Where are the Solomon Islands? This country is located in the Coral Sea close to Papua New Guinea and about a 3 hour flight north east of Brisbane Australia. Typically not a cheap destination, either flights, hotels, car rental or food (which in our experiences, was basic and bland). Known as the ‘hapi isles’ for its friendly people, for its marine life, and significant World War II history. The main airport is in Honiara, the capital city.
I spent my time in a home-stay (Vavaea Ridge Apartment), in a neighborhood above the city called Vavaea Ridge – about a 5 minute van ride from Honiara or a 20-25 minute walk into town. Very friendly and helpful owners – they even have a bar on site! Accommodation is family style on the lower floor or for solo travelers or couples, one of two rooms on the upper floor.
I visited during January – expect very hot and humid conditions and very intense sunlight. Walking around for short distances was enough to begin sweating profusely. One doesn’t realize all the water one quickly loses from any sort of exercise in these conditions; it is important to stay hydrated.
Honiara is an often dusty and rugged city spread out along the coast and into the nearby hills. Van transport is the cheapest and easiest way to get around the city and its surroundings. I rented a scooter from Economy Car Rental in Honiara – the most budget way to explore the rest of the island outside of Honiara.
There is no road completely circling the island but one can drive a number of hours outside of Honiara in several directions. We drove to the tiny village of Mangakiki (about a 2 hour drive from Honiara). The roads on the island are often very rutted, sometimes with deep holes and may be dirt. A couple of roads leading into the rain forest clearly showed on Google maps but upon reaching these roads, we discovered they were completely overgrown with the jungle!
The road to Mangakiki passes through numerous small villages. One we visited was the site of significant battles during World War II – we saw old metal from military vehicles now being used by villagers as decorations. We saw no other western tourists during the entire day exploring this part of the island.
Land along the sea is private property and fees apply for any access to beaches – especially beaches close to Honiara.
An extremely high percentage of villagers waived as I passed through – however, shockingly at the time, I was doused with different grades of motor oil with other gunk mixed in – during multiple occasions in several villages (extremely difficult to clean off clothes and skin – although wipes off easily smooth surfaces such as the exterior of a scooter). During the initial attacks, all I could think of was to get out of there as quickly as possible – as needless to say having someone throw motor oil on you is generally not accepted as a friendly greeting. While I was racing away trying to attract as little attention as possible, a number of thoughts were also racing through my head: did I accidentally hit a little pig crossing the road, was I driving to fast – I couldn’t recall doing either.
I found a black sand beach and vigorously scraped the sand over the offended areas but only achieved very marginal results.
Later I discovered the reason for this ‘greeting’ – around the New Year’s for as long as anyone can remember, villagers will selectively greet visitors to their village by throwing an eclectic combination of pig intestines, pig blood and pig poop mixed with motor oil on them. That explains the difference in character of the motor oils I was hit with – the pig infused motor oil clearly was more viscous, chunky, smelled a bit and ultimately was much more difficult to wash off skin and clothes.The villagers don’t just throw this messy gunk on scooter riders – they also hit cars passing through.
In light of the New Year’s time, other interactions I experienced are now explainable. Another time I was charged by a man screaming, threatening to throw a soccer ball at me, and another time I passed a very slow car at one of the numerous dirt speed bumps – apparently the driver took this as a challenge as he sped up swerved in front of my bike and acted like he wanted to race. As my visit was also on the weekend, I’m assuming these individuals were somewhat drunk.
So if one is planning to visit villages in the Solomon Islands around New Years time, the moral of this story is to be sure and wear dirty and old rag type clothes that you can simply throw away after your initial inauspicious welcome! And be prepared to undergo some significant cleaning using lots of detergent, possibly WD 40 and other soaps using an abrasive pad.