A cyclone season in the Solomon Islands
30 October 2008
The crossing to Solomon Islands is very smooth although we have very little wind and need to motor most of the way. We unfortunately have to bypass Tikopia and Vanikoro islands; it would have been exciting to take part in the La Perousse expedition celebrations.
We aim for Niendo in the Santa Cruz Islands which is the first port of entry for the Temotu Province. We catch a 55 kg yellow fin tuna as we enter in Solomon Islands territorial waters. Bringing a big fish onboard is always a nice activity during a long crossing as it keeps all the family busy for a while.
We will spend over 6 months in Solomon Islands. As we arrive we spot that houses are now all elevated unlike Vanuatu where they were built on coral base. Secondly, the Kava traditional drink as been replaced by the Betel Nut chewing. We are greeted by strange red mouths and teeth, this does not look too appealing and the boys are both very scared when smiling ladies are approaching them. The Solomon Islands are beautiful, quite diverse and offers lots of potential. Many beaches are pristine and easily accessible unlike in the Vanuatu, the coral (with the exception of Ghizo which has been very damaged by the recent Tsunami) is outstanding. We had plenty of encounters with marine life and some of the islands offer some of the best diving/snorkelling spots we have seen for a long time. Despite the Hi-tech fleets of tuna fishing boats (mostly Japanese and American) plundering the blue water resources, we found that the underwater life was still exceptionally rich. Sharks are plentiful and were eager to grab Marc's fish as well as his fins ! There is no ciguatera (fish poisoning) in most of the Solomon as well as no cyclone in the northwest, hence our decision to remain in the area for the cyclone season rather than sailing south to Australia or New Zealand. We were surprised to see only a dozen of yachts making that choice. We only had 15 days of downpours and no gust exceeding 40 knots during the rainy season. The main downside of the area for sailing is the lack of wind, one needs to be prepared to motor most of the time.
Solomon People are Melanesians, very welcoming, somewhat shy but they will not naturally invite you or offer presents. They have a trade mentality (including among Family members) and to give outright is just foolish. They will make the most of tourist donations but there is no favour to be expected in return. We will find in due course how fortunate we were to make very good friends who opened their house and gardens to us. The boys have proven a superb passport for our friendly contacts with the locals. After Polynesia, it took us a bit of time to adjust to their mentalities.
The attachment of the locals to their land is a serious problem in the Solomons. Land is not registered and anyone who can prove his ancestors lived on a parcel can try to claim the land. The number of land disputes is amazing, making any business development difficult for locals as much as expats. We find surreal situations such as in Marau Sounds (Guadalcanal) where we discover a stunning resort (Tavanipupu island) which has not seen client for 1 year : the airport has been closed as a result of a dispute over a small parcel at the end of the runaway ! Land is power and the only source of income. It leads unfortunately to a very unsustainable exploitation of natural resources (marine life, logging, mining) as you may get the money quickly before someone claims it. Marovo lagoon has been devastated by the Malaysian logging companies which are now concentrating their effort on Isabella Island. Taiwanese are organising the looting of Sharks (Finning), Beche de Mer and Clam shells until extinction. Having said that we have not done much better in our countries and have no lesson to give; at the best, a few advices.
Unlike Ni-Vatus and PNG inhabitants, the Solomon people have lost large parts of their traditional customs and traditions. Missionaries have been extremely active in the archipelago. Since the intervention of the RAMSIs (Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands) triggered by civil troubles in Guadalcanal, the country is now at rest. The problem between the Malaitans and inhabitants of Guadalcanal is pending. Malaita is overpopulated and its inhabitants have been migrating in all the Solomon Islands. Among their best achievement, Honiara, the capital and the only economic centre of the country is run by Malaitans but located on Guadalcanal soil. Unfortunately this situation creates a general distrust towards the Malaitan people which is reinforced by the absence of nationalistic unity (a legacy of the colonial era).
With the end of the cyclone season, it is time to pursue our journey but we will be back to Solomon Islands to visit our friends and explore Isabela and Choiseul.