Once I landed in Gizo, I really felt like I was in the second largest town in the Solomons, landing on a tarmac runway, pulling into an actual wharf (the airport is also on a neighbouring island connected to Ghizo island by banana boat transfer). But, with some perspective, I later realized that it was hardly a town, but a busy little village, with a handful of hotels, shops, and only a couple of unsealed roads, churches and banks. But I was able to withdraw money, check into my own private guesthouse (tourists are a rare commodity in the northern Solomon islands), and feel like I had returned to predictable civilization.
But the everyday things hadn’t changed much from Bougainville – people who spoke the same local language called eachother “wantoks” and their pidgin english was basically the same. The market had the same fruits and veggies for sale, the betel nut and cigarettes were sold on every street corner, peoples red stained smiles matched the red spit-covered dirt roads, and still everyone smiled at the sight of such a lonely white girl so far away from home. People’s faces and hair were lighter, perhaps also a bit bigger, and the prices of things had gotten cheaper, so as much as I had liked Bougainville, I was happy to be in Gizo where I could afford more and stand out less.
There are a bunch of islands, both smaller and a lot larger, surrounding Ghizo, comprising the Western province, and between them, a bunch of WWII wrecks and amazing coral reefs. But, unless you’re a scuba diver or an endurance freediver, they’re pretty hard to get to, especially if you’re the type that’s claustrophobic under water in open seas.
They have a saying here, or at least a slogan I saw printed on tshirts: “Solomon Islands – as beautiful above as it is below” with a picture of the palm tree beaches and mangrove forests filled with birds above the colourful scene of an underwater reef and all its peculiar fishes. I decided to stick to the above water half, especially since the people (which this picture fails to acknowledge) were my highlight. They always make eye contact and greet you, which, if returned, turns into huge smiles and more glances. Sometimes your face can hurt from smiling so much, since they’ll actually smile to the breaking point of laughter, and since you don’t want to feel like you’re laughing at them laughing, you try to keep a controlled smile, but their rotting red teeth are somehow more comical a sight to see stretched out in such care-free happiness.