot in my mouth is replaced by snails. They definitely don’t taste like chicken.