You Can Go Back
I first sailed to the Solomon Islands in 1980 on a loose affiliation of plywood planks named Zenie P II. In the capital, Honiara, on the main island of Guadalcanal, I was told that the neighboring island of Malaita was forbidden to tourists because the people were absolutely too wild and dangerous. I set sail for there immediately.
The Malaitans were indeed bone-in-the-nose wild and perhaps even dangerous, but they sensed my sincere interest in their way of life and generously took me into their huts and hearts. Emboldened with my success there, I spent the following eight months exploring countless islands, mountains, jungles, rivers, and villages in all but the easternmost province of Temotu, having been blown past there by Cyclone Fredrick.
I found the Solomon Islands to be a nation of abundant resources, breathtaking beauty, and wonderful people, but they are a people divided, even down to the village level. I awoke one morning to a note from a resident of a settlement within sight across the bay: "Simon, your life plenty danger in that village. They murders and thieves. You safe here. Come fast."
To create a peaceful and prosperous future, an emerging nation and its people must somehow shed the divisive rivalries of the past and form a sense of mutual destiny. This hasn't occurred in the Solomons.
Bright, aggressive, and populous, the Malaitans have for decades flocked to Honiara, taking up positions of influence there in government and business. This free flow of citizens within national borders may seem normal to residents of the industrialized democracies, but to the Gwale people of Guadalcanal, it was viewed as just another Malaitan invasion. Local resentment eventually led to violent conflict bordering on all-out civil war.
Hostilities have since ceased, the guns have been collected, and order has been restored, but the nation now lies close to economic and political ruin. The Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands-known as the RAMSI Force and made up of soldiers from Australia, New Zealand, and Fiji-is presently trying to fill the civic gaps, but the organization's team is stretched thin, and its mandate is temporary.
However, while conventional tourism in the Solomon Islands has suffered, intrepid cruisers haven't been deterred. Once the "Light Fee" has been paid-for the use of local navigational lights that, in fact, have yet to be installed-and a cruising permit issued, few restrictions are imposed these days. By keeping their ears tuned to the coconut telegraph and by avoiding known trouble spots, cruisers can wander almost at will through island-dappled lagoons, dive on pristine reefs and historic sunken wrecks, and probe unspoiled jungles. The carvings of Maravo Lagoon still rival the best in the world. I'd always had feelings of regret for missing the Santa Cruz and the Reef, or Swallow, islands, in Temotu Province, for these gems are sufficiently remote that most travel guides fail even to mention their existence.