Deliverance, Solomon-style

We were within 24 hours reach of Honiara, but Fred had spent the last day struggling with a bug he’d caught off one of the boys and with both of us pretty shattered from the last 3 days’ and nights’ sailing, we decided to stop at a tiny island off San Cristobel that was mentioned in our Solomon’s cruising guide. We’re entering the country with precious little info, this guide being over 12 years old, we figure maybe not a lot has changed? It mentions this island is uninhabited, but as we sail through the reef system into the sheltered bay we find a beaten-up shed and a small family on the beach who point out the best place to anchor. We duly pay our respects ashore in the dinghy. This, our first Solomons encounter, proves to be very different from Vanuatu.

On the surface the island is an exotic paradise: low-lying coconut tree-fringed white sand beaches, with coral reefs and crystal clear waters. But ashore we find a tiny village of 30-odd adults and young kids, who’s closest contact with the outside world is the 3-monthly copra boat or a 2 hour boat trip across a difficult strait. In stark contrast to the beautiful thatched huts and proud village communities in Vanuatu, we find a tiny group of tragically broken-down corrugated iron huts, hopelessly inefficient water collection system and sanitation, no attempt to grow vegetables (“the pigs eat them” is the’d think a surmountable problem?), and a group of islanders who appear to have given up on any type of vibrant life and sought solace in constant beetlenut consumption. They are friendly towards us, but appear more perplexed by our visit than anything else. Why would anyone want to come here? seems their tone. There’s a real absence of pride in the place with rubbish everywhere, huts pitifully constructed and appearances wild and dirty (quite aside from the alarming red mouths and rotting teeth shared by all beetlenut-addicted adults). We’re introduced to chief Willy, who is crashed out mid-day on the deck of the only decent hut in the village and we spot him first by his belly, sticking up from the floor. His place is surrounded by a number of gizmos completely absent amongst all other huts. He has a solar panel, music system and other stuff, he’s even more beetlenut-stoned than the rest of them. Mmm.

Add to this the presence of crocodiles and the long mangrove swamps surrounding the village, and we almost expect to hear a banjo start up (I mean in “The Deliverance” sense, for those of you who’ve seen the film). Both R and I get abit spooked by the place. It’s not that these guys are poor and clearly surviving on very little – of course we get that, that’s much the same in other Pacific islands. It’s more that they seem to have given up entirely. So we offer them some food from our supplies as a thanks for the anchorage, and move on as soon as I’m recovered.

.on to Honiara, where we’ve just completed a record-breaking day and a half clearance and re-provision, which even by our standards is pretty remarkable. We had set out to minimise our time there as we’d heard about some of the theft and burglary problems they’ve had since the troubles here, and we had braced ourselves for a purely functional visit. Now, I’m sure Honiara has many things going for it, but for us it was a hellhole to escape from as quickly as possible. We arrived early morning after an 24hr passage, and dropped anchor in an area of poor holding with frequent and violent squalls that have previously put several boats on the rocks – the only anchorage here. It’s heaving with people, a customs/ immigration/quarantine admin process that would test the patience of a saint, and a low level but unmistakably aggressive under-tone amongst the large numbers of young guys hanging around the beetletnut stalls . We are greeted by an Australian cruiser who warns us that a yacht had been boarded at night a few weeks ago, so we strip the decks of anything worth stealing and shut ourselves up at night. The final nail in the coffin for us is the water, which is revoltingly polluted, so no swimming for the boys. Other than that, it was lovely! So we heaved our usual loads of 25kg water and diesel cans, topped up on essentials, did a quick clothes wash and took off like scalded cats the following afternoon.
One interesting aspect of the place was how they handle money. Almost everywhere you go, be it a government office, hardware store, charts shop, whatever, the person who sells you the goods is separate from the cashier. So this means that you discuss the item you’re buying, establish the price, hand over the cash, and then have to follow the person along a corridor (or in a couple of cases to a separate building) to obtain your receipt and change. I couldn’t figure out whether this was because they didn’t trust people with cash, but Lord it has to be the most unnecessary and timeconsuming practice.

Anyway, we got our stuff and took off, and are now on passage again, this time only a 24hr over-nighter, to somewhere else. Anywhere else! We’re heading for the Marovo Lagoon, hoping to find a quiet anchorage where we can rediscover our faith in the Solomons. I’m confident we can.

1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Michael
    Oct 28, 2011 @ 19:29:20

    Love your stories. The Pacific Islands are beautiful on postcards but can be a really sad place for a lot of communities that live there. Weather has been a bit crap here. Typical Oct/Nov. Hopefully better in two weeks when I am Slipping Merlot to get ready for summer sailing. Just a thought, how do you slip a multi hull on a travel lift????
    Love M M B & M


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