It all started when I enquired about a necklace that a very pretty lady was wearing in the mountains of Colorado. She told me she was a teacher and spent her summers traveling in the South Pacific. Now if you have ever been bitten with the wanderlust or the travel bug what more would you need to get your engines revved up then to discuss the South Pacific.
Just thinking the words South Pacific brings up the movie “South Pacific” with it’s fantastic music, beautiful scenery, orange-red sunsets and bright blue lagoons. As we progressed in discussion the necklace she was wearing came from one of the natives in the Solomon Islands and was a deep, red oxblood coral. I asked her if you could purchase more red coral in the Solomon Islands. She wasn’t positive if you could purchase red coral necklaces as hers was a gift, but she knew of one tribe that wore these necklaces during ceremonies. Thoughts turned into research, as I found an expert on red coral from the University of Pennsylvania, who knew the area had red coral, but it might be very difficult to harvest because of the depth. He gave me the name of Ian Gauer who dealt in sea shells and told me to write him a letter to better explore the subject.
The airmail letter arrived with Ian personally inviting me to visit him on the southern portion of the island and yes you guessed it— I was off to the South Pacific Islands. Just another dream I told myself as I flew through Hawaii, crossed the time-zone, lost a day and saw the same movie four times in a row. Who was to know?
The big jet landed in Honiara, the capital of The Solomon Islands. I spent the first night in an idyllic hotel right on the water. I took some pictures of the incredible sunsets through wine glasses stacked up on the patio. I showed my letter to the hotel manager who immediately made arrangements for me to fly in a small jumper plane down island. Upon arriving the jumper plane came in fast and low just missing the tops of the palm trees and skidded all the way to the end of the runway and spun around into the bush — pointing back to the sea with not more than six inches to spare. The bush pilot announced: “this is your jumping off spot!”
As I proceeded on a path through the jungle several small native kids in bare feet came running along and told me to follow them— they knew of my arrival via the short-wave radio. As I rounded the last jungle trail a fellow with a white feather in his head ran up and grabbed my bag and pointed to the beach-house— located directly on the Coral Sea.
As a guest in Ian’s house, I felt I died and went to heaven. A well constructed jungle shack with 5 bedrooms, a large attached outdoor kitchen, and a wrap around porch that looked directly to the ocean. A separate cement block building on the southwestern side of the beach cottage had his shell laboratory where he cleaned, itemized, and stowed for scientific purposes and for the shell trade world-wide. Ian gave me a warm welcome and handed me a mask and a pair of fins and told me I would probably enjoy looking around in his outdoor sea aquarium. He was not kidding! There were more beautiful varieties of tropical fish within the first one hundred yards than I had seen in my lifetime.
I did see some some rather large creatures lurking around underneath rock caverns creating shadows and maybe sizing me up for dinner. Who knows? As I began to make a bee-line for headquarters, I started sucking on my snorkel so bad, I must have looked like an underwater missile going astray. Upon my return Ian, who was originally from Australia, said: “I trust you mustn’t have liked our little sea creature smorgasbord so much– since you returned rather quickly.”
“Oh no I declared! I was a bit tired from the trip and wanted to unpack and get settled before dinner.” Still thinking now that I passed the shark sea test what is next— the jungle pot! Ian showed me around where he had native jungle people sitting underneath the palm trees carving jewelry from mother of pearl shells, black coral, and a host of other beautiful shells which I never had seen before. As he showed me through the laboratory he showed me one shell that was the only shell in the world. Not only extremely rare and sought after by the scientific community, but collectors as well. He laughed– “even though it is the only one in the world,I have found three more just in case, and have them hidden away for a rainy day.”
The sea shells were so abundant I teased Ian as I saw several shells walking right up to his laboratory as if they were either inquisitive or wanted to be sent to a new home. So if you have ever dreamed of finding a shelling place that is loaded with exotic sea shells you might check on the Solomons for the ultmate shelling experience.
We sat down for dinner and was served lobster, fresh fish, fresh pineapple, and a coconut dish that was out of this world. The native with the white feather was his head servant and used sign language to communicate. Ian said he was here when I bought the place several years ago and now he is family. After dinner Ian took me to his Jungle store where the native boat people were bringing in large bags of sea shells in their dugout canoes for Ian to grade and pay the natives. Just like a company store they got chips worth so much in goods. I noticed the company store was a bit sparse as it only had kerosene, white rice by the hundred pound bag, bags of sugar, a few bags of nails, machetes, beans, burlap bags, candles, matches, and bamboo poles.
When you think about it when you are living in paradise and have all the food that the jungle provides plus your own natural aquarium full of delicious fish to eat— do you really need anything more? The servant with the feather always carried his machete on his side even when he served dinner. I guess that would be a good deterrent to keep intruders away. It certainly had me pick up my manners a touch.
After lunch on the second day, Ian asked me if I would like to watch some sharks in action? We boarded his 20 foot panga and went several hundred yards from shore. He shut the engine off and began placing a rope with coconuts threaded through. He grabbed both ends of the rope and banged the coconuts together in the water. Within seconds we were surrounded with six foot sharks. Ian explained the sound of the crashing coconuts drives the sharks crazy— bringing them to the surface.
That next morning the jungle people began bringing bags of coconuts from every direction and loading them on his launch boat— which would eventually go to Honiara. Watching the large smiles of the ocean natives bringing their sea shells in with their dugout canoes, and watching the jungle natives bringing in loads of coconuts— this seemed like the perfect orchestra of nature. Ian explained this is why some call this “The Happy Isles” just look at their big smiles.
After dinner that night Ian said we would be heading to Honiara, where he would sell his coconuts into the copra market, which is used for many things including, food, oil, fire, and mulch. He indicated you can survive in the Jungle on the coconut tree alone. You can build your house from the lumber, use the white meat for eating and chicken feed, use the coconut frowns for roofing, use the coconut oil for cooking and drink pure coconut juice for energy.
As nightfall fell Ian asked me to grab my bag as I was going with him to Honiara. Laying on the bags of coconuts, looking up at the stars and hearing the groan of the engine— I fell asleep and had one of the best night sleeps I have ever had in my life.
The next day in Honiara I explored the area on foot. You could see a multitude of wrecked US planes from the battle of the Coral Sea. On the top of one of the trails camouflaged with native huts you could see a wing sticking out of the jungle with a barely recognizable Japanese symbol. Taking a deep breathe your mind couldn’t help be a bit nostalgic thinking of all of the history that occurred on this island. The Battle of the Coral Sea, fought in the waters southwest of the Solomon Islands and eastward from New Guinea, was the first of the Pacific War’s six fights between opposing aircraft carrier forces. Though the Japanese could rightly claim a tactical victory on “points”, it was an operational and strategic defeat for them, the first major check on the great offensive they had begun five months earlier at Pearl Harbor. The diversion of Japanese resources represented by the Coral Sea battle would also have immense consequences a month later, at the Battle of Midway.
I interviewed several divers and enquired about the red coral of the Solomon’s. The divers had the perfect job. Approximately two or three days a week they dove for tropical fish, put them in plastic bags with water and sent them out by plane. They told me the work was very rewarding and paid very well. They could live well by working less than 12 hours a week and they loved their jobs. To dive for red coral is very dangerous because of the depth and the sharks. A few of the old natives used to dive, but now it’s a lost art. So unless you are with National Geographic or a multi-millionaire— it wouldn’t be worth the effort.
My last bit of research I was able to purchase some shell-money necklaces from a tribe north of Honiara and discovered where 500,000 coca-cola bottles were thrown in the sea for garbage. Let’s see 500,000 vintage 1941-1942 coke bottles at only $2.00 a bottle would pay for a lot of travel. I hope I haven’t misplaced the treasury map. I think my memory could be jogged with a few greenbacks.
Soaring mist enshrouded mountains preside above dense, abundant rainforest, Waterfalls and rivers cascade to an intricate coastline. Here, the villages and sun soaked golden beaches fringed with coconut palms lie scattered around lazy lagoons. This is indeed a diver’s paradise and an eco-tourism destination that’s unspoiled, unhurried and totally unforgettable. Its ideal for the new breed of eco-tourists, for the thoughtful travelers worldly enough to expect the unexpected and at the same time find joy in simple natural environments.
Discover Somewhere Completely Different…..
So if you want off the beaten path— visit The Solomon Islands where you will find some of the friendliest natives in the world— with at the minimum the biggest smiles. A Somerset Maugham location with a bit of world war two nostalgia and a place where you could still buy land that is not out of this world. Why not move there tomorrow I might be your neighbor. You never know I already have my sea-front coconut plantation picked out.
QUOTE: “Externally keep yourself away from all relationships, and internally have no pantings in your heart; when your mind is like unto a straight-standing wall, you may enter into the Path.” Zen Quotes by Bodhidharma (470-543) ——-paralumon.com
THINGS YOU MAY NOT KNOW: Sharks apparently are the only animals that never get sick. As far as is known, they are immune to every known disease including cancer.—–corsinet.com
THINGS YOU WANT TO SAVE: Time! Each person receives a time clock when they are born. The question is what are you doing with your time?
ZENTRAVELER SAYS: Life’s a journey!