Guadalcanal Diary, Day 1

We went early to the airport and took a 737 to Honiara, the capital of the Solomon Islands on the north shore of Guadalcanal.  A vaguely islandy-looking guy with a US passport was seated nearby on the plane and I struck up a conversation with him.  He’s not actually islandy at all — he’s from the Southern US, most recently living in Washington, DC.  But right now he and his two traveling companions have a pretty fun-sounding job:  they’re working for Coca-Cola, visiting in a year all 206 countries in which Coke is sold, asking people in each country what makes them happy (#1 answer:  friends and family.)  You can see the footage they’ve filmed at (and by looking for “expedition206” on Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube).

We’ll be able to see it too when we start the two-hour clock running on our little wireless card that we bought downtown at the Telecom office.  When we arrived here, we had the information desk call the place we had tried to make a reservation (at some point they kind of dropped the ball and never responded) and found that they were full.  We found room at the fourth place we tried, the Raintree Cafe, which is a little ways out of town, and has issues.  The water main was broken, that’s why there’s no water pressure.  Despite posted hours of 7:30 am – 10 pm, this afternoon and evening there’s been nobody around to ask questions of if we have any problems.  It does have kind of a nice breakfast and pizza menu, if we can find someone to serve us.

Downtown, everyone was super-friendly, asked us where we were from and if we were rabbis (no Papa Noel, no ZZ Top).  Many of them had the bright red teeth characteristic of betel nut.  After buying stamps and the wireless card (and checking out a backup hotel if we decide to move) we headed towards the Botanic Garden (because it stayed open the longest).  Immediately it started raining.  We waited 10 minutes or so; it stopped, and we resumed our visit.  It’s basically just a little urban forest — there aren’t any signs naming any of the trees or anything that you normally would expect in a Botanic Garden.  The map showed a “cultural village”, which we kind of expected to be a bunch of typical empty houses that some culture would have lived in before the arrival of Captain Cook.  We went there just as the rain started up again, and the village turned out to be fully inhabited.  Some people waved us under their house to get out from the rain; the owner came down and talked to us.  He’s a principal at a school on the south side of the island, and is hoping to study in Hawaii next year.  We talked, for quite a while, until the rain slowed a little, and then walked back toward the road back to the hotel.  Transport during the day is super-cheap:  you get in minivans and go anywhere for 40 cents US per person.  At night you have to take a taxi, which is still a comparatively cheap 80 cents US per kilometer.

I don’t know what we’ll do the next couple days.  We had fantasized about snorkeling over some of the sites that fringe “Iron Bottom Sound”, the burial ground for many WWII ships involved in the recapture of Guadalcanal, but many of them are scuba spots and there are a lot of other things to do.  There’s an interesting walking tour advertised at our hotel, but no one around to book it through.  Maybe we’ll rent a car and just drive around, on the left side of the road.