I’m surprised it took me this long to get there. Apart from the endless number of gags, the joy about finally visiting Isabel is that everyone could say my name. It’s the small things that matter.
Like most domestic trips, the tiny 12-seater plane lands on a cleared out strip of land on the edge of an island where, if anything went wrong with the landing or takeoff, you would inevitably end up in the drink. In this case, we landed on an island called Fera and, from there, unloaded our own luggage and took it down to the sandy beach where our OBM boat was waiting to take us to Buala.
Buala is the capital of Isabel. It is in a very strange place for a capital city. Flat land is limited, and the hills that rise up sharply from the mangroves leave little space for infrastructure. I guess it’s a good thing that there is only about 1,500 people living there. Which makes it even stranger that it’s a capital city. This lack of population, and relatively untouched geography, does make Buala one of the more calming capital cities that I’ve been to.
Our accommodation in Buala was Famane Guesthouse. You won’t read about this place in guidebooks or on Trip Advisor, there are no signs for it in town or on the guesthouse itself, and it’s only through word of mouth that I knew it even existed. Set half way up one of those steep hills, once you’re at Famane, it’s easy to forget you’re even in the Solomon Islands.
The place had chandeliers, a fully functional kitchen and lounge area, 24 hour electricity AND hot water, tasteful furnishings, polished wooden floors that didn’t creak, and a deck with a BBQ that looks out over the ocean. Did I mention it had chandeliers?
If you’re not an inside person, you can also take joy by wandering around its flowering tropical garden and over the curved bridge that traverses a small stream, which flows into a rock-lined plunge pool for the guests’ use.
Once settled, and after a cold beer in the plunge pool, it was time to check out the rest of Buala. Unfortunately, due to the mangroves (and quite possibly a lot of effluent), the ocean in front of Buala is not swimmable. There is, however, a marketplace selling a small selection of vegetables, a shop selling the typical variety of tinned tuna and crackers, and overwhelmingly large number of SolBrew outlets. Yep, for all Isabel’s beautiful, it has one of the highest per capita consumption of alcohol for the Solomon Islands.
If you dare to venture out of Buala, be prepared for some hefty hill climbs, with an occasional but well-earned ocean view. Fortunately, lots of hills means lots of streams along the way to cool off. Lots of streams also means lots of plants. In fact, there were so many plants, growing so densely, that it was difficult to see the rainforest for the trees.
Lush rainforest on one side, deep blue ocean on the other – not a bad spot for a namesake.