First trip to Central

After six weeks of waiting, waiting, waiting, funding was finally released for me to go to Tulaghi to prepare for our CLTS pilot program.  Already experiencing a month’s delay, I was eager to get on the boat.  Even when a low pressure system threatened that eagerness, I unwaveringly persevered with travel plans.

On the planned day of departure I was up early and down at the wharf ready to go.  I was also starting at an empty jetty.  It seems a malfunctioning engine had put the boat trip on hold for a while.  Sensing my desperation not to delay the program any further, the company offered to take us over on an OBM.  I hurriedly agreed.

OBM stands for Outboard Motor.  Picture a 19-foot long, fibreglass tinny (or fibreglassy, as I will now call them).  Not really the kind of boat you want to go head-to-head with swell in.  Yet adventures happen when you least expect them (and more commonly when you fail to acknowledge the tide reports).

In all honesty, the driver did a pretty good job at attempting to cushion the blows.  Especially considering that he was laughing so hard at our fear-filled faces.  I’m not exactly phased by big waves, but smashing over that swell left me dreaming of two things:  seatbelts and a fatter bum.  I must have been clinging on pretty tight, as the journey added 5000 steps to my pedometer.

Just over the half way mark, we stopped.  By we, I mean the engine.  As they conducted mid-sea engine maintenance, punctuated by under-the-breath announcements of “Oh shit!”, I was given time to ponder the many stories that I had heard about OBMs going missing in these waters “all the time”.  I had my PLB (Personal Life Beacon) at the ready.  After 15-odd minutes, we finally started again, then stopped, then started, then made our way bit by bit.  I sang lalala in my mind, and turned my thoughts to flying fish – seriously, how awesome are they!?!

Finally, we arrived at Tulaghi, the original capital of the Solomon Islands.  After washing off the sea spray, it was down to work.  I met with my Central Island Environmental Health counterparts, who are lovely!  We planned the workshops, we selected communities, we spoke with church leaders who signed up to join our program, we arranged quotes and made budgets.  All-in-all a pretty successful day.

To top off the adventure, my colleague arranged for us have a tour of the island.  Given that there are only 4 vehicles on the island – 3 trucks and a tractor – I should probably not have been surprised that our tour was in a police van.  Clearly the police have little else going on.

The nature of the island could be seen in the sharp limestone cliffs cutting down to mangrove swamps.  The economic history of the island could be seen in the (sadly) abandoned and dilapidated Fisheries infrastructure.  The political history of the island could also be seen in the bizarre lodgings built by US forces after the war, the gravestones of British expatriates from the days of the protectorate, and the ‘cut place’ – a passage cut through a limestone cliff by prisoners in the early 1900s.  The community connectedness could be seen in the thriving hub of the sports field that was filled in the evening with laughing adults, teens and children alike.  Rubbish sites aside, Tulaghi is not bad.

Back at the hotel, we took some time to relax, before enjoying a massive grilled Kingclip steak on the deck.  Things could be worse.

The next day, we managed to secure an early ride back to avoid the day’s growing swell.  I had to contort myself on the seat to avoid sitting on the intensely bruised and inflamed parts of my buttocks resulting from yesterday’s jaunt.  We also had to endure several more engine stops, making me very, very suspicious of boat engines in Solomon Islands.  Finally, we made it back to dry land, safe and somewhat sound, given the need to carry a cushion with me everywhere I go.

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