Gizo, Ghizo

My last post was mainly about life in Honiara, the highlights and the daily grind. Nothing to be envious of, in other words. I think it’s fair to say that this post is going to change all that…

Sunrise over Kolumbanggara Island, near Gizo

Sunrise over Kolumbanggara Island, near Gizo

Last week I flew to Gizo for meetings with stakeholders to talk about protected areas. I’ve been to Gizo before, so I knew what to expect, but it was still pretty awesome.

Kolumbanggara Island

I flew out on Sunday in a Dash-8; the views from the window were amazing. You really get a sense of how many islands there are when you see the country from the air.

Guadalcanal (left) and Nusatupe (right) from the air

Guadalcanal (left) and Nusatupe (right) from the air

I was seated next to a lady and her gorgeous little girl – who kept trying to resist sleep to stare at me with big wide eyes.

Wide-eyed pikinini

Wide-eyed pikinini

On arrival at Nusatupe (the island where the plane lands), I was picked up by the dive boat and taken to dive the Toa Maru and Grand Central Station with one of the volunteers based in Gizo. Honestly, neither of the sites was outstanding (Komodo you have spoiled me!) although GCS had the potential to be a great dive. The Toa Maru was quite interesting as wrecks go – it’s a WWII Japanese transport ship with lots of artefacts including saki bottles – but didn’t have outstanding marine life as I’ve seen elsewhere (let’s face it, I’m a marine biologist – I see wrecks as substrates for colonisation!).

We spent our surface interval on Njari Island with a group of friends, where we were served a freshly-cooked lunch of yellowfin tuna, salad and roasted vegetables served on leaves, followed by fresh fruit.

The beautiful beach at Njari Island

The beautiful beach at Njari Island

Lunch was cooked on site

Lunch was cooked on site

Lunch! Fresh yellowfin tuna, roasted veges and rice

Lunch! Fresh yellowfin tuna, roasted veges and rice

Then it was back to Gizo (town) for a refreshing ale overlooking the harbour, then a delicious crayfish dinner with my colleagues from NSW Environmental Defender’s Office, who are sponsoring my volunteer assignment.

Racing dugouts

Racing dugouts

Gizo harbour

Gizo harbour

Yum - crayfish!

Yum – crayfish!

The next few days were taken up with stakeholder meetings and site visits. I felt really honoured to meet such a range of Solomon Islanders who are passionate about protecting their natural resources and preserving their culture and customs – we had people there from Malaita, Isabel and Munda as well as locals from Ghizo (island) and nearby Kolumbanggara.

Our site visits were to two communities living close to Ghizo who want to protect their local environment and manage their marine resources effectively. The boat ride was tough.

Some of the views from the boat ride

Some of the views from the boat ride

I also got to visit one of the nicest places to stay in the area – Oravae Cottage. It’s an eco-resort run by an Australian-Solomon Islander couple, and it’s just gorgeous. It’s definitely going on the bucket list!

View from one of the Oravae Cottage bungalows at Sepo Island

View from one of the Oravae Cottage bungalows at Sepo Island

I was also lucky enough to meet the good folks over at the Worldfish Centre on Nusatupe. While there I snuck in a snorkel to check out the giant clams they have been growing out and was followed around by a curious black tip reef shark.

The jetty at the Worldfish Centre, Nusatupe

The jetty at the Worldfish Centre, Nusatupe

All together I spent 5 days in Gizo and am already planning my next trip back. I’ve made some firm friends there, and was well looked after by everyone.

Moonrise over Gizo harbour

Moonrise over Gizo harbour

And just to prove it wasn’t all a tropical island paradise… the roads are even worse than Honiara 🙂

More pothole than road, Gizo

More pothole than road, Gizo

A day in the life

It’s the end of Week 4 and I’m starting to settle into life in Honiara.

parliament-view

The view from Vivaya Ridge, looking over Parliament

I’m beginning to recognise people in the street, which is nice. I’m getting used to the pace of life and where I can get what I need. I’m getting to know my colleagues and trying to practise my Pidgin.

Debra-Rosemary

Two of my colleagues, Debra and Rosemary, very fetching in their matching overalls

env-girls

The girls from the Environment team – Debra, Wendi and Rosemary.

I’m trying to get used to my hard office chair.

my-desk

My very own piece of real estate at the Ministry

I’m afraid I haven’t got many photos to share with you this time, but I haven’t had my camera and my phone takes crappy photos. So I’ve only included a few snaps (apologies for the dodgy quality), to give you an idea.

So, what is the day-to-day reality for a volunteer in Honiara, I hear you ask?

Well, there are certainly downsides to not having a nice fat salary to live off – complete with monster 4WD vehicle – such as getting around easily and safely at night, staying mud-free as you get yourself to work in the pouring rain, and shopping (there’s no such thing as a one-stop shop here, you have to go all over town to get everything you need).

However there are plenty upsides, such as really being one of the locals – we take the bus together, we walk along the road together, and we shop in the market together. Everyone says “good morning” or “hello” and lots of people have been really helpful.

inside-the-bus

Inside one of the minibuses I take to work every day

road-home

The road home – my walking route

You meet a lot of like-minded people here – those that come to work or live in the Solomon Islands tend to be pretty adventurous, and need to be pretty open-minded and resilient. Life here can be a challenge, the power is unpredictable, the traffic is awful and costs are pretty high.

For those who know me well, you won’t be surprised that one of the big pluses for me is that you can get great coffee and decent ice cream without too much fuss (hello Frangipani ice cream, SBD8 for a double scoop – the equivalent of AUD1.20). Winner!

Frangipani

My ice cream twin James, and our matching scoops – at Frangipani ice cream parlour

Honiara Hot Bread also does a mean cream bun 🙂 Other things I have learned:

  • that the expat social scene here is pretty hectic – there is something on every night for those that are so inclined. One can go to yoga, hash, touch footy, triathlon, aerobics, poker… to name a few;
  • that Friday night drinks is an institution, and that the coconut wireless is very effective (everyone knows everyone and everything – and I’m meeting people I don’t know who have heard about me…);
  • that the bale (second hand) shopping here is awesome – I was fortunate to have some of the other expert shopper volunteers introduce me to the best places and we managed to find some great stuff, all for less than AUD6 a pop;
bale-shopping

Inside one of the Honiara second-hand shops

  • and that the potholes here could house a small family. Mum helpfully suggested to me this week that I could ship my Mazda 6 over to Honiara, thus killing two birds with one stone (I am selling my old car in Australia in order to buy a new car here in Honiara). This photo’s for you mum.

    potholes

    A particularly large couple of potholes on a road near my workplace

Despite my present lack of wheels, luckily there are plenty of other keen divers – with vehicles – so I have been diving every Sunday. So far we have just dived Bonegi I (a local shipwreck) but there are several other good shore dives within a short drive of Honiara so plenty to keep me busy. Watch this space for underwater photos. This photo was taken from the car, on our way back from Visale Beach to dive Bonegi.

dive-trip

The road back from Visale Beach, west of Honiara

This Sunday I am off to Western Province (Ghizo) for 5 days for a meeting. And a work-related dive trip. so you shouldn’t have to wait long for my next post…

Bi hapi evriwan 🙂
L

Honiara – olketa gudtaem (good times!)

Welkam evriwan long blog blong mi, statem wetem wanfala iia blong mi waka long Honiara, long Solomon aelan
(Welcome to my blog everyone, starting with my year working in Honiara, Solomon Islands)

I’ve now been in the Solomon Islands for just over a fortnight, so I reckon it is high time for my first blog post! I arrived in Honiara on 10 February 2014 along with 6 other volunteers. I’ll be working as a Protected Areas Advisor with the Ministry of Environment, Climate Change, Disaster Management and Meteorology and will be based in Honiara for the next 12 months.

Honiara port

Overlooking Honiara port, Solomon Islands

Since I arrived, I have been busy getting to know the place, meeting the Australian High Commissioner and many of the other volunteers already in country, and finding a place to live. Thanks to my mate Wez, I quickly found a room in a nice house on a ridge overlooking the sea with a lovely Cook Islands girl called Pam. We share a love of fisheries, diving, cooking, eating, and the Cook Islands (she agrees with me that it is the best place in the south Pacific!). Pam is teaching me about the islander way of life – and a few new cocktail recipes.

My new home

My new home

After the first few days of meet-and-greets, security briefings, and looking at houses, we were off on a village visit. As part of the orientation process, our in-country management team arranged a village stay for us to help us get a feel for the Solomon Islands way of life and see a bit more of the country, as well as to learn Pidgin. Our village visit was to Malaita Province, which is a 3-6 hour boat ride from Honiara (depending on the boat). En route we passed the lush islands of Central Province, watched fish jumping and spotted a pod of dolphins. It was good to be back on the water!

Boat trip to Malaita

Boat trip to Malaita

After a brief stop in the port town of Auki and a visit to the local market, where I picked up a delicious locally-grown pineapple, we made our way to Arabala Village, 1 hour by car from Auki.

Boy with dugout canoe, Auki

Boy with dugout canoe, Auki, Malaita Province

Huts on the water at Auki, Malaita Province

Huts on the water at Auki, Malaita Province

Fresh produce, Auki market Malaita Province

Fresh produce, Auki market, Malaita Province

We spent a fantastic four days in the village. Our hosts were incredibly friendly, open and generous with us – we were welcomed with garlands of flowers, a coconut to drink and a performance by the village children, followed by a delicious lunch. I felt a bit like royalty!

combo

Village welcome – with garlands and coconuts complete with palm leaf straws

In amongst our Pidgin lessons (which are already paying off!), we explored the village and went swimming with the village children. The kids were absolutely fearless, diving and jumping off the jetty, and when we joined in we were rewarded with lots of smiles and laughter.

Kids jumping off the jetty at Arabala, Malaita Province

Kids jumping off the jetty at Arabala, Malaita Province

There are lots of children in the village and one of my strongest memories of the trip is the constant sound of children laughing. What a delightful sound… much nicer than the roosters crowing! We stayed with local families in their houses, which was lovely, and gave us a real sense of everyday village life.

Path to jetty, Arabala, Malaita Province

Path to jetty, Arabala, Malaita Province

The backyard of my host family, Arabala

The backyard of my host family, Arabala

On Saturday the villagers showed us how to climb a coconut tree, how to husk and crack a coconut with only a sharp stick and a stone, how to make coconut milk and how to thatch a traditional house. With my new survival skills I’m not worried about surviving in the islands if I get lost – there are plenty of coconuts ;). They also demonstrated how to weave a basket from palm fronds (I have to try that one day) and how to cook a traditional meal of cabbage and potato (kumara) using pieces of bamboo on the fire.

How to: climb a coconut tree, thatch a house, make a basket; Arabala

How to: climb a coconut tree, thatch a house, make a basket; Arabala

On Sunday afternoon we all jumped in the back of a flatbed truck and went for a swim in a nearby stream. After the bath-like temperatures in the sea around the jetty it was really refreshing to swim in some cool fresh water.

Truck ride to local stream

Truck ride to local stream

What a refreshing plunge in the stream

A refreshing plunge in the stream

And then there was sunset…

Arabala sunset: fishing on the jetty, moonrise over mangroves

Arabala sunset: fishing on the jetty, moonrise over mangroves

On Monday we visited the village school and spoke with the headmaster about the school system and resources. Arabala seemed to have quite a few resources by comparison to some of the other schools (some in Honiara don’t even have chairs, let alone books), but they need books for their library. I’m going to try and get some books and/or funds donated – send me an email if you’re interested in helping out. After all, education is key to breaking the cycle of poverty and disadvantage.

Smiling kids (tufala pikinini smael)

Smiling kids (tufala pikinini smael), Arabala

It was back to Honiara last Tuesday, and after a big 2 weeks I’ve been settling into my new home and job, which I started on Monday.

That’s it from me for now; I hope you are all safe, happy and healthy and have enjoyed my first post!

Lxx