We ended up in the latter group after some early indecision. What a good call. We enjoyed an absolutely lovely day of easy (motor) sailing, and the anchorage once we reached it was positively stunning. I won't say there wasn't a moment or two of uncertainty as we approached. Places often look forbidding or unattractive from a distance, and Doking's high cliffs, as the afternoon clouds rolled in, made it not a gentle looking place. Nor was it so easy to find a good spot to get the hook down, as the bay is laced with coral. But after five days, we'd have to say it will remain one of our more memorable spots.
The anchorage was tucked more or less into a corner of high cliffs (les falaises in French, a lovely word.) The cliffs were sculpted into great caves and stalagmites and topped by a village grove of the tall skinny pines we now see are going to be a signature sight in New Caledonia. The landing for the village, in a cove that was no more than a dimple in the cliff face, was really something. Perhaps there was once a dock, or a ladder, or something to make it easy to get ashore. Such is suggested by two last lingering, rusting bits of iron sticking out from the rock face. Whatever it was is no more, and the cement "path" just ends with a three foot drop to the water. This cement "path" is so steep that, having scrambled up from the dinghy, it is all you can do to ascend it the thirty or so feet to the bottom of the steps upright. About where the steps begin there is a big hoisting arm with cable that is positioned to hoist the villagers' tin boats out of the water. There were, in fact, two tinnies tucked to the side, but there was also a third crumpled into a crevasse. The afternoon we arrived, there were quite a few kids playing on the rocks, evidently drawn by the arrival of six yachts. However, during the rest of our stay, it was more likely to be day tourists and visitors to the Doking gite (guest house/campground) on the rocks than locals, and we even saw people swimming and snorkeling from there, although how they got out of the water again is anybody's guess.
We ascended the steps (I forgot to count how many) in several lengths (clearly built at different times by different hands) huffing and puffing to the top the afternoon after our arrival. Officially, appropriate behavior is to present yourself to the chief with a token gift and ask permission to stay and play. We found the chief's "case" ( pronounced 'cas") a massive traditional hut, quite different from the cases we'd seen in Ouvea, but failed to find the chief himself. But we did find a small store (totally unmarked) where we were able to buy fresh French bread, eggs, and other sundries. The proprietress, a older lady named Yvette, offered to bring in some salad, tomatoes and bananas for us the next day.
Which meant, of course, we had to climb back up there again the next day. This time, armed with some intelligence from the other cruisers, we did find the chief back in the compound of his gite/campground. This little 'resort" is perched right at the top of the cliffs and has the most awesome views. Chief George is a fairly young man, or at least one in better shape, than other chiefs we've met. He and his young wife and children live in a relatively westernized house, complete with satellite dish and a raft of toys and tricycles out back. The guest accommodations, however, are fairly traditional, with round huts of thick-walled thatch. To our surprise, the chief spoke fairly good English. Probably because he is such an entrepreneur. In addition to the guest houses, he has a small restaurant, rental cars and rental bicycles.
When our morning visit to Yvette produce tomatoes and bananas but no "salad," and since the weather was utterly cool and gorgeous, we decided on a whim to follow the example of some other cruisers and rent bicycles to pedal over to the larger town of Xepenehe (pronounced Chepenehe), said to be only six kilometers away. Note that "said to be." As you might guess, the chief's bikes, although evidently 27-speed models, were not in the best of repair. I never found more than three speeds on mine, and, as the ride wore on, one of Don's pedals popped off and his seat came loose, while my back wheel became progressively wobbly. It also was most assuredly NOT six kilometers.
But the ride itself, in the company of Jim (Aussie) and Paula (Scottish) of Avior was quite pleasant. The first stretch wove through a lovely forest, before breaking out into open grassland, passing two vanilla farms, before leading….eventually to an intersection giving us the choice of Easo to the right or Xepenehe to the left. By now we were all four of us sore and skeptical, and by the time we creaked into the village proper, things were shutting down for the midday siesta. We pulled into the market driveway with but five minutes to spare and tore through the shelves grabbing foodstuffs willy nilly. Our purchases in our hands and the door looked firmly behind us for TWO HOURS, we made our way down to the seaside park to eat the baguettes and cheese we'd bought. There we found two other cruisers, the Dutch couple Gert and Mies of Kiwi Blue, who were either in better shape or had better bicycles, because after they finished their baguette, they set cheerfully off to tour around for pleasure! The big disappointment, especially for Paula, was that the park was in the shadow of a huge boulangerie (bakery) that not only closed at 1130 like the store did, but wasn't going to open again until three! It was about this time that Paula found the mileage chart on her tourist map which declared the distance between Dokin and Xepenehe to be 17 kilometers, not 6!
We four decided to wait for the market to reopen to replenish all the items we'd scarfed down for lunch. In the meantime, Don managed to have a mash up on his bike when the seat gave an untimely wobble and caught his…er…well, you know…in a pinch. The result was a lovely scrape on his knee and a doozey bruise on his hip. We washed it out as best we could with drinking water (better than Coke Zero) and a major part of our second round of shopping was a package of band-aids. By the time we were done piecing the little band-aids over his scrapes (important to keep the flies off in this part of the world) his knee looked like a patchwork quilt. (Give those band-aids credit, they stayed on all the way home.)
All the way home…by the way, was seriously painful. Parts of my anatomy may never be the same.
The next couple of days passed in a lazy haze of recuperation. Air temps were quite chilly – in the mid 60s in the morning barely climbing to the 70s mid day, accentuated by plenty enough wind for a wind chill factor to come into play, and the water temp was a brisk 75. We did snorkel the gorgeous corals once, but we never pumped up the kayaks, even though we got them out. Instead we got a lot of reading, writing and recuperating done, and visited with our neighbors in the afternoons. Climbing the stairs once a day for bread was exercise enough.
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Labels: New Caledonia