The People From The Other Side Of The Horizon

new caledonia_wordsandwanderlust

The People From The Other Side Of The Horizon

 

Many years ago, I would sit outside my childhood seaside home in the south of the Philippines, and imagine islands beyond the horizon. Often, I’d believe I can see the shores of those islands from afar. Always, I’d wonder if they could see me too.

I arrived in New Caledonia as a tourist from a cruise ship. My body was that of a city folk, herded to a marked tour bus, led by a flag-waving local. But as soon as I caught a whiff of brine in the air, my soul leapt upon the recognition of home.

A Noumea Welcome

The recognition began in Noumea, with the woman who greeted tourists at the end of the archway by the pier. She spoke little English, and was liaising welcome activities with the village choir. Her skin, bronzed and sweaty, was of the same shade as the fisherman’s wife who used to sell freshly-caught Tulingan door-to-door on Sundays. ‘Nang Turang, I remember, was her name.

Welcome to New Caledonia - Words and Wanderlust

Then came the boy who led our bus on a tour around the city, to a hill lullabying an unused cannon from the first world war, and finally to the white sand strip of Anse Vata. Wearing a crown of dreadlocks, he had a Reggae chill with a bit of Fresh Prince of Bel-Air swag. He was also every other boy in my village— eternally in a good mood, strong, and despite being cheeky in so many ways, responsible.

The Warriors in the Isle of Pines

Isle of Pines was just as arresting. The ship’s arrival, and consequently, mine, was graced by a tribal war dance of young warriors, paint-laden and commanding of positive attention.

Tribal Dancers New Caledonia - Words and Wanderlust

After the performance, a female elder offered to place a handmade crown from coconut leaf and bougainvillea flowers on my head. I fixed my crown, proud that I knew what it’s made of. After all, I used to weave pretend tennis balls from coconut leaf and chopped cupfuls of bougainvillea for pretend carinderia.

“You are beautiful,” the elder confidently said in English. “You are too, “ I bowed, offering a page of my passport for a fake two-dollar stamp.

Island Massage New Caledonia - Words and Wanderlust

Lifou’s Tale of the Pine and the Coconut

The village chieftain of Lifou Isle called the shots while the rest of the community was more than happy to oblige. They set-up a complex of sari-sari stores, hair-braiding stalls and open-air massage mats before a swarm of white tourist vans and buses. It was reminiscent of the fiesta peryas in my hometown.

I hopped on a bus with a glowing tour guide. Wearing a long-sleeved plain purple top against amber skin, he also had the brightest smile in the world. Tired from a well-worn travel spiel, he told my group a love story instead:

A long, long time ago, the villagers planted a pine tree for every male and a coconut tree for every female. As soon as that was said, everyone in the bus began scanning the surrounding for pine and coconut trees.

Tour Guide New Caledonia - Words and Wanderlust

Usually, the trees stood in groups: the Pine wolf pack and the Coconut bathroom herd. Until I spotted pine and coconut trees planted next to each other, usually along the water’s edge.

The tour guide probably saw what I saw and as soon as I looked his way to supposedly ask,
he nodded in anticipation:

“Yes, those trees were of lovers.”

Local Food New Caledonia - Words and Wanderlust

My Mare Family

In Mare, I saw my Papa Ramon in the moustached man tending chicken barbecue on a charcoal grill.

“Don’t you have fish?” I asked.

His answer was wise, “Plenty. But you people don’t know how to eat fish with bones.”

“But uncle, I am your people,” I protested, placing my forearm near his. “Look, brown too!”

With that, I won his smile; so big that the sparkle reached the corners of his eyes.

“Are we friends now?” I validated.

“No, no, “ he continued fanning his now charring skewers, “Family, Miss. Family.”

Beach New Caledonia - Words and Wanderlust

Many years ago, I read a series of books called Griffin and Sabine. It was a story of snail mail correspondence between a boy from England and a girl from the South Pacific. It was a story very close to my heart, as if Sabine’s Sicmon are the same group of islands I imagined to be beyond the skyline from my childhood seaside home.

When New Caledonia revealed itself to me more than two decades later, I kind of knew I found Sabine’s home. My heart, at once, recognised the likeness through the island nation’s people.

Once again, I was the little girl sitting by the seashore. Only this time, I was on the other side of the horizon.

Share

Comments (9)

  1. Teacaketravels

    Your writing and photography are beautiful. I’m a fan 🙂 Have subscribed to your newsletter. Thank you for letting me into your lovely world.

  2. Teacaketravels

    Your writing and photography are beautiful. I’m a fan 🙂 Have subscribed to your newsletter. Thank you for letting me into your lovely world.

  3. Rain Campanilla

    Oh thank you for such sweet words! <3 Happy Travels!

  4. Rain Campanilla

    Thanks for your kind words! <3 Happy Travels!

  5. Rain Campanilla

    Thanks for your kind words! <3 Happy Travels!

  6. Heather Cole

    How beautiful, the place and the writing. I was right there with you, trying not to let faint tears prickle when the fish guy says ‘family’ rather than just friends. What an amazing memory!

  7. Heather Cole

    How beautiful, the place and the writing. I was right there with you, trying not to let faint tears prickle when the fish guy says ‘family’ rather than just friends. What an amazing memory!

  8. Rain Campanilla

    Aww, Thank you Heather! New Caledonia is definitely made more beautiful because of her people <3

  9. Rain Campanilla

    Aww, Thank you Heather! New Caledonia is definitely made more beautiful because of her people <3

Comments are closed.

error: Content is protected !!
%d bloggers like this: