Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Secrets of Melanesia: A Royal Visit and a Jungle Surf Cult


From expeditioncruising.com editor, Roderick Eime, aboard Heritage Expeditions 'Spirit of Enderby' in the Solomon Islands

Tuesday 27 October 2015. Star Harbour. Makira (San Cristobal) Island. Villages of Tora and Namamrau

In 1974, the Royal Yacht Britannia made her only call to the Solomon Islands, and for reasons I have to yet establish, stopped only at Star Harbour at the very end of this seldom visited island. HRH was treated to a right royal welcome by her then Commonwealth subjects.

Our own early morning arrival was not quite as auspicious as our two fully-loaded Zodiacs headed toward the tiny harbour. Villages comprised just a few huts, a timber guest house, the 'Star Beach Lodge' and a wharf for small inter-island freighters. Our objective was two small villages accessed by a narrow, muddy channel through thick mangroves, the last section requiring wading in the dark gloop to make our landing point.

In typical fashion, our party was escorted by skipping, giggling kids of all ages enjoying the unusual spectacle of white Europeans trudging through their village. The discovery here was the jungle surf cult enjoyed by the young boys who fashion rudimentary surfboards from slats of sago palm pinned together with bamboo spikes. The technique is mainly to catch the shore breaks in bodyboard style, but a few were keen to show us they could stand on their little boards too. When the soft wood gets messy around the edges, a quick trim with a machete brings the board back into shape.

This little fraternity apparently evolved after a visit from a bunch of Aussie surfers back in 2008. The local kids were fascinated by the heroic antics of the sun-bleached blokes riding the swell coming in from the south at Namuga and mimicked them every day with whatever floating object they could find. The sago palm boogie board is a development that took some months of trial and error.

It was here in the farthest village that I deposited an overnight bag full of surplus clothes, books and school material and it was a great to delight to read my kids' 'Pirate Treasure' pop-up book to the throng of kids who quickly gathered. “Can you find the buried treasure?” I think it was we who'd found the treasure in tiny Tora.

More info: www.heritage-expeditions.com and www.visitsolomons.com.sb