Planes, Ships, and Motor Canoes

A few weeks ago (Nov 9-12) we took a trip to Isabel Province. We plan to return to Isabel next year for about 5-6 months of my research. The goal was to make connections in the community, share my research project, and check out the living situation. We were able to do all three, though the process of getting there and back was quite the challenge!

At the end of October, Mike and I tried to book tickets on a ship to go out to Isabel, but the schedule for November was still not ready on October 31 so we decided to buy plane tickets. It is more expensive but much faster and we thought, more reliable. What we learned is that this last belief was completely wrong! On Wednesday morning, a friend dropped us off at the airport and we went to check-in. We checked the schedule and our flight was still scheduled, but they hadn’t called it yet. The airport is small so they only check-in one flight at a time. We waited and about 20-30 minutes later they called our flight and said it was canceled because of weather. They said there might be one in the afternoon but they weren’t sure. So we took a taxi home. After many phone calls in the afternoon, later we were put on a flight for the next morning. So this time at 6 am our friend took us to the airport, but waited until our flight was confirmed. Sure enough, about 20 minutes later, our flight was canceled. We learned that the grass airstrip on Fera Island (outside Buala where we were going) gets very soggy when it rains. So if there is any weather, the flights are canceled or delayed.  Apparently, it had been raining every night in Buala and the airstrip didn’t have enough time to dry before the next rain.

Rachel successfully taking the plane from Fera in August 2017 on a dry, sunny day!

It is the beginning of the rainy season and clouds continued to linger over Isabel (which we can see in the distance from Honiara) so we started considering other options. Our trip was only planned for Wednesday – Monday and it was now Thursday. We theoretically could get on a flight Friday morning, but we had no faith in the rain at this point and were afraid that even if we made it to Isabel we wouldn’t make it back.

Fera is across a lagoon from the main island of Isabel. The arrow and box highlight the airstrip. This area was chosen because it is flat and the rest of Isabel is very hilly! The downside is that flat area by the sea = waterlogged with rain!

Motor Canoe
Back at our house, a woman we met recently who is from Isabel was planning to go back home on Friday.  Her house is on the other side of Isabel, but she said that we could join her and her family in their motor canoe. We called the airline and were able to get a full refund for our flight. So Friday morning at 7 am our friend took us to the boat and we were off!

Loading the motor canoe before leaving Honiara

The seas were smooth and the weather clear. Despite the smooth seas, the bouncing eventually made our butts and backs hurt, but the views were beautiful! We went first to an island on the edge of the Florida Islands where the boat owner’s family lived. We stopped and rested. Then he took us through a beautiful channel with crystal clear water and beautiful corals. We wished we could swim! Then we continued on to Isabel stopping at his home on the South West coast of Isabel. After dropping off some of his supplies and rinsing in some fresh water, he took us the rest of the way to Buala. The last part followed the coast of Isabel showing us coconut groves, waterfalls, islands, and rivers. It was a long journey all together with stops 5 hours, but beautiful and fun to travel up close to the islands and sea life.

Rachel enjoying fair seas as we travel through the beautiful islands of the Solomons


Our ship, Uta Princess II (the green and yellow one), coming into the wharf at Buala.

Jump to our way home. Thankfully we hadn’t relied on the plane because it rained most of the time we were there and the Monday flights were canceled.  The ship we were hoping to take but didn’t have a schedule at the end of October was scheduled to depart on Monday evening from Buala. We were told it was an 8-hour ride. We boarded the ship at about 6 pm.  Mike set up his hammock on the top since there weren’t any chairs.

Mike in his hammock waiting to leave Buala

When we left the port about 6:30 pm we had another beautiful view of the edge of Isabel and saw a gorgeous sunset.

Sunset from the ship

We ate a little fish and chips we brought with us, but since the ship was mostly empty (after dropping supplies all around Isabel) it was a very bumpy ride. I started feeling sick so I laid down and slept most of the way. My bed was a pallet covered in life vests that we had borrowed for the canoe ride. It wasn’t a great night’s sleep but laying down helped me overcome the sickness. Mike slept on and off in his hammock but slept worse than me. In the end, we were on the ship for nearly 11 hours instead of 8, arriving in Honiara just before daybreak.

People sleeping on the ship.  This was the outdoor upper deck, but the tarps were pulled when it started raining.

Brief Research Update:

During our short time (3 1/2 days) in Buala, I was able to meet with church and community leaders and women from the Mother’s Union, talk with a good friend of one of my professors who helped arrange everything, and see a youth group performance. It was very productive in such a short time! Many people were interested in my research questions and look forward to us returning next year. I look forward to more conversations and engaging more with the youth. There are a few interesting projects happening in the community so I hope to join one of them next year as part of my research. While there, I was reminded of how important it is to have connections when entering a new community. Longga, the friend I refer to above, is also a chief in the community. I met his sister last year and she let us stay in her house, where we hope to also stay next year. Another sister showed us around the village and connected me to other community leaders. I am thankful that we were welcomed into the community and this family and look forward to growing these relationships more.

Picture of the church in Buala Village looking toward the beautiful hills filled with gardens, the house we stayed in is at the bottom of those hills (not visible).

Fieldwork Lesson #4: Value and Develop local connections and relationships.  They are so important and can make or break your research experience.  I am still learning how to develop these relationships, but I know they are so valuable!

In the end, our trip was much shorter than planned but we still made great initial connections in the community. Unfortunately, the internet is not good enough for Mike to work there, so we are considering options for that. We will also have some adjustments to learning to cook and live in a more remote location, but I look forward to the new adventure, relationships and research to come! Plus we had quite the adventures with planes, ships, and motor canoes!

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