Breaking free of Solomon Islands – time to leave

Day 2,227 since October 10th 2013: 189 countries out of 203. No flight, no return home and min 24 hrs in each country 

(The opinions expressed on this site are my own, and do not reflect the position or policies of the Danish Red Cross).  

We are on schedule

Pano

The good ship “Capitaine Quiros”, which has kindly been facilitated by our friends at Neptune Pacific Line, is due to arrive in Honiara on Sunday. I am ready for her. She will somehow become our home until early December.

What just happened?!? Was that another week already? It feels like it just blasted by (last weeks entry). By the way - we recently passed 2,222 days of the Saga and 3,333 days wont happen untilI three years from now. I spent most of this week staying at Island Breeze AirBNB which is operated by Lo and Manuel. I unfortunately never got to meet Lo as she was in Brazil but Manuel was around and took good care of me. They have six hens in the garden which lay six eggs each day. So you’re welcome to fresh eggs every morning if you can find the eggs in their huge garden. I never found a single one. But Manuel knows what he is doing and made sure there were always eggs in the kitchen. He is a pretty cool guy who simplified works within the preservation and health of forests all around the world. He is German and has been working in Solomon Islands for the past two years. Lo is Brazilian and works for JICA which I have stumbled upon all across the world. Too bad I never got to talk to her about it.

AirBNB

With my feet up at Island Breeze AirBNB.

One day took the next. Some days I wouldn’t even leave their home. I’d just get some work done. Sleep a bit more than usual. Watch a few movies and read in my book. Their home is near the American War Memorial so within a few minutes of walking I had spectacular views over the green hills which the Japanese and US Americans fought so hard to dominate in 1942-1943. The Japanese were kicked out and it was a turning point for WWII. However Solomon Islands is so much more than World War Two stories. People have lived here for at least 4,000 years and the first European ship arrived in 1568. I wonder what life would have been like around here? Sparsely populated for sure. It is too hot for clothes. The islands’ ocean-equatorial climate is extremely humid throughout the year, with a mean temperature of 26.5 °C (79.7 °F). People would have been nearly naked. Coconuts, papaya, fish…the occasional raid by a headhunting tribe. Tattoos used to be a thing around here but the European Christians saw it as paganism so it was condemned and almost disappeared. It is coming back now with the youth claiming their cultural heritage. Island life. It is easy here in comparison to other places around the world. Clean drinking water runs out of the mountains and towards the ocean. There is food and fertile soil everywhere. Edible fruits grow left and right and the sea is full of fish. I’ve been developing a slight addiction towards SolTuna’s chili tuna!

memorial

The American War Memorial in Honiara. It glorifies war but has a nice view and entry is free.

I feel like Solomon Islands is in some ways falling victim to the same image as Vietnam in that a war dominates the narrative. Vietnam was packed with various kingdoms and cultural advances for thousands of years until the Vietnam War got its soundtrack. WWII mostly touched the Solomon Islands for a year seventy years ago in a history of more than 4,000 years. Well, WWII is certainly more relatable to the western world (which started it) than the 174 languages which are spoken across these islands. For a lack of a better word the Solomon Islands are paradise. Honiara which is the capital is more like a village than a city and it has lots of cool things going on. However it doesn’t represent the calming sound of the waves hitting the shore, the chirping birds, the wind in the trees or laughter of children playing in the sand. For that you need to drive about twenty minutes out of Honiara. If you drive forty minutes out of Honiara you pretty much loose the signal on your phone.

beach left2

Change is upon Solomon Islands and they too are living in 2019. In most cases they are ahead of us as they are far closer to the International Date Line than rest of the world. As such I am now ten hours ahead of my native country…the Kingdom of Denmark in the Great North of Europe. When I get up in the morning my fiancée goes to bed. The best time for us to communicate is now during my afternoon and her morning – before I go to bed. It doesn’t make a long distance relationship any easier. But we are pulling through. I am essentially living in the future compared to many of you. When the sun shines on me you people are in the dark. Would you like to know the lottery numbers? Nah – some of you are right here with me. My Aussie friends are in this time zone too.

laundry

Laundry day Saga-style. 

I’ve done a bit of socializing since returning from the Western Province. I’ve had several great conversations with Manuel (Island Breeze AirBNB). He once lived on Borneo and sort of introduced the concept of a hammock to the locals. Certainly the locals he was working with. I met up with Wayne Lorimer from Sullivans Shipping who are the agent for Neptune Pacific Line in Honiara. Wayne is the CEO and introduced me to Jeff Moore who is their Chairman. The three of us met up at Heritage Park Hotel. Those two gentlemen are quite the characters! It was a great encounter and plenty of stories were shared. Much like the Caribbean was nearly “Wild West themed” back in the 70s, so were the Solomon Islands. People come and go. Some stay. Jeff is a very well-travelled man who is less than twenty countries off for reaching all of them. So he is used to be the most travelled man in the room but not that night. He invited me back to his sons place for dinner and we said farewell to Wayne who had other business. That ended up being a very good evening. Jeff’s son James is a formidable cook and interesting persona himself. His girlfriends (from Fiji) was there too and together we enjoyed some lamb and wine before James took me back to Island Breeze AirBnB.

Ross

This well-traveled banner was given to me by Ross DK who have been a partner since the Saga began. Getting a picture for them isn't always easy though ;) 

There is a great deal of kindness around this world of ours. I know that better than most now that I have seen and felt it across 189 countries. We still have work to do and the world is far from perfect – however never forget that the billions of people we share this planet with are mostly just kind hearted people who only want the best for themselves, the people they love and those who they encounter. As such I met up with the Solomon Islands Red Cross Society last week. They are located in New China Town which is actually the old part of China Town in Honiara but that is the way names go. If you are ever introduced to a guy nicknamed “Tiny” then he is likely huge.

There is no doubt that paying a visit to the movement across 185 countries has been a unique experience. It has also been a lot work!! For years I have been generating weekly RC updates on Facebook and Instagram calling them RC SUNDAY (Red Cross, Red Crescent, Red Crystal). Hopefully such updates have helped generate visibility while enlightening some of the aspects of the humanitarian work, which takes place worldwide. Perhaps someone based on those updates has begun volunteering. Perhaps someone has made a donation. Well…what is perhaps? I know that people have. People write me now and again and tell me that they have donated blood for the first time. They have made a Christmas donation to the RC or that they have begun doing volunteering work. Volunteering work does by the way not mean you need to spend ten hours week working for the movement. Although I have met people who do! You can volunteer a few hours each month and still be making a difference. There are more than 12,000,000 volunteers across 191 countries. The hours add up ;)

RC

Solomon Islands Red Cross HQ in Honiara.

Here in the Solomon Islands the work I put in was rewarded with genuine hearth warmth from Solomon Island Red Cross Society. We sat down in a semicircle at their headquarters and I began to tell them about the Saga. Then they had a few questions for me which I answered as best as I could. We naturally also talked about what they do. The Solomon Islands Red Cross Society keep themselves busy across their nearly 1,000 islands with humanitarian activities within commercial and community-based First Aid Training, with Disaster Management, with Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Promotion, they run Health Programmes, promote human values and much, much more. The Red Cross Special Development Centre in Honiara provides education for children with special needs and that especially caught my ear. We should all be thankful for the humanitarian work which is carried out each day. The RC movement began in 1863 and has now spread all around the world to nearly every country (191) and I encourage you to donate, volunteer or in other ways support the humanitarian efforts and alleviate the suffering of the most vulnerable people. You matter and so do your actions.

beach right2

A few days later RC Secretary General Clement Manuri invited me out for a spin. He picked me up in his 4WD and together we headed out of town making a stop on the way to pick up some refreshments. We were on our way to Vilu War Museum some 25 km (15 mi) out of Honiara but stopped along the way to check in on his two sons. They were enjoying the day at a beautiful beach together with their friends. As soon as you get out of Honiara the coast becomes segregated by countless small basic resorts which cater to those who which to get out of town for a day. After checking in on the boys we continued up the coast to the Museum and stopped in the shade under some trees. The woman who runs the place and is supposedly an expert on everything within the open air museum was in Honiara for the day so we walked about unguided. To me it looked like a private collection of airplane wrecks, canons and artillery from WWII. And it was quite a collection! The experience of walling about in an environment, which might as well have been a botanical garden, dotted with wrecked aircrafts of various kinds was somewhat surreal. Clement had been there before and showed me a few curiosities I wouldn’t have noticed on my own.

airplane

A US Corsair fighter at Vilu War Museum. I've heard that years ago the exhibition featured the Japanese planes with skeletons in them.

Clement comes from a part of the islands where they have “more than a hundred different types of bananas”. The entirety of this country might as well be a botanical garden. On our way back to Honiara we snacked on bananas and local nuts. Clement is a really good guy. We talked about Solomon Islands and we spoke about the RC movement across the world. How the Kenyan Red Cross has a privatized ambulance service with well over 200 ambulances and also operate a five star hotel (The Boma). How the Iranian Red Crescent has its own factory in which they produce uniforms, blankets, tents and more all while operating a fleet of helicopters. We spoke of how the Danish Red Cross operates in nearly a quarter of the world’s countries. We talked about the Thai Red Cross and how they have the world’s second oldest snake farm, which they use to a) generate awareness, b) create anti-venom for local snakebites and c) collaborate with WHO on finding cures and treatments for diseases. The Secretary Generals from all 191 countries will soon be meeting at the Red Cross General Assembly. They will check into hotel rooms, listen to speeches, make new contacts, learn from each other, generate more synergy and fly back to their countries a week later. I wonder how many of those Secretary Generals I would have met? It may seem daunting for a Secretary General from a small island nation to sit around a table with people from Kenya, Iran, Denmark and Thailand…but there is reassurance in knowing that they are all family working towards a mutual cause.

blond

Yes, there are blond headed islanders around here. But not as many as you might think and mostly children.

I have been frequenting Tradco Shipping’s office. They are the agent for Swire and the ship I arrived on. Jenny is back now. She is the country manager and originates from the British Virgin Islands (BVI) in the Caribbean. Is that a country or a territory? ;) Jenny has been working in Honiara for about 18 months now and is definitely “switched on”. I love that expression. It is not everywhere I come across it but Jenny mentioned it in our first conversation in relation to someone else. “Switched on” means that someone or an entire group is attentive and functioning well. When I first arrived to Honiara my point of contact was Francis from PNG (Agency Manager) who also coordinated the talk I did at the office. Back then Jenny was traveling. I have been in and out of the Tradco Office a lot and am always welcomed with smiles and handshakes. When I came back to Honiara after a week or more in the Western Province, Jenny had returned and quickly suggested that I could stay at her home where she has a guestroom. So that is where I am now. Fortunately for me Jenny is not just a hardworking woman but she is also a formidable chef who even happens to have a refrigerator full of chocolate! Yeah – I’m well taken care of again :)

Movie1

NEW VIDEO! Click on the image or HERE to view this short video!

Movie2

NEW VIDEO! Click on the image or HERE to view this short video!

Movie3

NEW VIDEO! Click on the image or HERE to view this short video!

I however left Honiara for a day to head out to a place called B17 on the map. Guadalcanal is littered with WWII airplanes, tanks, submarines and what not. It makes for some really interesting diving and snorkeling. An US American bomber lies 50 m (164 ft) into the ocean at 15 m (50 ft) depth. There are some self-contained guest huts there too and even a room for backpackers. It was Manuel from Island Breeze AirBNB who suggested the place. It took less than an hour to reach from Honiara as I shifted between three minibuses. The roads are not in excellent condition but the music the drivers play is cheerful. And everyone is so unbelievably helpful towards strangers. Even when they think I’m Australian which is not a favorite nationality to all around here. When I say I’m from Denmark then people get even friendlier as if that was even possible. It is a strange concept for people to grasp how far away from home I am. The entire “it is dark there when it is light here” thing is received as if I was telling people that a spaceship had landed. It is a weird thing to grasp and we will be going even further east…

B17

I sat here and spotted hundreds of dolphins while eating fresh papaya.

B12 is quite the getaway spot. The grandmother who runs the place was sick with malaria and not feeling to well. As such I got to deal with the granddaughter on my arrival. She would have been around twenty years old and gave me a discount without me asking for it. I had my own hut less than a stone throw from the beach. I had a porch and set up my hammock which I had brought along for my small retreat. It did not take long before I fell asleep to the soothing sounds of waves coming in on the shore. Before the sun set I spent some time looking at crabs running in and out of their holes. I observed small lizards doing lizardy stuff in the nearby plants. Nobody was bothering me. A few dogs seemed curious about the newly arrived Viking and I had no phone reception apart from when I stood as close to the ocean as I could get.

moon

My phone is rubbish at taking photos at night. However this full moon added enough light to do the trick.

I went to bed shortly after the sun had set. The next morning I got up and bought a papaya on the street side from an old man who smiled and said: “buy one get one free”. The daughter of the owner had offered me a slice of watermelon the day before so I handed her my extra papaya. Then I sat down at the terrace and looked across the ocean where I observed a hundred or more dolphins making their way along the coast. Pretty good way to start the day. A mouse had been to visit me during the night and had bitten its way through the plastic my bread was contained within. It had also removed a good chunk of the bread. It had furthermore thanked me by taking a dump on the kitchen counter next to the bread. Thank you Mr Mouse. The entire hut was fashioned by local materials, bamboo, palm leaves, wood, stones and stuff like that. Great little place. I left it around noon and made my way back to Jenny’s place where I have typed up this for you.

final food

Just a little something Jenny heated for our dinner :)

And that is all there is to say this time. Well I guess I could add that Valli and Shu whom I met at the Red Cross brought me along for a viewing at the film festival in Honiara. We watched "HerStory" which was about the long road for women to be accepted as equals at Solomon Islands correctional facilities. And now Honiara is putting on a fashion show so stuff is constantly going on.The good ship “Capitaine Quiros” is due to arrive on Sunday and will likely leave Monday at the latest. I figure it will take two-three days to reach Nauru and that is a special country in every sense. Nauru is basically a pointy mountaintop sticking out of the ocean making it hard to build a port. So large ships need to offload containers with the ships cranes onto barges which bring them ashore. Ashore they are then handled by cranes for a second time and all of this naturally takes time. Throw in some island mentality and we are looking at 8-14 days in Nauru before the good ship, along with, continues to Fiji. And that is logistics for you. I’m sooooo looking forward to this leg of the Saga because it has been in planning for a very, very long time…and now it is finally all coming together. 7-9-13 and knock on wood ;)

 

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Mr. Torbjørn C. Pedersen (Thor) - ready for the next adventures. 
"A stranger is a friend you've never met before"

 

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Once Upon A Saga

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Fire, water, tranquillity and a ghost – Solomon Islands without flying

Day 2,221 since October 10th 2013: 189 countries out of 203. No flight, no return home and min 24 hrs in each country 

(The opinions expressed on this site are my own, and do not reflect the position or policies of the Danish Red Cross).  

Blog number 323…

pano

It has been exhausting lately but worth it….I think? I have certainly learned a lot, seen a lot, heard a lot, tasted a lot, met a lot of people, thought a lot and not slept enough.

In last week’s entry we were preparing to take the Saga to Pastor Frazer on another island. A village elder I just randomly met on a ferry. However I never got to tell you about Barney and he is too much of a character to leave out. While still in Munda someone suggested that I should check out the museum. More specifically the war museum. Munda seemed too small to have a museum but much of this country was touched by Second World War so it did not seem unlikely that there could be a museum. I asked if it was worthwhile and was told yes. So I headed in the general direction of it and after speaking to a handful of different people I found the location. To call it a “museum” was a bit of a stretch. However it was a marvelous collection. There was a locked wooden shed near a house and plenty of basic war relics surrounding the shed. I was all alone. I called out a few times but got no response. I walked around the shed keeping an eye on two lazy dogs sleeping in the sun. They never jumped up and barked at me. The grass was high and it was hot. I could look into the shed which was packed with minor artifacts from WWII. Then Barney showed up on his bicycle. He was one big smile.

Barney1

Barney - what a guy! :)

He said something about having been to the airstrip and possibly also the ongoing Lagoon Festival. Then he proceeded to unlock the shed and invite me inside. That was my first meeting with this energetic man. Apparently he has been digging up “foxholes” and “spider holes” since childhood. From speaking with Barney I gathered that he has been busy collecting whatever he could find from WWII since the 70s. It was truly an impressive collection of bullets, grenades, spoons, forks, mirrors, riffles, helmets, trays, bayonets, mines, flasks, belt buckles, artillery, cigarettes…you name it…it was there! Artifacts from the Japanese and the Americans. And most items where duplicated several times over. Barney was amazing! He knew the particular history of every item. He could answer everything as if he had been in the battle himself. Barney had read multiple books on the war and was simply a charming, living fountain of information.

Barney2

Somehow we began speaking about the competitions at the Lagoon Festival and that it had taken them several hours to build a fire by rubbing wood together. I asked Barney if he could do it and he replied that he often does when he is out of matches. Then he suggested to show me how. Good stuff. He collected some wood from a coconut tree which he had already prepared. The wood from a coconut tree is strong but lightweight which is the key to starting a fire. The bark had already been peeled off and he had even smoked the wood so it was dry. But the principle remained. Within five minutes he had a fire going and that was on his third attempt as we had a bit too much wind where we were seated. “Normally one time. This time three” he huffed out of breath. I got it all on video and will get it online once I have the chance. Amazing character that Barney. I met him in town later the same day where he waived at me and smiled with his mouth full of betel nut.

Barney fire

Success!!!

The rain fell every afternoon while I was in Munda and I enjoyed sitting on the terrace listening to it. The occasional thunder and lightning accompanying it. That evening I sat on the terrace long after the sun had set. Then two Germans who were also staying at the home stay returned and we quickly found our way into a conversation which lasted for hours. Kerstin and Klaus were on their way around the globe on a 14 month long journey. What an adventure! They were both older than me which made it even more fantastic. So many people just talk and dream. It is great when people go out and do. It reminds me that my friends Helle and Peter from Denmark left the little kingdom in the high north of Europe earlier this year on their personal journey around the globe. Something they have been planning and looking forward to for months. They are in their forties (except Helle who is perpetually 29). I too look forward to traveling someday. Traveling for pleasure and not for obligation. The Saga has gone on for long enough and it is packed with stress, work and obligation. In many parts of the world achieving even small tasks gets unnecessary complicated and lengthy. On the bright side Solomon Islands have offered me something out of the ordinary while waiting for the good ship “Capitaine Quiros” to take us to Nauru. And that began the next day.

Munda walk

Munda: I've seen people on four continents carry goods on their head.

I was sorry to leave Munda and partially because I did not have the chance to say farewell to several of the people I had met. It was my intention to return to the Lagoon Festival the evening before but it got late and I had a good time with the Germans. I had been asking around for information on “the ferry” from nearby Noro to Gizo. I might have asked twenty people without getting much wiser. In the process I discovered that there even was a ferry leaving from Munda to Gizo although it quite possibly…maybe…definitely…perhaps…absolutely…occasionally would go from Munda to Noro and pick up more passengers before heading to Gizo. And these ferries would leave at 7am…or 7:30…or 8am…or 10am or something. I didn’t want to miss the ferry. The ferry from Munda costs SBD 170 and the one from Noro costs SBD 150 (USD 21 and 18). Do you remember Pierre? Well last week’s entry ended with a picture of him. Good guy! Pierre is an early bird and starts every day around 5am so he suggested he could pick me up and drop me off at the port in Noro. So I had an early start and left Munda before the village woke up. Soon after we were at the port where a “ferry” turned out to be a speedboat with six seats. And there were plenty of them. It appeared to be of a “we leave when we are full” kind of arrangement. I was quickly shown to a boat and said farewell to Pierre who headed off to the office. I sat next to a nice fellow from Fiji named William. Then the boat driver turned up and made his way around us to the back where the motor was attached and then he lost his balance and went overboard!! He landed in the water with a big splash and it took a while before people could comprehend that it actually happened - but once they did the laughter roared!! Especially from the other boat drivers. We got out of there in a hurry ;)

ferry small

This may look tranquil. However we were going fast and it was noisy.

During the boat ride we made several stops at small villages looking for more passengers like we commonly do with shared taxis, minibuses and full size buses in many countries around the world. But this was boat-style so kind of new to me. It was beautiful. Early morning and beautiful. We blasted past a small island which William pointed to and shouted “Kennedy Island” over the loud engine which was pushing us forward at speeds around 33 kph (20 mph). Last week I promised you that story about Kennedy so here we go. John F. Kennedy (JFK), who is best known as a former president of the USA, was a lieutenant during WWII and onboard a Patrol Torpedo boat on August 1st 1943 near Blackett Strait in Solomon Islands. A Japanese destroyer collided with them in the middle of the night and the entire crew of JFK’s boat ended up in the water in enemy territory. Long story short, under JFK’s command, they all swam to nearby Kasolo Island 3.6 km (2.25 mi) away. From there JFK swam far into Blancket Strait where he treaded water for an hour before returning to Kasolo Island having assessed the situation. Later he commanded the crew to swim to the larger Olasana Island hoping for better circumstances. That was another 2 km (1.25 mi) swim in hostile territory. The next day JFK who had been on the Harvard swim team, swam 900m (0.55 mi) to Naru Island where he, and another crew member who accompanied him, found a hidden canoe, made contact with some Solomon Islanders, carved a message into a coconut and eventually made contact with the US Navy and got everyone saved. Then years later he went on to become the president of the United States of America. Now THAT was a leader.

Kennedy

"Kennedy Island" in 2019,

The voyage across from Noro to Gizo only took an hour with our powerful 40 horse power engine. We were the first boat across that day and I immediately reunited with Pastor Frazer who had come to meet with me. Together we went to the local market where he introduced me to some people and I found some breakfast. We were waiting for a truck to arrive which doubled as a bus to and from the small coastal village of Vori Vori. However after several hours the rumor spread that all the trucks had been hired by Save the Children so we opted to travel to Vori Vori by boat. Another speed boat with a much smaller motor took us on the 40 minute boat ride along the coast. There was a strong wind from one side which carried a lot of water from the ocean to my face and before reaching our destination I was drenched. But it was warm and wonderfully serene.

beach clear

The beach at Vori Vori.

As we began to make our way inland Frazer, who is the village elder, explained that the village used to be directly on the beach but it was removed from the surface of this planet by the double disaster of 2007 which was first an earthquake followed by three tsunami waves. In detail he explained how nobody was injured and how they all made their way up into the nearby hills where the village is located today. All which remains from the old village today are three gravestones cemented into the ground. Frazer’s father who was chief, Frazer's mother and his older brother.

vori hut

My home in Vori Vori.

The new village had been moved to higher grounds by the government. It was a beautiful and tranquil area with green fields surrounded by dense forest and vegetation. Butterflies, children, coconuts, blue skies…I was in for an experience. No electricity, no running water and no phone signal. Some of the houses had minor solar panels to power cell phones and floodlights. I was shown to a small house on stilts and given a room where a madras on the floor was located beneath a mosquito net. On the terrace outside a table had been set with tea, snacks and fresh coconuts. Frazer explained that I was his guests and that there were no set times for dining. “In Solomon we eat all the time”. That went on to become quite true. Frazer would also sleep on a madras right outside my room for as long as I was his guests. He is a kind and soft-spoken 65 year-wise man who until recently was the pastor of their Evangelical church which is now run by the much younger and equally kind Pastor Jonathan. Frazer assists him and keeps busy as the village elder. Frazer’s 24 year younger wife came to collect my salty wet clothes so she could wash them and they were soon hanging to dry in the fresh breeze. As it got dark we had some more food and everything was delicious. I slept like a baby that night.

vori food

Breakfast island style.

Frazer gets up at 5am as he is used to the early morning church service. I got out of bed around 8am. The church “bell” was a large empty high pressure bottle which was leaning up against a tree. They would bang a metal rod against it which made it sound identical to a church bell. Frazer asked me if the children could watch a movie on my laptop if he started the diesel powered generator to power it. Sure thing – no problem. He wanted to know if I had anything for children? Anything educational? Well I might not have anything educational but I travel with plenty of Disney and Pixar animated movies. Now he wanted to know if I had anything with jungle animals? Maybe something with a snake? Well I had the Jungle Book and suggested that one. Frazer was happy with the choice, the children huddled in around my laptop and the movie began.

movie1

vori hike

Frazer leads the way through the hot dense forest.

Meanwhile Frazer and I were looking for a spot where I could get a signal on my phone. I was expecting an important and time sensitive email. We haven’t reached 189 countries by coincidence you know and there is a lot of work behind it. We ended up leaving Vori Vori and walking up a large hill for about an hour until I basically stood underneath the tower. From there I found signal. I guess the forest was too dense and the hills got in the way everywhere else. I was online for about twenty minutes and got what I needed to get done. As we headed back we paused at a mighty tree which was being cut down for timber. Looking at the size of it I would have guessed that it was well over 100 years old but Frazer remembered when it was planted during a reforesting program some forty years ago. We decided to hang around to see it fall. After all you don’t get to see something that large fall every day. Frazer noticed that the tree could fall in the direction of a nearby house and commanded everyone out. The intention was to have it fall in another direction but you never know. The lumberjack had sawed his way deep into the massive trunk but not deep enough and now he was out of gas. So we ended up waiting for a long time before the work continued. But we had time. The heat was relentless but the work eventually continued and suddenly the tree fell in the exact direction of the house!! It fell so quickly that I only got the last 60% of the fall on video. I’ll upload it later – including the damage it did! It barely missed the house but the tree destroyed the kitchen which was in a separate little house next to the main house.

vori tree

This tree trunk is massive. The width of it is more than my height.

We returned to Vori Vori were the children (and grownups) wanted to watch another movie. The choice landed on the animated movie Despicable Me. That afternoon I was speaking with Pastor Jonathan who had not had a good night’s rest. Apparently his wife had panicked at 3am in the night when she had seen a white spirit at the foot end of Jonathan’s bed. According to her it was fanning him. Jonathan had tried to calm her down joking that it was nice to be fanned as he was very hot. But she had been through a horrible night. Spirits, ghosts and the supernatural. I have more than one explanation but if you want to believe you will believe. I later on suggested the religious Jonathan that it could have been an angel. Angels are white – right? I do not adhere to the supernatural and always try to seek out a natural explanation. But I will tell you this…that night when I left my bed to go to the outdoor latrine…I felt a little uneasy looking around me into the dark under the starlit sky ;) By the way – that same evening Frazer and I went to a nearby creek after dark and went skinny-dipping. We each brought a bar of soup and that became my bath. For days we had been drinking rain water and coconuts, we slaughtered a chicken for dinner and ate fresh fish from the sea. Quite the experience.

vori wood

Vori Vori.

When it turned Sunday I was invited to church which ran rather long. Music was a huge part of it but as the lecture/preaching ran a little long I dove into the bible reading a little from the beginning and the first seven days of creation, then I jumped to the end and for a while I dwelled in Leviticus reading up on Gods conversations with Moses and all the rules and restrictions given. You must throw blood on the tent, you must sacrifice animals, you may not eat pork or shellfish etc. It is from the Old Testament but these were directions given by God himself. So I would think they would count. And yet most Christians do not hold back when it comes to eating pork or shellfish and I’m not aware of any modern Christians throwing blood on tents or sacrificing animals. I found the wording interesting too. The bible said you may not do this or that 'as you will be unclean till evening'. I’m no lawyer but does that mean it is only bad until the evening comes and then all is good again? Ah…religion. Well last week I was unclear about which religion Frazer was practicing as his card read “Zarephath Local Church”. Now I know that they are Evangelical and that Zarephath is simply the name of their church (not the religion). The state religion in Denmark is by the way Evangelical Lutheran which I doubt most Danes know. Anyway – it’s down the same alley.

church in

Inside the church.

For more than six years I’ve been meeting people of various religions and denominations. And whenever people invite me I usually say yes and tag along. I have been to temples, mosques, churches, kingdom halls, sanctuaries, cathedrals, weddings and funerals. I’ve seen a lot by now. The world is far more religious than what I thought when I left home. However most people are quite moderate which is important to remember too. Frazer and Jonathan want to construct an evacuation center in Vori Vori as they are a proven tsunami affected area and also have annual December storms in which villagers need to be evacuated and seek refuge in Vori Vori. They are currently constructing a rest house which to me looked very much like a guest house. And the church was more or less a large assembly hall with a stage at the end. I would have thought that the church and the rest house combined could function as shelter during an emergency. However this was out of the question!! The church was a church and had to remain pure!! I cannot always follow people’s logic? But I am neither the elder, chief nor Pastor of Vori Vori.

church out

Outside the church. You can just make out the high pressure bottle "bell" against the right side of the tree.

vori group

Some of the absolutely lovely people of Vori Vori.

All the church goers joined in on a collective lunch afterwards and I was encouraged to try as much as possible from the local dishes. It was all quite amazing. Then Pastor Jonathan gave a lengthy speech in which he also honoured and thanked me for visiting Vori Vori. Jonathan’s speech was followed by a speech by Frazer in which he began to cry as he said farewell to me. I wasn’t leaving until the next day though but it was very touching. He had a hard time producing the words and had to dry his eyes several times. Before he finished he had explained that I was in fact the third Dane to visit Vori Vori over the years. The other two had been travellers in need of help arriving by boat. Afterward I was asked to say a few words to the roughly fifty people who were present. What could I say? I began by saying that I was thankful for being the “lucky number three”. I thanked everyone for their kindness, openness and smiles during my visit. Then I told them all that I come from a part of Denmark where we in fact do not say goodbye; we say until we meet again. I quickly wrapped up and left the assembly which were now about to have a village meeting which I was not invited for. I changed into my swimming trunks and headed to the beach were I hoped to snorkel a bit. On the beach I attracted a lot of attention from the children in the area. All below the age of ten. Some in trunks and some naked. Wherever I swam they followed. The sea was a bit uneasy and the water was filled with sand because of it. However I spotted a bit of coral with a blue, red and yellow fish near it and a small one hiding inside the coral. I hovered above it for a while and then continued. A minute later the children had lifted the coral out of the water with the small fish trapped within it. They broke the coral apart until one of them had the colourful fish in his hand. Not what I expected. The children were excited and cheering. I spotted a couple of intensely blue starfish before I got out of the water and left the beach again.

beach tree

Fun fact: in a collaboration with Salomon I have now been dressed in Salomon from the hips and down for a while. Initially it was just footwear but now I’m also sporting pants and socks. By the way the best pants and socks throughout the entire Saga! Well I have brought my Salomon’s to Solomon which I think is kind of funny. But it gets more interesting. Because in Denmark we call the Solomon Islands “Salomonøerne” (Salomon Islands). Yeah – we don’t spell that well up there in the cold north ;) By speaking danishly I have brought my Salomon’s to Salomon – get it? :)

salomon

These AMPHIB BOLD shoes from Salomon are great!! They are light weight and dry easy. I even use them for running.

Back in the village Frazer was asking for another movie showing. But no cartoons this time. Did I have any war movies? Well, I had ‘The Thin Red Line’ which takes place during WWII in Guadalcanal, Solomon Islands – how about that? Perfect! Frazer was very happy. The generator was powered up which sounds great in pidgin: “did you on the generator?” “Yes I on it”. However with seventy people around the laptop this time and the rain pouring down outside the volume could not quite overpower the chatter. So Jonathan and I brought a speaker and an amplifier from the church, hooked it up to the power from the generator and connected it to the laptop. Now people were sticking their fingers into their ears!! So we dialed the volume down a bit again. A few times in my life I have had experiences I did not know I wanted. I remember once being offered to drive a red Mustang convertible down Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles. That was not at all on my wish list but once I got behind the wheel I understood I wanted it! I will tell you this: I never knew I wanted to experience seventy villagers around my laptop watching a movie while the rain was coming down outside. It turned out to be priceless!

movie2

It all came to an end. The generator had nearly run out of diesel while powering my laptop. The next day Frazer and I woke up early and left the village before breakfast. I had paid him the agreed amount of SBD 100 (USD 12) per night including all meals. A bargain for such an experience. We walked down to the dirt road near the gravestones which survived the tsunami and waited for the truck/bus. We were not alone. Several villagers were there with woven baskets and other items which they were bringing to the market in Gizo. Solomon’s Western Province is spearheading a great initiative for the country in which they have banned plastic. The natural replacement has become baskets woven out of palm leaves. They are strong a durable and a basket can be woven as fast as in five minutes while ten is more likely for most.

vori tomb

The tombs which survived the earthquake/tsunami. It was the third wave which completely cleared the village.

baskets

Frazer brought me right to the ship. There’s a bit of story hidden in this. I was originally supposed to leave Vori Vori on a fast boat to Gizo along with the chieftain’s son. However late at night I was told that they did not have enough fuel to make it all the way so I would need to go by truck…which was fine. The next thing was that the ferry back to Honiara had been taken out of circulation so there might not have been a ferry at all. But it was later confirmed that another smaller ferry had replaced it. I say this just to remind you all that there is a constant flow of information, misinformation and final minute decisions to be made. And it is always like that.

vori truck

But we made it to Gizo, I boarded the ferry and finally took off on a 24 hour boat ride which went a little longer than anticipated. Right from the get go a young man onboard began playing his guitar and some 15-20 people loudly sang variations of “OH LORD!! I JUST WANT TO PRAISE YOU” and that went on for about 45 minutes. Sometimes the air condition would work but sometimes it wouldn’t and the temperatures would rise to the extreme. Then there were the hyper active children running around screaming and randomly hitting my seat. And it goes without saying that we also had a baby which would cry nonstop. The fabric was torn on my seat so the yellow foam was breaking off underneath and sticking to my clothes.

canoe

Fishing for oil barrels?

The next morning just one hour away from Honiara the engine stopped and we continued to float un-powered for several hours. I had no idea what was going on. Later on I observed two men in a canoe trying to fish two floating oil barrows out of the water. Apparently our ferry had run out of fuel. A smaller ship arrived and was tied to our port side and I suspect they were transferring fuel to us? No idea why the oil barrows were in the water. And after another few hours the small boat went ahead of us with a rope between us and them and towed us for a bit before we continued on our own power again. Don’t ask.

ferry tow

Having Pop Mie and beef crackers for breakfast and being towed by another ship.

Back in Honiara I walked into a pharmacy and did a USD 2.50 malaria test just to be on the safe side. I was feeling okay but since it was so cheap and I got the results in just 15 minutes I though what the heck. I met up with the agent who had told me to hurry back to Honiara because he thought the good ship “Capitaine Quiros” was going to be early. However he could now confirm that she was due in Honiara on November 16th so I had eleven days to go. Eleven! I would rather have spent them in Munda, but hey…

Honiara

Looking at Honiara from this angle reminded me of Namche Bazaar in Nepal...although much greener and at low elevation.

I met up with Solomon Island Red Cross Society yesterday and was actually planning on telling you about their work within this entry. But it is already running quite long so I’d rather do it next week. They were super nice and very active. I’m sure you would like them. But more about that later.

RC

If you are eager to learn more right now then visit them on facebook or check out the website. They are doing a formidable job!

I’ve had to deal with stupefying bureaucrazy since returning to Honiara. I can’t go into too much detail but it has been of the kind where you would have been able to deal with business in a matter of twenty minutes but this took three days and more than thirty emails. And a certain someone who just did not want to do a certain something because that person did not see the need for it but ended up doing it anyway and now everything is in order. Why don’t people just do what they are supposed to do in the first place? Why the fight? Why always the fight? Ah...people are just people...

Ross

Happy #CakeFriday folks! I'm so happy to have Ross DK and Geoop back onboard supporting the Saga. Geothermal energy is the way forward!

Anyway :) I’d like to end this entry by recommending a great place in Honiara. It is a place called Island Breeze AirBNB and it is amazing. The hosts got it just right! The location is good. There is a nice terrace with a hammock and a view. The bed is comfy. The hosts offer all sorts of extra perks. The shower and toilet is good. They have six chicken and fresh eggs every day. It is by all means a home away from home. So I have booked it. Island Breeze AirBNB is a huge bargain in Honiara where accommodation for the most part is relatively expensive. Lo who runs it is a ‘super host’ and when I arrived there was a print out on my desk with useful information for visitors in Solomon Islands and Honiara in particular. Just brilliant. That’s all for now folks. Let’s keep on keeping on.

 

If you enjoyed this blog or think I am doing a good job then you can support here below. Thank you :)

 

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Best regards
Mr. Torbjørn C. Pedersen (Thor) - exhausted but wiser. 
"A stranger is a friend you've never met before"

 

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Once Upon A Saga

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Solomon Islands – 14 countries from home (skulls and blue skies)

Day 2,212 since October 10th 2013: 189 countries out of 203. No flight, no return home and min 24 hrs in each country 

(The opinions expressed on this site are my own, and do not reflect the position or policies of the Danish Red Cross).  

Beauty, the beast and the very beautiful

pano

I can hardly believe everything which has happened in the past week?!? Solomon Islands is such a treasure trove!! And then there is the stuff behind the curtains. And people continue to be amazing. Basically nothing went as I hoped for this past week and it still all went pretty good. I guess the Rolling Stones were right.

Last week I left the good ship “Shengking” and its brave crew and walked down the gangway to set foot upon country number 189 without flying. I looked back at the ship and waved farewell to the kind Captain who waved back at me. With my heavy bags over my shoulders I made my way towards security so I could exit the port. Nobody stopped me. Nobody checked my documents. Most men I met were chewing betel nut and everyone was super friendly and relaxed. Solomon Islands is the paragon of laidbackness…which isn’t a word but around here that does not matter ;)

honiara st

Honiara is a rather cool and very historical city and I felt safe wherever I went.

Minutes later I had found an ATM and withdrew some Solomon Dollar. Then I walked across the street to meet Francis and the team at Tradco. Tradco is the agent for Swire Shipping | China Navigation Co in Honiara, the capital of Solomon Islands, and they happen to own 60% of Tradco. Francis is a great guy who is actually from PNG but is now stationed in Honiara and getting to know his way around the new environment. There are more than a few similarities between PNG and Solomon Islands but there are certainly also some distinct differences. Solomon (for short) is home to a rather small population of around 620,000 beating hearts spread out over nearly 1,000 unreasonably beautiful islands. Seriously!! Most of this country could easily be a screensaver. Francis set me up with a desk and some wifi and told me that I was welcome to stay as long as I wanted. I stepped out of the office for a while to go and get a simcard which in itself was rather cheap but mobile data was comparably expensive. For about USD 30 you are set up with around 3GB which generally doesn’t get you very far in a project like this. As someone once said to me: “you must need internet like you need air”. In Singapore you would be getting 100GB for that kind of money. But in all fairness I find that my 3GB in Solomon has already lasted much longer than 3GB in any other country I can remember.

Tradco

I was invited to deliver a motivational Saga talk and had some fun with the Tradco team in Honiara :)

I returned to the office and got busy with work. I managed to get last week’s blog online for you guys and I sent off the 14th story I’ve written for Tidningen Syre in Sweden. It still cracks me up that Sweden has shown more interest in the Saga than Denmark. And yet the Danes still ring in as the second largest amount of Saga followers behind those mighty US Americans (number 1) and ahead of the UK, India and Canada in that order. Canada is new on the chart! For a long while the fifth largest group of followers were Indonesians. Anyway…I had to work out a plan for Solomon’s. The ride onward to country number 190 had already been secured after Neptune Pacific Line (NPL) accepted to take me onboard. However the ship was not due until mid November leaving me with some time on my hands. It has not been easy setting up meetings with the Red Cross and Red Crescent worldwide. Unfortunately the dissemination of this project has not been very strong and it generally takes forever to make contact and fix a date. Solomon Islands Red Cross Society (SIRCS) had also not responded at the time when I reached the country. However that was less of a dilemma know that I had nearly three weeks on my hands. That same day Secretary General Clement Manuri actually replied that SIRCS would be happy to meet with me while in Honiara. We were close to the weekend though and it seemed better to schedule a meeting for a few weeks later. So what about accommodation?

flight girls

Surrounded by love in the GDS (Guadalcanal Travel Solomons) office right next to Tradco :)

Well there are plenty of options around Honiara for accommodation. The lowest prices appear to be around USD 37 per night while there are several luxury options too. My friend David from World Adventurer reached out to me as he had stayed at Honiara Hotel and could introduce me to the owner Mr Chan. It didn’t take David more than a minute to send out an email with me in copy. As the afternoon began to sneak up on me Francis suggested that Tradco could give me a lift and help me find a place to stay. I happily accepted and we drove around from guesthouse to guesthouse looking for the best bid. We eventually stopped by Honiara Hotel to meet Mr Chan and see if he would host me against some online promotion. He was a funny guy and the place looked really nice overlooking Chinatown and sporting its own chocolate factory! Mr Chan offered me a 50% discount which was generous but still too much for my budget. So although I did not stay there I feel he deserves to be mentioned because he did give me a good offer. I ended up at a guesthouse paying USD 74 for two nights. Those two nights gave me some time to explore a bit of Honiara before leaving for the Western Province.

ferry1

The ferry on my left would take the Saga to Noro.

If you remember my hosts Craig and Theresa in PNG then this ties into them. Mostly Craig though as he went on and on and on about how great the Western Province of Solomon Islands are. There is a port city there called Noro which is a self-proclaimed “Tuna Town”. Noro hosts the countries only Tuna processing facility called SolTuna, which happens to be the country’s largest company. And the refrigerated containers (reefers) that transport all that fish to Japan, Taiwan and where else it goes happens to be Maersk containers loaded onto a Maersk service. So Craig who works for Maersk gets to show up in Noro once in a while. So that is how that works out. In any case a couple of weeks of listening to Craig made me get onboard the ferry from Honiara to Noro.

ferry2

First class onboard the good ferry "Anjeanette".

I got to choose between regular and first class. Regular cost 460 Solomon Dollar and first class went for 500. So the difference in USD was $5. Those five dollars on the overnight ferry still bought you a place on the floor but much less crowded and with less smell of urine – I treated myself. It’s a rather brilliant experience as the ferry stops at multiple small ports along the way. Some of those villages probably do not even have any cars. And the voyage is unreasonably beautiful! I met some good people onboard and unfortunately suffered from some stomach issues which is never good on a ship. This ship was slightly worse as there was a lack of toilets and the nearest toilet (presumably all the toilets) was quite disgusting. At one point I headed for the toilet and it was occupied. Furthermore a young boy was waiting his turn. I decided that I had it under control but soon realized that I didn’t and needed a toilet ASAP!! The young boy was still waiting his turn so I went for the door that read “FEMALE”. I was soon done but not soon enough because a woman had her chance to ask “is there anyone in there”. Embarrassing. I washed my hands and walked out to a smiling woman who giggled a bit as I smiled and said “sorry, I had no option”.

ferry3

The ferry stopped at many small places.

I’m not sure what kicked off my stomach issues but it was a 24hr thing. I certainly don’t think it was the food I had while onboard! Every stop along the way to Noro presented a fantastic option to pick up a palm leaf woven basket and go from stall to stall and pick from the fresh fish, fresh fruit, fresh vegetables, fresh coconuts and much, much more. Spectacular! It was very cost efficient and it was fun to buy from all the shy smiling women presenting their produce. And it all tasted good. While showing down some watermelon I met a couple of Pastors from some Christian local church called Zarephath. I don’t think I’ve come across that before. But Pastor Frazer Nuapitu invited me to come and stay at his place in Vori Vori near Gizo for just USD 12 including accommodation and meals. He would even take me snorkelling. So that very much became a part of the plan. It was late when the ferry finally reached Noro and I needed a place to sleep. Noro is a tiny very local village with a huge tuna processing facility set in beautiful surroundings. I agreed to a price with a female taxi driver with a gentle voice who drove me from guesthouse to guesthouse until we found one that had room. The room ran me USD 40.

Noro arr

Arriving at Noro at last.

The next day I asked about for a quiet place where I could rest up for a few weeks near the ocean at low costs. People seemed to direct me to Munda which is a 20 minute drive from Noro. A bit off topic but very relevant to Solomon is that these islands are packed with WWII history of the USA fighting against Japan. The 1998 movie The Thin Red Line was shot and took place in Solomon and the stories are endless. There is a really special story about when John F. Kennedy was a naval lieutenant here but that story will have to wait until next week. Craig had given me a contact (Pierre) at NDF (National Fisheries Development) who operate 11 fishing boats. I walked over to say hello and see what would happen. Pierre is a great guy who is originally South African but now from Australia however living and working in Solomon. He was happy to help me and it just so turned out that he lives in Munda and could give me a ride.

MSK

Noro industrial port. Cool to see canoes next to a container ship.

Later that evening Pierre and I met up again and he drove me through the thick jungle to Munda where we went from guesthouse to guesthouse looking for a good price for accommodation. Pierre who is a passionate diver with basically every thinkable licence and more than 5,000 dives was a good sport in taking his time with me. We drove around in Munda (which is a tiny place) while he pointed out shops, cafes, the bank, the market place and stopped at more and more guesthouses. Friendliness and being overwhelmingly helpful really seems to be a trade in Solomon no matter if you are a local or an expat. At one point I was offered a room across the quiet airstrip for 216 Solomon Dollar. What an odd amount? The evening progressed, I met many kind people and I was finally dropped off at Rovihina Home Stay a short ten minute walk from the local market and just across the dirt road from the azure blue ocean. Perfect! I negotiated a price for four nights at USD 25 per night with access to a kitchen. Accommodation appears to be the factor on a budget in Solomon. Good food is rather inexpensive, transport is affordable and I entered visa free as I’m from Denmark. That night I settled in and was about to head out on a search for food when the owner showed up with a plate of food. Hospitality off the hook!

food local

Yum yum!! Cooking is great in Solomon and often involves coconut milk :)

In my mind I had pictured a small bungalow type of accommodation on a white sand beach for next to nothing. I had pictured that I would sleep a lot, read in my book, go for a run, snorkel on a reef and empty my mind from everything. Instead I got a basic little room at a homestay which was slightly above my budget. Beautiful surroundings but no sand beach. And I did not get to do any of all the things I planned for. At least not the first week. However I got something else. The Saga can be immensely stressful!! For more than six years I have been working towards a goal which can always be side railed at any moment. In reality the project is a failure on its fundamental level if there is just a single country in the world which I cannot enter. After six years we are now down to 14 countries and it is tense. Theoretically we should be able to reach them all in the course of the next six months but there are no guarantees. Most people are helpful but quite often people who I rely on do not give their part in the puzzle the required urgency for me to meet deadlines. It frustrates me beyond imagination!!! It happens from time to time that people I rely on fail me miserably and I am unable to share that with you because you generally don’t bite the hand that feeds you. If I was to bite that hand then it could compromise this entire project. So there are often nobody I can shout at when all I want to do is shout my face blue and purple!!

blue

People see this and think I am on a holiday. It is however amazing surroundings to be frustrated in.

A key but low practical example is being stopped at a checkpoint and providing a policeman various documentation. The policeman is unpleasant and unreasonable but I need to stay calm and subservient or else I risk going to prison. This has nothing to do with the frustrations I experience today however I have been in such situations in the past. The fact of the matter is that things might not always seem as bright and happy as they often appear across the Saga’s social media or even here in the blogs which tend to be more honest. Even now I cannot tell you some of the extreme complications I face which anyone who cares the slightest bit about the Saga would find outrageous. And that is basically as much as I can tell you about that. But in this moment of writing something in the near future can go very wrong and set the Saga back a few months. Or everything will go well in which case you are unlikely to know. There are by the way several other reasons to keep the Saga “a happy place”. For one I would not want to be denied access to anything because I was too political or too harsh about someone or something. I however also tend to share the “good news” through the Saga as there isn’t enough of it in the public space. Negative stories rule and they even have the strongest individualists convinced on some fronts. And if you do not know what I’m on about right now then just consider this: most people have not been to North Korea, most people have heard about North Korea, most people would not be able to say a single good thing about North Korea. That is the most extreme example of how information affects us. How is it possible that people only have negativity to spread about a place they have never been? You get to answer that yourself.

grey

Children in Munda are like fish in the water, giggling and doing backflips. I love how this photo turned out.

Malaria. That is a word that instils fear in westerners. For millions of people it’s just part of life sort of like traffic. Fun fact: We have reached every country in the world with Malaria except for one. So Solomon Islands is our second last “malaria country”. Malaria is not as scary as it’s made out to be. Yes: malaria is a big killer but it is tragically mostly among children younger than five years among families that have not received the information I’m about to share with you. And furthermore this information is meant as travel advice. Malaria is a parasitic decease and it can be dealt with. In many cases completely avoided. Consider that I visited every country in Africa (54) and that took 2 years and 3 months. Most African countries have malaria endemic (but not all). Malaria is transmitted by a certain type of mosquito (not all). And most mosquitoes of that specific type do not even carry malaria. Mosquito eggs especially hatch during rain-season and I experienced several of those. And yet I only contracted malaria once!

pills

In the picture the yellow pills are against malaria. The red ones are for motion sickness. We’ve got a lot of ocean to cover so it’s good to be prepared.

Precautions!! Mosquitoes are attracted to dark places so wear light clothes. Use mosquito repellent. Sleep under a mosquito net. A chemically treated net is even better. Mosquitos don’t like the cold or a draft so switch on the air-conditioning or a fan if available. Choose a room with mosquito nets on the windows if you can. And if it’s really bad or simply to be extra safe you can take malaria pills (for short periods at least). I’m currently taking doxycycline here in Solomon Islands. It’s a prophylaxis (preventive) and rather inexpensive. Speak to your doctor but don’t let malaria scare you off. Know what you’re dealing with and take precautions. Besides, malaria mosquitoes are usually only out around dusk and dawn. Solomon Islands have crocodiles too. You can’t take pills against them but you can ask locals if there are any in the area. If malaria and crocodiles scares you from visiting a wonderful, exciting, adventurous, relaxing, delightful, beautiful and friendly country such as Solomon Islands then perhaps you will see truth in one of my favourite quotes: Helen Keller (1880-1968) once wrote: “Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing”.

Papaya

Breakfast - island style.

Let’s get back to Munda. The homestay was built for the purpose by Lonsi who’s a pretty cool guy, husband and father to three. He married into another family so he lives a small walk from the homestay. All the surrounding houses are family. Solomon is a family kind of place. Anyway…on my first morning the owner who made dinner for me the night before woke me up because she had half of a cool, fresh papaya for me on a plate. Enjoy. I can’t remember her name but she is a sweet old lady. I got on my feet after breakfast and walked around town to have a look. Then I did some shopping before returning and dealing with some of all the administrative matters of this perennial journey. It’s funny. I don’t even think of Once Upon A Saga as a travel project. Travel is simply a necessity for the overall completion. Anyway…again…Munda is a really laidback town and about the size of the place I grew up. A few thousand people at most. Everybody knows everybody. People are helpful and considerate. The quiet atmosphere rubs off and I have actually been feeling pretty good apart from some of the administrative frustrations. I still do my push-ups and here towards the end of the month I’m always getting closer and closer to the maximum which is forty. And lately I’ve been taking them without a problem at all. I finished the month doing forty in one set without slowing down. The doxycycline comes with a few side effects. One of them is the skins sensibility to sunlight and I’m already a target with a mother from Finland and a father from Denmark. So I quickly managed to get my shins and neck burned. I should probably buy some sunscreen one of these days ;)

Festival

The ladies coconut competition.

The Laguna Festival opened. It’s an annual event which celebrates its 10th year and runs for a few days. The regional beauty pageant arrived on a decorated boat to give a speck and open the festival. Mornings and early afternoons seem to have blue sky and sun while afternoons and evenings are dark with rain. It didn’t stop the festival. Food, games, music, dancing and good times. While people in PNG fly everywhere people in Solomon like to sail…and swim. There are small motor boats in the water all over the place and lots of wooden canoes too. Children laugh and do backflips into the ocean. The children are like dolphins in the water. Wickham is a prominent family name around these parts. Aleck Wickham was born in nearby Gizo and pioneered the crawl, or freestyle swimming stroke, which he introduced to Australia and from there it spread to the world. It is fun to think that there was a time when people didn’t know about crawl? But then it also took the Fosbury Flop before people realized that it was more efficient to jump backwards instead of forwards in the athletics event of high jump. Aleck Wickham did not invent the crawl stroke, because it was already a common thing at least in Solomon. However he did introduce it to the western world which even today is dominant in terms of global culture.

Lonsi

Lonsi in the back and Tokoro next to me :)

Scull Is1

Approaching Scull Island.

I heard about Scull Island and thought it would be a good idea to head out there. So one morning I spoke to Lonsi who was happy to mobilise a boat. He ended up boating me out there himself and he brought Tokoro along with us. Good company. I screwed up a bit as I thought Lola Island was the same as Scull Island so we agreed on a price to Lola Island and headed out there. Lola Island is great by the way and has a small resort which I would recommend anyone who has time and money. Fortunately Scull Island was just another five minutes away so we left Lola Island after just five minutes. Neither Lonsi nor Tokoro had been to Scull Island which made it even more interesting. To my surprise Scull Island was a tiny thing but shrouded in mystery. I knew that it was were a tribe of head hunters used to bring the sculls for sacred rituals and witchcraft. And then I loosely knew that the surrounding tribes at some point got together and killed everyone from the head hunter tribe.

Scull Is2

The head hunters of Roviana Lavata were the most notorious. 

I was the first one to set foot on the island which was covered in coconuts a green plants. As I made my way forward I encountered some Christian tombs and had to step around some additional graves on my way to the sculls which were becoming visible in the distance. It was a strange place to be. Some bottles had been arranged around some of the graves as if rituals were still being carried out. There were also some man made stone formations which I couldn’t quite make any sense of. It was not a place I would like to be after nightfall. But in daylight and together with Lonsi and Tokoro I was just curious. I have since read that Scull Island is one of the most sacred sites in the area. We probably should not have been there without the guidance of a prominent villager as a guide. Rituals should have been performed before entering and the spirits may now be upset and come to harm me. So…let’s hope not ;) Nah, Lonsi and Tokoro knew that and said a few words before we stepped onto the island. In any case if you go then I recommend you do it through an organized tour and pay admission. I will not be expensive and you should definitely show some respect. The latest sculls appear to date back about a hundred years. Some are of the warrior’s enemies and others are of the warriors respected chieftains. And Scull Island is in fact also a direct link to the past for the villagers I the area. While there I couldn’t help wondering if some of the sculls might have been related to some of the families back in Munda. Probably?! The boat ride there took about forty minutes.

David Att

Breathtaking views await those who venture to Solomon Islands.

On the way back Tokoro and I were looking across the ridiculous beauty of Roviana Lagoon. We spotted a flock of birds circling above a spot of the ocean and diving down to catch their pray. Tokoro explained that there was a school of yellowtail fish beneath. I always find it interesting how we all have local knowledge depending on where we grow up. Looking across the ocean, the birds, the clouds…I couldn’t help feel like what I was looking at should be narrated by David Attenborough. He’s by the way 93 years old now and still kicking. I asked Lonsi to drop me off at the Lagoon Festival where I sat down and had some fish which I ate with my hands. I love eating fish like that. Then I met a young guy named Nelson and we ended up talking. Then we began walking and had a look around town. On my list of things to do I had “walk on the runway”. When arriving to Munda I noticed that there was a gate in the fence which surrounds the airstrip. And there were dirt trails in the grass where people had walked in order to cross the runway. So I wanted to go there. It is not everywhere you get to walk out onto a runway at free will. An airplane just so happened to be coming in when we reached the gate so we waited a few minutes before crossing the fence into the secure area. Funny thing. It was more like a railway in the sense that people look before they cross. Good stuff.

Nelson

Hanging out with Nelson on the runway :)

Later on I was back at the Festival to witness the coconut competition. First the women and then the men. In teams they would peal the husk off in record speed, crack the coconuts and then clean out the coconut meat into a woven basket. Each team had to do five coconuts and it was clearly hard work. Earlier on I missed the “start a fire by rubbing sticks” competition but I’m okay with that hearing that it took TWO HOURS before they got a fire going!! They also held a palm leaf basket weaving competition which I would have liked to see and a triathlon with swimming, canoeing and running. The festival encompasses all sorts of stuff. It is good fun but I’ve already missed out on most of it and will be on a ferry heading towards Gizo during the final competitions Friday.

ferry4

There are some seriously cool hairdos in circulation around here.

“You can’t always get what you want. But if you try sometimes you find you get what you need”. That has certainly been my week…more or less. I treasure the many conversations with random people. People such as Wickham’s granddaughter. I’m grateful for the random acts of kindness. You know…when a stranger like me needs something, then all too often it becomes an opportunity for the environment to make some extra money. Often people will drop what they have in their hands and rush over to see how they can twists some money out of me. I do not feel that at all here in Solomon. Here it feels like people will drop whatever they have in their hands and rush over to see how they can help – because they want to see a stranger succeed.

Pierre

This blog came online thanks to the curtsy of Pierre as I sat in his office at NFD in Noro for a few hours, as wifi was scarce anywhere else :) 

 

 

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Best regards
Mr. Torbjørn C. Pedersen (Thor) - to be continued next Friday! 
"A stranger is a friend you've never met before"

 

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