[120926, 0426 UTC, Mbatuna, Vangunu Island, Solomon Islands
08º34' S / 158º 08' E]
We last wrote when hunkered down for some relaxation at Roderick Bay. We thought we'd stay a week, maybe two, and ended up staying over three weeks. It was so very difficult to leave this place where we hung on a mooring perched on a gorgeous sea-mound that was covered in vibrant coral. One still night, little bugs or little fish swam against the current passing over "our" reef, and formed hundreds of moving squiggly lines of phosphorescence that were dancing on the surface as far as we could see on both sides of Carina. From our mooring, many days, we watched continuous unsettled weather come screaming at Nggela Sule only to be rung out over the island, leaving us snug in Roderick Bay. What was most wonderful though, was we were enveloped into the generous folds of the Ruka family and were continuously busy.
When we first returned from Honiara (and Philip's evacuation to Oz), the village hosted a special supper welcoming - a now healthy Philip - back. (Another special supper a week later welcomed yacht Tomboy.) We arrived at the beach at "island time" and were given purple flower leis that filled the air with an intoxicating sweet scent like cotton candy and given drinking coconuts decorated with hibiscus flowers. The villagers had decorated the festival site, the rough wooden table was covered in hibiscus flowers and ferns, and our guest plates of woven palm were also graced with hibiscus. Fishing had not been fruitful so the family offered a magnificent coconut clam chowder, plus the usual fare of island vegetables of taro, pana and island vegetable puddings. Our offering included a huge pasta fagiole designed to feed a crowd, while Tribute brought his usual rice dish. As with all suppers at Roderick Bay, not a morsel was left at the end of the meal. As people who survive by mostly subsistent farming and fishing, they eat whatever is offered and edible, and relish trying new foods. In fact, we brought California rolls, soy sauce and chopsticks to one meal and everyone gleefully dug in and the sushi evaporated as smiles emerged.
During our stay, we helped John Ruka (the clan chief) and Ben Sosi (the paramount chief) to formulate plans for the second (annual) Roderick Bay festival. This included a number of casual and organized discussions which led to a new image: Bonina Vale ni Vaka Seloga (Festival of Sailing Boats - subtitled: the second annual cultural festival of the Nggela people). To help, we designed and printed posters, organized and pressed copies of a DVD of video and photos from the 2012 festival, and emailed announcements to tourist and yachting groups. Philip also helped by accompanying John as he met with Solomon Telekom in his bid to acquire a communications tower for the entire Sandfly Passage area, a resource that will help them in their efforts at tourist development.
During our stay, we fell into an easy routine with the village; we visited ashore, snorkeled, and hiked as we went about our chores and tackled our unending list of projects. One rainy Sunday we mounted an expedition to the far end of the bay and up a slippery trail through the jungle to the hilltop to see Ben Sosi's home and teak plantation. As we climbed, birdsong continuously filled the air and we got glimpses through the canopy of a tiny Carina bobbing far away on her mooring.
Most days during our stay someone would paddle up to Carina and deposit a gift of something edible. Much to our delight, sengo palm wild mushrooms came in season and we prepared different dishes incorporating this rich-tasting food: beef burgundy, mushroom pasta sauce, etc. We reciprocated as we could - not always with edible things, but with loans of tools, gifts of clothing, charging a torch (flashlight) or cell phone, fixing a sewing machine, printing photos or dispensing meds for the ever present injuries sustained by these active people who wear no shoes (and in many cases don't own any). We were delighted when we were visited twice late in the evening and actually asked for food by Lillian - rice or meat or sugar - because someone important had arrived unexpectedly and the family was trying to accommodate the guest. It was then we knew we were considered "wantok" since they came to us as family to help feed the guest - and we were happy to be so accepted and to give our share.
Lillian is a tiny lady who makes Leslie look tall and heavy but she's a fit and mighty thing who, married at 15, has borne 7 children and who cheerfully tends the wood fire in her kitchen hut and who works the family gardens that are mostly miles away and only accessible by dugout and by hiking. In fact, Leslie joined Lillian and her two littlest girls, Virginta and Beatrice, for a dugout canoe trip to one of the jungle gardens on the south end of the bay. On the way out of the village, they stopped and picked up Janis of Tomboy and the tiny brace of canoes went gliding down the bay. The biggest canoe, about 15 feet long and recently repaired by Larry of Tribute and hereinafter known as "Tribute", was ably piloted by Lillian, though Leslie and Janis pulled hard and the trip went quickly as the chattering continued non-stop.
Slipping into a tunnel in the mangroves, the dugout slowly stopped as the water shoaled and the mud stopped them short. A short walk through black, shoe-sucking, mangrove mud and they reached the trail to the garden. Leslie brought a bush knife and a basket for food, plus a back pack with peanut snacks, hard candy (always called lollies despite the lack of a stick) and fresh water for sharing. Janis brought similar supplies. Lillian, her bush knife in hand, strode quickly off up the small mountain at a brisk pace, the girls 8 and 10 years old respectively, fell in behind, singing songs as they skipped along. At one point, the trail began to climb and one of the girls was instructed in the Nggela language to relieve Leslie of her bush knife; apparently Lillian wasn't taking any chances Leslie knew how to carry a sharp object up a mountain.
Passing through the "old garden" the trail climbed steeply up the north slope of the new garden that occupied both sides of a prominent ridge. Gardens here are made on steep hills because of the long wet-season. Crops are intermingled and rotated. In this garden at this time, bananas grew alongside (giant and leaf) taro and pana (a sticky potato like root veggie) on the south slope, while kumala - sweet potato - occupied the north slope. Tomato plants were scattered about. On the ridge under a small mango tree was a bush-hut - an open air sengo palm leaf structure for keeping the root crop starters. A tattered tabu symbol made of a recycled rice bag hung from its ceiling. The day was very hot and the expedition was late arriving at the garden, but still Leslie & Janis took part in the weeding. Lillian was impressed with their diligence and began calling them the complimentary moniker of "Solomon Island Woman". The group returned to the anchorage loaded down with veggies and bananas and frosted in red volcanic soil.
At last it was time for us to move on towards the western province; our visas would expire soon, there was much of the Solomon Islands yet to explore and we had a brief haul-out planned at Liapari Island. The villagers planned and executed another feast despite the fact that a rare dry season day of torrential rains dampened the festivities. Speeches were made and gifts exchanged; we were honored with gifts of heirloom shell money which, since then, have been recognized by other Solomon Islanders as valuable and which elicit questions as to their origin. We gave a pile of clothing and earrings from Mexico but also personal gifts of a Vanuatu basket that Lillian fancied to use when dressing for important functions, and a 6' long rich brown and soft Fijian tapa made from mangrove that John says he'll wear proudly as chief.
At last we just had to leave. Our dinghy aboard, Larry of Tribute brought us to the beach and in the early morning light we hugged, shook hands and took pictures and finally motored slowly to Carina and climbed aboard as the family waved from the beach. As we turned north towards Sandfly Pass and Carina picked up speed, Philip sounded a series of mournful goodbye notes using his Nggela Sule triton trumpet shell horn.
Your friends of the yacht Carina,
Philip, Leslie and fat cat, Jake