For the last seven months I have been living and working in the Solomon Islands as an Australian Volunteer for International Development. Think the Aussie version of Peace Corps.
I have been based in Honiara, the capital city of the small Pacific Island nation, located below Papua New Guinea and next to Vanuatu.
Island life is slow-paced and full of humidity, coconuts, beaches, smiles, rain, soccer, and fresh fruit. I love it!
Whilst there is no “typical” week in the Solomon Islands, here’s a glimpse of what my life looks like in one of the most remote island nations in the world.
Monday — Local Stardom
On most mornings I am awakened as the sun rises. My room faces to the East, so I get the full heat of the morning sun, meaning that I can’t sleep in much later than 8:00 AM.
My garden. Image by Morgan Pettersson.
I wake up and open the door that looks out onto my garden, the coconut trees, and the surrounding mountains. I do some yoga.
My housemates are up and about by now. I go out and collect some mangos, bananas, and guavas from the garden to make breakfast. I sit on the traditional leaf hut deck and look over the ocean and distant islands as I eat.
The heat of the day is already here as I begin my 30-minute walk to work. I stroll along the ridgeline past children on their way to school; they smile shyly and wave. Trucks with trays filled with people zoom past with the occasional “Morning!” or “Hey misses!” shouted at me. Mountains are to my left, and I love my morning walks when I can look down into the small villages in the valleys below.
I rush nextdoor to get a copy of today’s newspaper as there is a write up about me as a volunteer here in the Solomon Islands. You know you’ve made it when you’re featured in the local paper.
Work finishes for the day, and I reverse my walk back home. This means climbing up a steep hill in the still hanging heat of the day. After months and months of climbing this hill, I now find it easy.
Tuesday — A Solomon Islands High
Wake up, yoga, laze in the hammock, and eat breakfast before walking to work.
Having a very serious conversation about which beetlenut to purchase. Image courtesy of Morgan Pettersson.
I return home after yoga to find my housemate wants to try beetlenut. This nut is commonly chewed by people here and in Papua New Guinea. When mixed with the powder of burnt coral, it gives you a high. It also turns your mouth red, and you can see stains on the sidewalks all through Honiara, evidence of people chewing the nut.
We head down the road and purchase three of the small, green nuts from a stall on the roadside. Beetlenuts do not taste good at all, and after trying for about five minutes, we give up, laughing.
We do get a small “high” from chewing the nut and spend the rest of the evening sitting on our leaf hut verandah looking at the stars.
Wednesday — The Market’s Spoils
Wake up, yoga, laze in the hammock, and eat breakfast before walking to work.
Getting some fresh food at the market with my beautiful friend Lanita. Image courtesy of Morgan Pettersson.
I normally go to the market once a week to buy my fresh fruits and vegetables. Today I walk half an hour from work to the market close to my house and meet a local friend to shop.
I like this market because it is outside and open. Here I can purchase as many pineapples, pawpaws, limes, bananas, and other tropical fruits as I desire. The food is cheap, and the women from whom I buy are friendly. We chat in the local language of pidgin.
Once a week a free yoga session is held down by the waterfront at sunset. It is a great way to relax as the sun sets over Savo Island in the distance.
Scraping a coconut for dinner. Image courtesy of Morgan Pettersson.
I return home from yoga and then wander my garden, searching for fallen coconuts. I find one and husk it, which involves impaling the hard shell against a spike in my garden and tearing bits of the husk off. I break open the small, brown coconut to reveal the white flesh inside. Using a local tool that has a wooden seat and a small metal, jagged bit at the front, I scrape out the flesh. I pour the water that was inside the coconut on top of the scrapings and leave it for half an hour before separating the liquid. Voila: coconut milk! Tonight’s dinner is coconut lentils.
Thursday — Rain Desperation
This morning I feel tired. After breakfast my housemate with a car offers to drop me at work. This is a treat, as normally I arrive at the office a sweaty mess.
The streets of Honiara. Image courtesy of Morgan Pettersson.
The power has gone out, and the generator at the office is not working. My work colleague and I drum on our desks to pass the time.
My friend Dorah drops by the office to give me a beautiful gift: a traditional necklace from her home province of Temotu!
With my friend Dorah and the necklaces from her home province of Temotu. Image by Morgan Pettersson.
The power is still out, and since the pump at the house is run by electricity, we have no water. The clouds that have been building up over the hills suddenly spill over, and I run outside with buckets, desperately trying to catch some water to flush the toilet. After days of dark clouds but no rain, the heat and humidity was becoming unbearable. The dust that had been settling over the city will also be rushed away by the downpour.
Friday — The Christmas Party
Wake up and do some yoga whilst listening to the children nextdoor laughing. People tend to wake up with the sun here.
I leave the office to have lunch with a friend. On the way back I pass a man wandering down the road wearing a multi-coloured clown wig. The only clothes you can buy here are second-hand pieces from Australia and New Zealand, so some funny old Halloween costumes often get sold too.
Truck travel is a cheap and common way to get about. Image by Morgan Pettersson.
My housemate’s office is having their Christmas party on the beach this afternoon, and I am invited to go along!
I hop into the back of a truck, and we drive through the city and out into the country, passing small villages. At the beach the food is cooked over a fire. The children play in the ocean and then get a mean game of soccer going. Myself and my friend are dragged onto the field, where we lose spectacularly to a group of eight-year-olds.
Playing a very serious game of soccer with local children. Image by Morgan Pettersson.
Saturday — Learning to Paddle
I have an early start this morning as I am traveling to the next group of islands in the “Central Province” of Solomon Islands. I meet a group of friends and our boat driver at the wharf before crowding into a small motorized “banana boat.”
Boat travel is the easiest way to get around in the Solomon Islands. Image by Morgan Pettersson.
After cruising over clear, still water for over an hour and then between small islands, we arrive at Nugu, our home for the next two days.
My reluctant canoe teacher. Image by Morgan Pettersson.
A small child paddles past the beach in a traditional wooden dugout canoe. The passengers pull onto the beach. I go over to try to strike up a conversation. They are too shy but do let me take their canoe for a spin. After falling out three times, I finally get the hang of it and spend the rest of the afternoon trying to paddle in a straight line.
Sunday — Adventures in Snorkeling
I rise with the sun and sit on the beach to watch it rise. There really is nothing like a Pacific sunrise; the sky is illuminated in all shades of gold, orange, and blue.
Sunrise in the Pacific. Isn’t it magical? Image by Morgan Pettersson.
8:00 AM Onwards
Today we are traveling to an island not far from here. It is home to some of the best snorkeling in the Solomons. The half an hour boat ride takes us past small islands with white sandy beaches, the kinds you see in postcards.
We land on Maravagi and spend the entire day snorkeling among the pristine coral reef, swimming, and relaxing on the beach.
How clear is this water? A look at the reef from above the surface. Image by Morgan Pettersson.