As the small motorboat departed the harbor on a windy day here in the Solomon Islands, I wasn’t sure how safe the journey to Ranonga would actually be. It was pretty windy and the small boat filled with coconuts, kasavas and several other local islanders looked like it could easily dissappear beneath even the smallest waves. The sun was slowly setting and there were plenty of rain clouds on the horizon. It was only when the locals began to chatter and point to the horizon that I began to become the slightest bit nervous. There was a big rain storm moving across the horizon and blocking our way to the island of Ranonga. As the storm moved in, the waves became bigger and the island which previously could be clearly seen dissappeared. The rain began falling and some of the waves were washing over the side. Fortunately my skipper was prepared and began handing out the plastic bottles that had been cut in half so that we could scoop out all of the excess water now filling our boat. This was definitely travelling Solomon style!
Unscathed, my friend Waldie and I pulled into Buri harbor on the island of Ranonga. This would be the beginning of an amazing experience! I met Waldie here in Ghizo when we first arrived. A local carver, he came out to the boat to try and sell some of his work in exchange for our solar panels. He was a very well spoken and well dressed man who had done a bit of work on other boats in the harbor so the captain agreed to trade him the solar panels off the boat for his services. He was to carve a panel with the boats name and some dolphins on it to go inside the saloon of Seawanhaka. On our subsequent visits to Ghizo, we always bumped into Waldie. His wife was here in the hospital waiting to have a baby. Over time we got to know him pretty well and after talking to him one night about the house that he was trying to rebuild (the other one collapsed in the earthquake), I offered to come spend some time on his island to help with the rebuilding.
The boat dropped Waldie and I off on what used to be a coral reef. Since the earhquake and tsunami, the entier island of Ranonga has been lifted up about eight or nine feet. All of the coastline has changed dramatically and all of the coral reefs are now sticking up out of the water. It is sad sight to see how an island that once had this amazing and beautiful coastline was now surrounded by dead coral, mud, sand and debris. The owner of the guesthouse walked out across all of the exposed coral to greet me and showed me to my room. After a short discussion, Waldie paddled his canoe across the bay to his home and I settled into the Emusa lodge.
Upon entering the open air lodge, I immediately felt relaxed. The owners, Gilly and Gladis had provided me with fresh flowers in every room and the kerosene lanterns were already lit. They showed me the toilet and the buckets of water used to flush them, followed by a small enclosure with another large bucket of water, thus known as the shower. It was actually pretty luxurious compared to living on a boat and I was excited to have a quiet place to myself for a few days. After showing me around, Gilly walked across his garden to his home, leaving me to cook a nice meal of canned meat and instant noodles.
The next morning began with a relaxing cup of coffee and watching the sunrise over Buri harbor. Waldie showed up shortly after with his canoe and a paddle for me and we made our way across the bay to his home. After a quick intronduction and tour of his land along with Buri village, we started working. Work commenced at about the pace I expected here in the Solomons. I would guess that the work that Waldie, his brother in law and I completed by the end of the first day could have been done in just a couple of hours back home. Having nailed down and trimmed all of the floor joists, I think Waldie was a happy man. By this time we were out of materials and there would be no further work to do on his house for the rest of the trip.
In the afternoon, we paddled the canoe across the bay to another portion of the village where the remains of his fathers house were. We torn down several good sections of stud walls and slid them down the hill and across the bush. When they would slide no further, four of us carried them down to the beach where they would lie until the next morning when the tide would come up allowing us to bring a canoe closer in to ship them back across the harbor. Sure enough, the next morning, there I was, sitting in a dugout canoe with three sections of stud walls hanging off the sides of it. These things were probably eight foot square and we looked like one of these emails you would see with someone carrying something is some ridiculous or strange way. A couple of runs across and we were through with that project. While Waldie went to work on carving some spoons for the Polish couple on board our boat, I built him a large box to keep his new chainsaw in. I think his chainsaw came from one of the local relief agencies. They distributed a bunch of them to the villagers to allow them to cut timber and rebuild all of their homes.
The second day was concluded with dinner back at the lodge with Waldie. His father had gone out fishing and his wife had prepared some kasavas and some thin bread sticks she called pencil cakes. It was a wonderful dinner to share with Waldie back at the guesthouse. Later on that night, Gilly joined us and I entertained him and Waldie by playing songs from my ipod on my portable speakers. They were fascinated by the device, as well as all of the pictures I had taken of the islands. It was entertainment enough for me to see the smile on their faces with each song I would play or with each photo I would show them.
On our third and last working day, Waldie had run out of projects for me to do so he, Gilly and Gilly’s son took me to another small island for a Solomon stly picnic. We departed the harbor and pulled out into a windy sea where we stowed away our paddles and Gilly and his son proceeded to pull out their Solomon style sail. Basically, it consisted of two sticks and an old thin blanket. Amazingly, it got the job done and blew us across the sea to our destination a couple of miles away. When we arrived at the island, I could imagine what it would have looked like before the earthquake. White sand beaches, clear water, and great snorkelling. Now, only a hint of that beauty remained with the enitre reef poking out of the water and the sand covered in debris washed over from the tsunami. Gilly and his son took the canoe out for some spear fishing while Waldie and I explored a bit of the island. After our short journey across this tiny island, Waldie and I began a small bush fire where he proceeded to cook some kasava and rice for our meal. Gilly and his son returned with sixteen small reef fish and proceeded to build a pretty big fire along the beach. When the wood had burned, they spread out the coals and threw the fish right on top. The fish were flipped and roasted on both sides and just like that we had a wonderful Solomon style meal. A wonderful trip with the kindest and friendliest people I have ever met.