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…
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.
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.
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.
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: 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 ;)
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Outside the church. You can just make out the high pressure bottle "bell" against the right side of the tree.
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.
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? :)
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!
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.
The tombs which survived the earthquake/tsunami. It was the third wave which completely cleared the village.
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.
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.
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.
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…
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.
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...
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.
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Mr. Torbjørn C. Pedersen (Thor) - exhausted but wiser.
"A stranger is a friend you've never met before"
Once Upon A Saga