Feasting

There’s an excellent article over at Not A Lot Of People Know That about the BBC’s most recent foolish claims about the Solomon Islands. They’re saying that some islands have been drowned by rising seas … but the truth is that these are man-made islands. They were built in a lagoon because of headhunters on shore, and yes, occasionally storms have destroyed them … so what? It beats getting eaten by the neighborhood bully, and it hasn’t bothered the residents much—these islands have been rebuilt and repaired many times.

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I also note, courtesy of the irrepressible climate scientist Willie Soon, that the new Miss Solomon, Emily Chan, has said that she’s going to raise her voice on climate change …

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Foolish me. You see, I was unaware that becoming a movie star or a beauty queen also made you an expert on the climate … I can see I’ve been going about my education all wrong. I might not have had to put in the thousands of hours of study. Although to be fair, the chances of me winning a beauty contest approach 0 Kelvin …

Why is this of interest to me now? Because I’ve gone and done it again. I got up at 3AM a couple of days ago, and about 31 hours later I landed in Gizo … and where is Gizo? Well, it’s in the Western Province of the Solomon Islands, surrounded by islands with mystical names like “Simbo”, “Ranongga”, and “Kolombangara”. And the Solomon Islands, in turn, are north of Australia just below the Equator.

I swear, if you dropped me blindfolded into Gizo I’d know what country I was in just by the smell of the towns in the Solomons. The smell is composed of something like one-quarter human sweat, one-quarter garbage, one-quarter betel nut spit, and one-quarter the cheap black local tobacco smoked rolled up in standard printer paper … with a soupçon of human excrement thrown in for the occasional nosegay.

I love it. It smells like home. Did I mention I lived in the country for eight years? There are some links at the end of this post to other Solomon Island tales …

I’m here to work on the noble vessel “ICE”, a fifty-foot motorsailer which I sailed on once before, getting her ready for the next voyage.

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Here’s an aerial view of Gizo town. The airstrip takes up all of Nusatupe, the island on the right. The town center is at the point of land at the bottom. I’ve noted the location of the ICE.

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In the picture below, the location where I’m writing this is where the boat in blue says “ICE in Gizo”. It’s moored at the local fuel dock. Inshore of the boat you can see the round tall fuel tank casting a shadow. Paradise. Ocean temps about 82°F in summer … 78°F in winter …

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Next week we’ll be hauling out the boat and painting, putting on new zincs, and the like, at the slipway of the shipyard that I used to run. It’s about 17 miles away, on Liapari Island. Here’s the overview …

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And here’s the closeup

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Liapari Island is the large coral island in the center. The pass into the lagoon is at the top right. You can see the channel through the middle reef, it’s the dark blue line. The slipway is about where the boat is. The shipyard, machine shop, and the residences are up on the point, as seen below:

unknown0Hey, somebody’s got to drive the boat over there, and the ship’s bottom isn’t going to scrape itself …

So that’s where I am now, working all day on the boat. When I walk to and from the town I’ve been taking candid shots of the people, shooting from the hip to avoid notice.

When folks ask why I like the Solomons, I say that there are lots of tropical places with beaches and coconut trees and the like … but as is true everywhere, it’s the people that make the difference.

Solomons is strange in that there are about eighty or so different languages spoken here, meaning eighty different cultures. The breakdown is about 95% Melanesian, 4% Micronesian and Polynesian, and 1% Chinese and European. Everyone speaks at least two languages, one of them being the common everyday lingua franca, which is Solomon Islands Pijin.

Pijin is a wonderful language, derived originally from English. It makes do with a tiny vocabulary, so lots of words have to work overtime. For example, the word “long” can mean to, from, in, on, at, or any variant thereof. Here’s an example from a billboard advertising that the local rice, “Solrice”, has gone back to its original processing and taste:

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The black letters say, in English orthography, “Original taste, him come back!” White on red at the bottom says “Rice belong you-me long Solomon”, meaning rice of (belong) we people (you-me) of (long, one of the many multi-purpose words) the Solomons.

Top right says “Sweet too much” (very sweet). The red letters in the middle say “Try’em Solrice and think’em why you love’em”. Basically this means, “Try Solrice and remember why you liked it”, with the temporal ambiguity because there are no past, present or other tenses in Pijin.

All of the cultures speak Pijin, Melanesians, Micronesians, expatriates like myself. Gizo has a larger percentage of Micronesians than the country as a whole, because back in the day the British gave one of the islands to the people of Kiribati who were dying in a prolonged drought. See my post “So Many People … So Little Rain” for a discussion of these issues.

So to give you a flavor of the town, without further ado, let’s take a walk from the boat to town and I’ll point out some of the people and sights of Gizo. Here’s one of the more common sights, a box where the people have been spitting the blood-red pulp of the betel nut after they chew it.

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As you can see … accuracy is not high on their list. This leaves many parts of the street looking like a mass murder just happened … but it’s just betel nut, or “bilnat”, as it’s spelled in Pijin. Next, here come some folks. A woman from Western Province:

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A man likely of Kiribati descent:

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There is a wild variety of clothing, which comes in used from Australia in big bales and is sold by the piece.

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Here’s a small part of the seaside market that covers most of the waterfront:

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For rain, they hang up any plastic scrap with any kind of string …

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The people of Western Province have lovely very dark skin of a beautiful sooty color … however, despite making for a great complexion, it also makes it hard to photograph them unless there is direct sunlight.

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Rasta colors are popular …

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Of course, as in all extremely undeveloped countries like the Solos, babies are everywhere …

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And as is true around the world, they love and are proud of their kids …

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Most of the shopkeepers are Chinese, so there is a significant Chinese population in Gizo …

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Along the way, there are gaps where we can look out over the lagoon. Here’s one with a beautifully dilapidated local house on the water … building codes? Perhaps in theory, but not in practice.

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And as always, there are the infinite varieties of the human form.

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So that’s my town these days … full of joy and color. I’m out doing what I love best, feasting my eyes on the infinite mysteries of the people and the planet. I’ll post more as the trip goes on … for now, I’m going to eat and go to bed. Here’s the current weather, along with the forecast …

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Eighty-four degrees Farhenheit (~29°C), eight-four percent humidity, “Feels Like 106°F”, some rain, some sunshine … what’s not to like for a tropical boy like me? I dove under the boat to check the state of marine growth. The ocean is about 80°F (27°C). Color me happy. Color the barnacles and growth on the ship’s bottom even happier, the weeds have run riot since the last haulout.

For the duration of my stay my phone is +677 769-3989, if you’re in the country send me a text, give me a shout …

My thanks to those who made this job possible, particularly Mike the boat owner, his sons who have been very helpful, and of course my gorgeous ex-fiancee who for 39 years now has had endless patience with my endless wanderlust …

More later,

w.


My other posts on the Solomon Islands:

Tropical Crime and Punishment 2013-02-11

People sometimes ask how I learned so much about coral atolls and islands. It’s because for three years in the late ’80s I lived in one of the most beautiful places on the planet, a coral island in the South Pacific. I was the Manager of the island, the company…

The Missing Cashbox and the Nguru Patrol 2013-02-16

The South Pacific is a marvelous place for characters, it attracts them and magnifies them the same way it magnifies all the tales and rumors. After while I developed Willis’s Rule of Rumors, which is that you need to divide all the numbers in a story about some other island…

Blackmailing the Japanese Ambassador 2013-02-17

I got to talking and laughing with my lovely lady today about old Billy Bennett. Billy was a rascal and a rogue and an erstwhile killer of men and a gentleman, another of those odd folk one finds in the Solomon Islands. Billy was born the same year as my…

Fishing Bootstrap Style 2013-11-11

Well, my recent adventures with the stent have put me in a reflective mode, and for some reason, I got to thinking about night fishing. In the late eighties, the gorgeous ex-fiancee and I lived for three years right on the beach in Honiara, the capital of the Solomon Islands…

In Which I Talk to the Thunderstorms 2011-03-02

Thunderstorms are great majestic beasts. If you had never seen one or heard of one in your life, imagine your surprise if a lovely peaceful day suddenly clouded up. Then it started to rain. Then it was pelting down hail. Then a blinding bolt of lightning blew your ears off…

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22 thoughts on “Feasting

  1. Mr. Eschenbach,
    Thanks for the entertaining and delightful description. I always enjoy the maritime-related travelogues written by one of my favorite autodidactic polymaths.

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  2. Hope you enjoy your time there. Nothing like fragrant smells wafting on an ocean breeze to put one at ease. Don’t work too hard…. there’s always tomorrow. All the best.

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  3. Thank you for the photos! I am feeling a little homesick. The spirits of the people and of the place remain as lovely as ever. Much love to you and to those who may remember me – from your gorgeous ex-fiancee. Please remember to take the Mefloquine…..it is Thursday. xxoo

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  4. Pingback: Wanderlust | Watts Up With That?

  5. I realized that I’d left out one more story of the Solomons, this one about Gizo itself …

    In Which I Talk to the Thunderstorms 2011-03-02

    Thunderstorms are great majestic beasts. If you had never seen one or heard of one in your life, imagine your surprise if a lovely peaceful day suddenly clouded up. Then it started to rain. Then it was pelting down hail. Then a blinding bolt of lightning blew your ears off…

    w.

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    • Luc, good to hear from you. It’s willis, and the rest is (at)surfacetemps.org. I split it up so the robots don’t harvest it, make the usual substitutions.

      Best wishes for your health, or as they say, I wish you salud, pesetas, y tiempo pa’ gozarlas …

      w.

      Like

  6. Pingback: Tamino | Watts Up With That?

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