Sunday, 1 November 2015

Secrets of Melanesia: Giant bats and a lingering French mystery



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


Friday 30 October 2015. Vanikoro, villages of Usili and Buma. (updated 6 Nov 15)

It was here that the ill-fated expedition of French explorer, Jean-François de Galaup, comte de Lapérouse, foundered on the reefs in 1788, creating an earlier equivalent of the Sir John Franklin mystery. Searches by d'Entrecasteaux found no trace of the men or ships and it wasn't until 1826 when some relics were discovered by the British. Reports of survivors living on Vanikoro for several years exist in local oral history. The wreck of one ship, La Boussole, was located off the NW shore in 1964 and a monument exists to this day.

Today, Vanikoro continues to enjoy the same splendid, self-sufficient isolation, free of many modern influences like cell phone coverage and motor vehicles. As with many similar islands, power is only obtained via newspaper-sized solar cells for lighting . All that, however, is likely to change dramatically sooner rather than later as a logging camp has set up around the corner.

The world's largest bat, Pteropus tonganus
Our little flotilla of Zodiacs explored the sizable lagoon, patrolled by the world's largest bat, the giant Pacific flying fox (Pteropus tonganus), which can span up to 2m. Eek! Venturing into a muddy channel amid the ancient mangrove forest, much to the delight of the birders, a superb collared kingfisher even followed us for a while as we negotiated the dense, creepy landscape.
A brief village visit was conducted, with mandatory dancing and the little isolated community, which I'm told, hasn't seen any sort of visitor for 25 years, looked at us with much amusement. A little distressing for some of us was the suckling piglets tethered tightly by a leg and out of reach of other pigs. The poor little mites squealed in discomfort as the tight bindings cut into their tiny feet. One particularly unhappy animal was cut free in the hope that the villagers might consider a more humane way to raise them.

This island is our last landfall in the Solomons as Spirit of Enderby heads toward our final destination of Port Vila in Vanuatu.

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

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