Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Solomons to Australia, Pocket Full of Dolphin Teeth

My last day on the Solomon Islands was a pleasant, leisurely one. Yesterday's scuba diving was so intense that I was happy to just do a little touristy shopping today.

I finally met a cab guy that I liked so we drove around to a couple places and then I had him take me to the airport as well afterwards. Alen Luis was a pretty nice guy and we exchanged some pleasant conversation. He did partake in the betel nut which I've probably talked about 10 times here but it is truly revolting. There are street stalls all over the place selling the things. They have a green husk that you discard with a normal looking nut inside. I guess I should try it before I knock it, but as people chew/suck/whatever one does to a betel nut it turns your spit and your teeth blood red. Alen's mouth was just a warzone.

I tried to explain to him that Luis is a king's name and that I was from St. Louis which is named after the king of France. I'm not sure if he knew what I was talking about.

We drove past a little shop that was having some sort of promotion with a wheel that you could spin to win prizes. I asked him what sort of prizes you could win and it was hard not to laugh when he said "a bag of rice".

I was using my phone in the cab to takes pictures and write notes and I saw him glancing at it a bit. "Do you have a spare phone?" I had to break it to him that no I only had the one phone. It was probably just a super naive question so I let it roll off with a smile but if someone in the US asked the same question it would have had a little "be a shame if something bad happened to you and that fancy phone" sort of vibe to it I think.

Yesterday I saw that giant sign that was advertising the RAMSI peacekeeping force was leaving the Solomons. I asked him if he thought that was a good thing. "No because the people of Solomon is bad." I've pretty much only had contact with service industry workers but everyone has been very good to me in the Solomons. The taxi guys especially have been kind and always seemed to appreciate the work. I've had lots of 3 dollar cab rides.

Surprisingly they use their turn signals quite a lot here even to change lanes.

I had to give the Honiara Central Market a peek before heading out. We were driving around looking for parking and a man stuck his head near my car window and asked if I needed any lobster. Nope, I'm good. Alen and I had a good laugh about that. This ought to be interesting.

The market was pretty crowded so I didn't take many pictures because I was trying to keep a good hold on my personal belongings. There was a pack of police walking through the lanes of stalls yapping about something on a megaphone. I asked around about that but I never got a good explanation. 

One woman had little piles of peanuts sitting on a wooden table under a big umbrella. The piles got larger little by little and so did their meager asking price. The care with which she was selling these tiny little bits of produce was touching. I pretty much had to buy some. I picked the pile marked $1, which is about 13 cents US. I shelled the first one and popped it into my mouth and it was like wet for some reason. The taste was also not good. So... those became my present to Alen when I returned to the cab. He appreciated it.

There was a good assortment of handmade jewelry around so I bought Lydia a few things. One pair in particular looked like a couple of palm trees made out of bone or sea shells or something. While the lady was bagging them up for me I asked her what material they were made out of. Dolphin teeth. Yowzer! They were pretty small so I was confused about how these would be collected. "Do you find them on the beach?", I asked. "No", she replied while miming the removal of teeth from her mouth with a pair of pliers. What the heck did I just buy?

We stopped back at the hostel one last time to pick up my luggage and head out. I liked the place.

We drove past a mall and I asked Alen if that was a nice place.
"Yes they have soaps there."
"Soaps are something like supermarket."

When I lived in Japan I remember thinking it was odd how nice and new all the cars were there. There are no old cars in Japan. There are no damaged or rusty cars in Japan. It was a mystery where they all went until I traveled the developing world a bit more.  Used Japanese cars are all over the place. It's funny because they often don't bother peeling off the stickers and other junk so you'll see a mean looking dude in the Caribbean driving down the street in a van that used to be a Japanese daycare school bus.

I stopped for a couple of beers to give to friends back home as presents.

Alen and I: peanut buddies for life.

When I got to the airport the Australian couple who were having the retirement party were there getting ready for their flight back home.

Other countries have much more festival immigration lines.

I boarded my first flight to eventually meet up with the girls in Melbourne. This is about to become a much different trip.

I had a layover in Brisbane again. Lucky for me I had my trusty Priority Pass on hand to entertain me during my wait. Usually you get entrance to a lounge but when one isn't available some airports just give you an allowance and you can spend it at restaurants. I think the allowance was really generous here, maybe $40? I had my first Australian avocado smash. They are really fancy versions of avocado toasts and this one was really really good. it was nice and citrusy and had snow pea pods mixed in.

I finally met up with the girls in our downtown Melbourne Airbnb. We swapped tales of our travels while we'd been separated. It felt like weeks had gone by with everything that I'd been through. I told Lydia I'd probably aged a year since she saw me last. They'd been living it up without me, apparently not sleeping under mosquito nests.

Lucky for us we still had plenty of things still left to see!

Monday, July 24, 2017

Scuba Diving WW2 Shipwrecks Off Guadalcanal

In the night I could hear an ominous scratching sound on the roof of my little shack by the ocean. Maybe that Vanuatu fruit bat I ate had friends.

When morning came and I awoke uneaten by angry, fruitly fragrant bats the plan was to get to the local dive shop and do my first oceanic scuba dive. How exciting.

It was rush hour and there were plenty of cars so I figured it wouldn't be a problem to get a cab ride. Well, it was a problem. I couldn't get a cab no matter what I tried. It felt like I was hitchhiking. I walked along the road, waving at every car that remotely looked like a cab. It's funny in most developing nations cabs swarm around me like gnats but here no one was interested.

After walking along the road for a time I finally just accosted one filling up at a gas station. I believe I was born to say "driver take me to the yacht club and if you make it snappy there's $100 in it for you!" $100 Solomon Islands Dollars is like $13 US.

I really really like the signs around here written in pidgin. I wouldn't have thought a language like that would have a written form.

Tulagi Dive seemed legit enough to trust my life to. I guess? Luckily they didn't ask to see my dive certification because I definitely did not think to bring it with me on this trip. I hadn't even considered going diving until I landed in the country.

Solomon Islands is the site of a lot of WW2 fighting on Guadalcanal. I chose the dives of a couple of sunken Japanese ships known as Bonegi I & II.

The drive there went through some countryside that I enjoyed gazing at.

The water was warm enough that they didn't provide me with a wetsuit. So the harness with the airtanks and the rest of the equipment just went straight on my back.

I started with over an hour of underwater footage and editing it down was painful. Give it a look and let me know what you think of my first dive video.

There was a bit of a drive in between the two dive locations.

One of the wrecks was so close to the beach that some of it still stuck out above the water.

My mouth hurt for days after this. You have to really make a seal with your lips or, you know, you'll die.

The Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands (RAMSI) recently left the Solomon Islands. The country was having some domestic strife and so Australia and New Zealand sent peacekeepers.

Had some food at a local Indian place.

I thought I'd stumbled onto a mysterious new Fanta flavor but it was just cream soda.

Afterwards I headed to the Heritage Park Hotel for a second time to eat some much needed internet.

The menus they brought out after sunset were backlit.

There was a store at the hotel that sold flamboyant flower print shirts so I picked one up. If you recall "nice bola" means handsome.

I got a cab back to the hostel. "What? You're from the US?" Cue country music.

I've spent so much time under this net that I feel like a bubble boy.