The Reef Islands

Never before did we have this much fresh produce on the boat; the people here love to trade. There are no shops here, so when a yacht turns up the locals treat it like a supply ship. And apparently only one other yacht turned up here before us within the last year. Incredible.

As soon as we arrived in the Reef Islands, dozens of canoes turned up to check us out. They came laden with fresh fruit and veg and were keen to swap some coconuts, bananas or green beans for a bar of soap, a second hand t-shirt or a pen.

We caught up with two kidboats we know: Fieldtrip and Perry. It’s fun to be around other families and we all follow similar routines (school in the morning, excursions in the afternoon, etc). It’s great to be able to organise play-overs and share some of the load. 

The kids have also been mixing with the local kids which has been an amazing experience. We’ve visited several villages and many of the children had never seen white people before. This area is very isolated without any tourism and only a handful of yachts stop here every year.

Before we could settle down we had to ask the chief of the nearest village permission to anchor in ‘his backyard’. The lagoon, beaches and islands all belong to the chiefs who are in charge of the community. There are roughly thirty villages in the Reef Islands, each with their own chief.

The people don’t have much. There’s no electricity, no roads, no shops. They are organised in very traditional ways. Although there is plenty of fish and coconuts, they don’t export any of it. The only income comes from pigs, which they can sell in the capital for 2,000 Solomon dollars each (approximately 200 GBP). For reference: if a family has a son, they will need to pay for a wife which means paying the future wife’s parents between 8,000 and 10,000 Solomon dollars. So basically, a woman is worth four or five pigs…

The people are friendly. The Melanesians are probably the friendliest people we’ve met so far. They love to chat and are always smiling. They are generous, they don’t beg and are very proud people. But it is a tough life with no income to speak of and money is still required to pay for school (which is not mandatory), medicine, clothes and food.

We spent a morning chatting to one of the chiefs who explained that there is no organised structure across the different villages and every village fends for itself. I’m surprised the EU, NZ or Australia aren’t helping these people to set up some sort of cooperative so they can earn money from fishing and copra.

Last Saturday there was a football tournament between the different teams of the Reef Islands. The chief from our host village invited us along and we walked for a hour through mangroves, bush and coral to get to the event. The children have to do the same walk twice a day to get to and from school. 

The teams played football in the scorching heat, some with football boots and some without. We were the only foreigners and everyone came to greet us and wanted to talk. The six boat kids started playing in the sand, making imaginary roads and towns and the local kids all gathered round to watch them. I guess they had never seen anything like it before.

Seathan has also been busy fixing generators and outboard engines. Not ours, but the ones in the villages. Each village has several small portable generators but they seem mostly broken. A few have been fixed but some are beyond repair. The word went around quickly from village to village that there are three catamarans and that the men can fix engines, generators and sewing machines.

Soon people paddled across the lagoon from farther away villages to invite us to their village and to come and have a look at their broken machines. In return for our help we were given even more fruit and veg. If we were vegetarians, we would be in foodie heaven.

The weather’s been normal for this time of year: hot and humid. It takes getting used to, and – all of you in cold Europe might think I’m crazy now – we would love some cooler dryer weather. Even the water is 35 degrees Celsius, so cooling off with a refreshing swim is not really an option either.

But I don’t want to complain, we’re still pleasantly surprised with the beauty and remoteness of the Solomon Islands, the friendliness of the people and it’s great to be in the company of other kid boats. 

Photos will be posted as soon as we have Internet again. For now we can only do basic emails, check the weather forecast and post text on the blog. We can’t access the news or social media so are blissfully unaware of what’s happening on the other side of the world. Trump who? 

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Plan ‘B’

There’s always a Plan ‘A’, ‘B’ and even a Plan ‘C’ when you’re sailing. We’re mostly dictated by the weather and flexibility is just one of these requirements we’ve become very used to. We wanted to sail to Tuvalu from Vanuatu and then onwards to Kiribati and the Marshall Islands. Unfortunately, the weather decided otherwise and we are now in the Solomon Islands. 

We always knew it was going to be tricky to do some easting from Vanuatu, but, from time to time, it can be done. With cyclone season fast approaching, we couldn’t wait any longer for that weather window. We have to be north of ten degrees south (the ‘safe’ zone) by early December. So, we changed our plans. Our clearance document form Vanuatu stipulated ‘Tuvalu’ as next port of call, fortunately that was not an issue for Customs in the Solomons who simply crossed it out and replaced it with ‘Ndendo’.

We dropped anchor in the deep bay near Lata on Ndendo Island, early in the morning, after a very calm two-day passage from Vanuatu. 

On the way out we had a brief stopover in the Banks Islands. We were sailing past Vanua Lava when we spotted a stunning twin waterfall tumbling down near the coast, pouring all its water into a pool right next to the beach. We anchored near the waterfalls and were greeted by Kerele, who came out to meet us in his pirogue. He told us he lives next to the waterfall with his extended family and we agreed to come ashore. After a brief welcome ceremony, we were escorted to the waterfall by the women and children. It was better than any waterpark you find in the developed world: plenty of rocks to jump off, smooth stones to glide off and high pressure streams of water to stand and swim under. The water was delicious and refreshing (it’s incredibly hot this time of year in the tropics). 

Next day we set sail for Tuvalu but soon agreed it was too uncomfortable a course (wind on the nose, swell on the beam) so changed direction and headed for the Solomons.

Two days later we arrived in Ndendo. There was one other yacht anchored in the bay; Bertel passed us all the key information: go to town by dinghy and anchor off in front of the shipwreck on the beach, there’s no ATM or cash exchange but there is one shop that will give you cash on your credit card, oh and watch out for the customs lady as she will try and charge you an overtime fee and pocket it, also watch out as she will try and get her hands on any freebies she can find while searching your boat …

So off we went into town, a very long dinghy ride but sooooo refreshing (it’s even hotter here than it was in Vanuatu). A couple of dozen locals were sitting on the beach, in the shade under the trees, chewing a red nut that rots their teeth and colours their tongues and mouths a bright crimson red. It was quite a scary appearance. Despite their threatening looks, they were very friendly and three of them offered to escort us to the customs building, a five minute walk across town (in the blistering heat…).

When we got to the office, the bank manager (who shares an office with the immigration and the customs officers) told us that the immigration lady had just left to come and see us. Luckily, she hadn’t gone far yet and they were able to call her back to the office. The customs officer apparently never showed up to the office and always ‘worked’ from home. We explained that we had no local money and they told us that was not an issue: we could pay immigration and customs fees in Honiara, the capital. However, the girls from the bank took pity on us for not having any local currency and as we walked out they handed Aeneas a wad of local bank notes.

“So the kids can buy something refreshing at the local market,” they said. 

We were taken aback by this generosity, such friendly and welcoming people and instead of asking us for handouts they were giving away their hard earned money. Incredible and very humbling. The boys, of course, were very happy and immediately started to work out how much it was worth in another currency they knew the value of (US dollars or Vatu) and how many sweets it could buy them.

“Perhaps we can buy some Lego with it,” Aeneas said.

“Sure,” I said, “If you can find a shop that sells Lego, you can buy all you want.” 

No chance of finding Lego in this part of the world. We are far way from all those luxuries now. Apparently, we were only yacht number 19 to check into Ndendo this year. And there are no tourist facilities at all. So you can imagine, when we walked into town, everyone wanted to meet us and talk to us and find out where we were from (which is always a tricky question to answer: well … we are Scottish/Belgian but the kids grew up in England; and then some blank stares as they have no idea where any of these countries are. After a while we just said we are from Europe).

But back to the immigration officer … who returned to the office to tell us she and customs lady and two police officers would come to the boat. They had their own transport (‘the’ police boat) so we raced back to Rehua (after buying a local SIM card and waiting for half an hour in another shop for the credit card machine to work so we could get some local currency). 

A little later six officials boarded Rehua and we had a pile of forms to fill in (in duplicate as well). The customs lady, sporting crimson red teeth, searched through the boat. It’s a first on Rehua: we’ve never been searched by Customs before (by Bio Security yes, but never by Customs). She looked through all he cupboards and counted the bottles of wine (the ones she could find) but we were within limits. She then returned to the cockpit and demanded some juice and a coffee. The other officials all seemed very embarrassed by her attitude and behaviour. 

Check-in done and we were allowed to take down the yellow Q-flag, but, unfortunately, we don’t have a Solomons flag to hoist instead (remember we didn’t plan to come here in the first place…). We will have to get creative and make one, as they don’t sell flags here. 

Later in the afternoon, at high tide, we ventured up the river next to the anchorage where, we were told, we would find a natural spring with some of the purest mineral water in the world. As we paddled the dinghy up the river, we admired the lushness of the jungle. The size and colours of the plants and flowers were absolutely breathtaking. It was completely still and as if we had been transported into ‘Jurassic World’ and a dinosaur was about to pop out from in between the huge leaves. The water was very refreshing (did I mention it is hot here?) and tasted delicious.

Everywhere along the river, locals were having their daily shower, washing clothes and cleaning dishes. At the top of the river, at the spring, people came and went to fill up water bottles. One of the locals told us that some Chinese guy was trying to set up a factory here to bottle this top rated spring water and sell it around the world. I guess you never know, look at Fiji water, which is sold on the other side of world for an exorbitant amount of money.

After one night in Ndendo we headed to the nearby Reef Islands. More to follow about our adventures there in the next blog.

Unfortunately Internet is very patchy here. There is not much network coverage and 2G is the best we can hope for. We can send basic emails using our HF radio and there is a way to write blog posts via email (they then should be uploaded automatically on the blog and on Facebook) but unfortunately that hasn’t been working very well recently, as you may have noticed. We’ll keep trying and as soon as we have better network coverage we will post photos too.

So, anyway, here we are in the Solomons; enthralled by the friendliness of the locals and the lushness of the landscape.

The big shop

We don’t know how many shops we will find up north so we better stock up here in Vanuatu. Last week we started with ‘phase 1’: non-perishables. We managed to get our shopping delivered right onto the beach so we could transfer everything from there straight into the dinghy and then ferry it across the water to Rehua. We also completed ‘phase 2’: meat (directly from the abattoir in Luganville, pre-frozen and vacuum packed), eggs, potatoes, onions, garlic. Yesterday we finished our provisioning ‘phase 3’: fresh fruit and vegetables. We always leave this until the last minute, on the day we clear out. Luganville has a great fresh market so we are lucky to get plenty of produce. 

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 at the LCM supermarket in Luganville

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delivery to the beach

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it’s not all ours (we shared the delivery trip with Toucan)

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then we need to ferry everything into the dinghy and onto Rehua

locals at the market in Luganville

plenty of fruit and veg at the market in Luganville

Oyster Island

Another beautiful anchorage and this time we are all on our own. The approach was not for the faint hearted though and could only be attempted at high tide and good visibility around noon … And yes they have oysters here and they are delicious 

Eyeball navigation

the reef at the entrance to oyster island

Skip at the helm

Oyster island

Birthday Boy

We had a birthday to celebrate on Rehua today: Aeneas turned 7. The day started with presents and a birthday cake, then we took a walk around Ratua island together with Bruce and Di from Toucan. We had a lovely lunch onboard and a chilled afternoon and it turned out a perfect day for everyone 🎂

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seven!


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birthday cake


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Aeneas’s personal flag is hoisted for the day


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morning walk


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the island has some amazing trees


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relaxing in the hammock

Ratua island (part 2)

We love the anchorage near Ratua island and find it hard to leave: crystal clear water, great snorkeling, lots of turtles to swim with and some great friends to hang out with. Our buddy boat Toucan turned up from Fiji; they are on their way to Australia and stopped in Santo to do one more goodbye. We also met a few other boats including one other kid boat. We could stay here longer but we need to start thinking about provisioning and getting organised for our trip north…

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fun on the sup


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off for a paddle before school


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art lesson on rehua


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surfing behind the dinghy


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and Aeneas can do it too!


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the over-water spa at the Ratua eco resort


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spa with a view


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gathering on the beach for sundowners


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another trip to the Blue Hole on Malo island


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rafted up in the middle of the Blue Hole


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sad to say goodbye to these lovely ladies; they are sailing south and we head north