Monthly Archives: March 2013

Coconut Grasshopper 2

Exotic Housemates

The other morning while we were eating breakfast, we looked out the door onto our balcony and saw one of New Caledonia’s notorious HUGE grasshoppers for the first time. When we first found out about possibly moving here, we saw some photos online of these giant creatures and have been looking forward to finding one. This thing was seriously huge! This got me thinking that I should write something about the creatures that share our home with us. Being a tropical environment, New Caledonia is host to a large variety of creatures that are pretty exotic to those of us that come from more temperate climates. Insects galore, geckos scurrying along the walls, and our bird-alarm-clock are just a few.

Coconut Grasshopper 2

About the size of my hand

About the size of my hand

The one we saw on our balcony was a female coconut grasshopper, one of the largest species in the world. This thing was seriously as big as my hand. They’re generally harmless to people, but they will make you take a second look what with their clacking and giant claws and mandibles.

As for the other creatures we share our home with, the worst, as you might imagine, are the cockroaches. These guys are everywhere. Usually they are the small type but occasionally a huge one will make its way in (about the size of my thumb) and nobody wants to see one of those mammoths crawling on their kitchen counter. Keeping things tidy may marginally help keep them away (it at least helps us to find/kill them), but there’s no escaping them completely. If roaches crawling around aren’t problem enough, there are some smaller varieties that fly in the window and hang out with you when you’re reading or watching TV, occasionally falling onto your head. Blarg. We were used to seeing an occasional roach since we moved from DC, but the ones here are much more… plentiful.

The other housemates that we could do without are the mosquitoes. Dengue fever exists here in New Caledonia (although your chances of getting it are pretty low in Nouméa) so you have to be vigilant. The mosquitoes here are much larger than the little tiger-striped ones back in DC (which are actually a non-native species) and completely disgusting when you smash one and get a Dexter-esque blood spatter on the floor (or your leg). I’ve never seen such greedy mosquitoes. They gorge themselves so full that they can barely fly away. They’re easy to kill then, but the damage has been done. Surprisingly (and thankfully), there seems to be fewer here than back in DC during the summer.

gross

gross

Fortunately, we have help combating the insects. We, as well as just about every other household here, harbor collections of geckos! These guys are awesome at eating bugs. We see them crawling around the walls and ceilings and hanging out during their nightly hunts. They seem to establish some territory and protect it well (there’s one in our bathroom, one in the laundry room, a bunch in the living room/kitchen, etc.). Finding their leavings is a small price to pay for their insect slaying abilities. The geckos have a unique sound (kinda like a click-click-click) and we had no idea what it was when we first arrived. The first night we were here we heard the sound and could have sworn it was someone knocking on our door (at 2 in the morning). Needless to say, there was nobody at the door and we soon learned of the source of the noise. We may or may not talk back to them sometimes.

insecticide

insecticide

Speaking of waking up in the middle of the night, how does a 4:30AM alarm sound? That’s about the time the bird-alarm goes off just outside our bedroom window. What sounds like hundreds of birds going insane for an hour or so before the sun comes up is how we were awakened for our first few weeks here until we grew accustomed to it. I don’t know what their game is, but they’ve done an excellent job of acclimating us to the early morning hours of the island (a post on that sometime soon).

Another bad bug story involves a bag of dried black-eyed peas that had been thoroughly consumed by weevils. We didn’t notice at the store (lesson learned – always check your purchases), and once we got home there were dozens of hard black weevils crawling in our pantry. Upon closer inspection, we could see that every pea had been burrowed through and eaten. We quickly exterminated the culprits and now we keep our grains/beans/etc. in the freezer/fridge, which seems to be a pretty standard practice around here. One of our friends actually found some little worms or larvae in his new bag of rice… We don’t have any weevil pics so here’s a shiny bug.

buggin around

buggin around

We’re still searching the outdoors for some dugongs, cagou birds, and flying foxes but for now, I’ll leave it at the zoo that is our home. Luckily for us, we like animals and the wildlife and don’t mind sharing our house with them as long as they keep each other under control and stay out of our food. Although we could do without the roaches and mozzies (that’s Australian for mosquitoes)… You definitely need to be willing to share your space with nature here.

An Afternoon at Kuendu Beach

Kuendu beach is just a few minutes drive from downtown Nouméa so a few weeks ago we decided to check it out. It’s very easy to get to – from downtown, just take a left at the ‘T’ intersection near the hospital and follow Avenue James Cook. You’ll eventually see a sign and the public parking lot. There are also buses that go to the beach from Nouméa.


View Larger Map

Kuendu beach is a bit different from Anse Vata or Baie des Citrons in that it is very sheltered from waves and the sandy shallows go out quite far into the bay. There were plenty of people at the beach that day and one kind fellow was playing his music plenty loud for the entire beach to enjoy (/s). If you went on an off-day (weekday), I’d imagine it would be a good beach to bring the kids to since it is a bit smaller and more shallow and sheltered than some other beaches near the city.

Busy, sunny day at Kuendu

Busy, sunny day at Kuendu

There is a resort hotel at the northern part of the bay if that’s your thing but the public beach is the way to go for free, fun, ocean play. There were some stand-up paddlers about taking advantage of the clear, calm water.

Good day for it

Good day for it

The snorkeling here wasn’t stellar, mainly due to the shallow water. There was a lot of sea grass so I would imagine turtles may find their way in from time to time. There was some coral but not enough to justify an “epic snorkel.” We did see some small flounder laying on the bottom and plenty of smaller lizardfish and other reef dwellers.

A little reminder that there is still risk involved in playing in the ocean, even if everyone else is doing it, is evidenced by the lurking stonefish we spotted while snorkeling and the super-curious tricot rayé snakes that we’ve seen virtually EVERY SINGLE TIME we’ve been snorkeling in New Caledonia.

Don't tread on me.

Don’t tread on me.

Off to the sides of the bay you can hop out of the water and explore the rocky shores and find hundreds of snails, small crabs, and other creatures while you have a picnic away from the crowd at the beach.

Looking out from the bay

Looking out from the bay

All in all it was a nice, relaxing day (other than being chased by a curious snake).

Here’s how to buy a car:

Buying a car has been quite a learning experience here – from the laws of registration, the lack of model year designations, new vs. used from dealer vs. used from individual, insurance, etc.. All of these things are generally the same as back home, but there are some odd differences… Hopefully this post will help others in our position.

If you’re buying a used vehicle, the best classifieds website we’ve found has been automobiles.nc. It’s sort of like craigslist except a little junkier – you can’t filter by price and some people are even worse at writing succinct, concise ads than on craigslist, but it works. There are subsections for cars, motorcycles, boats, help wanted, and so forth on other parts of the site. One thing that’s different from the states is that people don’t typically post the vehicle model year – instead they post the first 3 numbers of the license plate which indicates the year it was put into service. Once a new car is plated, it keeps the tags forever rather than changing with the ownership of the vehicle like in the states. To determine the year of the vehicle based on the license plate number you’ll need a copy of L’Argus magazine (850 XPF) which is available from gas stations and some supermarkets. The magazine has a table in the back which shows which plate numbers correspond to each month of the year. The magazine also has tables that show suggested prices for used vehicles – think Kelley Blue Book except instead of an online search it’s a complicated table… yeah.

Due to our employer, we’re able to get a duty-free vehicle and considering the relatively good resale value and some other relative “simplicity” factors, we decided to go with a new car from the dealership which was also an experience. Now buying a new car isn’t going to save you money, but things do tend to hold their value here a bit better than back home so we were able to justify it to ourselves.

The car dealerships here are a bit different from the states in that there is only one for each brand of vehicle and furthermore there are only 3 or 4 companies that control all of the dealerships here on the island. The largest is CFAO which runs Almameto which sells Citroen, Great Wall, Nissan, Subaru, Mercedes-Benz, Subaru and probably some more I’m forgetting. Menard is another child of CFAO that has Peugeot, Chevrolet, Isuzu, Ssang Yong, and BMW. Royal Motors is Hyundai and I didn’t bother finding who runs Renault (haven’t been too impressed with any of the French cars, really…). I’m sure I’m forgetting some other brands but you get the idea.

The frustrating thing about the car dealerships is that they are like most other businesses and are open from about 8-11:30 then closed for lunch and then re-open from 1:30-5:30. Saturdays they are open for maybe 4 hours in the morning and Sunday not at all. This means you need to go during the day, call ahead to see if cars are available to test drive, or run out for a few minutes at a time after work.

I think the strangest thing about the dealerships is doing test drives… Depending on the place/car, one of three things will happen:

  • “sorry we dont have any you can test today. Come back next week” (lolwut?)
  • The showroom car gets pulled outside and you drive it (best case)
  • You drive one of the employee’s cars that happens to have the same model only about a year older, with cigarette smell, baby seats, and sporting gear in the back (most likely)

So that’s pretty strange and makes it hard to get a feel for the cars compared to each other. I think some dealerships in the states would be terrified of option 3.

So now you’ve chosen a car you like, you’ve bargained a bit on the price (although not much – there’s not a huge margin for bargaining here), and you know what color you want. There are a few ways your next step can go:

  • It’s on a boat and will be in Noumea in a few weeks/months
  • It’s in the warehouse and will be available in a week
  • It’s the one you and everyone else sat in in the showroom and will be available in a week

Ideally you’ll pick one that’s in stock or else you’ll be waiting months for it to arrive, clear customs, get to the dealer, etc., etc. while you continue to dump money into a rental car, bum rides, or take the bus.

As for paying, since all the bank cards issued here have a smart chip, we got lots of confused looks when we handed over our American card with the magnetic stripe. There was some gesticulating and poor translation happening as the car dealership folks tried to swipe a card for the first time ever but it all worked out in the end!

Now that you’ve paid for your car, you can drive off and be on your way…. NOT. It’ll be a few days (about a week for us) until it is prepped, registered with the proper authorities and so forth. Luckily for us, the dealership takes care of the registration.

Sounds like a good time to buy some insurance!

There are plenty of insurance agencies around Noumea, most of which are French groups. We just went with a recommendation from some friends with our insurance choice. Pretty standard operation there except you have to go to the office – doing it over the phone or email is not really an option for anything here. You’ll need the standard stuff – ID, proof of residence, the “proforma” quote from the dealership, and the temporary “carte gris” (gray card) number which corresponds to your vehicle, which is also provided by the dealer. Our insurance process was pretty straightforward – just some signing and google translating…

You can’t get your insurance card until your car is actually ready for you to drive away though… naturally. This means that when they call up and say your car is ready, you have to head to the insurance office, pay your premium (a little bit cheaper than our policy in the US surprisingly), sign some forms, and then you’ll get your insurance card that you can take to the dealership to pick up your shiny new car!

At this point you’ll have a temporary tag while the dealership takes care of the “final” gray card setup which takes another week. After that week you get to go back to the head to the dealership to get your official gray card and get some tags riveted on your car then head to the insurance agency to get your policy updated with the “real” registration number and finally be on your way.

So in typical Noumea fashion, you’ll make at least 3 trips to each office before all is said and done, but then again people are usually pretty willing to help along the process. Since it’s so sunny here and I have a feeling the nickel mining doesn’t do much good for acid rain, I’ll be spending some time keeping fresh wax and protectant on the car to keep it in good shape and to keep that shiny finish sparkling. It seems that the sun here really does a number on paint jobs judging by the cars we see driving around with peeling clear coats and faded colors. A little work washing every few weeks and making sure a fresh coat of wax stays on goes a long way!

shiny

shiny