After my recent sojourn to Africa, I had no leave left to enjoy a Christmas holiday this year, so instead we decided to give a Honiara Christmas a crack.
The festivities started well before Christmas. In the lead up to the 25th, we had choirs practising carols in the valley below, which was just lovely. Unfortunately, by Christmas Eve, the choir had been overtaken by a loudspeaker blaring Mariah Carey’s ‘All I want for Christmas is you’.
In an effort to escape the tortuous tune, I retreated to my bedroom on the other side of the house, only to be bombarded by Bryan Adams Christmas carols blasting from a different direction. This cruelty continued well past my bedtime.
It should come as no surprise then, that when I woke up on Christmas morning, my neighbours from the valley below were already well into the party mode. To drown out the slurring karaoke, I put on my own carols, only to have it punctuated by the sounds of the first drunken fight of the day. “Silent night…f&*# off…..Holy night….F&*# off…..” and so it went for a good half hour.
It was a good thing that I got to get out and head to an orphan’s lunch. By orphan’s lunch, I mean that all of those expat stragglers left in Honiara over the silly season, coming together for a gigantic feast. And what a feast it was. We had parmigiana, ham, chicken, crab, vegetables, cheese, salads, Mexican chocolate cake and the highlight – home made plum pudding doused (okay, drowned) in Cointreau.
We shared this with 14 people from 6 countries across 4 continents, on the terrace of the most spectacular house, with the most spectacular view, in Honiara. We then broke the cardinal rule and jumped straight in the pool with bellies full of food. Summer rain eventually forced us back on to dry land, where had little else to do except polish off the remaining bottles of wine.
With almost everybody departed for the holiday season, I thought the rest of my week in Honiara would be pretty dull. However, the orphan Christmas also meant that I had a new set of friends to hang with. Together, we planned to take advantage of the long weekend, and the latest downpours, by heading on a rafting trip down the Lunga River.
In 4WDs, we headed out to Tenaru and up the logging roads into the beautiful Guadalcanal hills. We quickly took in the view at Parangiju Mountain Lodge, before driving along a curvier, muddier, more precarious route down the other side.
As we reached the valley, it was time to pump up the rafts, don a helmet and lifejacket, and head off. No explanation was given, or needed, apparently. While the term rafting can elicit images of extreme adventure, this was not the case here. Rafting along the Lunga River is more like drifting, with the occasional run of chop providing a bit of a massaging bounce. The relaxed pace, however, was much needed therapy for this Honiara girl. Plus, it allowed us a chance to breathe in the country’s tranquillity.
It was humbling to see the huge mountains, jutting steeply out of the valley where we floated. These mountains were covered in sky-high trees, including a lot of mahogany, which will soon attract the loggers that it has so far managed to escape. As you got closer, you could see a carpet of vines consuming each tree, one-by-one, like sheets thrown over old furniture. I’m sure there was an array of birdlife in there, somewhere.
We stopped for lunch half way through, and dived into the slightly chilly waters to cool off. Then we continued on, with scenery changing from plunging mountains to sheer pink and green rock faces.
We arrived at our destination just as the rains were coming in. Soaked and satisfied, we made our way back to the dusty capital.
As you may have sensed, as I get older, I like to take things a big easier. So for New Year’s, I took up the offer to join a few friends for a quiet night at Visale. Visale is one of the beautiful beaches about 40km West of Honiara. It is also privately owned by the Catholics, complete with a Church, convent, health clinic, rural training centre, and one house for rent.
Other than the nuns, I thought we might have the area to ourselves. When I arrived, I was disappointed to find 10 tents pitched in front of the house. Fortunately, those neighbours were well behaved. I can’t say much for the more permanent residents, though.
We spent the afternoon floating in the sea, before lighting the brazier for a BBQ. After dinner, we headed back to the beach where Manyoni had set up a small bonfire to bring in 2017. As old people, we promptly fell asleep in front of its warm glow. Fortunately, we managed to stir before the clock struck midnight. Our (quiet) neighbours were also kind enough to make sure that didn’t miss the moment by cracking open a series of flares at the designated time. Aren’t those things meant for emergencies?
The flares’ flashes and cracks were accompanied by ceaseless ringing of the church bells, and by truck loads of people passing by on the main road, cheering and banging on iron sheet that were also being dragged along the bitumen for extra effect. The (noisy) neighbours felt that this would also be a good time to crank up the pop tunes. So much for a quiet New Year’s.
As the festivities waned, sleep beckoned and I was happily snoring within minutes. But then I was awake again. Then asleep. Then awake. Then asleep. About 1am, the (noisy) neighbours decided it might be a good time to crank up those crazy tunes, and did so again for every hour after that. The cheering from trucks was now more like jeering, and the clanging of iron on asphalt startled me awake more times than I care to remember. If this is what it was like out of town, I don’t even want to know what it would have been like back in Honiara.
On the 1st of January, I woke to more blaring pop tunes, then tried to drown them out by dunking my head and weary body into the salty sea. Feeling vaguely refreshed, we cooked up a giant breakfast lunch, before making our way home.
Despite the weekend away, I still felt I had more to experience for a Solomons New Year, so in the night I joined Manyoni and went out to village of one of his friends. They had already spent the day doing wholesome family activities – blind volleyball, oldies vs youngies in soccer, throwing eggs and water balloons. I heard that in the evening it would be movie night.
When we arrived, the village was pretty quiet. Many were tuckered out and already in bed, but so many children were still awake for fear of missing out. We storied a little bit with the family first: The frequent slapping of mosquitoes on legs and arms providing a percussion accompaniment to the ukulele being played in the background. Palm fruit was lit to help ward off the little vampires – nature’s own mosquito coil.
Eventually, the movie was ready. We joined the others in a mattress-less dormitory, and then watched students from a school in Fiji sing Christian songs on the big screen. After this, the village’s local photographer played his recordings from the day’s activities. It was highly entertaining.
Then it was time for me to sleep, but not without first partaking in a freshly prepared snack of cooked bananas and ngali nut.