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?