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Rated: E · Short Story · Travel · #2099181
A difficult journey in the tropical heat.
         
"Follow that Star"


I've made the journey from Honiara, capital of the Solomon Islands, to the town of Gizo in the Western Solomons a few times now. I often fly, but sailing on MV Iu Mi Nao used to offer a different experience altogether.
The voyage used to take about 30 hours, leaving Honiara around 10 a.m. on a Sunday, and arriving at Gizo on Monday afternoon. I believe the Iu Mi Nao is now out of service and they have a faster vessel plying the route.
After leaving the Guadalcanal coast behind, the ship sailed via Yandina to Marovo. The magnificent Marovo Lagoon is the biggest in the world. Fringed by coral islands dotted with coconut palms and the tropical rainforest of the mainland, its green waters thrive with reef fish, and are a popular diving destination. The ship then sailed through the night, arriving at Ugele on the island of Rendova in time for a breakfast of baked taro, bonito and tapioca pudding; then on to Munda and the beautiful Roviana Lagoon.
But, despite these magical moments, there were downsides to travelling on the Iu Mi Nao. It was very old and rusty, and one wondered if it was really seaworthy. Then, consider the accommodation it offered. Most passengers slept on the deck or below decks, finding any available space to lie down. We travelled 'first-class', which meant we had seats. The air-conditioning didn't always work, the noise of the engines reverberated throughout the ship, and the waft of urine from the toilet made you feel sick.
One time, about fourteen years ago, my wife and I were travelling with our two small children when the engines ground to a halt shortly after leaving Munda, in the channel off the coast near Goldie College. It must have been late morning. We were stuck there for six or seven hours while repairs were made to the engines. Imagine the oppressive tropical heat without the cooling breezes of the open sea, and the monotony of staying in one place for several hours with restless children!
We arrived at Gizo somewhere around 10 p.m. The canoe was still waiting to take us on the two-hour journey to the island of Vella Lavella. The canoes they use, powered by outboard engines, can carry up to ten people, or fewer with cargo. They are open vessels that lie low in the water and carry no lifejackets. The journey crosses the open ocean, and can be very hazardous in bad weather.
I would have preferred to stay in the Gizo Hotel, but my brother-in-law had other ideas, and my wife was anxious to see her family. The weather was fine. There was no moonlight as I recall, but the stars shone brightly. My brother-in-law confidently told the driver, "Follow that star." And he did.
You can imagine my relief when we arrived at our destination safely at around 1 a.m. This had been a travelling experience never to be repeated.



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