Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Welkam to the Solomon Islands

Sorry folks, I didn't mean to drop off for a week, but was out contact with the world for a week, thanks to a last-minute opportunity to go to the Solomon Islands on a media famil thanks to the Solomon Islands Visitors' Bureau. I have just had such an amazing, relaxing, exciting week checking out Honiara and some of the small islands nearby.
The islands felt so welcoming, it was a real novelty to travel somewhere and feel so safe and unhassled. Which is a little ironic, considering they had a coup a few years ago and Australian RAMSI peacekeeping forces are still in the area, although that's probably partly to thank for the mood, but mostly it was just that the locals were friendly and everyone would say hello to you as you walked through the town or around a small village.
It reminded me a little of Ecuador, one of my favourite countries to travel in, as they both share that friendliness, but also because there was so much to see and you don't have to cover great distances to see something entirely different. They also have both managed to avoid being overrun with tourists, instead it feels much more like the locals are still in control and gaining some benefits from tourism without having it change their way of life. Like any country it has its problems, mainly race tensions, but it was an incredible place to visit. I've never been to any Pacific islands before, so it was also a novel to travel such a short distance but be somewhere so different from home.

The bustling market in Honiara. Everything is laid out very neatly because of council rules, but it's quite stunning visually to see such artistically arranged bright fruits, cloths, seafood and more. (Apologies for a not great quality photo, I don't have as many of people as I'd like, so I need to hold the decent ones I have back for the story in the mag.)

A lei to welcome us to Maravagi Resort, about two hours boat ride from the capital, Honiara.

The beach hut we stayed in for a couple of nights at Maravagi. You could snorkel just a couple of metres off shore and be swimming with rainbow, angel, and other tropical fish over coral.

The view back to our little hut and beach.

Stunning bright foliage. The islands were so lush and green - it's always such a treat to see such a verdant place after years of drought in Australia.

And what would a trip to a tropical island be without sipping from a coconut on the beach.

All up, I felt so lucky to have this opportunity, even if now I'm coming down with a thump to the real world of the end of semester essays being due!

Sunday, May 10, 2009

The pain of rainy days

When I first saw the rainy days theme over on Meet me at Mike's, my thoughts immediately turned to the kind of descriptive writing about my surrounds that I so love creating. But I thought about the theme a little more, and thought that maybe I would instead tell you about why I find rainy days somewhat bittersweet.

For a couple of years rainy days meant dropping everything. Checking the Bureau of Meteorology website to gauge every river in the state, watching the rain maps become peppered with turquoise dots, then royal blue dots, then green, as the rain continued to fall. Phones would be buzzing, emails would be flying, and then the culmination would be a station wagon packed full of people and gear with four whitewater kayaks strapped firmly to the roof racks, heading out to whichever river seemed the best pick. Driving for hours, either into the dark of night or early in the morning watching dawn break over a nearly-empty freeway.

As we neared the river we'd peer over every bridge in anticipation, trying to work out if the river really had risen enough. We'd pull up to a clearing, usually with no marking but one that had been handed down by word of mouth or internet forums. Pile out of the car, check the river level, work out a car shuttle to have a car waiting for us at the end of the day, and start pulling on layers of thermals, tight homemade fleece vests, wetsuit booties, and waterproof pants and tops with tight latex gaskets that don't allow water in at your ankles, neck or wrists. As we put on our helmets, spray decks and life jackets we'd make sure everyone used the same river signals and was feeling okay about the river we were about to paddle.

Depending on how hard the river was, your heart might start beating a little faster as you dragged your boat down to the river. If there was only a small eddy of smooth water before entering the flow of the river, you'd ease yourself into your boat carefully before pulling out to make way for the next person. Even in your first few paddle strokes you would feel the power of the river flowing beneath you. But you would also feel the comfort of your boat responding to the moves you had done so many times. A slight lift of the knee, twist of the stomach, a touch of your paddle on the water. The feeling not of being in control, but of being in sync with the river.

Of course the rest of the day had plenty of stories, but I think it's that first feeling of working with the river that I think of when it rains. And now? Now the thought just makes me sad. In a state like Victoria with such enduring drought, now when it rains for days you're lucky if one river comes up. And because it's so rare, you're no longer confident you can tackle that harder river, so you don't go. And because you're out of the habit, you don't drop everything to seek out the river, now when you've made plans with people you keep them rather than apologising with 'Sorry, but an amazing river came up'.

But I find it so sad to have lost it. To have lost that pure feeling of joy coursing through my body as I pulled exactly the move the river demanded of me. To not float through gum tree lined stretches with just a few close friends. To no longer be able to identify myself as an adventurer, an outdoors person. So for me, rainy days can be a pleasant, cosy day in Melbourne, but they can also be such a strong reminder of a person I was, a person I liked being, a person I quite possibly will never get the chance to be again for whom I'm still grieving.

These are some photos from a kayaking trip to New Zealand, not long before my kayaking habit died away a bit. (I couldn't seem to find any on my computer that captured the feeling of rainy Victorian kayaking.)

Part way through an hour-long walk to the start of the Lower Toaroha River

Putting in a move on the Lower Hokitika

Heading off the Maruia Falls


So it feels like awhile since I last posted. I keep writing posts in my head but then not getting them down quickly enough, and then they just seem to stagnate and by the time I come to write them they've lost their gleam, and it doesn't feel worth it. I wonder if others struggle with this when blogging. And I'm constantly realising that I should have taken a photo because without it there's no post. But I still enjoy the writing in my head, and hopefully I'll just get better at pulling it all together. So next I think I'll write one of the posts I've been mulling over for quite some time, and hopefully I didn't lose the shine by waiting.