"Arctracer" Letters

Guadalcanal, Russell Islands, and Marovo Lagoon, Sept-Oct 2004

We'll attempt to at least start a letter since a lot has happened since the last one. However, these Solomon Islanders are sooooooooooo friendly that we rarely get a moment to ourselves. Tikopia isn't the only place where visiting is a "full time job."

When we wrote last time we were in the Tavanipupu Resort Area of Marau Sound on the east coast of the island of Guadalcanal. We stayed there for 3 nights and traded all of our children's clothes and women's clothes plus some other things. We mostly got shells, but we also got some custom money. A fathom of this money is worth about $10 US and 4 fathoms is the amount needed for a bride price. We traded some bowls and things from our galley for a fathom of it and Nina got a necklace that looks like 4 strands, but is about a fathom. Many of the women in this area were wearing them and one traded hers. She said that she has all the small circles, made out of shells, made and could make herself another one in a day. It takes a good deal of time to make the circles, with no machinery, but once they are made it doesn't take long to string them. The children liked trading small shells for a few marbles and larger shells for Ramen noodles (which they eat right from the package without adding any hot water). One man came from an island farther away with a golden cowry shell which used to be VERY rare and worth quite a bit of money. He wanted $SD 500 for it which is about $70US. Since we aren't into shell collecting much we weren't interested. Plus, we've heard that the shell has gone way down in value and can be obtained through the Internet for about $25 US. Whether this is true or not, we do not know. We were also given a traditional spoon made from a coconut shell, an angelfish carved out of a giant clam, a traditional hook carved out of a gold-lip oyster shell and a crocheted bag with lots of yarn loops on it. We couldn't refuse gifts, but were expected to give gifts in return. The only thing we wouldn't ever use was the bag, so we made a woman very happy in the Russell Islands by trading it to her for some cassava (a root crop). The cassava was much more useful. We guess we could open a museum at some point with some of the other things.

It was neat to see a dugong (like the Florida manatee) swimming near the boat one evening. We hadn't seen once since we were in Vanuatu in 2002.

Fay and Zed met a man named Joe that they really liked in 1997 when they were in the Solomon Islands on a smaller sailboat. They met Joe almost as soon as they arrived this time, and gave him a machete, 10# of rice, material for lavalavas, and eyeglasses. He turned out to be the wrong Joe! The right Joe appeared soon after, but they couldn't take back their presents so had to give another set.They had all the items except the rice for the right Joe, so we gave him 10 # of rice. We bet Fay and Zed will never be in such a hurry to do a good deed another time. This particular Joe has five children and this area of Guadalcanal was so bad during the tension of the past five years that he and his family went to the Russell Islands to stay with his wife's family. They returned about 8 months ago. His father and mother stayed home during the tension and were often threatened. Life was not easy for them. Armed gangs roamed the area, a couple of people were killed, and much property was stolen or destroyed. The people from Malaita Island had taken over much of the land in the area and the Guadalcanal people wanted them off the land and returned to Malaita so they could not take jobs from the locals. Now there is a mixture of people around Marau Sound and all seems to be peaceful. Several of the locals have married people from Malaita.

Jerry did a couple of VERY unusual things for him. Justin (the right Joe's father, and a lay preacher for the Anglican church) noticed that Jerry was walking strangely and his ankle seemed to be bothering him. Although he is a devout Christian, Justin also has great faith in some "black magic" methods. He has a walking stick with which he can direct the winds, and says he uses it to protect his island from harm. He says he is consulted as a healer by many people. He said he could cure Jerry's ankle completely, and tried on two occasions. His method involved holy water and holy oil spread on the area, plus application of a medallion and considerable prayer. Justin also blessed our boat. He went around the deck and into all our rooms in his long white robe sprinkling a mixture of holy water and holy oil and mumbling prayers. Justin wanted to do these things so much, and believes so fervently in the effectiveness of his methods that we had to let him try. You might be asking yourselves if Jerry's ankle is all healed? Well, the old ski-accident ankle still bothers him after he walks a long way or dances for a long time. Anyway, now our boat is blessed so we don't have to worry about meeting any ill fate.

(view Marau Sound photos)

From Marau Sound we sailed one day to tiny Neal Island just off the North Coast of Guadalcanal. Again, we anchored with "Journeyman" (Fay & Zed) at a small island that used to have a resort before the tension here. Now, only the tennis court remains. We weren't sure how safe it was to anchor there and we wouldn't have done it without another boat there too. We put locks on all our outside lockers that night. The next morning we sailed the rest of the way to Honiara, the capital of the Solomon Islands, on the island of Guadalcanal. Common Dolphins played in our bow wake as they often do. Nina had a chance to do some "house" cleaning while underway. The boat sure needed some attention after all of our visitors. In Honiara there were other yachts. We hadn't seen many yachts for months, but there were 8 others in the anchorage. We didn't have time to meet everyone as we were busy shopping (until we dropped) for items to trade and a pipe for a man in Tikopia. We never did find the metal pipe that he wanted, but we did get more fishing tackle, carving tools, soap, shampoo, material for lavalavas, and playing cards to trade.

Besides shopping, Jerry had time on Sunday to change the oil in the port engine and work on the many photos we have taken recently. While he did this, Nina took the opportunity to go on a tour of WWII battle sites on Guadalcanal with an Australian (John Ennis) who has lived in Honiara for several years. He took about 20 people including 3 Australians working at the hospital for a few weeks (doctors and nurses), and 15 Australian Navy men who are helping get law and order under control in the country. John charged us each $70 SD ($10 US) and gave the money to Solomon Islanders whose land we went on to see the sites. It was really worth the 8 am to 5 p.m. tour even though we did a lot of walking in the hot sun. The stories were really interesting and it was neat to perhaps stand on some ground that her Dad had been on. He didn't arrive in Guadalcanal until after the Japanese left in February 1943, but he trained there before going to the Russell Islands. The American Memorial is very large and overlooks some of the battle sites. John told us that on August 6th and 7th 1997 the Americans and Japanese got together for an annual memorial service for each country - the first time this had happened and it was at the request of the Japanese. John wasn't sure the Americans would agree to the idea, but they did. He said the Japanese got very emotional and were truly happy that the Americans decided to go to their memorial service at their small memorial at the Solomon Peace Memorial Park. We can imagine what an emotional time that must have been for the veterans on both sides.

Besides the memorials, we saw where the Battle of Bloody Ridge took place with barbed-wire and metal posts still intact - set up to deter the Japanese from getting too close to the Americans too quickly in the night. Another battle site we visited was near a village where two of the villagers had gathered a lot of war memorabilia - helmets, canteens, buckles, shells, grenades, small containers of morphine, silverware, dishes, etc. Nina bought a couple of brass buckles that she could maybe find a use for. These brass items were in the best condition of the items found. There was a sign at one of the tables where items were displayed saying that it would be $25 SD to take photos, but there was no charge at the other table in another part of the village so a few photos were taken of those items found. It was interesting to see women carrying plastic pails of water on their heads in this village. Apparently they have to walk down a hill to the river and return to the village with water to drink and cook with. It takes them an hour to get each pail. What luxury we have in the U.S.!! We saw several foxholes along ridges in this area and continued to see many foxholes in other areas visited. We also walked to a Japanese observation post overlooking Henderson Field - an airstrip the Americans really wanted to take over. One site had a memorial to 85 Japanese that were buried in one pit. Their bones have now been cremated by the Japanese and the ashes returned to Japan. One story in this area was that a Japanese man opened a grave and found the dogtag of his own father. What are the chances of that happening? We were taken to Red Beach where there was a battle and crocodiles even got some of the Japanese in that area. There are many crocodiles throughout the Solomon Islands. The battle was called the battle of Timaru because of a river by that name, but it was near a different river - hence misnamed.

While in Honiara we bought two of their newspapers printed in English. The grammar was so atrocious that it distracted us from reading directly through an article. One example discussing teachers attending a workshop concerning ARH (Adolescent Reproductive Health): "They [the teachers] learnt that young people have challenges as they developed from adolescent to adulthood." When sentences like this appear in every paragraph it is quite distracting. We really got a chuckle out of the following sentences talking about Isabel Province: "Other problems with the rural development of the villages have less direct causes. Isabel Province is one of the most logged of Solomon Islands, yet it has the fewest improved roads of any large island in the Solomon Islands (0 km paved)." We thought that the newspapers in the Marshall Islands were bad, but they were quite sophisticated compared with the ones here in the Solomons.

Our first stop ashore in the city of Honiara was the tourist office. We learned that there were no city maps available, and that you simply ask people you meet to direct you to a store that has what you are looking for. This didn't seem too efficient a way to shop, but... The market was interesting with heaps of the usual tropical fruits and vegetables. The crafts sold there were mostly made with shells and included the Malaitan shell money. The supermarkets didn't have too much. Imported items were quite expensive so we decided to do without most of them. We're getting used to eating fish, root crops, the Solomon cabbage which is like spinach, papayas, bananas, etc. Liquor and wine were very expensive so we decided we didn't need that either. We saw a parade the morning of our second day ashore. It was Solomons Women's week and many thatched booths had been set up in a park to sell food and crafts made by women. The first day wasn't too organized and there wasn't much set up, but when we went back the second day at lunch time we found cheap things to buy for lunch (50 cents) and Nina found a tie-dyed lavalava that had "Solomons" written on it. We bought one CD of Solomon Islands music by a reggae group called Jah Roots. We try to buy one CD from each country we go to. We were looking for some fast, dancing music like we'd found in Kiribati and the Marshall Islands. We'd asked several teenagers at various islands we'd visited who their favorite group was and had several to listen to in the shops. None of the groups were nearly as fast as what we were looking for, so the Jah Roots CD was a better choice and their messages are good. The CD has been cut so recently that it evens talks about the "tension."

(view Guadalcanal photos)

We haven't had much luck fishing between islands. We did catch a barracuda, but threw it back. Shortly after that we had a big sailfish or marlin on the line which was great to watch, but it was so big that the clasp holding the wire lead opened and we lost our lucky lure.

On September 30th we arrived at the village of Nukufero on Pavuvu Island in the Russell Islands. We were keen to visit this village as it is a Tikopian village and the Americans built some roads here and had a base during WWII. "The Americans made unopposed landings on both Pavuvu and Mbanika Islands in February 1943. Despite repeated air-raids, the US soon built two large airfields on Mbanika. Huge quantities of supplies were stockpiled, most of which were dumped in the sea at the end of the war." (Lonely Planet Guide) Nina's father was one of the men who was at this base before moving on to the Solomon Island of Rendova farther west. Nukufero village was founded soon after the war. Tikopia was getting overcrowded and there was a copra plantation nearby where the Tikopians could get employment. Most of the present population have never been to Tikopia, but a few have spent a few months or years there. Many people came to our boat to watch a slide show on our computer of the photos we took in Tikopia. The younger generation was especially interested in seeing the four chiefs from the four tribes (clans) there. Everyone knows which clan they belong to and they were eager to see what their chief looked like. They were also interested in seeing the villages after cyclone Zoe hit Tikopia in 2002. One of the 4 villages wasn't hit too badly, but three of the villages had 30' waves come over and very few of the thatched houses had any of their major posts left. The vegetation near the windward side of the island is still almost non-existent. Some of the villagers recognized many of the people in the slideshow since they had lived there for a while.

One morning we arranged with a very nice 30-year-old named James to take us on a tour of the island. We went through the village, walked on many of the "roads" made by the Americans, saw an old caterpillar bulldozer rusting away, and even found some rusting horseshoes. We'd like to think that Nina's Dad used those. It was amazing that the poles to put in the ground were still with them. We had walked to the area where they were found because James wanted to get us some papayas from his garden. They were in a pile right near the pawpaw tree. James asked us if horses really wore them. He had no idea what they were before we explained. Amazing! We guess not too many have visited much of this area. He did tell us that most visitors aren't willing to walk for 3-4 hours to see as much. For taking us on the tour, we gave him a shirt, tea, sugar, and made tapes of some music he liked. This village was much different from those on islands we'd previously visited in the Solomons. People brought us food or drinking nuts just for letting them see the photos and expected nothing in return. It was great that they haven't been "spoiled" by having many sailboats stop. We were the first boat they'd had stop this year. There were crocodiles in the anchorage, so we didn't do any swimming. Again, the locals aren't concerned about them during the daytime and swim as if they didn't live there. We were hoping to take a dinghy trip up the river to see the crocodiles having their teeth cleaned by birds (as reported by some of the locals), but we decided we needed to keep moving as cyclone season will be upon us before long and there is still a lot we want to see and do in the Solomons and PNG. The last three hours before leaving Nukufero, Jerry showed 8-10 people at a time (in our very hot main salon darkened by putting up the outside curtains) the photos he'd taken in their village, while Nina made origami cubes and served popcorn in the cockpit.

(view Nukufero photos)

On our way to Marovo Lagoon (on the east side of New Georgia Island) we saw two fish traps floating after daylight. We wonder if we were lucky to miss others during the night. They consisted of fairly thin sticks with a flag on top attached to some round plastic floats and a barrel. They probably wouldn't have damaged the boat too much, but... Our Australian friends on "Journeyman" had sailed through the area the previous day and had told us the waypoint of one they'd found. We made sure that we didn't go anywhere near that one during the night.

Our reason for sailing to Marovo Lagoon was to see many of the high quality carvings done by the Seventh Day Adventists here. Also, our Lonely Planet Guidebook to the Solomon Islands says that in novelist James Michener's opinion, the Marovo Lagoon is the 8th wonder of the world. We had looked in the craft shops in Honiara to get an idea of the prices we might pay for crafts in the area so that we could convert enough US dollars into Solomon dollars to get a couple of bowls with nautilus shell pieces inlaid in the wood and to perhaps get a "Spirit of the Solomons" panel for a wall. These are elaborate with fish, sharks, turtles and people all over the panel, on top of one another and twined around. We've already seen a few of them and taken photos of them with the artist who carved them, but the right one at the right price hasn't shown up yet. Working our way around coral we saw a very strange bird and discovered that it must have been a hornbill. It looked very unusual in flight. We don't have a photo of one on board, but the villagers said that they do have them here. One man even has one as a pet. He keeps its leg tied so that it doesn't fly away. As usual, upon our arrival in the lagoon at about 5 p.m., we had canoes coming with their art. We had just completed an overnight and day sail from the Russell Islands so needed to rest before the onslaught of visitors. The men were very polite and granted us a visitor-free evening. The following morning all arrived after 9 am at our request and we had some very business-oriented people on board. They are hard bargainers, but mostly we admired their carvings, took notes on the prices they wanted (about twice as much as in the shops in Honiara - before bargaining started) and took photos of them with their crafts. We weren't really interested in most of the items shown but did find a nice bowl with a cover.

After 3+ hours of looking at carvings near the village of Mbili, we motored through part of the lagoon to an anchorage we'd heard didn't see too many yachts. This village of Manabusu didn't seem to have many carvings. Three canoes came with some small items. However, they had many children who wanted to come for a visit. Several swam out or came on inner tubes. Nina started this letter while Jerry entertained them. They were all very polite as we've generally found in the Solomons and they liked eating our usual food served to 15 - 25 kids (popcorn) and listening to music from their country (Jah Roots). When Jerry asked them to leave a little after 5 p.m., they went with no trouble. We decided that we needed to find an anchorage farther away from villages so that we could spend a day catching up with our email. This morning a man came with some small carvings as his brother had traded a smallish carving of a dolphin for a pair of reading glasses and he really wanted some too. Shortly after his visit we had two women (probably in their 50's or 60's) visit us separately. They also wanted reading glasses. The first woman found that we were willing to trade for a woven hat, which is all she had to offer. She chose the 250 magnification glasses and was very happy. The second woman brought a very similar hat, but with a smaller weave. Nina didn't really need another hat on board, but it was very difficult to refuse her a pair of 200 magnification glasses. She also had a problem with her knee so we gave her a small bottle of aspirin and hope they give her some relief from her pain.

Now we've been anchored at an uninhabited island on the eastern edge of the lagoon for over 6 hours and have had no visitors. We realized that we'd either had lots of visitors or been at sea doing 6-hour watches ever since leaving Tarawa on August 4th. It was time for a break! We feel like we can breathe again. We even had time for lunch - a rarity these weeks. This won't last long as we'll feel the need to be on the move again soon, but it has been great to write without interruptions during daylight hours!