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Wednesday, December 17, 2014

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I'm reposting Leeann's blog posts about Melanesia w/ some personal commentary:

Honiara, Guadalcanal, Solomon Islands, Day 1-4
Her first post is about getting TO Melanesia: "I tried to see it as a game with levels to unlock, but even then somewhere in the middle I freaked out that I wasn’t going to make it." And Ron very nearly didn't make it, either, slipping in at the very last moment. Since there was only one flight from Australia to Honiara a day, I was so worried about having to leave the terminal to get my luggage and then get through customs again that I went to great lengths to make sure my bag was considered to be a carryon for each flight. The best part of landing in Brisbane was that I could buy Picnic candy bars, which I was introduced to when Michaelmas & I went to Australia in 2000. I should have bought a lot more. The Solomon Islands crest is truly over-the-top, featuring a crocodile AND a shark AND a knight helmet.

Thousand Ships Bay, Utuha Island, Solomon Islands, morning, Day 5
The first post on the first day on the first island. Seasickness patches are truly a miracle. I spent the first three days of the trip saying, "Really? This is what it's like to be on a ship without feeling sick? This is AWESOME!" I broke my glasses immediately and was glad I had thought to bring another pair. Also, I am delighted to discover my rusty college Russian is useful on this ship, given that it's a converted Russian research vessel staffed by a Russian crew. Though the expedition company calls the ship "The Spirit of Enderby" it's registered name is Professor Chromov (профессор Хромов). Understanding even a little Russian helped me feel like the ship was part of my journey, too, not just an interstitial place to wait for the rest of the trip.

Lepi Village, Santa Isabel Island, Solomon Islands, afternoon, Day 5
What we did the first afternoon: "They took us into their 'canoe house' where they had some chairs set up and both men and women dance troupes waiting to perform for us. And as we sat down and settled in, it started to rain and the smell of the jungle and the gardens and the ferns and the wood smoke all flowed in through the large open windows and the thatched roof. The rest of the village stood outside the hut under the eaves, looking in through the chest high windows." This was the only village that used pipes for music & percussion, which made the performance very dynamic and lively. Also, the women had this lovely way of starting songs with once voice at a time and ending them with one voice fading out a time, a style I never heard on any other island.

Leli Island, Malaita Island, Solomon Islands, Morning, Day 6
Leeann writes about our morning snorkeling on Leli Island. "It was like swimming in a dentist office’s aquarium." Thanks to a presentation from the ship's sociologist,  I finally understand the basic geographical distinctions between Melanesia, Micronesia, Polynesia and the overlapping terms of Australasia & Oceania. One of the really interesting things about this trip is that we are visiting some islands that have never seen a tour ship before, some that have practiced headhunting, cannibalism and head binding as recently as 20 years ago.

Ngongosila Island, Malaita Island, Solomon Islands, Afternoon, Day 6
"It was a snow day, a festival day, a pick-your-holiday, all rolled up in one." I found a really effective strategy to take photos here that I used throughout the trip: I tried only to take individual photos of people I spoke with or had a connection to. When I did, I would ask them to take pictures of each other or take a picture of me so they could control the image and participate in the process. Ruth was especially very nice and answered all my questions. She tried to give me a shell necklace but I refused and now I regret it.

Toro and Geta Villages, San Cristobal Island, Makira-Ulawa Islands, Solomon Islands, Morning, Day 7
"Suddenly, we hear a ferocious yelling from multiple voices and several young lads in mud and traditional dress sprung up out of the grass and sprinted toward us, waving sharp pointy things. I stood my ground to take the picture, but I was embracing my inner scaredy cat." A quiet ride floating up the river, passing hundred of tiny herbit crabs on the mangrove roots. Tromping through the jungle river to get to villages felt especially expedition-y. I loved the floating fantasy tethered islands floating away into the ocean. Some girls wanted to walk with me and gave me "beach almonds," so I taught them TMBG's "Istanbul not Constantinople" as they followed me back to the head of the river. Everyone I met wanted to know my name but the younger ones didn't want to share theirs: you could tell they were making them up on the spot.

Star Harbor and Santa Ana Island, Makira-Ulawa Islands, Solomon Islands, Afternoon, Day 7
LeeAnn writes about some of the dancing we saw in Melanesia. We could tell we weren't always in on the joke: "...the audience of locals went crazy, laughing over these dances. But when we asked what the dances were about, they said 'lullabies.' Now I don’t know about you, but hip thrusting was not part of my lullabies." This village had incredible brown butterfly clusters hanging in the trees. One of the women gives me a flower for my hair before we leave. I lost my sunglasses, so I was glad I thought to bring another pair.

Noipe Village, Nendö Island, Santa Cruz Islands, Solomon Islands, Day 8
LeeAnn writes about our trip to Noipe, one my my favorite Melanesian village visits: "There’s a word that comes up in this region, kastom. And it does have some of the meaning of the word, custom, as in this refers to the traditional, customary way of doing things. But the word, kastom, has more subtle meaning than that. It’s nostalgia for what they’ve lost, it’s a rejection of modern ways, it’s their secret, personal myths and rituals." For once we were not the main attraction when landing. There was a local ship headed to Honiara so the place was packed with people, luggage and rainbow umbrellas. They packed us up into trucks and drove us to Noipe, which had the most elaborate welcoming ceremony: leis, coconuts, red feather money, cooking demonstrations & tasting, dancing, elaborate costumes. The swifts began reeling and diving, which someone said only happened before rain -- at which point it began pouring. My journal didn't dry out for 2.5 days.

Hayiava Village, Taumako island, Duff Island Group, Solomon Island, Day 9
LeeAnn writes about the day I almost drowned. It is always interesting to see your life through someone else's lens. But for the record, I didn't cry until I got back to the ship. The curious thing was noticing how people reacted afterwards: when I came down to the bar that night, everyone cheered. But at dinner Ron exclaimed, "Oh, get over it, Gretchin!" when someone asked how I was doing before I could even answer. I also noticed when people would ask, "Are you okay?" it was sometimes in a way that made it sound like "Can I stop worrying about you yet?" But before all that! We saw several flying fish, which are just incredible to watch, like stones skipping along the ocean. If I had known then about the legends of adaro (Melanesian sea spirits who kill humans with flying fish), maybe I wouldn't have snorkeled that day. But in my journal I wrote, "the ocean is so blue and thick it looks like paint straight from the tube, or my favorite color of sunset."And Ulaka was a stunning uninhabited island.

Usili Village, Vanikoro Island, Solomon Islands, Day 10
LeeAnn writes about one of my favorite places on the trip, the last of the Solomon Islands. "You could lean out of the boat and see the reef fish, the blue lipped clams, the coral just below you. Over closer to the mangroves, fish were leaping from the water chased by 3 foot baby black tipped fin shark. From the trees, flying foxes were hanging in astonishing numbers." This spot also had what could be the best geocache site in the whole world: a memorial to La Perouse hidden behind a tiny mangrove cluster in the middle of a huge bay in the middle of nowhere in a location La Perouse wasn't even at and the plaque is missing. So you really have to know what you're looking for before you have a chance of finding it. Unfortunately, this was also the night I got suuuuuuuper seasick -- as did much of the rest of the ship. Only half of us went to dinner that night, and then half again left early (including me). I woke at midnight with a ship rolling around me and I spent an hour boiling with nausea. I stumbled out into the hall to get a barf bag, ate candied ginger, and attempted accupressure until I finally got back to sleep, only to wake again w/ diarrhea & leg cramps.

Sola Village, Vanua Lavau Island, Banks Island Group, Vanuatu, Day 11
Leeann writes about the first island we visited in Vanuatu: "We got a chance to sit around a kava bar and 'enjoy' a cup of kava. It tastes very peppery, medicine-ish and makes your mouth go numb." Still felt a bit seasick and my feet were still pretty cut up, so it's good the Sola tour was so very mellow. There was an albino in this village, but nobody wanted to talk about it. There was an obvious transition between the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu: the guide was wearing a polo shirt w/ an embroidered Vanuatu logo. By contrast, in the Solomon Islands our expedition leader would often make arrangements with the one person we could contact with a cell phone on the island (unless the power to the cell phone tower had died) and then meet with the chief of the island in person. From here on out the trip is more professional and less intimate.

Espiritu Santo, Vanuatu, Day 12
LeeAnn writes about our time in Espiritu Santo, where James Michener wrote "Tales of the South Pacific." I was pleased to read this book on the trip and it was especially satisfying to finish it while on this island. We saw several sites mentioned in "South Pacific" (including Million Dollar Point), but first we spent the morning on Champagne Beach, which was pretty much an ideal beach: smooth sand, clear water, a reef, a bay, cicadas & birds, structures, a big shade tree, a dock, island views on three sides. At this point I wasn't seasick anymore, but I had stopped snorkeling after my experience at the Duff Islands. I'm not against snorkeling again in the future, but I wanted to protect the wounds I got scraping up against the reef. I was especially sad this meant I didn't get to swim in the Metvulu Blue Hole, which was gorgeous and poetic. I tried dipping my feet in and my cuts hurt a lot more when they were wet. But after a long day, the best part was floating back on a crystal clear river at dusk. LeeAnn writes: "The ride home in the sunset along the river was soft and fragrant. The 3 foot, 4 foot flying foxes circled like small cargo planes. The ship as we headed home was lit with strings of white lights which reflected against the endless tropical twilight."

Meskelyne Island, Malekula Island Group, Vanuatu, to home, Days 13 & 14
LeeAnn's last post about our trip to Melanesia, which includes great pictures from the dancing (tall hats and penis sheaths!). The "Local Telau String Band" only knew one tune and they used it over and over and over again: everything from "We welcome you" to "Merry Christmas" to "Happy Birthday" for our ship's doctor, Konrad. Janis met us on the ship and took us to her fahncy beautiful hotel for lunch before heading back to the long flight to the US. When the customs agent said, "Welcome back," I burst into tears. On the last flight, a woman literally talks with me the whole trip home.

Other notes:
  • Sven & I always read "A Night in the Lonesome October" together at this time of year, so I read a chapter every night of the trip.
  • My biggest disappointment was that I was never able to see the Southern Cross, though I went to the top of the ship every night it wasn't raining. But I could actually make out the Summer Triangle (Cygnus, Lyra, Aquila), part of the Winter Hexagon (Orion, Gemini & the Pleiades) and Mars -- and everything is upside down!
  • There were a lot of travel agents on the trip. For them, it was like heading to Colorado. 
  • I really enjoyed spending time with the passengers from Australia/New Zealand. Learned a great phrase: "Worry belong you" as a way of saying "that's your problem." (Or the alternative: "Worry belong me.") Also, "groover" (pronounced "groova") is a term of endearment. They created their own Fitches society and invited me to be its first international member. Mel, in particular, was very helpful when I almost drowned. I wish I had stayed up for more of the late-night card games.
  • More to say about drowning: it would be a terrible way to die. I didn't know which way was up when I was underwater and when I struggled to the surface another wave would crash down. I bled in the Zodiac for another 45mins before we all headed back to the ship because I rated myself a 3 out of a 10-point scale when the guy who drove it asked how I was, and he said, "At least you're not a 1! Let me know if you get worse."

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