It's mosquito and midge season. This means that I'm more or less permanently covered in huge red or luminously throbbing bites. Biting insects of all species adore me; I'm like caviar to them. In any given room full of people, I must light up like a Christmas tree on the mosquito target guidance system. To make matters worse, I'm also allergic to the bites, so they come up the size of golf balls. It's at times like these that I long for the ultimate mosquito bite antidote — Rivière Bleu.
Three years ago, I travelled to New Caledonia in the South Pacific to do some field work. For a week or so, I stayed in one of the 'scientific lodges' in one of the National Parks — Parc de la Rivière Bleu. It's a fantastic 90 square kilometres of rainforest, mountains and — as the name suggests — a river. My host took me to the lodge (which was more of a hut than a lodge, but on the plus side, did have a shower and toilet), and then took me on a brief tour of the surroundings. He pointed down a steep slope, and with a smile said, "And this is your swimming pool".
Many places in the world have rivers called whatever 'Blue River' happens to be in the local language, and they are always a let-down. It almost always turns out that the 'Blue River' could be more accurately described as 'Muddy Brown River', or 'Murky Green River'. This Blue River was another proposition entirely; it was gloriously clear, and a delicate, fresh aquamarine colour. The river bed was lined with big, smooth cobbles, rather than mud or sediment, which shimmered under the crystal water. The whole thing looked as if it had been designed by an award-winning landscape architect.
Of course, the first thing I wanted to do was to have a swim. It was hot, humid, and — as I had been in New Caledonia for a week — I already had a thriving collection of horribly itchy mosquito bites. I stowed my bags in the lodge and changed into my swimming costume, putting my shorts and T-shirt back on top, before I trekked down the slippery slope to the river.
I found that a young couple was already enjoying a swim, so I said a cheery, "Bonjour!" which was returned with a smile. The smiles rather froze on their faces as I stripped off my shorts and T-shirt to reveal the bumpy red and yellow mess that my skin had become, set off nicely by my British pallor. With wan smiles still on their faces, they hurriedly left the water and made their way up the slope — I might have the plague or something. So, I had this glorious stretch of water to myself.
I held my breath and dived straight in. Almost immediately, my body rocketed out of the water again, of its own volition. I had assumed that the water would be pleasantly cool, but — with the water coming straight off the mountains — it was actually freezing. Once all of my internal organs had stopped trying to climb into my neck, it was really rather pleasant, and gloriously soothing for the bites. What could be nicer than gliding through clear, aquamarine pool, listening to tropical bird song and watching the sun set over the palm trees? If you ever find yourself in New Caledonia with masses of infuriating insect bites, just grab your bathers and head for Rivière Bleu.