Solomon Islands

Imagine two chains of relatively big islands surrounded by reefs, blue lagoons and countless small islands, lined with coconut palms and mangroves. A high cliff rises directly from the sea here and there with caves along the water edge. Mountains rise above the bigger islands with the odd volcano. The people – always smiling, giggling at anything that life might offer and genuinely curious and friendly. Many kids running, jumping or diving around – little curly heads (sometimes blonde) sticking out behind every tree, wharf or umbrella and out of the many wooden canoes crisscrossing the lagoons. You are in the Solomon Islands.
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So after two months in Papua New Guinea of paddling, cycling and hiking, and crossing the border from Bougainville to Choiseul, I arrived in Gizo, the second biggest town in the Solomons.

Gizo's airport is on a small island. This is the airport shuttle.

Gizo’s airport is on a small island. This is the airport shuttle.

I got my passport stamp, did some shopping and some walking and cycling around in Gizo. I couchsurfed with Warwick and his wife Samantha and their lovely son Lomoso, who was the first kid in the world not to run away screaming when he saw me.

Gizo market has great and cheap fish. (3 SBD < 0.50 USD)

Gizo market has great and cheap fish. (3 SBD < 0.50 USD)

why not
My pancakes proved very popular. We even had them for dinner.

My pancakes proved very popular. We even had them for dinner.

At a random beach in Ghizo (the town is spelled Gizo, the island - Ghizo), this tree was probably unrooted and brought down by a huge tsunami some years ago. The thing hanging from the tree is a bra - just for the record.

At a random beach in Ghizo (the town is spelled Gizo, the island – Ghizo), this tree was probably unrooted and brought down by a huge tsunami some years ago. The thing hanging from the tree is a bra – just for the record.

On Ghizo there is a road of about 20 km to a beautiful beach called Seragi. I wanted to go there by bike. There is not much tourism in the Solomons and it’s mostly divers who come so hiring a bike was not easy. The dive shop offers bikes for hire – 150 SBD (20+ USD) a day. No gears, the bike almost works, lousy breaks and “it’s better to push it uphill because the chain is weak”. I couldn’t say yes!

Instead I took a long walk along the beautiful beach south of the town and met a boy named Kenny who told me that his uncle had a bike.

Instead I took a long walk along the beautiful beach south of the town and met a boy named Kenny who told me that his uncle had a bike.

Sepere, Kenny's uncle, had a nice bike with gears, a bit old and the brakes didn't work, but I managed to fix the rear brakes and took the bike for a ride the next day. Sepere, as most people in his village Tatiana, were relocated here from Kiribati in the 1950s by the British (both the Solomons and Kiribati were still British colonies at the time). The official reason is that their islands were sinking or that there was not enough fresh water but Sepere is sure it was because radiation pollution from the nuclear tests in the Micronesian islands to the north. "Over a few years our coconuts became from this big to this small", Sepere said. There are a few communities of Kiribati people in the Solomons. They stand out with their lighter skin.  The Kiribati language is has very interesting phonology and phonotactics. The "ti" is pronounced as "s"  so you should say Kiribas and not Kiribati. They also pronounce the name of their village as Sisiana although it is spelled Titiana. Loan words from English take unrecognizable shapes. Kiribati is how they pronounced "Gilbertese", the name the British had for their islands. Sepere stands for Geoffrey. Kirimati, the second most populated island in the country stands for Christmas (island), as it is also known. The Kiribati settlers generally live in peace with the rest of the Solomon Islanders. Only once someone told me about them: "We don't like them. They eat raw fish."

Sepere, Kenny’s uncle, had a nice bike with gears, a bit old and the brakes didn’t work, but I managed to fix the rear brakes and took the bike for a ride the next day. Sepere, as most people in his village Tatiana, were relocated here from Kiribati in the 1950s by the British (both the Solomons and Kiribati were still British colonies at the time). The official reason is that their islands were sinking or that there was not enough fresh water but Sepere is sure it was because radiation pollution from the nuclear tests in the Micronesian islands to the north. “Over a few years our coconuts became from this big to this small”, Sepere said. There are a few communities of Kiribati people in the Solomons. They stand out with their lighter skin.
The Kiribati language is has very interesting phonology and phonotactics. The “ti” is pronounced as “s”  so you should say Kiribas and not Kiribati. They also pronounce the name of their village as Sisiana although it is spelled Titiana. Loan words from English take unrecognizable shapes. Kiribati is how they pronounced “Gilbertese”, the name the British had for their islands. Sepere stands for Geoffrey. Kirimati, the second most populated island in the country stands for Christmas (island), as it is also known.
The Kiribati settlers generally live in peace with the rest of the Solomon Islanders. Only once someone told me about them: “We don’t like them. They eat raw fish.”

Allen lives at Seragi beach and is building a bungalow to accommodate tourists. He's a great guy. I shared my lunch with him and he showed me the best snorkeing spots.

Allen lives at Seragi beach and is building a bungalow to accommodate tourists. He’s a great guy. I shared my lunch with him and he showed me the best snorkeing spots.

My next stop was Munda, which is connected by road to Noro, an international port town. Munda is pretty but when I was there it rained buckets for four days. A couple of times it stopped raining so I borrowed my CS hosts Ben and Uma's bike and went for a ride in the bush only to come back completely soaked. It never stopped raining for more than an hour or so.

My next stop was Munda, which is connected by road to Noro, an international port town. Munda is pretty but when I was there it rained buckets for four days. A couple of times it stopped raining so I borrowed my CS hosts Ben and Uma’s bike and went for a ride in the bush only to come back completely soaked. It never stopped raining for more than an hour or so.

Munda couchsurfing pancake frenzy

Munda couchsurfing pancake frenzy

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View over Munda's lagoon and the airport, which is the only international airport outside of Honiara. There are a flight or two per day, the rest of the time the runways is used for promenading:)

View over Munda’s lagoon and the airport, which is the only international airport outside of Honiara. There are a flight or two per day, the rest of the time the runways is used for promenading:)

One of the few industries in the Solomons is a tuna cannery in Noro. Soltuna is very very popular and it was pretty tasty. They sell cans of chilli tuna which is just fantastic with something inside that is either cherry tomatoes or small peppers - I am not sure but they got it right.

One of the few industries in the Solomons is a tuna cannery in Noro. Soltuna is very very popular and it was pretty tasty. They sell cans of chilli tuna which is just fantastic with something inside that is either cherry tomatoes or small peppers – I am not sure but they got it right.

Noro market. See if you understand Solomon Pijin

Noro market. See if you understand Solomon Pijin

This place sells sigarettes and betel nut.

This place sells sigarettes and betel nut.

This man is 94 years old and we talked for hours while waiting for the cargo ship from Noro to Honiara. The ship was 24 hours late but it was worth the wait because the weather had a chance to clear up and the ride to Honiara through the Morovo lagoon and other islands was magical.

This man is 94 years old and we talked for hours while waiting for the cargo ship from Noro to Honiara. The ship was 24 hours late but it was worth the wait because the weather had a chance to clear up and the ride to Honiara through the Morovo lagoon and other islands was magical.

For traveling in the Solomons, ship is certainly the way to go. Everyone wanted to talk to me and I got a dozen of invitations to visit people in their villages all over the Solomons. Too bad I already had a flight to Vanuatu in a few days.

I told someone that I had a laptop with me so we had a movie night that was not such a success. On my hard drive I have mostly documentaries and some TV series. “Friends” turned out to be less popular in the Solomons than where I come from and soon people started asking to see cartoons or a musical. I have no cartoons and the only thing close to a musical I could put on was Dancer in the Dark but I thought that wouldn’t go down too well so everyone fell asleep quite soon.

Note to self:
Bring some Tom and Jerry along next time you visit the Solomons.

sunset

"Good morning. How much is the pomelo" "4 dollars for the small one, 5 dollars for the big one" "OK, I will take the big one. Here is five dollars" "Thank you! I love you!"

“Good morning. How much is the pomelo”
“4 dollars for the small one, 5 dollars for the big one”
“OK, I will take the big one. Here is five dollars”
“Thank you! I love you!”

Naturally blonde

Naturally blonde

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Market at Russel island

Market at Russel island

Honiara, the capital, is a shithole. It has a large harbor, no need to say more. I loved the market though. It is dirty, smelly and disgusting but the fish and chips go for 5 SBD (0.70 USD) in the evening (compared to 20 SBD in most other places so far) and there are heaps (literally) of pineapples for as little as 3 SBD (10 for a huge one). Back in Papua New Guinea I had been eating a pineapple a day but in the Solomons I only found pineapple once in Munda. In Honiara I ate three huge ones in two days.

I stayed at Hibiscus homestay. All the cheapest guesthouses are on the same street, one block up from the main street. They’re all too expensive still at around 40 USD and I needed something cheaper. Just as in most other places in this part of the world, outsiders only stay in Honiara if they are working here and basically someone else pays for their accommodation. At Hibiscus homestay there were two long term tenants, a Philippino guy working for a Chinese company and a Korean who was training the Solomons’ taekwondo team for the Pacific games next year. Since I have my beautiful tent that I once paid for what would be a night at the Ritz, I was determined to find a place to camp to cut the cost. The United Church Guesthouse wouldn’t hear about it, the Anglican brothers at the Chester guesthouse needed to consult the main brother, who had to ask an even mainer brother who probably also asked the top brother (it did take a while) who said no. When I stumbled upon the Hibiscus guesthouse, Sara there laughed her face off when I said I wanted to sleep in my tent but finally agreed for me to camp on her veranda with a nice view over the sea. Her only argument against was that she would feel sorry for me sleeping in a tent. She was great company, herself from the Temotu province, which is tiny islands that fascinated me when I was planning this trip. It is the most remote province of the Solomons with many small Islands, far away from each other, where people are of Polynesian descent (they settled there from Tonga and Niue) and speak Outlier Polynesian languages. She taught me some of her language.

WW2 through SI eyes

WW2 through SI eyes

a boat, an engine and beer - what a Solomon Islander needs

a boat, an engine and beer – what a Solomon Islander needs

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Honiara market

Honiara market

Marugoana is very popular in the Sollies, apparently

Marugoana is very popular in the Sollies, apparently

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Everybody loves germany

Everybody loves germany

Honiara has a nice museum. These Polynesian sailing canoes are really nice. There is a real, full-sized one on display (without the sail though).

Honiara has a nice museum. These Polynesian sailing canoes are really nice. There is a real, full-sized one on display (without the sail though).

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PRACTICAL INFORMATION
It’s not easy to find information about the Solomon Islands. The Lonely Planet is practically useless. It’s 1998 edition of the Solomon Islands guidebook is a detailed cultural and geographical study of the country. Since then they have merged the Solomons in the same book as Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands chapter is basically a newspaper article with a telephone directory of expensive resorts. Most provinces are covered by one sentence, literally. This is very unfortunate since the Solomon Islands are one of the most culturally diverse countries in the world.

Much has changed since 1998. Most of the big islands lack any roads apart from a logging road here and there. Most travel within the islands will therefore be limited to places with some kind of road or by small boats.

Solomon Airlines has flights to virtually everywhere but these are expensive. Cargo boats (slow!) run to basically every province from Honiara weekly or fortnightly or more often to Malaita. I haven’t seen schedules posted anywhere. I suspect they are non existent. The boat I was on was dirty and smelly and I suspect all of them are the same. I wouldn’t go without a mattress. The boats are also great places to meet people and get invitations to see village life. Many Solomon Islanders will love the idea of bringing a white man home to show to their friends and family. With a lot of time and flexibility a great trip could be had this way.

The price for a boat ride between Gizo and Honiara is 300-500 Solomon dollars. Right now there are three boats doing that route – LC Phoenix, Kosco and Chanella. They charge different prices and all run on the same day of the week (Sunday from Honiara, Tuesday morning from Gizo – all three of them!) Another ship – Fair Glory is being repaired in the Philippines and who knows when it’s gonna be back. I heard that the 3-day ride to Temotu province costs 500 SBD which isn’t bad at all.

Accommodation is very expensive. I liked having a tent.

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