Search This Blog

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Newbie Solomon Island Guide: What to bring

Okay, I have to go back a step. I've been here so long now that I skipped an important part: packing before you get here. I was asked (actually one friend demanded and got quite cross with me that I forgot to include this) by some friends to cobble together what I believe to be crucial items to stuff into your suitcase before making a visit or a move to the Sollies. THIS IS WHAT YOU SHOULD BRING IF YOU LIVE HERE. If you are just visiting, bring items 1-5, 7-10, 12, 15, 21-27, that should be sufficient for the time you are here.

NOTE: This is based on MY experiences and those of my close friends. Other expats may have a different list entirely and thats cool. If you have any questions about any of the below, feel free to email me. Also, you will notice this is skewed towards the ladies, as I am a girl. Tough luck, boys.

What you need to know before you go:
First off, remember that this a developing country in a very isolated part of the world. Everything comes here by shipping boats and, well, sometimes those boats don't show up or can't pay the port fees or other taxes to offload their goods. This means that food and product shortages occur often. What you can rely on is the basics like local veggies and fruits and fish. You may have a shipping allowance to bring goods into the country (I discuss that further below) which means you can bring stakka (lots) of stuff but I would focus your packing on things that aren't available or are very expensive to purchase here.

The Golden Rules
      1. Don't bring anything that you can't bear to part with. I know this may sound harsh but if you have something that would make you sad to part with, like a teddy bear your mum gave you or a diamond engagement ring, I wouldn't bring it. A good example: my dad lost his wedding ring, which he had for more than 30 years, whilst snorkeling in Hawai'i. He never got it back and he was gutted. But many people do and nothing happens, however be aware that you are taking a risk to lose those items. I have known several friends who were very upset when personal and sentimental items went walkabout and never returned.
      2. The more things that serve dual or triple purposes, the better. For instance, a yoga mat is great for relaxation but also makes a good bed roll in the villages. I have torches that have a red light as well as a regular light that can serve as an emergency signal. Again, the more multipurpose, the better.
      3. Bring extras. If you have room, chose a few things to bring doubles of. I've mention them down below.
      4. Don't panic! IF you don't get everything on the list, you will be fine. Many expats leave frequently and they often leave stuff behind. Also, remember that you will likely be going home at some point, so prioritise what you need to be bring based on usefulness to you.
Your luggage
20 kilos is your check in luggage allowance for all flights in to the Solomons (commercial) and seven kilos for your carry on. However, there are few things you can do to get more on the plane. You can pay extra OR, if you are going on Solomon Airlines, ask for a 10 kilos sporting goods allowance (call first to make sure this policy is still in place). Its free and I have done it myself. Also, check what your international flight limits are. Mine was 30 kilos for Emirates and I checked my bags all the way in from Charles de Gaulle to Honiara. I had 27 kilos and was not charged any extra coming into Honiara. Maybe I just got lucky.

Bring at least one really good back pack, the more waterproof, the better. Also, don't bring the flashiest luggage you can find or anything too new. My suitcase is a road warrior and looks that way. I've never had my stuff broken in to because of it. Just sayin.
Stuff to pack in your luggage (in no particular order):
  1. Snorkel, fins and mask. Buy a good set. If you can afford it, bring two. I have three sets of fins/masks/snorkels. Whenever I go anywhere with friends, I always find that someone has left their gear behind, so I end up loaning my extra gear to people. Its also handy to have a few spare sets in case your best set breaks. Snorkel gear is expensive here, and not easy to find, so bring it! Slightly used rather than a older set is best. The plastic around the mask does age and will eventually crack, causing the mask to leak. No one wants a mask full of sea water, so bring something either new or just slightly used.
Snorkel purchasing hint: bring the best kind you can, with tempered glass so it can double as a diving mask. Also I prefer the one with one big lens rather than the dual one.
NOTE: IF you are a diver or interested in becoming a diver, BRING YOUR OWN EQUIPMENT minus weights and tanks (if you have a shipping allowance, feel free to stick your gear in there if you don't want to dive straight away). Seriously, renting gear is very expensive. After about 10 dives or so, you will have made it worth the initial cost of getting your gear.
  1. Knife-Swiss army knifes are great, I suggest buying one or a big knife. Note: I had a diving knife that I forgot to pack in my check-in (it was in my carry on) and I had to give it up. I'm still sad because that knife was SO Lara Croft and Marco gave it to me as a gift (Actually the cheap Italian made me pay him something for it, he said you can never give a knife for free)...
  2. Sunscreen. Bring a LOT. Sunscreen costs about $250 sollies here, which in my book is pretty pricey. Typically you can only get it here at the chemists and there isn't a lot of choices (mostly its Nivea). So wherever you are, load up.
  3. Board shorts and swimming shirts. I highly recommend getting yourself some board shorts because showing thighs for women is a big no no here. Rashies or swimming shirts are also great to protect your skin against the sun and coral reefs. Believe me, if you snorkel, you will probably get a coral cut and those are no fun (coral can GROW inside the wound. Believe me, it sucks). I suggest getting a short sleeve and a long sleeve one because the long sleeve one is great for protecting your skin when you are on a banana boat.
  4. Books-There is one bookstore in the whole Solomon Islands. That's right, ONE. Its a second hand bookstore and closes often without much notice for weeks at a time. If you want to be very generous, buy some kids books, there really aren't any here and kids will love you for it. If you have a shipping allowance, use it to ship out books. You won't regret it. Alternatively, I have an e-reader and that is also very useful. Either way you will want something to read while you are here.
  5. External hardrive. Buy at least one (I have two), I recommend the one terabyte hard drive. If you have Irish pirate neighbours, like I had, get them to fill it up with stuff you want to watch while you are here. Minus the entire series of Krog Mandoon. Well that actually was pretty funny. Also, use it to back up your hard drive on your laptop.
  6. First aid kit-I got one from my volunteer organisation before I came here but I think investing in a good first aid kit is an excellent idea. St. Johns in N.Z. has a great set of first aid kits, as does the Travel Doctors. I would go with the Travel Doctors because theirs is focused on people traveling in exotic areas. Bring some extra Savlon or anti bacterial cream. Also, extra Panadol is a good investment as it is slightly pricey here.
  7. Malaria pills-Everyone seems to have an opinion about whether to take malaria pills or not, but I would suggest bringing them anyway, no matter what your opinion is about it.
  8. Small mosquito net. I recommend bringing one when you travel. You can bring a larger one for your bedroom at home if you wish too. I would pack the larger one in my shipping allowance and bring a small portable one in my luggage.
  9. A big floppy hat and sun glasses- As a bit of a ginger, I BURN in the sun. To stop this from happening, I have a big floppy hat that I wear to the beach and on the banana boat. I recommend bringing some kind of hat to protect you from the sun. Don't bring your expensive designer sun glasses here unless, again, you are prepared to part with them. There are quite a variety of cheap sunglasses here and I buy a pair every other month or so, because these break easily. But again, its up to you.
  10. Laptop. I highly recommend bringing your own personal laptop. Pinky, my 2009 Sony Vaio, goes everywhere with me and I would be lost without her. I watch movies, do work out dvds, talk to my parents on Skype, and all kinds of stuff on Pinky. I love her.
  11. Map of the Solomon Islands. You really can't buy these here, except for at LANDS, which is a government outfit. I suggest buying a good map before you come, if possible. Laminate if you have time.
  12. Torches (flashlights). Look, you will be without power at some point, whether in Honiara or out in the provinces and in the villages. I recommend at least bringing two (big surprise there). Bring at least one waterproof one. Wind up torches are great because batteries are expensive.Head torches are wonderful things, bring one.
  13. Computer related stuff: Bring some electronics dehydration packs. Moisture (and insets) get into things like laptops and you never know when your boat is going to sink and you have to save your laptop from a watery death (even with the silica beads, you might be out of luck). I wrap up my laptop in lava lavas and stick a silica gel bead packet there for about a day or so in the back of my closet. Works a treat and Pinky seems happy as.
  14. Dry bags-Beloved by kayakers, dry bags are created to keep your stuff dry. I have a huge 60 litre dry bag and a small 10 litre dry bag for electronics. I have a dry bag back pack (which I LOVE). All my luggage is waterproof. Why? I go on banana boats quite frequently and it does rain and the boats fill with water. I want to protect my stuff from getting wet as much as possible. I would recommend bringing a dry bag, at least one, whether you are in the field a lot or not. Most of the resorts require banana boat trips, so it never hurts to have one.
  15. Insect repellent: There are mosquitoes here. These little bastards sometimes carry malaria. I recommend wearing some when out in the field (I recommend Bushman, mine is 60 percent deet and has sunscreen in it). Sprays work good too, as do the coils (which you can purchase in Honiara. I am sure its filled with toxic stuff, which makes it so cheap). You can buy some hippie stuff that is a natural repellent but I've used some and it was basically a herbal perfume (which was quite pleasant).
  16. Iron tablets and vitamins : Okay, if you love meat, you are out of luck here in the Solomons. There is beef here but its very expensive and not the best quality. You can get a meat license, to bring 20 kilos of beef (vacuum packed) on the plane. Its a hundred Sollies and worth the investment if you can't live without your steak. Having said that, bringing iron tablets is a great way to ensure you stay healthy by keeping your iron levels up. I think a daily vitamin is also a good idea. It is difficult to get all your nutrients here, especially if you live out in the provinces and other than Centrum, the variety of vitamins here is low. There are no health food shops here, so if you can't live without it, bring it.
  17. A light rain jacket. Its a tropical country. Enough said.
  18. E-perb: Okay, your basic eperp (or emergency beacon) is a great idea if you are spending some time in the field. It is not uncommon for boats to get lost or capsize here, and if you want to get rescued (hey, who doesn't?) an eperb is your lifeline. Basically, this little device sends a signal to Australia and then your home country is notified (there's a whole system) with your exact GPS coordinates. Then someone is called here in the Sollies and a rescue is organized. I've heard of people needing rescue in a number of situations here and they have had good success using an eperb.
  19. Coffee. Yeah I know, it sounds strange, but if you are a coffee snob and/or Italian, it is better to bring your own here. Espresso coffee is VERY expensive here. I am not a coffee snob and I drink the Solomon Islands coffee and green tea. Its not as strong but I like it. Again, its up to you.
  20. Yoga mat. Okay, you might not do yoga or any form of exercise. I do, yoga is a great for relaxation and refocusing (which you will need to do from time to time when working here). But I also use my yoga mat when sleeping out in the villages. Often, all you get is a woven mat on the ground. The first night is pretty uncomfortable but you will get used to it. In the meantime, a little extra padding that a yoga mat provides is priceless.
  21. Drugs and women's hygiene-Bring your own, if you require special medication. Do not assume the drugs will be available here. This includes Epipens, birth control pills and things like condoms. While there is some availability with these items, I worry about the quality of what is provided but its up to you. Also, consider bringing your own favorite brand of tampons or pads as you may not be able to find what you want here.
  22. Small toolkit. I know this will come as a shock to you, but I fix stuff in my house. A lot. A good little toolkit is great to bring as these are quite expensive here and difficult to find. Mine is pink, comes in a small brief case and is generally hilarious to carry around. Shout out to my ex husband for sending it to me here as a birthday gift in March; its been a great little toolkit and has gotten a lot of use by me and my neighbours. However if you don't have a generous ex husband, bring your own.
  23. Good underwear. The stuff you can buy here is pretty low quality and personally, I wouldn't buy a bra from the second hand shops. I'm just sayin. Ladies, bring your sports bra. Or two. I have two (I have two of most things). I recommend wearing them on banana boats, ladies, I promise your breasts will thank you for it.
  24. Clothes. Bring light coloured, light weight and loose fitting clothing. I recommend linens and cottons. Just don't bring white as it will stain immediately. I wouldn't pack too much though, clothes are cheap in Honiara at the local kalico shops. I've found quite a few nice clothes. Ladies, leave your short shorts at home, showing thighs are a big no no here. If you aren't sure, bring a lava lava (sarong) to wrap around you. You can buy these here but its always good to have one to start out with. Skirts are wonderful to wear and most Solomon Island women wear them as opposed to pants or shorts.
  25. Beauty products. Ladies (or I guess dudes, if you are metro-sexually inclined) bring your good moisturizers, toners, cleansers, shampoo and conditioners if you feel you can't live without them. HINT: IF you don't want to fill your bag (there is a 20 kgs weight limit) with beauty products, buy them at the Brisbane duty free. Also, bring a good set of razors, the ones here are pretty dull and expensive. The beauty products here are pretty sub standard, so bring anything you feel you can't live without. However, don't bother with the nail polish, I found the best nail polish in the world right here in Honiara. More on that later...
  26. A small sports towel is a good idea. I wish I had brought one of those microfibre ones that pack up really small.
  27. Your toiletries bag. Bring a toothbrush, floss can purchase all that here but its always good to have something with you already.
  28. Shoes. Yes, I said it. Now, I'm going to recommend what kind of shoes to bring, because I have witnessed all kinds of shoe debacles here (and experienced my own). Shoes here are fairly expensive to buy and you certainly won't find the quality/quantity/price that you will at home. The essential list is:
      a) Flip flops/thongs/jandals/slippers: This is standard footwear for the Solomon Islands. If there was a dress code, this would be nambawan on the list of footwear. Seriously. This place loves its jandals. I wouldn't suggest bringing your $60 aussie pair of Havanas, especially if you want to bring them back home. Buy something cheap and comfortable because they will get WRECKED here.
      b) Sports sandals. I love my Keen sport sandals. They are durable, comfortable and I can pretty much walk anywhere in them.
      c) Crocs. Okay, I said it. Now, seeing Crocs being worn outside the home setting typically makes me cry inside BUT these shoes are ideal for the Sollies. Comfy, easy to wear in muddy conditions, dries easily; these shoes have it all. Ladies: I suggest buying ballet flats or similar if you want a more stylish option. My friend Viola owns a particularly stylish pair, sort of Mary Jane flats. These look great on her and she wears them all the time.
      I feel dirty now that I have recommended Crocs, but it is what it is.
      d) Running shoes. Only if you like to run. However, most running shoes don't do too well in these conditions (dirt roads, lots of rocks, no flat surfaces) so be prepared to slip down hills.
      e) Walking shoes. You can get away with just sport sandals BUT there may be a time when you want to cover your whole foot. This could be when you are walking through the bush and need more protection.
      f) Reef walkers. Now I often just use my sport sandals in the water but owning a pair of reef shoes is a good idea. I own two and regularly lend out a pair to my friends. (If you are tight on space, you can use ditch these and use your sports sandals instead).
      g) One pair of Stilettos. Okay people, its called Stilettos in the Solomons for a reason. However, I do not recommend walking in these big girl shoes around town. Here is what I do if its a stiletto type situations: I wear my jandals to the party (cause its always a party thing) and then do a quick switch in the car or just outside. Pop your jandals back in your purse. When the party is finished, switch again. For men, I think it might be good to consider bringing one pair of dress shoes.
  29. MP3 Player. I use mine all the time while on banana boats and walking to work. I have audio books and enjoy rocking out to my favorite music while riding over the waves. I also listen to the BBC World Service and Wantok FM on the MP3 radio. It calms me down and helps make a rough ride a bit more enjoyable. Try to get one that is waterproof; my two aren't (yes I have two) but I haven't had any problem. I pop them into my electronics pouch (the one that helps dehydrate the device) every three months to keep them running smoothly.
  30. A cheapie phone- Bring a cheapie phone, cause if you lose it, it is easy to replace. I recommend something by Nokia; the battery lasts for ages and its quick to recharge. Plus everyone seems to have one here.
  31. A few extras: Ladies, if you have long hair, bring extra hair bands, clips can buy some here but really good ones are hard to find. Also if you want wireless or Internet in the home, consider bringing your own equipment to make this happen e.g. external modems, hubs etc...
MAKE SURE TO PACK SOME CLOTHES ON YOUR CARRY-ON. Luggage does get lost here, even for a day, so make sure you have an extra change of clothes on you.

Duty free (what to buy)
  1. Booze. If you can't live without your gin and tonic, buy some bottles at Duty Free. Be aware about travel times, sometimes the flights here leave Brisbane before the shops open (which sucks). You can pre-purchase your items online, just google Brisbane Duty Free and everything should run smooth (you can even get good deals by doing this as well as saving time). So make sure you have planned to pick up your duty free cause booze here is expensive.
  2. Perfume. I wouldn't pack mine, I'd rather save my luggage allowance and buy it cheaper at duty free.
  3. Beauty products: I bought a few items, including moisturizer (you will need a LOT here). You won't be able to buy Clinique or any other brand names here so load up.
  4. Watches. I bought my little waterproof watch at duty free and I love it.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Newbie Honiara Guide Part One: Food

(for Volunteers and anyone who might need it)

This blog is dedicated to my loyal, crazy, lovely, maddening, awesome house mate Tessa, who has stood by me, eaten my “experimental” food, helped me through my sad Sara period(s), took me to too many parties, so many I couldn't count (in a month!), and generally just loved me. I owe Tessa more than I can list here, so I won't try. I love her and wish her all the best on what lies ahead. The Solomons and Casa Turchese will miss Tessa.

When I came to Honiara, I felt like a babe in the woods. I was staying in a set of apartments/hotel. There were no other volunteers at my work and the other expats all had kids. I felt socially and personally adrift for weeks. I would come home and not know where to go and what to do. I made a secret vow then that I would do everything in my power to help other volunteers get used to the ins and outs of living in this unique part of the Solomons. SO here are my words of advice, starting with the basics.

This is the first part in my (actually I don't have a number yet) series to help you, Honiara newbie, avoid the traps, pitfalls and other crap that I and others had to endure. Learn from my mistakes, newbie, and you will be just fine (if not, send me an email and I'll cook you dinner at Casa Turchese and we can workshop what went wrong. Maybe we can make a flow chart or a diagram...maybe even a SWOT analysis! Oh God, I am such a bureaucrat...)

Part One: FOOD (Where to buy it)

Please note: this guide is mainly for volunteers, however even if you aren't one, you may find it useful. Also, all currencies mentioned are in Solomon Dollars. One Solomon dollar equals about six and a half N.Z. Dollars or eight Aussie. Whenever possible, I will do my best to explain the physical location of each place. There are no street signs or addresses, so be patient with me. All right, lets get down to bidness...:)

Food. Every one needs and/or wants to eat. Mostly three times a day. Sometimes less, sometimes more. Here is my quick advice on my favorite places to shop to get the essentials in food.
    A) Oz Fresh. My favorite place to shop is Oz Fresh or Oz Pac. Its right near the Hot Bread Kitchen shop near Kukum market. Its in a set of five shops and is the middle. It has a neon sign that says OPEN on the doors. The doors are closed and it is air conditioned inside. Now, the thing I love about Ozfresh is the lady who runs the shop. She always give me a couple of onions, a packet of pasta, tins of tomatoes and other things. She looks after me and always tells me when her next shipment is in. I love her! The store also has a 13 dollar pack of Spagettini you can buy. It is the cheapest pasta in the Solomons. You can also buy a 75 dollar bottle of Sparkling wine from Aussie that isn't too bad. They usually have a good selection of apples, carrots and other veggies that you can't get at the local markets. The meat is reasonably priced (from Meat Lovers).
    B) Bulk Food Shop. There are TWO bulk food shops, one across the road from central market and one near Aus Mart near the King Sol. Hotel. If you want something a bit more...exotic, then Bulk Foods is for you. IF you can't live without olive oil (like my housemate Tessa, who is leaving tomorrow...sniff...sniff...), then buy the 85 dollar 750 litre bottle. Its pretty good oil and its from Italy. The Bulk Food also has a good variety of dried lentils and beans, along with tins of tomatoes and fruit. Occasionally the store has “mystery” cans, that you can buy for 20 or 30 bucks. My friend bought one of these and turned out to be a huge can of tinned tomatoes. So buy one and enjoy the mystery (and if you get botulism and/or dog food, please don't blame me). True story: I once bought three beautiful rounds of Baby Kikorangi blue cheese here for 15 dollars...when I returned to N.Z. I couldn't even buy it in N.Z. Dollars for that price. Now, a word of warning: most food will be expired or just about to be. I buy blue cheese anyway, it makes it tastier. It also helps toughen you up so don't be afraid of the expiry dates.
    C) Baraks- The big Baraks is located at the last round about before you head out to the airport. Its a great locally owned grocery store with all the basics at reasonable prices. There is a smaller Baraks in Kukum and you can give that one a go.
    D) Fang's-Located in China town, past the Honiara Hotel. Fangs is the penultimate chinese store. IF you want any exotic spices, sauces, mushrooms, noodles etc...from the Orient, then this is your place. Prices are pretty good too, buy your sesame oil (perfect for green papaya salad and soba noodle salads). Remember: a little sesame seed oil goes a long way.
    E) Pick your own local. There are many shops in Honiara. Mostly the prices are the same in the local shops. Find one close to your work and make friends with the owner.

A volunteer life saver: THE CHEAP BINS
    Wings: Located in MPF plaza. This is probably the only real (sort of) grocery store in the Solomons. I always go for the cheap bins there; typically there are some good finds like noodles for 10 dollars (proper egg noodles) and soy sauce.
    Y-Satos: I always get the 10 dollar fabric softener there. And a tube a wasabi.
    Pantina Market: I DON'T GO THERE PRETTY MUCH EVER! I used to but only two bags of groceries cost me 400 dollars! However, they do have some good stuff in the cheap bins; I bought two packs of tacos for 10 dollars each. Sure, they were stale but I put them in the oven and BAM! Instant crispy tacos your whole volunteer family/housemates will love and eat.
    Speciality Stores
    a. Hot Bread Kitchen- I love the hot bread kitchen. The bread is pretty good, given the access to ingredients this business has. With two locations in Honiara (One next to Woodford School, the other in town near the central roundabout), this place is an important part of everyone living in Honiara. If visiting people in the provinces, bring them a couple of loafs of bread, believe me, they will be grateful for it.
    b. Meat Lovers-Near Kukum Market/Bahai. I don't know, I am on the fence about meat lovers. You can buy an N.Z. Chicken for about 80 dollars, which is pretty good. The steaks are good but most are pre frozen and then thawed out. Its a nice place and well lit.
    c. Nambawan Meat- The name alone wins it for me. However, there isn't a lot of selection at this place in Point Cruz, right next to Sullivans. I've only bought mince and steak there (I don't eat a lot of meat) but it was good. ALWAYS BUY PREMIUM MINCE. There was a very long conversation about this at lunch today, it may cost more but you don't want mince as tough as shoes, and not the nice italian leather ones. Believe me.
    a. Sullivans-This is my favorite place to pick up a cheap (62 dollars) bottle of Banrock Cab Sav Merlot. Also, if you buy 24 of the glass bottles of Sol Brew, they give you a crate and then you get money back if you bring back your empties in the crate. I love recycling, so I encourage you to give that a go.
    b. Wings-You can get your wine here but it is slightly more expensive.
    c. Oz Fresh- My favorite place to pick up a bottle of bubbly for 75 bucks. They have some other stuff I haven't seen around town.
    d. The Black Market. See below.
    e. The small shops in town. There are plenty of little walkins that are nothing but Solbrew selling points.
    Best Markets
    1. SDA Market-I love this place, pretty much because it is close to work. Its also bright, out in the open and friendly. I have never been groped, sworn at or had my pocket picked here. Bonus: its open on Sunday. It is also probably the best place to go for fresh fish. For a quick meal, I often buy the fried fish heads (yes I eat fried fish heads) and the casava pudding that comes in a pack for about 20 dollars. Its a pretty good deal.
    2. Central Market: Go there early Saturday morning for flowers. The earlier, the better. The flowers here are AMAZING! Its also a great place to pick up cheap lava lavas (sarongs) and small gifts. The food selection is great too but be careful of fights (they happen often), pick pockets (yes it happened to me), and being groped (if you are chick). Its dark in the market and not terribly friendly at times. Some people love it and others don't. I still prefer SDA.
    3. Kukum Market: This market is pretty much all about beetle nut. I avoid going there for shopping but I do walk past it everyday. They sometimes have fresh veggies there but its so close to the SDA, that I don't bother.
    4. Neighbourhood markets. I have one near my house and I like going there. You don't get much variety but its convenient and its nice to meet up with the neighbours.
    5. White River- What can I say about White River market aka the Black Market...its a seedy place. You can get most everything there like Kwaso (the local brew) and Solbrews if its late at night. I wouldn't recommend going there alone or at night.
    A shout out to neighbourhood canteens 
    Probably one of the best places to pick up canned goods and other essentials is your local neighbourhood canteen. Typically they are very small, the size of a tiny shack and have chicken wire over the winder (to prevent robberies). I love going up the hill to my local canteen. I can top up my mobile prepay as well, which is always helpful. These little canteens bring in a bit of money to the local community and, bonus, you save petrol (I walk everywhere but you might have a car).
    Next time: Food: Dining out in Honiara (road chicken, the Chinese noodle shop, fish heads, the Japanese, and the leaf huts...) 

Monday, August 15, 2011

Why your next holiday should be in the Solomon Islands

Anyone who reads this blog can probably tell that I puffy heart love the Solomon Islands. So here is my shameless pitch to get you to come and visit these Happy Isles. Here are my top eight reasons why you should book your next holiday here; if you do, email me and I'll cook you dinner (valid until November 2011). Promise. Unless you are weird or creepy, in which case I will be in Temotu that week. Unless you are coming to Temotu, then I'll be in Makira.

Anyway, here is my list:

  1. The unexpected: Coming here to the Solomons has been like opening one of those crazy containers where paper snakes jump out at you and confetti flies everywhere. Its a whole bucket full of surprises. Traveling around here will certainly fulfill your interesting travel story quota for years to come. One thing you can rely on: travel delays. Mostly things kinda work here but expect to be stranded at least once. Hopefully you get stranded in Western, Makira or Temotu. But really everywhere is pretty special here. Enjoy the chaos and the gentle understanding that we really don't control anything. Sip a coconut and walk on the beach without worrying about catching that plane, sending that email or doing that thing you think you have to do. Chillax, you are on Solomon Island time now.
  2. Cool factor – Look around you. How many people do you actually know who have been to the Solomons? My guess is that number is pretty small. This is unchartered territory; while your mates are going to Europe, Fiji, New Zealand, Canada or the States, you will have one heck of a random stamp on your passport that says Solomon Islands. Cool factor immediately goes up. And its not as dangerous as Papau New Guinea...mostly.
  3. Fall off the map: Literally. Go to the Reef Islands in Temotu and experience life like it was 100 years ago, with no power, water supply or shops. Enjoy the sound of the waves gently crashing on the shore, not planes flying overhead.
  4. Wogasia-the spear festival in Santa Catalina is like nothing I have ever experienced. It was the craziest 48 hours of my life. Go there at the end of May but book first. A limited amount of people are allowed to go. Really, you should go.
  5. Helping locals. Wanna go to the Marriott here? The Hilton? The Holiday Inn? Forget it. We don't have five star hotels to make you feel like you never left home. Almost all our resorts are run by locals or by long term expats who know the islands. By coming here, you are padding the pockets of well deserving, hard working local people not rich shareholders in New York. These people care about their environment and will work hard to help you as much as they can. And, really, wouldn't you rather pay a bit extra for that? (By the way, you won't. Staying at local resorts is pretty affordable).
  6. The ocean-I've lived in Hawaii. Hung out in Samoa. Swam in an atoll in Kiribati and I've never seen the sea life I have witnesses here. The water clarity is amazing. Yesterday, whilst snorkeling in Visale, I literally saw a fish waterfall. Its freakin amazing. If you are diver, say goodbye to wetsuits and dry suits. The water here is a constant 29 degrees, even at 20 metres down. So dive in your bikini. Or speedo (actually don't, no one should ever wear a speedo. Except David Duchovny in that X-Files episode. Wow.)
    If you love the ocean and want to see dugongs, dolphins, turtles, sharks and amazing sea life, come here. Go to Tetepere or, if you are really adventurous, go to the Arnavon Islands, where there is a marine reserve. I hear its amazing.
  7. The beach-You want a white sandy beach? We got it. And black sandy beaches, red beaches...really we got loads of beaches. You want an abandoned beach on a desert island with nothing but a few coconut trees? Check. We got you covered. For an easy fix, go to Nugu, the locally run resort with three bungalows and great food in Central province. Or go to Gizo, take a right and hit Kennedy Island. Go to Fat Boys for a Sol Brew afterwards and go for a snorkel under the bar. If you want to play Robison Crusoe and give society the big kiss off, the Solomons is on of the best places to do that.
  8. The mountains-Its not all about beaches and the sea. Thats right, we got your cloud forests and your rats of unusually large size. We got stuff in the rainforests on Guadalcanal, Makira, Malaita, Isobel, Choiseul, Temotu and Western province that people haven't even seen. I saw what looked to be a black widow with red wings. Terrifying stuff. Seriously, we got cool stuff in the rainforests, so go for a bush walk.

    Also there is some cool WW2 stuff here.  If you want to jeeps in the jungle, covered in trees or dive a sunken Japanese submarine, then the Solomons is where you want to be. 

    Tips for travelers (aka how not to be an ass):

    Now that I have undoubtedly convinced you to come here, I've put together some bits and pieces of sage wisdom I have picked up along the way. Don't feel bad if you have done one or a couple of these things, I've done them myself (and probably do some of these things still). What can I say? I'm an ass. Anyway, here we go:
    1. Don't be an ass over money. That seems pretty self explanatory but let me explain what being an ass looks like. Being an ass means arguing over 10 solomon dollars (this is like a 1.50 aussie or n.z.) with your taxi driver, hotel manager, barman (or woman). Look, these people make very little in the year and a dollar isn't going to kill you. Deal with it.
    2. Don't be an ass over changing travel plans. Planes get canceled. Boats can't make it. Don't argue with your boat driver if he says its too rough. Trust the man, its too freakin rough even if it looks like a lake from where you are sitting. Don't go if it looks dangerous just because you have a schedule to meet. If it looks dangerous and the locals says its dangerous LISTEN TO THEM.
    3. Don't be an ass about power and air conditioning. Power gets cut off here all the time. That means no air conditioning. Guess what? You'll live. Yes you might sweat. Drink something. Go for a swim. Go lie under a tree. Deal with it.
    4. Don't be an ass by showing your ass. Girls, wear skirts or long pants. Don't wear short shorts or bikinis on the beach. This isn't Bondi or Brazil. People here are very conservatively dressed outside Honiara. Honour and respect that. Wear board shorts when you swim (despite that bikini diving comment I made earlier). Showing thigh here is very taboo so don't do it. Guys, wear whatever you like, I guess. Feel free to break out that “Will sell wife for beer” shirt you have been hiding in your closet.
    5. Don't be an ass about taking your malaria meds. If you are here a short time, then take them. Use some spray, you don't want to get malaria. But don't be too paranoid about it either. I've been here 10 months and still haven't had it.
    6. Don't be an ass about being afraid of crocodiles or sharks. Okay, guess what...there is a crocodile and a shark on the national emblem of the Solomon Islands. They are here. Be aware of them. Ask the locals about them but jump on into the water. You might want to stay away from areas with heaps of mangroves and river mouths but its mostly safe. Mostly.
    7. Don't be an ass about having to tok pidgin. Give a go, its easier than you think.
    8. Don't be an ass about how basic the accommodation is. Guess what? When they say you are staying in a leaf hut, you are STAYING IN A LEAF HUT. Don't get pissy about the ants or rats in your house. There usually is no refrigerator, no television. But isn't that why you came to visit the Solomons? To get away from it all? Enjoy the basic living that is the Solomons.

There endeth my pitch and words of wisdom on coming and visiting in the Solomon Islands. I think that if you come here, it will change you. It has changed me. Hopefully for the better. But, really, I'm still an ass.


Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Happy Birthday Bloggie!

So Stilettos in the Solomons has turned one year old, without me actually noticing (I'll buy you a fur coat, blog! I promise!). So to mark the blog's birthday, I've come up with twelve lessons I've learned since I started this blog. Enjoy!

  1. Jump! Even if its scares the crap out of you. After reading some of my earlier entries, its pretty clear I was totally unprepared for the experiences that lay ahead. I'd never really traveled alone for an extended period of time and I had never lived in a developed country for a year. I think if someone had told me about some of the experiences I would have, I might not have left my little apartment in Christchurch. Which would have been stupid because its getting demolished due to the earthquakes. I guess what I am trying to say is I learned to take risks, to jump into the void with nothing below me, to enjoy that moment of pure freedom before the THUMP of hitting the ground. Sometimes the landings were smooth, so much. But at least I could say I did it. I failed, I got hurt, things ended badly but at least I survived. And went on to new adventures.
  2. Communicate, even if what you are saying is stupid or hurts someone. Look, I want people to like me just like everyone else. So I've glossed over uncomfortable facts and feelings to make peace. I've discovered that this does not work, you just have to have it out sometimes. Conflict can be good. And its better to make peace with someone than to hold grudges or stay angry. Its better for my health to just say it and be done with it.
  3. Love your boat driver. In the Solomon Islands, the seas can be deadly. People get lost every year here. The boat drivers here are, as far as I am concerned, the best boat drivers in the world. They take amazing risks every day. So I love my boat driver. I plan to get a shirt made that says that.
  4. Chilli tuna (taiyo) from Solomon Islands is the best stuff ever.  I take it anytime I go out of Honiara and its a regular staple in my diet.  Its a thing of beauty, I'm going to take a box of it when I leave.
  5. Know who is in your corner and value the crap out of them. Look, not everybody likes me. I'm a strong personality, I have a big old mouth and I say and do stupid things all the time. But for some reason, people still love me. And I value them. So thanks guys for putting up with me.
  6. Look around you. When I was going through some pretty rough stuff when I came back from Christchurch, I didn't want to see what was going on around me. But everywhere here, there is an opportunity to help others. At some point, you gotta look up and see the suffering and know that, even in a limited way you can help. Helping others is kind of a selfish act because it does make you feel good (well at least it makes me feel good) 
  7. Play poker. Texas Holdem Poker is the best game ever created. I love it. Thank you, Solomon Island Poker Association.
  8. Life is like a plate of fried fish heads...Sure, you got fried fish heads staring up at you. Its glossy big eyes and mouth can kind of gross a person out. But fish heads are delicious and everyone eats them here. Its kind of an initiation rite. To me it was about eating what people here eat, accepting their life and their food and being open to view life, at least in part, the way they do. I can never really walk in another person's shoes but I can eat the fish heads. That, at least, I can do.
  9. On a boat, always wear more sunscreen than you think you need, a hat, sun glasses, and always have your eperb and life jacket ready. Oh and bring an MP3 player. It helps.
  10. Trust in a higher power.  Cause its amazing I'm still alive.  Thanks universe, God, Pele, Gaia, whatever, thank you for keeping me alive during that one time that I'm not supposed to tell my parents about. Ever. My dad has too many white hairs already...
  11. Let it go. Sure bad stuff has happened to each of us. We have all been heartbroken, disappointed and sad. But at some point, we just got to let it go or else it just gets ugly. Forgiveness is a beautiful thing; as a friend told me recently, forgiveness is saying that “I don't have the right to judge you.” And its true; we don't have the right to judge someone else's actions. We all want to be forgiven of wrongs we have perpetrated against others. So letting it go was one lesson I had to learn because until I did, I couldn't really move forward. I was stuck. Now I am not anymore. I forgave. I let go.
  12. Don't sit on public toilet seats. In the Solomons, you can get your ass bitten by fire ants and possibly land crabs. It is an unpleasant experience. Learn from my mistakes, people.

    The above equals just some of the great lessons learned here in the Solomons and my travels around the world.

    In three months, I will be done here and I know it will be bitter sweet. I am excited about moving to Wellington (whoops! Me and my big mouth...Ah well, I guess that was going to come out soon anyway) but I don't know if I will ever stop loving the beautiful ocean, mountains and people that are here. Coming here has changed my life  and whilst the journey isn't over yet, I feel that already I have gained more than I have given. I am eternally grateful to this messed up little country, floating quietly in the warm south seas of the Pacific.

    All my love to wherever you are,