31 October 2013
We started our day having breakfast at the Bamboo Café, a nice little spot not far from our hotel. (Our hotel has a restaurant, but there was a death in the chef's family, so the place is closed until the weekend.) Anyway, as we were waiting for our meal, I heard the pitiful cry of an unhappy kitten. I went to the counter and asked if that was a little kitten, they said yes. I asked if it wanted to be held and that's why it was so noisy, they said yes. I offered to hold it, so the young lady brought out an adorable kitty, maybe 6 to 8 weeks old, dark grey stripes, with Cleopatra eyes (the lines look like very long eyeliner) - and the little kitty snuggled up and began purring. There is nothing sweeter than a purring little kitten who nibbles on your fingers. So I kitty-sat while we waited for brekkie, and I had a wonderful time. (When my toast showed up, the lady took the kitty back. He was ready to climb up on the table and help himself.)
We headed on down to the market, looking for the shell money. Turns out the shell necklaces, what we used to call puka shells, are the shell money - and the longer the necklace, the more money on it. Used to be a long long necklace for a bride's dowry.
But more exciting, there were a few dugout canoes right at the water's edge, in back of the market. Not moored or anchored - they just seemed to stay in place. I don't know how, but they did.
There's a sort of shanty town across the harbour, a collection of thatched houses that appear to be lived in. Very traditional, and several are on stilts to accommodate storm surges.
There's also an island in the harbour or bay, with a collection of buildings - I don't know who lives there, but I'd guess they may be the owners of the dugout canoes.
It's always interesting to walk around traditional markets. There's always something interesting, like the traditional thatched houses nearby. Or the ladies selling cooked or raw fish, who have home-made fly swatters that they wave over the fish like metronomes, back and forth - basically a thin dowel or stick with a shredded plastic back on the end, making a fly whisk to keep the flies off their goods.
I should say something about Solomon Islands money - the current exchange rate is something like US$1 = SI$7.31. Or, SI$1 = US$.14. Changes daily, but only fluctuates by a few Solomon cents. So something that costs SI$10 is about US$1.45. A cup of tea for SI$5 is really US$.75. We just go with multiplying or dividing by 7, as a round figure.
So, the pineapples are sorted and priced by size. These are $10 pineapples. That, in US $, is really about $1.45. For a big ripe pineapple. The bunch of five coconuts are the same price. That's about $.28 per coconut. Definitely a buyer's market!!! No one is getting rich on the extra produce from subsistence farming - but no one in Auki seems to be starving, either. No one is begging, no one is asking for help, everyone seems well-fed and happy.
Like my little buddy here - what a cute child! He's maybe 4 or 5, and wouldn't stop eating whatever it was that he's munching on. I asked if I could take his photo, would that be okay, because he was so handsome - he gave me the smile and eyebrow raise that means yes. (I know, somehow it seems so funny to have a sophisticated non-verbal response from a little kid. But hey, we're used to kids who nod yes or shake their head no - so here, instead of a nod, we get an eyebrow lift.) Anyway, he was just so adorable I wanted to get his photo. The children all look healthy and well-nourished, as do the adults.
And today, a sunny morning (before a very rainy afternoon), people seemed extra friendly. A lot of people stopped to say hello (hallo), and asked where we're from, and what do we think of the Solomon Islands. One older man shook both of our hands, but we couldn't understand much of what he said so we just smiled and nodded and thanked him for his welcome, and went on our way.
We were impressed with the dirt and gravel roads, which have potholes (rather than having speed bumps, you know) that turn into major lakes during rainy season. Yes, this is a pothole on a sunny morning. Can you imagine what it looks like after a rainy day???
There are also a variety of tobacco where people sell home-grown tobacco. In various shapes and forms. I'm not sure if the different shapes mean different kinds of tobacco, or different ways it is cured. I talked with one vendor, who of course was smoking a manufactured cigarette rather than home rolled, and an older woman who was smoking a pipe. They didn't want their photos taken, but the two girls next to them agreed that I could take a photo of the tobacco and then they hid their faces!
Looks weird, doesn't it? At first I thought maybe it was some dried meat - salami, or jerky, or something. But then it registers as tobacco.
There were also a few little sheds that sell papers and cigarettes - you can even buy cigarettes one at a time. I explained that I don't smoke, but these two dudes (check the gangland hand!) said I should take their photo so of course I did.
Things are just colourful - the umbrellas, the clothes people wear, the "public" transportation system that seems to be big pickup trucks where people just pile into the back, as many as can cram in with their legs hanging over the edge, looking like too many sardines spilling out of the can. And of course the colourful classic, laundry on the line - I really liked this primary colour sequence of towels.
And just because there aren't enough adventures, well, I make my own.
There's a cute little red-cheeked parrot in a tiny cage at our hotel. I stop and talk to him every time I go past, and he chirps and squawks back at me. He's just a little guy. I found out from the hotel manager, Peter, that this is a wild parrot, just a young one, who was caught by one of the guys working at the hotel. Well, baby parrot is okay eating his applesauce or mashed banana or whatever, but he seems to not have any water. And it's very hot here, being only 9 degrees south of the equator.
So after lunch today (which was scrambled egg foo yung - really, exactly like Chinese restaurant egg foo yung, but scrambled, not an omelet, with rice on the side), as we looked in various stores (which have limited items to buy, but you can usually make do with what you find), I bought a little metal bowl, thinking I could fit it between the wires of the cage, and give little Mr Red Cheeks some water. Of course, the bowl was too big. So I had to go find the owner of the bird, who turned out to be the security guy who is also helping with some construction here at the hotel.
I explained that I thought the bird needed some water. Mr Security Guy opened the cage, and Mr Red Cheeks hopped out onto his hand. I put some water in the bowl, held it, and little Mr RC sipped some water and then tried nibbling my fingers. I put the bowl in his cage, and chatted a bit with Mr Security Guy and another man who is also working on the building. The agreed that the bird needs a bigger cage, and explained to me that this is a baby and he's still getting in his full feathers. And they thanked me for the bowl and getting water for the parrot.
OH - last thing - when I was buying the bowl, I noticed that the younger salesman had faint tattoos on his face, just two concentric circles on the apple of each cheek, with a few lines radiating out of the circle and back toward the temples. I asked if he minded if I asked about the tattoos, because I had seen similar tattoos on a young woman at the bakery across the road. He laughed and said that it's traditional in his village, which is on the island of Malaita but up north - just the traditional tattoos that let people know they come from there. We talked about the Maori facial tattoos, and I said we also saw some Samoan people with facial tattoos. It was interesting - they are barely-there tattoos, almost not there - like when you go to a club and they stamp your hand and in the morning it's still a faint color - that's what the tattoos look like.
Oh, one more thing - betel nut does have caffeine. People tell me if you drive a long distance, you need to eat betel nut to stay awake. (And there is NOT a car dealership on this island, people go to Honiara or a nearby country to buy a vehicle, then ship it to Malaita. But that Honiara mostly gets reconditioned vehicles that are sold as gently used, and they really aren't in very good shape.)
We are definitely off the tourist track! Still having fun in the Solomons!!!