Thursday, 28 July 2011

Honiara: the betel-nut city

Solomon Islands impressed me from the moment I arrived at the immigration. The immigration officer took only less than 10 seconds to read my visa letter, put the expiry date and stamp my passport, unbelievable!!! The second thing was the heat...o la was just too much!

Notice at the hospital and most public places in Honiara
Along the way from the airport to the city,  street vendors selling betel-nut almost in every corner were conspicuous. Yes, betel-nut are very common in Solomon Islands, consumed by men and women, anytime, anywhere. I was surprised to see how this habit persists and has marked most of the streets and public places with red spots spitted by everyone chewing betel-nut.

We spent two weeks in Honiara as my husband came for work purpose. Normally, I would have explored the city by myself using public transport but this time I couldn't because I hardly found any bus passing nearby the house and the weather as well as the terrain were just too challenging for me to walk.

After what seemed a long week for me, we managed to visit the Bonegi beach, where the Hirokawa Maru shipwrecks were located. The shipwrecks were not that far from the shore, so for non-divers like me, it was perfect. The ship is approximately 172 metres in length, starts about 3 metres of water and continues until 50-m depth. Together with a friend, I snorkeled around the wrecks and so much enjoyed the spectacular underwater beauty that I did not realize we had gone quite far. The moment I realized that we were at the area where it was so deep made me a little panic, though. It was my first time snorkeling around the shipwrecks and the life down there was amazing, like swimming in a huge aquarium. I felt a bit scary when seeing the wrecks' shadow, imagining what could be inside now and what happened years ago.

Hirokawa Maru wrecks at Bonegi 1 beach

Another sites we visited were the U.S. War Memorial and the Japanese Memorial, erected to pay tribute to the the victims of Guadalcanal Campaign during 1943 - 1944. The condition of both sites was extremely different since the Allied forces (mostly Americans) won the battle against the Japanese. The U.S. War Memorial was well taken care while the Japanese one seemed to be abandoned for long time. In relation to WWII remains, Honiara has become the graveyard for sunken ships, therefore some shores are called Iron Bottom Sound due to the sound of the wrecks spreading at the ocean floor.

U.S. War Memorial

Japanese War Memorial

Iron Bottom Sound with Savo island in the background

The most crowded market I have ever seen

Betel-nut street vendors

Bag shop, quite creative, isn't it?

In short, Honiara may not be the first option in your must-visit list, however it still has its charm, in a different way.

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