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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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).
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.