Into The Solomons

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Matt Fletcher
Position: S08 46.461 E157 41.797 (on Lapita Tikopia)
Lapita Tikopia anchored in a bay
Anchored off the beach in Mono island

We sail now in Solomon' waters, which feels good. The weather maybe grey and cool, but the Solomon's give me a good warm feeling inside. Klaus's 15-year-old cruising guide said that Mono Island in the Treasury Group was one of the most hospitable places in the country. That's big talk, especially in the South Pacific, but Mono did not disappoint.

An islander paddling a canoe
One of the islanders paddles over

An escort of fishermen in outrigger canoes followed us into the anchorage from the outer reef and before we threw down the hook other islanders had already paddled out to welcome us. Louis came over to tell us that everything would be great, he was the chief's official tourist guide and we'd see the best of the island. Davis turned up on the hunt for the darkest of sunglasses and traded a mountain of fruit and vegetables for a pair of my cheap wrap-arounds.

Local girls in an outrigger canoe
Mono island girls on one of the canoes built by Roy
James and Roy on Lapita Anuta
Roy comes to Lapita Anuta to talk to James

The next day, Roy paddled over to talk to James and Hanneke about building sailing boats so folks can trade smoked fish with PNG, then he went on to tell how he dined with the Queen on the Royal Yacht when he was one of the first post-independence governors of Western Province. A fat man dived for lobster and reef fish and shyly sold them to us for less than 1 Solomon dollar each. I was taken to the 'cinema' to watch a sub-B-movie US action flick called US Navy Seals II, which cost one Solomon dollar and a raft PNG pop videos thrown in free. And we met Tom from Tikopia.

Crew eating lobsters on deck
The lobster feast

Tom is one of those characters you don't forget in a hurry. A more dignified, compassionate, enigmatic man you'd be pushed to meet. He was as far from home as it's possible to get inside the Solomon's and told us that a girl from Mono stole his heart in Honiara 20 years ago. He had 8 kids, a chilled out dog and spoke in almost a whisper; it was as if he didn't want to force the words on you. He wore shades as the sun hurt his eyes thanks to a spell as an arc welder and glided his massive Polynesian frame through the village as if trying not to bend a blade of grass or leave a footprint. His quiet and reserved manner was coupled with a formidable physical presence, creating an aura that unnerves some locals. But to Klaus and I it simply marked him out as wonderfully Tikopian.

Tom sitting on deck
Tom from Tikopia
Matt inside a local house
Matt studies one of the local houses - all made from local natural materials

On Tikopia there's no room for extroverts or big egos, for pushy guys or loudmouths. Everyone goes that extra mile to get along. What people have is shared and what hardships life throws at them in their isolation they face together. On Tikopia they build strong and silent types, it's the only way to ensure the place works.

Locals paddling a double canoe
The people of Egholo village paddle out in an improvised double canoe, a plank laid across 2 canoes
James talking to a local
James talks to one of the locals on the deck of Lapita Anuta in the pouring rain

Mono was hard to leave, but we had to move. On Rendova Island we sheltered in beautiful Egholo Bay eating fresh fish and our own baked bread and sitting out a couple of storms that blew rain horizontally across the sea beyond the reef. JFK rode PT109 around these waters until a Japanese destroyer smashed it in half. There's a museum in his honour on an island nearby, but the rain kept us aboard and then there was no time to visit it or the 80-year-old guy who saved the life of JFK and still wears the dog tags he gave him. Now we push on again, out into drizzle that reminds me of England, east to the Russell Islands and then to the bright lights of Honiara. From this, the capital of the Solomons, Tikopia and Anuta are about 500 nautical miles away. We have come a long, long way.

- Matt Fletcher