Waking up this morning I have a smile on my face. Last night was one of those nights that I revel in when traveling. Maybe it was the wine gods at work. The connection, the conversation, the merging of cultures, even the language barriers.
We decided to spend the weekend in the small town of La Foa at The Naina Park Resort. None of the accommodations in town came with grand reviews, but this place was so cute, we ignored the reviews and took a leap of faith. And damn, was it a great decision. This place is run by two fabulous people, Nadine and Jean Jacque.
We spent the day enjoying the beaches and bays north of La Foa. Poé Beach is some 13km long with fine white sand and cute ‘Snacks’ scattered along the road. Not sure if I have defined a ‘Snack’ but think of them as permanent cafes but with a pop up feel. They are often small buildings with tables and chairs outside, consolidated menus and typically a super cute atmosphere.
By the time we got to Poé , the tide was out. We just laughed as this isn’t atypical for us to get so close and miss the boat. That’s what happens when you don’t research and enjoy the moment. The wind was blustery. We hunkered down, ate our snacks, sipped on a bottle of wine and watched as folks trekked what seemed like a half kilometer out to the water. Not necessarily peaceful but I haven’t laughed that hard in a long time. The situation was ridiculous, not relaxing, I mean there was sand EVERYWHERE, but we made the most of it.
Back to the wonderful evening. After showering off the thick layer of sand from every crevice of our bodies, we were thirsty. To the hotel bar we went. Time to sip on a beer, write postcards and reminisce about the day. The chairs at this bar are comfortable black lounge chairs. You sink right in to the soft cushions. They are much too low for the bar. You need to fully sit up, brace yourself and lean forward to reach your beverage. Not practical but comfortable. After we waited for an incredible amount of time, we were finally served our fancy artisan beers, no Number Ones (the Coors Light of New Cal) for us tonight. While Todd indulged in a Brasseurs du Lagon Red-Ika IPA, I chose the Big Papa Pale Ale. These fancy beers were delicious. Although, my favorite part may have been the bar snacks of seasoned olives and peanuts. I was so hungry.
We quickly figured out we were the only guests at the inn. The owners were enjoying a jovial evening on the patio with one of their friends. As we finished our beers the owner, Jean Jacque came over. With his thick French accent he started talking to us. He quickly warmed to Todd as he partook in his banter. I barely understood a word he said. As they chatted, he reached into the nuts, took a huge handful and threw them back into his mouth not missing a beat in conversation. Shortly thereafter, his wife Nadine and friend, Philipe joined us.
With empty beers, we were ready for another libation. Luckily, Nadine had a plan. She casually opened a bottle of rosé and a bottle of red and offered us glasses. This wine was good, very good. The red was even chilled to the correct temperature. My wine heart was happy. I have been in a wine desert since we left the states. Both in New Cal and Tahiti wine is crazy expensive with shit labels running $20+btl. This is when knowing too much means simply abstaining from drinking wine. But not tonight. These people had taste and expensive taste at that. I do love the French!
The wine flowed as did the conversation. We talked and talked, mostly in French. I tried to keep up. Jean Jacque and Philippe were pretty toasted but super jovial. The conversation flowed from the typical where are you from, to life stories and even to politics. It was hard to avoid the conversation of the moment when that moment entails US women being stripped of rights to their own bodies. They were as appalled as we were. Todd dodged the Trump question by hopping on the piano. Jean Jacque danced. And then Phillipe. Wine flowed.
Now we hadn’t eaten much since the our small nosh on the beach. I was hungry. As typical in most places, all the restaurants in town were closed as was the grocery store. Nadine asked our dinner plans. Once it was confirmed we were staying, I mean, we didn’t really have other options, Jean Jacque asked if we had allergies or aversions to certain foods. Nope. We said we eat all the things. To which he was very pleased and remarked, not for the first time, that we were unusual Americans. The next thing we know, Nadine is ordering food for all of us to share. More wine is poured.
The conversation continues and Philipe compliments Todd for the umpteenth time on his French. He turned to me and said, ‘you are trying but I think you can understand.’ I guess I’ll take that as a compliment? I could understand Nadine very well but Jean Jacque sounded like the equivalent to a southerner speaking English, like he had a mouth full of marbles. As Nadine told us about her 10 years spent sailing around the world, plates of foie gras were laid out in front of us. Shortly followed thereafter by escargot and cured salmon. All were tasty but the escargot was the definite winner. Sauteed in butter, white wine, parsley and heaps of garlic it was fantastic.
The night was everything I love about traveling. Nadine and Jean Jacque invited us to their home in France this Fall. We shall see what happens on that front. Although she did remind us about the invite this morning and even pulled up a picture of their home. I almost forgot to mention their sweet golden retriever, Sumo. We have seen a lot of dogs on this journey but most have been wild and make me want to cry. It melted my heart to love on a dogger again.
For me travel is about those organic experiences. The people you meet along the way. Hearing their stories and seeing how moments in their life crafted their choices and opinions. Spending the evening sipping wine, regaling stories, laughing, dancing around the piano, getting puppy snuggles from Sumo, was simply the best. New Caledonia continues to impress. While just yesterday I proclaimed it is a place I will most likely never return, today, I want to stay and explore. We just might have to return after all.