Munda to Honiara

From Gizo, I took a 2 hour speedboat to Munda, a touristy little town for divers to base themselves. No more expats or NGO’s, just legitimately interested tourists… but all staying in the confines of Agnes lodge, which is a hotel, restaurant and tour operator monopolizing all of the foreign money and white people that come to the island. I stayed at Munda Guesthouse, which was basically just paying a family $100 Solomon dollars (approx. $13US) per night to sleep in an empty room in the upstairs unfinished part of their house. Its incredibly comfortable, clean and cozy, especially in tropical rain storms, so I’d direct any tourist away from anonymous Agnes Lodge to this guesthouse, a few hundred metres away from the beach but nestled in a tall coconut tree forest (don’t forget to look up when you walk under them!).

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rainstorm at the Munda guesthouse

I learned that I’m quite the pool shark, after visiting the local pool bar 3 nights in a row and beating a lot of big men I refused to take bets with, but was paid in beer instead. I was one of few women, the others much older but all beautifully adorned with flowers in their hair, and some of them equally defeating in pool. I finally got kicked off the winner-owned table by one such woman, but made great friends with some politician, the son of the owner of my guesthouse, and a tattooed guy named Rex whose tattoos were barely visible on his dark skin.

the MV Chanela, our carriage from Munda to Honiara

the MV Chanela, our carriage from Munda to Honiara

I later traveled with the mother and son from Munda guesthouse all the way to Honiara on an overnight boat, and she mothered me the whole way. She made my bed made with a mat and sleeping bag on the floor, sharing a crowded but air conditioned room with another 30 people sleeping on the floor. Our food for the journey, bought at different port markets we stopped at along the way, was seaweed and roti and cherry tomatoes and clams… not the best mixed together but seaparately, all delish.

sunset from the ship

sunset from the ship

In Honiara I stayed with Sara at the Hibiscus homestay, and she had the most rotted red teeth I had seen yet, since she still had all her teeth! I never saw her spit, but she was always chewing on something, and covered her mouth whenever she smiled or laughed. She wouldn’t let me sleep in my hammock, but she slept in it and I got the bed. She fed me food whenever I was home for mealtime, and I’ve never tasted such tasty rice… it must be the cinnamon she puts in the accompanying pork dish.

My favourite part of Honiara was a little ways inland, where little villages settled along a river leads you to a waterfall called Mataniko falls. Its only a few kilometres from the sea, but it’s a roasting 1 hr hike in, where only the last few minutes offer any shade whiles you climb down into the forested canyon to get to this little paradise oasis of cold, blue water after being scorched by the sun. Instead of hiking back along the barren hill tops, we followed the river back out to town, swimming with our shoes and clothes in one above the water to keep them dry. Sometimes we could walk in the shallower bits, or follow the river bank, but we were basically stuck in the narrow river canyon, climbing over fallen logs and big rocks, and only encountered some tiny frogs, a few fish and one eagle on our wet and windy way back.

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Mataniko falls

A Warm ‘Welkam’ to the Solomons

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.

sunset in Munda

sunset in Munda

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.

rainbows and dirt roads, isnt it beautiful

rainbows and dirt roads, isnt it beautiful

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.