It's just after ten in the morning when we leave the small airport in Ouanaham.
An employee hands us a French car and introduces us to Gabriela, the bilingual guide who would accompany us.
We had already found the advance notice that we would have to drive the car. Shortly after settling in the vehicle, the native reinforces the idea: “I don't have a license nor do I want to have one. It's too stressful for me!”
Seriously bulky, the lady adjusts to the space in the rear seat and transmits some indications consistent with the basic road network of the island.
In three strokes, we reached its northern limit.
Gabriela tells us that we've arrived at the first stopover, tells us where to go and, as she has done several times, victim of her inertia and reduced mobility, she stays in the car waiting for our return.
We peek at the cliffs of Jokine and Cape Escarpé onwards.
Among the large Cook pine trees that rise from them, also prolific in the neighboring Île-des-Pins we also admire the green, blue marine lagoon lined with a mixture of rock and coral in that exuberant corner of the Pacific Ocean.
Blessing her and the Melanesian sailors and visitors from all over the world, a Notre Dame de Lourdes perched above the pediment of the small church on the threshold of the great cliff of Easo.
The Virgin and all the island's faith in itself can do little against the weather. We descend the path we had traveled in his honor when, at a glance, a cluster of tenebrous clouds forms above our heads.
The sky opens floodgates and releases a flood of water that subjects us to the refuge of little Clio. “Well, this doesn't look like it's going to stop anytime soon, predicts Gabriela. It seems better to go straight to the restaurant. It's not far from here.”
Along the way, Gabriela enlightens us on her perspective of how special the meal was going to be. “Let's go to Fene Paza. Guillaume Waminya, the owner, opened this restaurant underneath (hay in local dialect drehu) from a hibiscus tree (peace).
In Lifou, the hibiscus flower (bouro) can only be eaten or sold for consumption in the territory of the Mucaweng tribe that we continued to explore.
Here on the island, we believe that if we eat it from others "tribes” we can go deaf. As long as our boss doesn't authorize otherwise, I'll just eat at this restaurant.”
Hibiscus flowers are considered among the most therapeutic in the tropical universe, highly antioxidant, excellent for lowering bad cholesterol and blood pressure.
Even so, on the platter that, in the meantime, they brought us, the enormous scarlet stuffed lobsters that occupied the center of a complex traditional accompaniment caught our attention.
More than a luxurious meal, they were serving us a dish as traditional and representative as possible. We enjoyed it with pleasure and the gastronomic and ethnic admiration it deserved.
The rain shows no signs of mercy. Also to save ourselves from her excessive liquidity, we stay at the table and chat with the increasingly less reserved Gabriela.
The Kanak guide had lived for two years and learned English in the Australian outskirts of Brisbane, where she didn't feel exactly comfortable: “at the school I attended, no one had any idea where New Caledonia was.
Everyone thought I was Fijian… I never got along very well with Australians. I had friends from Japan and from other parts of Asia.”
Gabriela was part of a women's association. This affiliation allowed him to travel frequently, attend international congresses and meetings of other groups, Tahiti and Bora Bora, also the Vanuatu, among other magical places in Oceania, Melanesia and Polynesia: “They know that the mahu (the so-called third sex of Polynesia; effeminate men) have a strong participation in my association and others.
They want to be recognized and supported but, after a long debate, their role still remains to be defined. I think they give us a bad name. But it's just my opinion…”
We take advantage of its packaging and the fact that the rain persists to probe it about the eccentric political status of New Caledonia, a Collectivité quite different from other COMs (Collectivites d'outre-Mer) how are the French Polynesia or Saint Martin-Sint Maarten, Caribbean island, thanks largely to the Kanak people's historic resistance to submitting themselves completely to the yoke of Paris.
Referendums to this same statute were repeated, with a choice between the associated state of France, great autonomy within the French Republic or independence.
The blurring of the future of her beloved archipelago made Gabriela and many other natives uneasy: “I think independence could happen but I am very afraid of what New Caledonia could become without France behind it.
People here are already used to everything being solved by France. I am afraid that we will lose the standard of living and the facilities we now have in a flash. Have you seen if we're back to being a kind of Vanuatu?” she questions us, indignant, unaware that she referred to one of the nations that we most admired and esteemed.
The tropical rain, dense and warm, not only persisted but intensified.
It drenched that meager land lost in the vastness of the Pacific and carried the green of the hibiscus trees and the surrounding coconut trees, beneath low clouds that had meanwhile changed from blue to a strange lilac.
That afternoon, we did little more than eat, talk at the table and enjoy the exuberance of the storm settling camps.
At around 17:20, with the unexpected sky dim wanting to welcome the night, we retired to the hotel on the seafront where we had previously checked in, next to the almost imperceptible capital of We, still the largest village in the three Loyaldade Islands .
By that time, the fatigue accumulated during the previous exploration of the mother island Grande Terre and Lifou's sister, Ouvéa, almost always under a relentless sun, took its toll.
We only met up with Lifou and Gabriela again the next morning.
We pass pristine beaches: Luengoni, Oulane and Baie de Mou. We dive and splash in its turquoise seas and thus complete the recovery of previously depleted energies.
Then, we point to La Vanille Jouese, a farm that produces the most emblematic export in the place, vanilla, taken there from Madagascar by a British minister and, today, with around one hundred and twenty organically-produced producers.
In Mu, in the far southeast of the island, we are greeted by two of them.
Lues Rokuad and Louise explain to us the procedures and wonders of their plantation, full of feet curled up in poles and between them, that they formed a veritable fragrant jungle.
But there, in that verdant and improbable corner on the other side of the world, what amazes us is that we quickly detect our mother tongue. Donziela, the lady who employed him, had emigrated to France in the 70s.
From France, already married to a Gaul, she moved to Nouméa, the increasingly French-speaking capital of New Caledonia, where so many French people seek the dream of wealthy, light and sunny tropical lives.
She had been doing it for sixteen years.
As we had noticed, the lady continued to speak good Portuguese, even if she almost only practiced it with her parents when she was in the metropolis and, since she had had children, from time to time with them, so that her parents would not be lost. Portuguese origins.
From Mu, we travel to Tanukul.
A new lunch hour was approaching. As Gabriela had solemnly announced to us, we couldn't leave Lifou without tasting the local version of the great gastronomic specialty of New Caledonia: the boogna.
One of the best and most highly regarded was that of Madame Moline, a young Kanak lady who had moved from Noumea to Lifou to live permanently in the land of her parents and sister. Your plan was simple.
if so many Kanak and outsiders yearned for the boogna and she made them so well, and on top of that she could serve them in a traditional home setting planted by the sea and a natural turtle pool, why not make it your business and your family's life?
Moline welcomes us with a big smile on his childish face, shows us his small property placed on a lawn around some gites (housing) and installs us in the shade of a large straw sun hat, on a table with a plastic tablecloth full of fruit illustrations.
The preparation of boogna It had been going on for some time, which is why we had little to wait. After about fifteen minutes, Moline emerges with a large casing made of plaited palm leaves and decorated with orange and yellow carnations.
He opens this bag, which seemed almost ceremonial to us, and then the banana leaves that served as an interior wrapping. Finally, he reveals to us the delicacy we were waiting for: an exuberant cassava stew, sweet potatoes, ripe bananas, yams and chicken, seasoned with herbs and spices.
He presents it and explains it with an obvious passion for the craft, but it doesn't take long to leave us to the noble meal.
Afterwards, we walked with Moline along the small waves that caressed Lifou. We had the idea of photographing her and, unlike Gabriele and so many natives, the dolled lady immediately volunteered, with obvious pride: “Let me just put on my dress kanak.
I, on a day-to-day basis, usually walk around with only these shorts and t-shirt. The dress is no way for me to sit on the floor or to work the land. But I think I look much better with the robe popinee traditional."
He returned in three stages, with a twig formed by the carnations that used to decorate the casing of the boogna in hand.
Already composed, he climbed a rock at the end of the natural turtle pool and posed with the greatest naturalness and dignity in the world, with the blue sky, the Pacific Ocean, Cook pine trees and coconut trees in the background, sheltering its contagious beauty.
We sent in some more invigorating dives. The sun did not take long to leave those remote but paradisiacal places.
That afternoon, we returned to Nouméa where we made another night stopover before traveling to Maré, the ultimate Loyalty.