The boys paddled by at precisely the right moment. Our Irish flag had just had a crisis of confidence and fluttered into the lagoon off Ile Ouen. They chased after on their battered surf board, using the big palm frond as paddle and proudly retrieved it for us.
Thomas and Patrice were from Tribu de Ouara, the traditional Melansian village where we were moored. We’d been ashore earlier to meet the chief, Olivier was pretty cool, with spectacular dreadlocks down to his waist. We had to ask permission to anchor in their bay and ‘faire la coutume’, the practice of giving a small gift to the village in return for their hospitality and permission to fish and explore the area. This is expected all over New Caledonia when visiting the traditional villages or Tribus. We’d obeyed the guide books brought the recommended length of pretty printed fabric (manu) wrapped around tobacco and 500franc note.
It was the first time we’d done this and had no idea of the proper ettiquette. We weren’t that far from Noumea, did people even do this? Had we got the right guy? Was our manu the appropriate pattern?
For once I was quite glad of my terrible french and left Fred to work out the right thing to say. We can’t have gotten it too wrong he seemed to know what we were on about and was happy to let us stay.
They must be fairly used to yachts arriving as Ile Ouen is in all the cruising guides, still the boys were really excited to come aboard and kept us entertained with tall tales of their paddles on the surf board to shark infested islands 20 miles away. After a while the frantic yelling from the crowd of other small boys on shore became too much to ignore. Thomas paddled off under strict instructions from Patrice to collect his little brother Zachery first and then a hierarchical list of who to bring, in what order. At this point we were relieved that they only had one craft between them. After Zach (4 years old and very cute) arrived we decided to stave off the invasion and brought the boys back ashore on the dingy.
We hiked up the hills over looking the village accompanied by probably every child around. The little girls felt a bit sorry for me as i was clearly was a bit thick as i didn’t understand them half the time, so they took great care to lead me by the hand.
From the top there was a stunning view of Baie de Prony, appropriately shaped like a whale’s tail and far off in the distance, L’Ile de Pins, our next stop.
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Location:Ile ouen, new caledonia