30 October 2013
We arrived at the dock for the Discovery 360 ferry to Auki, the town on Malaita Island (#1 on the map to the right). (pronounced mah-LIE-ta)
It doesn't look like it's really far from Honiara on Guadalcanal, but it took about 5 hours to get there. The ferry stopped at Tulagi (#2 on the map), where we'll stay later in the week, and stopped at a few other small villages as well. (Number 3 is where we'll go next week, the island of Gizo (GHEE-zoe, hard G) up in the Western Province.
So we left from Point Cruz - this was the big arrival and launching location during the war, so a lot of people come to see Point Cruz. It's now the freight dock, complete with cranes and all. Plus the various ferries which go to all of the islands of the Solomons - although not all on the same days. Or even the same islands.
And yes, we quietly sailed (well, motored) over all those sunken warships. The Canberra. The Enterprise. The Washington. The Vincennes. The Atlanta. The Monson. All the ships lying on the bottom of Iron Bottom Sound, quietly rusting as we travelled over the water.
I've asked people we meet if they were alive during the war, but haven't found anyone of that age yet. Not even anybody who was a baby at that time. I'll keep asking.
We started out with a beautiful sunny day, clear skies and calm seas, almost like a mirror. Very few waves. And strange little flying fish that would leap out of the water as we went by, and they'd fly off away to something like 20-50 feet (7 to 18 meters), when they'd splash back into the water. I asked the man sharing out table what they were, because their faces didn't really look like fish - they almost looked more like birds, with a pointy beak, and the tail didn't have fins like fish. Turns out these are small squid! Have you ever heard of flying squid???? Wow, crazy! They get freaked out when the boats go by overhead, and they leap out of the water and sail along on their fins, like wings, until they splash down. They actually looked like very big hummingbirds, sailing along just inches above the water. I kept trying to get a photo, but they are speedy little suckers!
At some of the small villages, there wouldn't be a dock or anything. So the ferry would slow down, and the captain would look to see if anyone was coming over to catch the ferry. And then we'd stop and wait for the small boats to come up so the passenger could board the ferry.
But I think my favorite was the dugout canoe, with two paddlers, and the woman in the center holding a baby and a lavender umbrella. So unexpected. Just so British and incongruous.
We cruised along, going past various islands, around sandbars and giant rocks and reefs coming close to the surface, following some channel markers and hoping that our captain knew what he was doing.
There would be the occasional village, or maybe a town, or possibly a resort - no way to really tell at a distance. Just blue blue water reflecting the clear blue sky and puffy little clouds.
Some islands were basically just little cays, almost like little punctuation marks to the larger islands.
With Guadalcanal, the BIG island, looming in the distance. (Can an island loom when it gets smaller as we travel away from it?)
We passed the Central Islands, also known as the Florida Islands, and continued through the straits that separate this little cluster of islands. The skies grew darker, and there was definitely rain in the distance. But the sun was still shining on us, and the combination made for great lighting on the everchanging water.
And then the rain hit, just as we entered the narrow part of the straits, feeling more like a river. Heavy torrential rain, obscuring the views and forcing the crew to close the doors, and everyone to come in from the upper decks. It poured and poured, we could see the heavy raindrops splashing on the sea.
We arrived at some village (no one announces the arrival, they assume everyone knows where they are at all times - so I have no idea where this village was) - and there was a crowd to meet the passengers. Some people were waiting for friends or family, others were waiting to help carry goods, and still others were hangers-on, just waiting around to see what exciting things might happen. And there seemed to be some excitement about trying to catch some kind of fish in the water, but it was never caught, despite a few boys jumping in after it.
We sailed through the rain, through the straits, and out into the open ocean beyond, heading to Malaita. This took another two hours or so. You wouldn't think we'd get tired of beautiful scenery, but after three or four hours it gets tiring. And even though we brought sandwiches and bought coffee, we were getting hungry. (There wasn't much of a concession stand on the ferry.)
So we were happy to finally arrive in Auki. Richard commented that it looked like a movie set - the dock was packed with passengers disembarking, other passengers trying to get on the ferry, as well as family and friends meeting people. All the while the crew was unloading and then loading up cargo in sort of fire brigade fashion, tossing box from person to person, down the line. At the same time, a few vehicles were trying to either back down the pier or drive back onto the road at the other end. Just milling chaos, with no end in sight and no way to orchestrate some kind of order out of it. Just a chaos of humanity.
We found our hotel, although we had to wind around the streets a bit. Our room is comfortable but nothing special, although we do have a nice balcony and a super large shower. The restaurant here is closed, there was a death in the chef's family, so we headed out to find somewhere else to eat lunch.
People are very friendly - we passed a few women unloading bags of rice from a truck. One woman called hello, and I said hello, then asked where to find some lunch. She and the shop owner explained where to find a restaurant - past the market - and we headed down. Had a nice little lunch, found a few traditional thatched houses, and then wandered through the market.
What a lovely market! There are stalls that are clean and tiled, with room for the vendor to sit on a chair and display their produce on the counter - so many places have the items on the floor, and, well, by Western standards that just seems so unclean. Plus the produce vendors were grouped by the kind of produce - greens in one section, root vegetables in another, fruits in a third, and of course the cooked foods somewhere else, and the fish far away from everything else.
We'll head back to the market tomorrow, since this is where some people still use shells for money.
And we'll walk around Auki some more, see if we can find any more excitement.
Oh, I wanted to add something about the Solomon Islands coat of arms. We see this on government buildings and such. Notice the usual crest, flanked by a crocodile on the left and a shark on the right. Yup, these two animals are common here. But they are almost like guardian spirit animals. There are legends where the sharks helped a stranded sailor to shore. Or the crocodiles did something similar. There are traditions of calling a shark. Or people who live near swamps, who talk to the crocodiles. They are considered part of the larger family, and are treated as such. And, it is believed, if someone causes trouble in the community or doesn't respect these guardians animals, well, that's when the animal attacks. So people seem to live peacefully with the sharks and crocodiles as their neighbors.
I just found that really interesting!!!