The Solomon Islands were part of a huge, end-of-year, 30-day jaunt around the Pacific. The trip would wrap up the region for me, completely – checking off nine new countries and include two repeats (transit). Even though I had an entire month to get nine countries done, because of the scarcity of flights into some of these rarely-visited island nations, this flight itinerary was probably my most complicated to date. For example, if you’re in Island A and you want to get to Island B, many times you’re forced to fly all the way to Island G first! And there might only be one flight a week from A to G and from G back to B. Are you picking up what I’m putting down? In other words, seeing nine countries in the Pacific, even in 30 days, was super-difficult. I eventually worked it all out, having to use Fiji as a hub for four of the nine countries.
This entire schedule, while complete, would be pretty erratic and inconsistent when it came to the number of days I’d spend in each place. For example, I’d have to spend a whopping five days in The Marshall Islands – which I was told is about 4.5 days too many! And sadly, I’d have less than 24 hours here in The Solomon Islands, which for me, would mean seeing “The” Solomon “Island.” A diver’s paradise, I quickly learned that no one goes to The Solomons to just stay in the capital. But I’d have no choice and would make the best of Honiara for my quick in and out.
Need a hotel in Honiara? Go HERE.
No Cabbies Makes me Crabby
Upon exiting the airport, I was ready for the usual barrage of cabbies crowding around me for a fare, but like my stop in French Guiana, they simply weren’t there. No taxis at the airport? That was unsettling. I did see two, but they were already spoken for, reserved in advance, I assumed. Where were the taxis?? Oh wait a minute…it’s Christmas Eve!
Finally, with the help of a seasoned visitor, I was finally in a cab and rolling to my hotel. Shout out to George, an Aussie who was in town for a church function. He locked down a “fair fare” for me and we rolled into town together. After a quick check-in at the very nice (and way too expensive) Heritage Park Hotel, I was out the door by 5PM to see what could be seen before sundown.
Luckily, my hotel was in the very center of town and I didn’t have to walk far to mix in with the action. There was a Christmas celebration underway at Unity Square, right in front of the port. There was a stage (with entertainment yet to begin), a Christmas tree and vendor booths, all surrounding the national flag atop a very tall pole. It was a quick and easy way to hang out with the locals.
Almost immediately, I was greeted with smiles and hellos from complete strangers. I’m sure I stuck out as the only gringo in a crowd of locals. Curious kids and adults alike waved and smiled. I felt welcome almost instantly and was so happy I was able to make some human connections in my short time here.
Along the main road, shops were just beginning to close up. It was Christmas Eve and locals were getting in their last minute shopping.
Betel Nut, Betel Nut, Betel Nut!
Almost every smile I saw contained a set of red-stained teeth. I’d soon learn this was a side effect of the betel nut, chewed by just about everyone in The Solomon Islands (source: the hotel receptionist). Apparently, betel nut “spit” is an issue here. There were signs outside of many businesses prohibiting betel nuts or the “spitting” of its juice. Just look down anywhere on the streets of Honiara and you’ll see red stains all over the roads, sidewalks and along the bottom of the walls of buildings. A few times I even saw large, red puddles. I was almost curious enough to try some myself, but wasn’t too crazy about staining my teeth red. Apparently betel nuts get you high, too. I wasn’t ready for all that, at least, not on the first night.
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I shrieked with glee inside when I came upon the central market so soon. I was so afraid my one and only night here might pass without any real adventure, but in the first 30 minutes, I’d already attended a party at the port, learned about betel nuts, and now I was going to explore the local market. I felt so lucky!
The seaside market was cool, with lots of normal “market stuff.” I didn’t record a lot or take too many pictures – even when I took out my phone to snap a quick selfie or sneak a quick pic of some fruit on the table, vendors covered their faces. I was their guest, so I kept my phone in my pocket for the majority of the remainder of my market visit.
I’ve always been curious about anthropology and the humanities: specifically, why people in certain places look a certain way. Like in Vanuatu, the Melanesians here were very dark, but looked like Africans even more. Even after Googling, I couldn’t find anything about any direct connections or migrations from Africa to The Solomons but, then again, don’t we all descend from Mother Africa? The whole thing just had my brain confused at times because some of these folks I swore look like they could be directly from Kenya, Uganda, etc. My pea-brain had a hard time making sense of it. This visit gave me a new interest in studying Melanesia and its history and anthropology.
And there was an Indonesian connection too. Not only was there a tour group of Indos on my flight in, but the hotel’s TV featured cable channels from Jakarta. I found that super interesting, because it’s something I’ve never seen in any other Pacific island, but it makes sense if you see where the Solomons are on the map: Just to the west is Papua New Guinea and then Indonesia. I absolutely love seeing how the world naturally blends together and connects, from region to region.
I swung by the port on my way back to the hotel, where I had dinner and then a nice slumber. After my stay in Kiribati (at a not-so-nice property), I was worried I’d encounter more “rough” places in my next stops, but The Heritage Park was very nice, clean and comfortable. Expensive, too, but worth it. I did get a kick out of the cat-sized rat that approached me at dinner – I’ve never seen one that big! But as long as you’re not a spider or a cockroach, I’m cool with you.
In the morning, I enjoyed an hour walk in the other direction. There wasn’t much to see: a few government offices, a monument and a park. On the way back I had a coffee at The Coral Sea Resort and Casino, which looked like another nice option for lodging, if you’re looking.
Good Times Had by All
I feel for such a quick stop, I did have a “quality” visit here. I could, in good conscience, “count” this country. I’d had a lot of “nature” time in my last stop (Kiribati), so milling around a bustling commercial town like Honiara was a refreshing change. And if you couldn’t already tell, the people were the main highlight for me here. I will remember Honiara as the town where countless strangers smiled, waved and greeted me, with no ulterior motive than to be friendly, and maybe satisfy their curiosity. I’ll remember that, and those red puddles.
Find a great hotel in Honiara HERE.