No seriously folks: THIS TIME we are leaving Solomon Islands (bat-shit and broken phones)
Day 2,234 since October 10th 2013: 189 countries (maybe 190?) 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).
Making good of extra time
The tricky part about doing something which has never been done before is having to make your own way. While writing this we (you and I) are still in Honiara although by the time you read this I should be at sea. This is not the Saga’s first delay. Oh no – far from it. Reaching every country in the world is a complicated business (click here to read last weeks entry).
Grass is green, the sky is blue and ships get delayed. There are roughly a billion reasons how a ship could get delayed. A few of the more common ones are weather, crane breakdowns, port strikes and congestion at the port. Nonetheless a delay of a few extra days in Honiara was not a big problem for me as I was fortunate to have been hosted by the lovely Jenny from the British Virgin Islands (BVI). They say that when life gives you lemons, then make lemonade (or throw them at someone (but try to make lemonade first)). You remember Jenny – right? She is the country manager for Swire Shipping which is represented by Tradco Shipping in Solomon Islands. And Swire Shipping is a part of the China Navigation Company, which was founded by the Swire Group…simple – I know. And Swire Shipping owns 60% of Tradco Shipping who were the agents of the ship I arrived on three weeks ago. Anyway..Jenny made sure I knew that I was more than welcome to stay at her place and meanwhile the tourism board of Solomon Islands (Tourism Solomons) was reaching out to hear if we could do something together. Also I was trying to meet up with Wayne again, whom I had briefly met the week before…so now I had time for all of that.
Drying my passport. This will make sense later...
How complicated is the Saga? It is incredibly complicated!! “If a door shuts then another opens”. Sure…but where the heck is that door and how long will it take to find it? My fiancée and I were just talking about how the Saga continues to be prolonged and why. It is certainly not because I do not want things to move forward. While back in Kuwait I had time to make a video for all of you which I uploaded to YouTube. It is about the ten countries we have spent the longest amount of time within during the Saga – and why. The winner was a whopping 102 days! The “why” of it all is quite defining for this project as it is never because I wanted to stay. You can watch the video HERE. But let’s get back to what a few days of delay can mean for the Saga. Quite recently I found myself in Port Moresby (Papua New Guinea) being hosted by Craig and his wife Theresa. From the luxury of their hospitality I was waiting for the good ship “Shengking” which was delayed by about a week due to the Typhoon which made headlines when it hit parts of Japan last month. The vessel which will take the Saga from Solomon Islands to Nauru is the good ship “Capitaine Quiros”. These ships operate somewhat like city buses on a specific route. As such “Capitaine Quiros” goes round and round between the same ports and a round-trip takes about a month. So if you miss this particular “bus” then you better have patience.
In a kind write-up by Ian M. Kaukui the Saga featured in the Solomon Star.
I missed “Capitaine Quiros” by about a week giving me three weeks in Solomon Islands. However if “Shengking” had not been delayed by the Typhoon then I might have been onboard “Capitaine Quiros” a month ago. And that is just one example from the past six years of how and why this project keeps dragging out. If you can control stuff like typhoons then give me a call.
A country which makes chocolate must be good!!! ;)
Moving on…let’s talk a bit about personal connections because this is interesting and fun to me. Let’s take it all the way back to Madagascar in 2016 when I walked into a Maersk office looking for a ship and met Jaouad. That meeting became essential for where we are today. Because Jaouad introduced me to Khadeeja at Maersk in Mauritius and from there the ball kept on rolling (my phone has more than 300 Maersk contacts). Let’s fast forward to 2019 when I met Craig from Maersk in Papua New Guinea (PNG). I had been introduced to Craig by Ole who works for Maersk in Singapore. Craig brought me to a function in Port Moresby (PNG) where I met Grant (Swire), Rob (Swire), Dean (Deugro), Adam (Deugro) and a few days later Craig introduced me to Dane (South African) at Inchcape. I know this is getting complicated but stay with me. Back in Singapore Ole and a few others at Maersk suggested that I should talk to Swire Shipping (China Navigation Company) and to Pacific International Lines regarding the Pacific Ocean. Maersk introduced me to both. So while in Singapore I also met Rasmus (Swire), James (Swire) and Paramesh (Swire) who email introduced me to Alistair (Swire) in Port Moresby (PNG). Stick with me – we are almost there! Alistair email introduced me to Jenny. While in Honiara I recently found accommodation at Island Breeze AirBNB which is run by Lo (Brazil) and Manuel (Germany). And the final bit of information is that Jenny used to work in Port Moresby (PNG).
Oh Chilli Tuna from SolTuna! I will miss you!! :)
So when I finally met Jenny, who wasn’t in Solomon Islands when I arrived and met her team at Tradco, she generously invited me to come and stay in a guest room at her home in Honiara. And when we began talking it became apparent that we knew a lot of the same people. Because Jenny knows all the Swire people (Rob, Grant, Alistair, Rasmus, James and Paramesh). But from her time working in Port Moresby (PNG) she also knows Dean and Adam from Deugro, Dane from Inchcape and Craig from Maersk. And just from living in Honiara she happens to be friends with Lo and Manuel from the AirBNB. So that means that I met at least nine people that jenny knows even before I met Jenny :) Now – if you have been following the blog for the past two months then you would have heard all of those names before. And believe me I could expand far beyond the connections I have just mentioned here. The essence is as always that we did not bring the Saga this far by our lonesome. The Saga is and has always been a people project and it is carried forward by the tens of thousands of hands which it has crossed paths with since October 10th 2013. Reaching every country in the world is unbelievably complicated no matter how you do it and nobody has ever done it alone.
Thank you Jenny!!! You've been brilliant!!! :)
View from Parangiju Inland Mountain Lodge.
On Saturday November 16th I had a great adventure!! Tourism Solomons had reached out to hear if they could help me experience something I had still not done: visit a local village, see some sights from Second World War or perhaps go on a hike. I am very fond of hiking so that became my choice. Now I don’t know if the following is true but the way I remember it is that they completely undersold the level of the adventure which was to come. While I do remember being told to bring water, a head torch and some shoes which could withstand waking through water…I really don’t remember anyone saying that I would be neck deep in water? But let me tell you this up front: it was a BRILLIANT day.
Max leads us into the water. The first of a trillion crossings!!!
Johannah and Andrew from Tourism Solomons picked me up at 07:00am and off we went. Probably within an hour we had reached Parangiju Inland Mountain Lodge. The lodge is a common starting point for those who trek to Tenaru waterfalls, which I hear is really something too. However the bat cave which we were aiming for is the less wandered path which sat just fine with me. Along the way we had picked up Max was to be our guide. Andrew parked the car 2 km (1.5 mi) from the lodge where a small bridge was crossing the Tenavatu River. And then we all followed Max into the water and across to the other side. A minute later we had to cross the river again. A while later we crossed again, and again, and again. Sometimes knee deep, sometimes more shallow and at times above my knees. Keep in mind that I have long legs and measure 193 cm (6’4’).
My Salomons in Solomon: socks: sense support / pants: wayfarer / shoes: X ultra 3. They stood the test!! ;)
Johannah is Australian and from Melbourne. I haven’t met many people from Melbourne since I reached East-Timor (Timor Leste), Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands. In this part of the world there are plenty of Australians but they all seem to be from Brisbane. Johannah just moved to Solomon Islands six weeks earlier. Andrew is native and had been working for Tourism Solomons for three years already. Before that he was a taxi driver. Max was a native too and wore his military t-shirt and sunglasses with a lot of swagger. The landscape around us was phenomenally beautiful. The sound of the shallow river cut though the voice of the forest. I wonder what the dense forest would have said about the past if given the chance.
Can you find Max?
I am no stranger to hiking. I have been an outdoors kind of guy all my life and consider myself to be on an advanced level when it comes to skill. However on this trek I dropped my water bottle twice and tripped and fell three times. I guess having wet shoes, socks and pants did not make it easier stepping from one rock to the next. It was challenging, beautiful and amazing all at once. At one point Max stopped, looked back at me and calmly said “snake”. I looked around and saw nothing but plants. Max told me to come a little forward and then I suddenly saw the little fellow a few arms lengths from me, on a tree log with its tongue out. It fell into the landscape when it was still. It was quietly making its way in the forest next to the river and so were we. I asked Max if it was venomous and he replied “somehow”. Good to know. In any case nature usually doesn’t mess with you as long as you don’t mess with nature. The beautiful creature snaked away as we continued up river.
The waterfall and bat cave appears.
A great waterfall finally appeared ahead of Max. It was a rather tall waterfall cut between the mountain walls which on both sides guided us forward. We stopped for a moment to take a few photos and Andrew went straight for a shower underneath. I actually thought we were going to continue above the waterfall as I had not noticed that the large dark void on the waterfalls right side was in fact the entrance to a cave. An equal amount of water to what was coming from the waterfall was also coming from the cave. We soon ventured forward into the cave.
Andrew taking a shower provided by mother nature.
When I saw Max in water so deep that he had to swim I took the double sealed plastic bag out of my pocket, opened it and slipped my phone into it. It was already containing my passport which I out of habit carry nearly everywhere. The others were leaving stuff behind as we would be returning the same way. In hindsight I should have done the same. I was soon in water reaching my chest. As we made our way into the cave the screeching sound from bats became more apparent. Max told us to point or torches towards the ceiling of the cave which was high above us. Thousands of bats were flying about. As we continued moving upstream in the water which again had become shallow, we made our way across rocks covered in bat-shit. On and off I also felt “heavy drops” land on my hat. Thankfully I wear a hat!! ;)
Looking back towards the entrance where I just entered. Bats above. Getting wetter.
Free advice: when you look up while in a bat-cave then keep your mouth shut. I don’t remember Batman coming out of his cave covered in bat droppings? Ah Hollywood…you tricked me again. The cave was in fact a tunnel and as we neared the exit I saw something I could capture on camera because it was too dark. But it was an extraordinary sight!! The exit of the cave, while large, was smaller than the entrance. And by the sheer force of nature a huge fallen tree had been pushed inside the cave where it formed a natural bridge for us to walk upon. The truck of the tree was equal to the size of a 4WD. There was something otherworldly about exiting a wet and dark bat cave while walking towards the light, balancing upon a massive, black tree trunk. As we reached the roots of the tree which kept the trunk in place by the opening, we climbed down until we once more were back in the water. And after another minute walking upstream we found ourselves bathing in the sun and in a turquoise pool of water below a small waterfall surrounded by the lush green which they call Solomon Islands. By then my phone was drenched as was my passport. But somehow it was worth it. We made our way back down the way we came and that was the story of a memorable half day hike before I left.
Andrew exiting the cave after walking across the huge log (not the one you can see) and climbing down back into the water. My last photo of the day. One of my favorites.
The problem with spending a lot of time within any one country is that you become personally attached. For some that means that they need to get out and that it cannot go fast enough. For others it means that they want to stay. For me it means I need to leave behind a lot which I have come to care about. On a quick side note: do you know how Solomon Islands got its name? More than 400 years ago, when Spanish explorer Álvaro de Mendaña de Neira first arrived, he believed he had found the source of King Solomon’s wealth, and consequently named the islands “The Islands of Solomon”. Now you know. This country is one of deeply rooted history, culture and traditions. Family is important and at times rivalry runs deep. Solomon Islands saw some civil unrest towards the turn of the millennium but that is in the past today. However a past which people remember. It recently came to my attention that the ramped chewing of betel nut is a relatively new development. I sort of just though it was a part of the culture…and in some ways it is. Perhaps just 25 years ago the chewing of betel nut was for special occasions only and it was not possible to buy betel nut on the street. Betel nut was something which was gifted to someone between friends, family or allies. Some would say between “wantoks”. A wantok is essentially people from the same language group. If you think about it that was a lot more intimate in the past when people lived in small isolated groups speaking local languages. But it is derived from the English “one talk” and with over a billion people speaking English it is a heck of a group. Anyway – some 25 years ago it changed and people are just chewing those nuts day in and day out. They mix it up with lime and leaves to create a chemical effect which makes it more potent. People always find a way – hey?
Betel nut shells and someones "juice" (spit). Careful Honiara or you might be nicknamed "the red city" someday.
Alright, let’s close this entry. I had an additional meet-up with the Solomon Red Cross Society where I hung out with the hard working volunteers for a few hours and shared stories. On that note did you know that the saying “touch wood” or “knock on wood” isn’t a thing in the Solomons? In most of the world it is an act which is supposed to ward off bad luck but here in the Solomons they have never heard about it. I’ve only come across a few countries, mostly Asian, which have not incorporated that saying. When I mentioned that it’s along the line of not crossing the road if a black cat crosses your path, one of the volunteers mentioned that if a snake quickly crosses your path then it is bad luck. I guess we are all the same and different at the same time. Shu from Zimbabwe, who is now from New Zealand but living in Solomon, works for the Red Cross and arranged for the meet up. Volunteers are ready to do anything and when I met them they were putting together sanitary kits in the workshop. They were busy sewing washable sanitary pads which they neatly fit into a small fabric bag along with a bar of soap.
Shu took a lot of photos of the volunteers and I :) Volunteers are the backbone of the movement.
And I finally got my chance to meet-up with Wayne again. We tried hard and were supposed to meet a few days earlier but since my phone was wet and not working he couldn’t call me and ended up waited at a parking lot for nothing. Sorry again Wayne! However a few days later we succeeded in sitting down for dinner at Coral Sea Resort & Casino. A rather posh place in comparison to the surrounding landscape. Wayne is sort of from Papua New Guinea but also sort of from Melbourne in Australia. In any case he has for years been working in Solomon Islands as the CEO of Sullivans (Solomon Islands) Limited, Sullivans Shipping Limited, and Nambawan Meat Limited. Quite a mouthful. Wayne is definitely an extraordinary man and has lived a full life. He is a very open and trusting man and told me many things from his life which will have me thinking for a long time. However nothing which I will share with you. At the end of the night he dropped me off at Jenny’s place where I wrote all of this for you.
Because my phone got wet I've lost some functions like using a sim card or using the home button on my iPhone. So the sim card now fluctuates between my sturdy Nokia 1100 and the WIFI dongle. Johannah tipped me off on using the AssistiveTouch function on the iphone so I'm now about 70% operational on it.
As mentioned I should be onboard the good ship “Capitaine Quiros” by now and possibly quite close to country number 190: Nauru. A special little country which I am very curious to meet and learn more about. The ship belongs to Neptune Pacific Line’s fleet and I have been writing with them for a while. Particularly with Ian and Rolf who have been super helpful. I look forward to meeting them when the Saga reaches Australia next year. In Honiara the ships agent is Sullivans Shipping. Hence I met Wayne earlier on. But the man on the ground has been Lawrence who has been pushing all the paperwork around. Thank you one and all. I’ve got no idea what will happen the next three weeks or more. I’m unlikely to have access to internet while onboard. The good ship will get us to Nauru where I also may or may not have internet? And sometime during the beginning to mid-December we should be reaching Fiji as country number 191 without flying. But let’s see how it all plays out. Stay safe out there people and always keep on keeping on ;)
P.S: as I was about to head towards the ship and embark, I was notified that the ship would no longer go straight to Nauru as scheduled. It will go to Kiribati first which was intended as the Saga’s country number 197. From there it is scheduled to reach Nauru followed by Fiji (I think). So it was more true than what I knew when I wrote. “I’ve got no idea what will happen the next three weeks or more.” Welcome to the unpredictability of the Saga: every country without flying.
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Mr. Torbjørn C. Pedersen (Thor) - ready for the next adventures.
"A stranger is a friend you've never met before"
Once Upon A Saga