A touch of the Tulagis…
Early one Saturday morning, I set out with 2 other volunteers on Solli’s most reliable (and only) regular ferry – the 360! to Tualgi. Assurances were made that it would stop at 4pm to collect us on the same day. It wasn’t until we were standing on the dock, confirming pick up was at the same location that we were sheepishly told that maybe, maybe not will they be back today (?!). So, sun scorching down, on a largish island of at least 200 people (somewhat surprising given that it was the historical capital) we watched the boat disappear. The local tour guide excitedly greeted us – and we were off on what we thought was a very reasonably priced tour of the historical WWII sites of the island for only 30 per head! The tour was a little bit confronting at first – as the tour guide proudly declared the site of the British cricket pitch (huge sign commemorating the now crumbling concrete with houses built up flush on all 4 sides)… The colonial tennis court (more crumbling concrete now serving as part of a road)… The Governor’s house (more crumbling concrete but a rather intact staircase) having been destroyed shortly after the war… And some caves with Bullet holes from a Japanese siege. My favourite site was definitely ‘Hiroshima Ridge’ though – named after (as the guide tells us) – “Probably some Japanese soldier”… Hmm… So stumbling through the overgrown grass and concrete it started to rain. Heavy monsoonal drops that startle you as they splash across your face. It was a relief from the heat, but unfortunately brought with it a run of insects.
Watching someone else dance around in anguished contortion as they try to get fire ants out of their pants may be hysterical, but when it’s you flopping around it’s slightly less amusing. All 3 of us were set upon by an array of mosquitos, ants and spiders… so we abandoned the remaining site (more crumbling concrete) and waited under a quaint sheltered pier.
The owner of the local hotel’s son happened to be there, and also happened to be a web developer! (First solli programmer I’ve met!) We had a great chat and came up with some really awesome web projects for the Solomons while the other 2 napped off their bites and our somewhat indulgent cassava pudding, coconut and banana lunch. The rain had settled in at this point and I seem to recall a lot of sitting around, staring at the rain and just waiting. The hotel owners tried for a few hours to convince us to stay… When we insisted that we wanted to try our luck with the mid ocean dinghy to ferry transfer they grudgingly agreed to take us out for 600… (Much cheaper than the 3000 we’d been quoted to get back to the mainland). At this point we were also informed the tour was charged at 30 per site per person… The time came, we jumped aboard the dinghy and after a few failed attempts to start the outboard motor we were off – cup in hand! I was curious about the cup until we stopped, in the middle of the ocean, rain bucketing down, and were told to start bailing! It’s quite an interesting feeling, cloud all around you, rain showing no signs of letting up, floating on choppy seas, bailing out your boat to keep it afloat… all without the standard issue lifejackets the Australian Government insists on… We waited for hours… our guide insisting all the while that it was normal for the ferry to be late, until long after the sun had set when he gave us the bad news – ‘the boat must have gone the other way’. The entire journey back he played the ‘oh, I think that’s the boat’ game with a light on the opposite island… knowing full well, it turns out, that the boat never travels that route on a saturday. The hotel had got its own back. Forced back into town, with no where else to go prices for rooms hit 600. Rooms that consisted of a bed (no sheets) and a fan… no mozzie nets but plenty of free mosquitos. Food suddenly hit 200 a plate. Starving and cold we paid our captors their 200 for a bowl of exceptionally over priced (but by this stage tantalisingly scrumptious) pumpkin soup. 2 hours and a million games of uno later it arrived. It really was delicious. So we were filthy, dirty, smelly and drenched by this stage – with no overnight gear – in fact not much more than bathers and sunscreen….
The next day, there was nothing to do but wait… The rain continuing to bucket down mercilessly. We resorted to eating chocolate biscuits and chips from the kiosk which opened around midday until we felt sick and had no money left at all. And we waited and waited and waited some more. I know I played tag and hide and seek with the local kids – but mostly I can just recall watching the rain and being wet. At 3:50 the boat was in sight! Full to the brim, we squeezed ourselves onboard standing shoulder to shoulder with everyone else who hadn’t showered in days… And so, we made it back after all. Of course the ATMs had all run out of money – it being the long weekend – so my last 10 dollars will need to see me through until they’re restocked. Lucky I bought that big bag of lentils!
I’m not complaining though… at the end of the day it’s still a tropical island! 🙂
I can think of worse places to be stranded/held hostage by crazy hotel owners.