the journey

Solomon Islands

Blissed Out In The Arnavons

October 28-31, 2008

Blog Location: Arnavon Islands, Manning Strait, Solomon Islands
Blogger Current Location: Gizo, Solomon Islands

It is 3 in the morning. We hoist our 55 pound Delta anchor and slowly creep back along our old waypoint track in the moon-less cloudy blackness, threading our way through the shallow reefs. When we are in Uepi Pass the currents try to have their way with us. I am totally focused on the chart-plotter, correcting the boat's heading to stay true to the track, like an avid video game player staring intensely at the screen and manipulating the right controls to win the game. But this is no game and there is little room for error. There are severe consequences of slamming into the myriad of reefs all around us and Nicole stands watch at the bow with a strong spotting light nervous as hell.

An extremely bright light appears out of the dark, which soon manifests into a boat. Oh shit, the pass is already so narrow and I'm piloting the boat by faith in our instruments, not being able to see enough to make out the edges of the all too real coral reefs with my own eyes. As we move closer the boat appears to be anchored on the side of the pass, fishing. Phew! We can avoid it. DreamKeeper slowly putts by, our Yanmar engine barely humming as the current is doing the work ebbing us out to sea. A "hallo" becomes semi-audible, and I glance over the starboard rail to see a dugout canoe slip by, a red-mouthed betel nut smile the only feature I can see of the dark-skinned Melanesian fisherman who disappears back into the depths of darkness. I shake my head, these people are crazy; they think nothing of paddling around in their leaky dugout canoes 6 inches above the water all night long, fishing in shark and crocodile saturated lagoons.

Thankfully we make it through the pass unscathed and set sail for our next destination, the Arnavon Islands. It has been over 2 weeks since we first arrived in the huge Marovo and Nono lagoons, and we are ready for a new scene. The Arnavons are 60 miles away and we want to arrive with good light to see the reefs, hence the need to leave at 3 a.m. from Uepi, a necessary evil.

After a windless motoring passage across New Georgia Sound, aka "The Slot", we arrive with perfect light and thread our way through the outer reef and enter into the green lagoon of Kerehikapo Island. Semi-protected only, as truly there is not much land here, only small strips of raised coral, sand, and mangroves, much of it underwater at high tide. From the south to the northeast directions only a shallow reef protects the bay, which does help mellow the swell, but does nothing to ease the strength of the wind. Thankfully while we are here it never blows too hard.

Once again we are the only sailing yacht around. We do a quick drive around the lagoon then drop our hook in 20 meters of sand/mud in the far north corner of the lagoon. It is hot. Extremely hot. We have been out all day in almost windless conditions, the water has looked like a lake, and the thunderheads have continued to form and build as the hours progressed. The greens and blues of the water are striking, gorgeous, but did I mention yet it is HOT? So hot that all we want to do is strip the little clothes we have on and jump in and swim. Just lay in the water for hours until the sunsets. Not that the water is so cool, it's the hottest water we have seen in the South Pacific, sometimes in the mid to upper-80's F, but still so much better then the furnace above.

But wait a minute...don't forget where we doesn't just jump into the water in the Solomon Islands, you can't get careless here. There are consequences. There are CROCS! Not that they are around everywhere where you can see them, but they are around nonetheless. They prefer the mangroves and swamps and river-mouths, but that doesn't mean they don't come out and swim in the big lagoons and the clear ocean from time to time. We have yet to see one in person, thank God, but we keep hearing stories from the locals about a 6 year old taken last week in such and such village, and a man spear fishing taken last month in the lagoon by a 4 meter croc (that's over 12 feet). Can you say frightening??!! This is one animal I am deathly afraid of in the water and the reason our boat bottom has not been cleaned for over a month. I just refuse to clean it in the lagoons. Too damn scary! We do the next best thing and get a quick rinse off with the hose.

As the cumulonimbus clouds build, we turn our attention to the lagoon where we can see two giant manta rays doing somersaults to capture their food particles in the nutrient rich water. Not far away a turtle bobs at the surface and the parrots noisily do fly bys squawking with their mates. It is obvious that we are in a special place.

Within the hour the squalls begin bringing cool air, brisk winds, and some good strong rain pellets. The visibility has left and we feel relieved that we chose to leave at 3 in the morning even though it sucked. Happy to be here, we celebrate with a couple of tasty Sol Brews and BBQ some delicious Vanuatu organic burgers we have stashed deep in the freezer.

Thirteen years ago The Nature Conservancy, a conservation organization based in the U.S., helped to raise money and create a local management team to protect this amazingly species rich area of islands, lagoons, and surrounding waters. Not only is there an abundance of prolific fish and bird life in this area, but the Arnavons are also one of the few places in the South Pacific Ocean that the hawksbill and green sea turtles come to lay their eggs.

The threats here have been huge. Commercial fishing, turtle hunting for meat and tortoise shell, trochus shell gathering, as well as megapode bird egg gathering, were all factors that influenced the decision to save this area from exploitation and protect is as a valuable resource for the many generations of Solomon Islanders to come.

It wasn't easy for this to happen. At first the government of the Solomon’s tried to set this up. The local people fought back. They wanted to be involved. They wanted to manage it, after all this was their land. They also wanted to understand the benefits. Through the years that's how the Arnavons Community Marine Conservation Area has evolved. This is the first community-run marine protected area in the South Pacific. It is managed by all three communities who use this land; the people from Choiseul, Isabel, and Waghena. Mind you, it’s not perfect, and there are still many disputes, but no different then any place in the world where cultures and customs try to mix when you choose to work together.

There is a great article written last year called "Turning Turtle" by TNC (The Nature Conservancy) written about this place. Click here for to link

The next morning we dinghied in to say hello to the rangers. Philip and his brother-in-law were the only ones around. The other guys were off to the other islands on their way home, with new rangers coming back in a couple of days. They work one month on, one month off.

Philip was our man. It didn't take long for Nicole to ask him a hundred questions and as time went on his initial bashfulness opened up and he became comfortable hanging out with us on our little Arnavon outings each day.

Daytime found us riding around with Philip patrolling the islands for poachers and scanning the beaches for turtle tracks leading up to the nesting sites in the trees. We snorkeled the prolific reefs where we saw hundreds of giant clams, turtles, huge grouper and sweet-lips, and even witnessed an immense stingray feasting on a tasty morsel twenty feet below us.

We hiked all around the little islands looking at megapode and seabird nest sites and when darkness fell, Philip took us with him on his nightly rounds to the beach where they survey and protect the turtles and turtle eggs all months of the year. Nicole and I were unlucky the three nights we went out with Philip, as we never actually saw a female turtle laying her eggs, but we did see many tracks and witnessed some new little ones hatching from their buried nests getting ready to enter the world.

It was difficult to leave but we needed to start heading north and west to Papua New Guinea. We said our good-byes the night before we left and treated Philip and his brother-in-law to one more baked cake (as they loved the first one we baked them so much), a special treat to break up their usual meal of fish and kumara.

At sunrise we motored out of the still lagoon. Huge schools of fish were feeding on the outside of the reef, and if you looked hard enough at the sandy beach nearby you could see new turtle tracks ascending out of the sea from the night before. Hopefully when we return someday it will look the same.

Adventures in Marovo

October 13-28, 2008

Blog Location: Marovo Lagoon, Western Province, Solomon Islands
Blogger Current Location: Honiara, Solomon Islands

When I reached for his hand to say a final thank you and goodbye he gave me a hug. Watching Robert and Pita disappear into the night, my heart-strings tugged and a tear slid down my cheek. After two and a half weeks in the Marovo Lagoon I am finding it really hard to leave. We have been welcomed into peoples homes, made wonderful friends, had real conversations about the challenges that logging and mining bring and politics here and in the US, and seen hundreds of carvings and many master carvers creating amazing pieces.

Gary is one of those carvers. We met him by chance and kindness upon first arriving from Honiara. Threading our way through a minefield of reefs in little light after a long night passage, we were grateful to see a smiling man in a canoe paddling out to us. He led us to a safe anchorage in front of Uepi Resort. He was there for carving day every Monday, and also to become our friend. During a lull in the rainstorms we pulled ourselves from the comfort of the boat and into the dingy to visit Gary and the other carvers as we had promised before they packed up for the day. We listened to raindrops on the metal roof that sat above the carvers and their work and talked story with many of them. We saw Gary and of course wanted to buy something from him to thank him for his kindness. He invited us to his home in Telina and we promised to be there by the end of the week.

Before our anchor was down, canoes began to emerge from the islands and head for us. We knew this was coming but after a week in front of Uepi Dive Resort, where our only visitors were a school of squid, we were not sure how long we would last. Telina is the most famous carving village in the lagoon. People here sell their work in Honiara and also to tourist boats, mega yachts, and little boats like us. At least 8 canoes came out with carvers and the bows of their canoes full of carvings they wanted to sell. All of them waited, respectfully paddling nearby to wait until we had finished talking with whoever was there. We had to explain to each one we were waiting to come to the island with Gary and we wanted to see everyone’s work all at once. This we hoped would be beneficial for both them and us. At last word got out and the carvers stopped coming, at least for a little while.

It was quiet on DreamKeeper for less than 5 minutes when three of the bravest kids paddled out. They brought small sweet bush lemons that would become my favorite. Once they knew they were welcome, they kept coming for days, paddling canoes with little bowls full of fire red disk shaped chili peppers, lavender striped Chinese eggplants, green coconuts, the sweetest pineapples one could dream of, two more varieties of bush limes and lemons, chili peppers hastily picked with leaves still attached, three green beans, 6 baby tomatoes, some leeks, and more lemons.

By 3:30 Gary still hadn't arrived and Hans was back. Explaining he was sorry to come again with all of his carvings he was headed to play soccer at 4 and didn't want to miss us; he wasn't the only one. So we shared stories, a glass of bush lemonade and saw his carvings. We told him we would remember what he had and after we saw everyone’s carvings we would decide. He needed $400 Solomon Island dollars, the equivalent to 60 US dollars to see his mom over the weekend for a festival.

Gary came at dusk once the birds had roosted for the night and the winds at sunset stopped blowing. He had just paddled back from his mother's island. Here there are no roads, people paddle from their homes to work in the gardens, and kids start paddling from the age of three; they paddle to school every morning.

The next morning the smartest girl came out with two other girls offering flowers. She must have been 5, and shyly held a bouquet with fuchsia orchids, white orchids, and orange birds of paradise surrounded by ferns and tied with a stem of a leaf. This was only the first bouquet. I love flowers, and here, the earth doesn’t really get represented on DK. By the end of the day flowers were placed in every vessel we had and they kept coming.

At one point, we had over two hundred bush lemons of all three varieties. We were drinking gallons of lemonade to quench our thirst but also to keep up with the delicious supply. Each morning when we would wake up someone would be nearby waiting for us to stir to bring us a coconut, or flowers or some more fruits and vegetables. We had a steady trade of pencils, exercise books, washing detergent, rice, sugar and marbles. We have learned to eat eggplant and are addicted to lemonade. I loved seeing these kids each day. They paddle to school in the morning and back in the afternoon and then to and fro our boat and the mainland to gather things they thought we might like, lemons and flowers being what they decided we liked most. It was really hilarious. Once I made the mistake of saying, "me likum flowers tumas" (I like flowers very much), they never stopped coming. Orchids grow wild there so don't worry we didn't ruin their mother's gardens.

We spent our days visiting with people on our boat and in the village. We walked the tiny limestone island, stopping at carvers homes to see their work, visiting two of the oldest ladies on the island, and watching Lionel, who is an incredible carver, create a spectacular table with two crocodiles and octopus. If we would have stayed three more weeks, I might have bought it for the house I don't have. We photographed a masterpiece, a "Spirit of the Solomons" 4 foot tall by 6 inch wide ebony carving with grouper, coral trout, sharks, manta rays, sting rays, dolphin, stone fish, all the creatures in the sea dancing around this black pole with detail at every turn. Rocky wanted 10,000 US dollars for it and had his son pose with the piece. It is tradition to teach your sons carving if they want to learn. No wonder everyone in Marovo is a carver.

People in Marovo are the best carvers we've seen in the South Pacific. Traditionally their work was to make nuzu nuzu, totems for the war canoes, typically a face with a long nose with mother of pearl inlay holding a skull, symbolizing war or more recently a frigate bird, symbolizing peace. They lashed these to the bow of their canoes to illustrate their intent and protect them in their journey. People also carved kastom stories into stone and wood that unfortunately has been dug up from traditional sites and is being offered for sale to tourists and collectors. We firmly believe these should be left where they came from. Now, carving is for the tourist trade, big Spirit of the Solomons panels or sculptures are carved with the sea wrapped around them, masks are made with seahorses for cheeks and eyes, perhaps a crocodile snout or giant clam for mouth, turtle for head and eels for hair, bowls are made in all shapes from sea horses to shells, round and oval.

They use 6 types of wood: king ebony, a black rare hardwood that is the most expensive, queen ebony, black and brown or yellowish streaked wood, a little less rare and still expensive, kerosene wood which is a beautiful rich cafe con leche color specked with darker grain or maybe bittersweet chocolate with darker grain, rosewood, a pinkish wood that still grows abundantly, and then coconut wood, shell pink with streaks of what you would think of as coconut shell color. They also use a yellow wood that is from the jackfruit tree. I love all of them but this, as I find it too garish. Some of them also carve washed up whale bone or teeth.

I could look for hours at these carvings. I was searching for small gifts, special wedding presents, and big pieces for the house we will one day live in again. I was successful finding the small bowls and am still searching for the masterpiece and special wedding gifts. It was challenging not buying something from everyone and we found ourselves asking what we could buy from our favorite friends just to support them. For most of them this is the only income they have.

There are not many avenues for marketing. Some of the carvers sell their work thorough a wholesaler or hold out until a tourist boat, a mega yacht, or cruiser arrives and there are not many of us. It is a hard life as they need fuel to go places and reach the big boats when every now and then one anchors somewhere nearby. They have no lights and want generators, solar panels and batteries to replace their kerosene lamps to be able to see at night. They borrow tools and use routers when they can. They need money for school, supplies, clothes and rice, flour, and sugar. Most of them catch their meals, as fish are still abundant in some areas. Logging and mining threaten to choke out the reefs. Some families sell logging rights but few benefit from the companies ravaging of these islands and most suffer. For the future of the Solomon Islands and for the future of the Marovo Lagoon I hope more families will refuse to allow their land to be destroyed.

After 4 wonderful days in Telina, we left to visit Robert, our dive guide from Uepi at his home in Chombikope. We again navigated through shallow water and reefs and found a place to anchor in between coral heads and waited for Robert to appear. Kids came cautiously out in canoes like an army of ants, a few shyly said hello, giggled and paddled in circles curiously around Dreamkeeper. They hadn't seen a yacht in two years and before that only one yacht came the year before. We were strangers and the newest thing to come to the village in a long time. After Robert asked us to come to his village 5 times we knew he really wanted us to come and we promised to be there. It was an honor.

We were greeted shyly throughout the village and over thirty kids followed us at different times during our walk though the village, copying our greeting tone of hello, hello, hello as we passed people on the muddy walking trail, doing laundry at one of the few taps, or relaxing at home. We went to see the beginning of a new war canoe being built, and walked up to Robert's house, with million dollar views and a cooling breeze blowing up from the lagoon. Sipping green coconuts on his porch, we discussed the presidential election with his family and were asked many questions about the presidential hopefuls and their running mates. We have found that people all over the Solomons tune into BBC and Australia news on any radio they can find. Many of them knew more than we did about the state of the world and the financial crisis.

After talking story with Robert's family we decided to escape the heat and go spear-fishing. Robert needed dinner. Truthfully, the boys went and I just went for a swim in murky water and enjoyed sitting under a rainsquall at the bow of the dingy like a mermaid. It was heavenly to be submersed in water, and be alone, well almost alone, for a few hours. Robert speared two coral trout and a Spanish-mackerel. Gar shot a kingfish that got away. Watching Robert underwater is amazing. He never trolls or jigs lines to fish, he only spears; he is a true waterman.

The morning of our last day we met Robert for a walk to see the views. He tried to send some of his kids back, one to go to school, the other girl to stay with her mother, as she was only four. Instead, his 3 boys raced up the mountain and his little girl lead us up the trail behind her. This was her first time up the mountain and Robert had been promising her she could come sometime. All of them scrambled over the limestone and mud paths barefoot. We followed a katsom trail that their grandfathers used to hide from neighboring villages in the bush when they would come in headhunting days.

The kids stopped only to pick wild rose apples, and gather ngali nuts and crack them open with rocks. The boys slipped into the forest and surprised us jumping out of the bushes. As we climbed, the trail grew steeper and our shirts stuck to us like wet towels. We used roots as a ladder. At one point we walked on a roots no wider than 4 inches and clung to roots as thick as my fingers. We wound through this forest and felt the heat of the day settle under the branches taunting us and hornbills whooshed above us like helicopter blades. At last we were at the radio tower where we could see the emerald green islands surrounded by the aquamarine and azul waters of Marovo and our boat lying at anchor beneath us. His four year old daughter made it without incident or whining, a good example for parenting in the future. Everyone was sweating and hot in the glaring sun so we headed down the hill to say goodbye for what we thought was the last time.

The last 5 days in Marovo lagoon were spent at three different anchorages. Two of them carving villages where people had invited us to visit their homes We first headed to Sasaghana to visit Albert, another incredible carver who had invited us to his village. At high noon we wove through reefs that rose form the lagoon like gems and found our way safely in the lee of tiny Sasaghana. We were welcomed by the first yacht we'd seen in a week, a Kiwi boat, Daemon, as well as 5 canoes full of kids. It was the first time in years the village had had two yachts at the same time.

The Sasaghana carvers were away with all of the carvers from the entire lagoon at a beach 4 miles away, trying to sell their work to a megayacht who had arranged to see everybodys work at once on the beach. Some of them paddled dugout canoes early in the morning to stake out the best spots on the beach. Some of them slept there to wait until morning, and others tried to collect enough fuel to make it out there to hopefully sell something that would be worth it. We never saw Albert because we were told he had sold some pieces and had been invited by the mega yacht to accompany them to Honiara where he would try to sell the rest of his incredible pieces. George also told us Rocky, from Telina village, had sold three wood carvings, the whale bone carving, and was in negotiation for the US $10,000 "Spirit of the Solomons" masterpiece. The next day we toured the village again, stopping at the woodcarver's homes with a train of kids behind us, Josea leading the pack. We bought a coffee can full of roasted ngali nuts (a cross between an almond and macadamia nut) and two coconut bowls and were off for Seghe and our last village stop in the Marovo lagoon.

Seghe was our town stop and a place to wait for good light to navigate the tricky reef strewn passage to Mbarejo village. We briefly snorkeled a downed WWII P38 fighter plane almost perfectly preserved. We could have stayed a while but chose to get out before any crocks were lured to our splashing again and again as we dove to inspect the plane and the soft corals growing under the wing. We spent two nights here, resting, doing boat projects, and waiting for the clouds to clear so we would have good navigating to Mbarejo.

I stood in the mast steps helping to navigate what we thought would be a tricky passage. The chart we got in Honiara at the land office was extremely helpful and my hawk eyes proved unnecessarily helpful. The first man we met in Mbarejo was Aldio Pita, the woodblock artist our friends, Bruce and Jill, on SV Daemon was looking for. He told us of his successes with art competitions and an unusual opportunity to participate in a marketing class as one of 25 Solomon Islands best artists.

He gave us a tour of Mbarejo, stopping at the carver's homes. Unfortunately, most of the great carvers were away having just delivered a supply of new carvings to a wholesaler and were waiting three days to be paid for their work. We bought a few more gifts from Aldio's wontok (his extended family members) and a woodblock print of Kesoko, the god of fishing. Daemon stayed three days and got a 6-foot canvas block printed for their wall. Again, it would have been easy to stay as our welcome was genuine and there were many people to learn from and talk story with. Instead, we followed our track out the reef and anchored safely in front of Uepi Dive Resort again for a day to try to photograph Gar swimming with sharks and a have a final farewell before leaving the pass for the Arnavon Islands.

Our quarterberth is now full of carvings and our hearts are overflowing with love, respect, gratitude, and hope for our friends in the Marovo lagoon. Robert visited us a final time, as he was back to work at Uepi after a week off. We promised to try to return and visit him someday and we meant it. A hug sealed our friendship, and my tears reminded me how lucky we are.

Reflection in the Squalls

October 2-5, 2008

Blog Location: Passage from Torres Islands to Honiara, Solomon Islands
Blogger Current Location: Honiara, Solomon Islands

The rain has many voices. This morning it starts as Tap..Tap..Tap and then opens up to prtttthhhhuuuuuuuuu, drumbeats of torrential rain pour out of the sky. I squinted my eyes in the dreamy darkness and rolled over thinking today was not a good day to start a three-day passage. Willing myself back to sleep while wishing for the constant squalls to stop, I waited for daybreak and a new weather report to forecast our destiny.

We woke to more rain, an ebb and flow of powerful deluges like only the tropics can bring and then nothing and then it would come again, like a strange apparition that comes and leaves and then returns again and again. In between rain squalls the birds sung and flitted about, when the sheets of rain ran out of the mountains they were silent and still, paralyzed in a way like we were.

Peering through our rain spotted and steamy dodger sipping tea and coffee, we weighed our options. There weren't any. We considered waiting a day but then we would likely be riding bigger seas and seeing increased wind and most likely the same drumming rain. In between torrential downpours we scurried around the deck, collecting wet things, storing them as best as we could below and eventually raising the anchor. When I felt the familiar cold tap, tap against my skin, I scurried to the cockpit to deposit my shirt, what would be the only dry part of me today.

Day 2

Squally grey weather is never a good way for us to start a passage. Yesterday was no different. Squalls surrounded us until sunset. If you don't know what this looks like picture a white wall approaching and then surrounding you in rain or when they are bigger, a black monster of smoke making no effort to creep up on you. Sometimes, I hold my breath and the wheel for what might be strong winds and likely wet, wet rain.

The rain has many voices; it comes as forest rain, somehow falling gently though leaves that don't exist, icy snow tinkling, bubbles popping, snakes hissing, and buckets dumping. All of it was raw. The seas climbed higher throughout the day and rainsqualls circled us in a 24-mile radius, the radar looked like a yellow mass, lightning ignited the sky and I felt very, very small.

I steered down 12-foot seas; surfing at 7.5-8 knots with winds of over 20knots and what I am sure now was a white knuckled death grip. It wasn't that this was any worse than it has been, probably even better conditions but it all comes down to a frame of mind. I was raw and tattered around the edges. I questioned my choices, willed Gar to wake up and keep me company in the dreary cockpit and wanted to click my heels like Dorothy and transport myself anywhere but here.

Today is different. Waking at 4 am, I find myself rested from three hours of deep sleep, happy to see what few stars are pricking their way though this layer of darkness where the horizon line is indistinguishable.

At thirteen hundred hours, the sun is shining brilliantly again. It always makes me happy to be surrounded by light. The boat is handling beautifully under a single reefed main, surfing down 10-foot waves at 6-8 knots. A sailors dream. By 1400 the clouds are building again in the west. I hope they only bring cool relief.

It's time to make a decision. We are headed to Santa Ana, an island 180 miles from Honiara. At this speed we will arrive at 0100 and have to wait until light to navigate our passage into the anchorage. Do we wait 6 plus hours outside the entrance to enjoy what is supposed to be an idyllic and beautiful anchorage and village or seize the wind and sail on to Honiara? It was a tough decision but we're of the same mind. One hundred and eighty miles to Honiara.

0100 hours night 3. Lightning flashes in the North, illuminating the layers of clouds that stack upwards and the slick texture of the sea. We are headed west with a one knot current with us at 5 knots under a double reefed main in 12 knots of wind after heaving to (basically stopping) for three hours so we will have light to navigate a passage through the reefs leading into Honiara.

The seas have settled down, rocking us now, almost like a comforting mother and the winds are singing sweet songs again. I can smell earth, fish, and sweet nectar.

0500 58 miles to go. The wind has all but stopped breathing and the batteries are super low. I turn on the iron horse and we're off. We leave behind a wake of comet dust, swirling phosphorescence stars in a sea of black.

It's always a little strange making landfall in a new place. This place is no different. At 1000 we are sailing through lead green waters of Iron Bottom Sound in Guadalcanal under an appropriate gunmetal grey sky. Perhaps you've heard of the Solomon Islands and Guadalcanal, most likely because you are a war history buff, possibly a passionate diver, or a Melanesian art collector.

Guadalcanal has been a dangerous place. In the 1800's Blackbirders from Australia came to take over 30,000 locals basically as slaves to work in the fields. In 1942 the Japanese occupied Guadalcanal. During the war 67 warships were sunk in what is now called Iron Bottom Sound, around 5000 American and 25,000 Japanese lives were lost. There is no record of how many brave and loyal Solomon Islander lives were lost. In early 1999 Guadalcanal was home again to battle, this time between Solomon Islanders.

The Gwele people of Guadalcanal were resentful their land was being settled by migrants from Malaita, many of whom held positions in government and worked in the palm oil industry. In 1999 the Guadalcanal Revolutionary Army began terrorizing Malaitisians, which led to many people fleeing their homes and heading back to Malaita. This led to the total collapse of the palm oil industry that was 1/5 of the countries income. The rebels became bolder and stole police arms and ammunition. The Malaita's retaliated with heavy ammo themselves. It was a mess.

There was deep corruption in the government. Over a hundred people had died. The rebels raided the goldmine that was producing half of the Solomon Islands GDP while a Japanese fishing company stopped fishing and closed their cannery after one of their boats was hijacked. The government and country were effectively bankrupt.

In 2003 Australia stepped in and sent troops, facilitated a peace agreement and offered $850 million reconstruction aid. This seems to be a second chance for the Solomon Islands. Currently, the situation seems to be peaceful and the rebuilding of the country has been underway for sometime. There seem to be numerous foreign aid organizations here: World Vision, Oxfam, Save the Children, EU Microfinance, ProSolutions as well as a few environmental NGO's like and The Nature Conservancy, Seacology, and World Wildlife Fund.

We motored into Honiara with some trepidation, as it was a new port and possibly a tricky anchorage. We bet how many cruiser boats might be in the tiny anchorage; I said 3-4 Gar said 5. We were both wrong. We were the only ones. It is always helpful to have local information and help. We had great info thanks to Captain Bobby from Barraveigh link who had just been here a month before.

We tried to follow his suggestions: to take a mooring or anchor along the concrete wall and tie a stern line to the jetty. We looked for any empty mooring lines and circled one fire hose like coil bobbing off of a concrete wall. Could we grab it? Who could we call? Usually cruisers are only too happy to help a new boat get settled but like I said, we were the only ones. We weighed our options and tried to decide what to do. I looked longingly at a white local in a little runaround wishing for insight while guys from a fishing boat sped circles around us. The white guy finally came to our aid and helped us to tie to the mooring.

We lowered the dink, got our stern line ready and reversed into our spot. From there I would have to row to shore, secure the dinghy, tie our line to massive concrete blocks while Gar tried to hold the boat in place while not drifting with our prop-walk to the local boat beside us. After one practice run we realized we needed a longer stern line. The secondary anchor rode came out and voila; we had 350 feet of line to use. We needed only 240. The guys from the fishing boat watched us with interest. I wasn't sure if they were taking stock in our boat and what might be lifted or were entertained by what must have looked like a silly process of scampering up and down the companion way, bringing the dink forward like a dog to stack the line, me hopping in and holding onto DK while we reversed again into our spot.

Finally, we were welcomed to Honiara with the help of the fisherman who motioned for us to give them the line and they would go to shore. I gratefully obliged. Leading our thick Megabraid line out, we watched and held our breath needlessly twice when we thought it would get mangled in their prop. We should have known better. They were skilled boat people and helped us to nestle comfortably into our rolly home in Honiara.

Once it all sunk in the heat hit us like a wave. It is so powerful it can stop me from doing almost anything, while the humidity makes me sweat in places I didn’t know I had. The sweet sticky smell of copra hangs in the air like fried food and I now long for the rain.