The journey from Honiara to Atori has, apparently, been immortalised in song.
I’m told a famous musician once travelled this road and wrote a popular song about it, the name of which no one can remember… I can certainly understand the sentiment.
Our journey began on the 360 discovery, where we dropped our bags next to the coffin of a 17 year old boy. At first I thought it was empty, but it became quickly apparent that his grieving family was on board as well. The cause of death? Sorcery. A swollen belly, followed by immediate death. The family determined that a curse had been placed on the boy. 17 is just too young.
Aside from that somewhat morbid reminder that time is short… our 4 hour trip to Auki included multitudes of mangrove lined shores, sandy beaches and lots of dugout canoes… Arrival in Auki meant a long ride in the back of ute to Atori. 20 or so of us perched on top of bags of rice, cans of tuna and all of our bags – holding up a giant plastic sheet during the intermittent bursts of rain. After two hours of bumping around and having people jump on and off the back, I could take it no more. I had to pee. I asked the driver to stop and was greeted by frowns all around as they pointed towards some bushes. I felt awful, being the demanding foreigner who delays the journey, until I looked behind me and discovered 10 other women following me straight into the bushes. As it turns out, peeing is a communal activity in Malaita. Everyone pulls their skirts up together without any hint of a need for privacy. When in Malaita I guess?!
Communal peeing seemed to break open communication lines and a journey that had started in silence opened up into chats, laughter and games… As it turns out, we’d arrived during a particularly tense time for the Malaitan men. ‘Jealousy’ had resulted in two bridges being taken out and at each stop we needed to wade through the rivers, rice above our heads and transfer the large cargo to another truck. At one crossing we offered the local men SBD$100 between us to fix the bridge (that had been broken for 5 days)… it was done in 30mins!
A few other obstacles, two boggings and a few produce stops later we were back on the road to Atori…
The last part of the journey was absolutely inspiring… As the sun set over the rainforest, the air cooled to a pleasant breeze, crickets chirped and we dangled our legs over the side of the ute listening to the sound of the jungle by the light of the full moon as the stars began to twinkle.