On Sunday, I had to leave beautiful Fanalei Island and started my journey back to Honiara. I had the amazing opportunity to travel in a small boat along a wide stretch of the South Malaitan coastline and to fly in a tiny airplane overlooking large parts of Big Malaita and Guadalcanal.
The coast looked very different from what I expected – instead of white sandy beaches or mangroves, typical of tropical islands, I mainly saw old exposed reef platforms covered with trees. The nature of the coastline will present challenges to my satellite-based shoreline change analysis and I am very glad that I got the opportunity to see the place with my own eyes. Moreover, I am happy that I still have a week in Solomon Islands before I will return to my desk in Southampton and will have to give this some more thought.
The flight back from Afio airstrip to Honiara was amazing. I generally love flying, but this particular flight was an adventure. I admire the pilots who fly the airplanes here. They really need to be able to fly! The airplane was so small that I could see what the pilots were doing in the cockpit. I would have watched them the whole flight if it had not been for the stunning views out of one of the little windows of the airplane: long-stetched sandy barrier islands protecting the coastline of Big Malaita, small reef islands surrounded by turquoise waters, Guadalcanal’s meandering rivers and big coconut plantages. I could have spent my whole day just flying around in the plane and exploring new stretches of this beautiful country. But unfortunately, we landed after 40 minutes – in the place that is probably my least favourite place in the Solomon Islands: hot and dusty Honiara.
It feels weird to be back in Honiara. I suddenly appreciate a lot of things more than I used to when I arrived here around two months ago, such as running water, electricity or the opportunity to buy fresh vegetables and fruits at the Central Market. On the other hand, I miss the tranquility of the island, its friendly people, and even the sound of the waves. South Malaita is absolutely beautiful – unfortunately, I cannot say the same about Honiara.
On a positive note, the capital of the Solomon Islands feels a lot more familiar now. In a way, Honiara is still more like a town than a city. Over the course of my visit, I have made some friends here and it’s really nice to be greeted with a “goodfala morning, Marie” in a place where I used to be a complete stranger just a couple of weeks ago.
I have one more week here, in which I plan to visit different government offices, meet the British High Commissioner to the Solomon Islands, help to hire a new staff member at ACoM for the new environment observatory, visit the Sikaiana migrant community and try to get some aerial photographs of South Malaita. Busy days!