The End Of The Trail

Sadly, and also happily, my time in the Solomon Islands is coming to an end. Two nights ago I walked from the boat into Gizo town. It had been threatening rain, and halfway there I caught the first smell of what I call the “rain wind”. This wind starts on high where it is entrained by the falling rain, blowing vertically towards the ground. On the way down to the earth, it is cooled by the evaporation of the raindrops. When it hits the ground it spreads horizontally, outpacing the rain itself, a cool harbinger of the rain to come. When the rain wind hit me, I knew I was in for it.

Then the rain broke, coming down in buckets and barrels. I hopped from one overhanging store roof to the next, staying as dry as I could, and glorying in the violence of the tropical downpour.

Then, yesterday morning it dawned clear, hot, and humid. I walked and sweated my slow way to town and back … I’d wager I ended up wetter from the sun than I did from the rain.

As I’ve been readying to leave, I’ve gotten to considering what has changed in the Solomons and what has not. One thing that is unchanged is the adventurous nature of the children and the willingness of the parents to let them adventure. In the US folks can get arrested for letting their kids play unsupervised in the park … meanwhile, in the Solos, this little kid has gone out fishing with his tiny pole from a chunk of foam used to protect outboard motors in transit …


What else is unchanged? Their stupid brooms, nothing but a bunch of twigs tied together, which force the women to bend over in order to sweep … c’mon, folks, this is 2017. Tie a stick to it …


They still build leaf houses and repair them with what is at hand, including a banner that used to say “BEER Sold Here” …


One wondrous thing that hasn’t changed is that here, people touch each other. I can meet a man in the street, start talking to him, put my hand on his shoulder—human contact here is not avoided, it is sought out. It is not uncommon to see two women or two men walking down the street holding hands, purely for the comfort and the solace of human touch. I miss that in the States.

What has changed since I was last here? Well, the corruption has gotten much worse. People report that nothing much happens these days without what is universally known here as a “brown paper bag”, meaning a bribe. When I came here first in 1984, I was surprised by the lack of corruption. But then a man was elected Prime Minister of whom it was said that he was so crooked he had to screw himself into bed …

There’s an old saying that “Fish rot from the head down”, and I sure got to see it in action. Within a few years, Government Ministers were mysteriously acquiring new houses in Brisbane, and things like permits to log the islands were mysteriously easy go get. And from all accounts, it’s now an epidemic, nothing happens without a brown paper bag.

Another change is that they’ve gone rabid over the idea that they’re gonna make big bucks out of climate change. They are still claiming that the coral atolls are going to sink beneath the rising seas, when in fact Charles Darwin showed that coral atolls are created by rising seas. Hasn’t stopped them from demanding that the US and others pay compensation for imaginary losses …

For me, though, one of the best unchanging things is the rustic beauty of the Gizo waterfront from the ocean. Yes, I confess, up close it’s dirty and gritty and smells bad, which is partly why I love it, but here’s what it looked like in the bright sun when Abraham took me over to the airport in the skiff …



As is usually the case, the top of Kolombangara Island was swathed in clouds … people have told me of the wonders of the “mist forest” up near the top, strange birds, dripping trees. Maybe the next trip, I tell myself, knowing full well that I may never lay eyes on that majestic volcano again in this lifetime …


So, slowly and reluctantly, I boarded the plane and flew from Gizo to Honiara, the capital city, “the big smoke” as it’s called … here’s a shot through the plane window, which has been rendered semi-opaque by too much tropical sunshine …


And a shot from my navigation program at the same location, showing that we’re doing 172 knots over islands scattered like strings of pearls across the sea …


Today I wandered around Honiara. The roads have gotten much worse, and that plus an ever-increasing number of cars on too few roads have led to semi-permanent gridlock. I made much better time walking through town than the cars did. It’s not much different than I recalled, hot and dusty. After Gizo, it seems somewhat unfriendly and fast-paced, although if you came here straight from San Francisco you’d find it frustratingly slow.

I went by the South Pacific Oil depot in Honiara, where I used to work, but I didn’t go in. They terminated me improperly when I worked for them … we settled out of court with their paying me one years salary for the injustice, and I had no desire to re-open old wounds.

One thing that hasn’t changed is that the authorities here don’t mess much with a man’s God-given right to take foolish chances … here’s a man painting a building in Honiara from his OSHA-approved scaffolding …


I visited a few old friends and came back to where I’m staying, at Mike’s family compound up on the hill in Tasahe. I took a bus to the bottom of the hill. Well, “bus” is somewhat grandiose, it was a tattered old van packed to the brim with aromatic humanity … including myself, Honiara was hot as ever on such a clear day. The trip cost forty-two cents US. It reminded me of the old joke, “How many people can you fit into a Solomon Islands van?”

Here’s the view from my porch … in the background is Savo Island, scene of a famous WWII naval battle.


Tomorrow I fly out, so in closing, I need to thank those people who have made all this possible. First my long-time friend, boss, employee, and boon companion, Mike. I’m staying at his compound with a variety of his descendants. Mike’s a fixture in these parts. I got in the taxi when I got to Honiara. I wasn’t sure exactly how to tell the taxi man where I was going, but when I’d explained it the best I could, the taxi driver said “Oh, mi save, hemi ples blong Mike” … “Me save(know), him he place belong Mike” … go figure.

Here’s a photo that will help explain his strange position in these lovely islands … his wedding picture. There he is, looking impossibly young and still in possession of his hair, with his equally young bride Grace at his side …

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And here they are today, with a couple of grandkids on their laps …


Even after my last tattoo, Mike still says that I’m woefully under-inked … next time I’m in Australia I’ve gotta do something about that.

So let me start with my profound thanks to Mike for giving me the opportunity to see my friends and visit the Solos again. Much appreciated, bro’, you rock!

Next on the list? Our wives, the wonderful Gracie and my gorgeous ex-fiancee, who over the last thirty years have put up with our endless misadventures, smiled at us when we left and hugged us when we returned, bandaged our wounds, forgiven our trespasses, listened to our tales, and kept the houses and the children together during our many absences. I have no words to express my gratitude to you both for your unwavering support of a couple of unredeemable miscreants …

Next, Mike’s children and grandchildren have been of great support to me on this trip. First, Mike’s son Don, who runs the fuel depot where the boat is tied up.

It was great to have a chance to get to know Don well during this trip, although I’ve known him since he was a little kid. He’s smart, funny, ambitious, attentive, and mature beyond his years. I’d put to sea with him any time, he’s a great companion. Here he is with his latest addition to the family.

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I’ve mentioned Mike’s grandson Abraham before. It’s a roll of the dice when you move into a small boat with someone that you’ve never met. It could be good or bad. With Abraham, it was all good. He’s young, so he’s not all that attentive to things like dirty dishes … but he has a warm and generous spirit and made me feel perfectly welcome and at home.

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Mike’s son Paul arranged for me to be picked up at the airport when I arrived, and set up my mobile phone with a SIMM card. Sadly, I only got to spend a few hours with him … hopefully next time. Here he is with his little one.

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Mike’s daughters were also great to see again. This is Constance …

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And Annie of the flashing eyes. I worked in the same office with her for two years, it was wonderful to see her again. She’s here taking care of the family compound. Last night she served up a delicious dinner plus bubbly insightful conversation about all things Solomons, while a bunch of Mikes young grand-daughters filled the dining room with laughter. …

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My profound thanks to the whole clan, an amazing collection of folks.

Let me next give a shout out to all my old friends here, Pat, Noel, Rosie, Hans, Joe, Andrew, and the rest of the unindicted co-conspirators. I’ve known these folks for thirty years now, and it was a true pleasure to see them all again and catch up on the missing time.

So my job is done, my tales are told, and the only ones left to thank are you, my readers. Your encouragement, amazement, and laughter at my tales of strange doings and foreign climes spur me to continue to report back from the outer fringes of the planet. Thank you for accompanying me on my voyage of wonderment. Writing about the world forces me to look at things with new eyes, to ponder the hidden links and unseen connections, and to pay close attention to the world unfolding before me.

I said at the start that I came here to feast my eyes on the miracles and marvels of this amazing planet, and I have done so to the best of my ability. I can only wish for you that your lives be full to the brim with the unexpected, the strange, and the uncommon, and that you too can glory in feasting your eyes on these wonders. Our time here is short, far too short … so I leave you now, to the accompaniment of the tune that has been the unchanging background music of my life, the melody of a madman, Tom ‘O Bedlams Song:

With a host of furious fancies
Whereof I am commander
With a sword of fire and a steed of air
Through the universe I wander.

By a ghost of rags and shadows
I summoned am to tourney
Ten leagues beyond the wide world’s end …
Methinks it is no journey.


Respectfully submitted, with gratitude to all,


Oh, right, I almost forgot … “How many people can you fit into a Solomon Islands van?”

… “One more” …

15 thoughts on “The End Of The Trail

  1. Willis, you really, really, must get round to putting all this wonderful stuff into that book you were talking about a few years back.

    And by the way, a few days ago you suggested that I had worn out several sea bags. From the days of my Apprenticeship when I had a cabin to myself, through the increasingly dizzy heights of 3rd, then 2nd. and then Chief Mate I shared a Steward with the other Mates and the Sparky (Radio Officer) to the final step of Old Man when I had a Steward all to myself, I never slept in a bag and always used suitcases for luggage.
    I wore out lots of socks, though, and once bought a canoe paddle by exchanging it for a pair of socks, somewhere up a river in West Africa. I still have it and use it when the wind dies and it is perfectly balanced.

    Travel safe.


    • Thanks for your kind words, Dawg, and you have some stories of your own.

      My problem with writing the book is that I’m too busy living the next story and writing it down to sit back and work on a book …

      My best to you, your good ladies, and your grandkids,



  2. Your story brings tears to my eyes, cous. I would love to hear of our Alaskan travels one day, in your words. How we lost our pistols on the highway, shooting Alaskan mosquitoes.
    Look forward to hoisting an adult beverage.


  3. Really all you need for a book is to find a good editor to splice all your stories together. Something similar to Robert Ruark’s “Old Man and the Boy”. It’d be a great read.


  4. Merry Christmas, Willis. May you keep on enlightening, fascinating, delighting and entertaining us for many more years (at least until I shuffle off. I’m 72, so here’s to a few more years yet).


  5. Merry Christmas to all the “Fellow Willis Travelers” out there. The comments are as delicious as the main course. Version 7.3 and looking toward at least two more major releases (if I can behave myself…)


  6. Willis now that I have reached my semi-retirement years I have either found the time, or thru the development of wisdom, to appreciate those aspects of life and this world that you so lovingly describe.


  7. Thank you so much Willis for these tales. I have read every word, followed every step, and enjoyed every smell and sight that you feasted on. I have saved each tale in a folder and when the winter wind blows and snow drifts decorate my yard here in Ohio, I will reread them and return to the islands, even if it’s only in my imagination. Safe travels home and Merry Christmas.


    • Irene, welcome to the blog, and thank you for your kind words. It is indeed my intention to bring people along with me to a place that they may never see and to invite them to share in the journey. I’m glad you’ve enjoyed the adventure.



  8. Hi there.

    I came to this site via WUWT. From the never ending battles in climate change, you have created an oasis of peace. A campfire suffused with the warmth of humanity, tales of derring-do with the occasional swash and buckle. It is the perfect remedy to the trials and tribulations and downright boringness of humdrum life. I look forward to each and every post, not knowing what surprises are going to be sprung, what memories relived and shared.

    I have lurked here for a long while, but come forth into the light to wish you and your family Merry Christmas and many happy years to come. (The last bit is just selfish, I want to sit at the campfire and enjoy your tales until far into the night.)

    kindest regards,


    • Duncan, thanks for your kind words. I’m glad to hear that you enjoy my stories of my rather unusual life, of the much more unusual lives of those I meet, and of my views of the seen and unseen aspects of this mysterious eternity. More to come …

      Merry Christmas to you and yours as well,



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