For the truly curious adventure traveller, there are few better places than the Solomon Islands. Its 992 islands swing between low-lying atolls and reefs teeming with sharks, tropical fish and dolphins, and huge, slumbering volcanic islands offering opportunities for bat- and bird-watching. And if you get tired of what Mother Nature has provided herself, there are artificial coral islands that the people of Malaita have been building in the Langa Langa Lagoon for more than 300 years. The fierce World War II battle of Guadacanal has also left the islands littered with war relics, both above and under the water–so it’s a mecca for divers and snorkellers. And the Solomon Islanders are, despite what recent troubles might have you believe, a wonderfully friendly people.
We started looking for our guide when we turned off the main road that headed east along the coast from Honiara onto an eroded, bumpy logging track. Every few hundred yards, we would ask the lines of people wandering along the edge if they knew where Marcelin might be. Some waved us further along the road, others were less sure. About six kilometres into the thickening jungle, where a hand-built coca bean drier announced a village of a relatively significant size, a woman carrying her little one finally nodded. ‘I know where to find him,’ she said.Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.
The woman smiled as she placed her son beside me. The youngster, however, locked his eyes on me, his eyelids widening in surprise at the pale apparition next to him. We bounced down the road where large logging trucks once hauled precious Vasa hardwood.
‘Here,’ the woman said, and jumped out of the van. She walked to the edge of the jungle and called into the trees with a searching, cuckoo-like call. She turned her ear to the jungle and waited. Nothing. She tried again with no reply. About 800 metres up the road she called out again. This time, a faint reply wafted back, but she shook her head. ‘No, that’s not him.’
We doubled back and the woman eventually located someone on a distant ridge who called back that Marclin had probably headed back via the river to the village where we picked her up. A few minutes later, back where we started, she called out yet again. There was a reply and she grinned. ‘He’s coming.’ Sure enough, our guide appeared from the trees–shoeless and wearing a singlet and shorts. He was carrying a large machete and a freshly hewn coconut.
The jungle GPS works and we’re finally off to the cascades. As Marclin hacks merrily at the growth over the trail, I ponder all the factories producing fancy hiking boots, walking sticks and ponchos. Through mud, gravel and tropical grass, bare-footed Marclin grips the earth better than any of us–and with far less stench at the end of the day. He fashions a hiking pole from bamboo in seconds, and during a passing shower we wander along under a palm leaf umbrella. This isn’t a pretentious show for some wide-eyed tourists; it’s just what is done. By the time we reach the cascades that only locals really know about, I’m ready to shed my modern accoutrements.