Lars Alfredson
Fri 31 Jul 2015 07:54
pos 8:8.54S 159:35.48E
Buala city

2015-07-29 An early start this morning, after Lars has filled the dinghy fuel tank we set out on and expedition to find the mouth of the river and explore beyond. Heading for a dark patch in the mangrove we spot it and as we approach the water level decrease to less than two feet as Shan does her Mark Twain bit and takes soundings with the boat hook.

We just make it across the muddy bar and enter the river between the mangroves that stand there like silent Triffids (John Wyndham. The Day of...) waiting to pounce, their long tendril roots exposed by the low tide, looking like spindly legs.

The river narrows and apart from the odd muddy side creek there is no break in the wall of trees. It looks very like crocodile country but there seems to be no break in the root barrier for them to enter and exit the waterway.

The villagers apparently have their gardens up here and the evidence of their presence can be seen where fallen trees have been chain sawed to clear the route. Well enough for a dugout with a six inch draught but not so for us when we finally grind to halt on a half-submerged one.

By now it’s getting rather spooky with the banks closing in on either side and not a sounds except for the tick-over of our outboard engine as we chug slowly along. So it’s back we go, the tide has dropped even more and its touch and go whether we can get over the bar, but we just make it.

It getting near ten o’clock and we set out for the village. Our way is barred by a very shallow reef but we manoeuvre our way between the heads only to encounter a new problem, mud.

We’re finally brought to a halt some 300 metres from the shoreline from where Edna is waving and starts to wade out to us. There’s nothing for it but over the side and to pull the dinghy along with Shan in the role of Katherine Hepburn and Lars and I erstwhile Dirk Bogards.

Yuk, it was horrible and “Ooze” that word beloved of Hydrographers kept coming to mind as we sunk up to our knees in it then carefully tried to extricate our feet without losing one’s Crocs (Shoes that is). Meantime Edna somewhat bemused by our plight waded out and pulling a canoe told Shan to get in.

Well if we were a sight to cherish, the picture of her trying maintain her balance while getting into this dugout was one to behold. Finally instructed to sit on the bottom which was already holding some several inches of water, she emerged shore side looking like she’d wet herself, or maybe she had!

We trudged ashore, not a pretty sight, black slime covering our legs and feet, to be formally greeted by the Headman who told us that the School were looking forward to meeting us. Fortunately there is a shower on the shore to which were directed before we set off up a steep hill to the main village with the Chief and Edna as our guide.

A large village of some 700 souls, it is very well kept with colourful hedges and well mown grass. It has a large primary school and the Headmistress greets us and takes us on tour. Of course the kids act like kids anywhere and there is much excitement and we renew our acquaintance with a few of our visitors from the day before.

Our gift of rulers, pencils and paper etc. goes down well and is much appreciated. Shan goes into “Teacher” mode, checks books and discussed the curricula with the teaching staff. It seem to be well run and the uniformed kids keen to learn.

We are then taken to the Clinic, here we met the Nurse and the Priest from the Anglican Church who welcomed us on the balcony. “Oh dear” the building is in state of some disrepair though it does have facilities for eye care, maternity, a Lab for malaria analysis and provides regular kids injections for mumps etc.

 The real “Oh dear” though is that it has no sanitation, toilet or running water, which is surprising since water does seem to be piped to a lot of the village and although there is a large hole out back that seems to be for a cess pit, it’s not finished.

Shan gives Edna some “Tops” for herself and a Welsh flag (She’d admired the one we were flying aboard) and a few small Swedish table top ones she could show her school in Honiara when she went back.

As we bid our farewells we give the Chief, Daniel, a bag of rice for which he thanked us and hoped we would visit again sometime. During our time spent ashore the the tide had come enough to reduce our mud trudge to a 100 metres or so, we launch ourselves with renewed enthusiasm into the ooze and whatever else lies beneath.

This also eased the problem of crossing the reef on the way back. Having hosed ourselves down, taken medicinal alcohol and lunch, we weighed anchor setting out for adventures anew.

Through the reef and into open ocean, the swell has not abated since yesterday and as we bounce our way along the wind gradually increased and we lose headway. More revs were ordered from below and we fought our way through the mountainous peaks and plunged into those valleys at around 4knots.

At last we turned though the reef to the regional capital Buala. We recognised the little ship on the quay wall as the one we’d last seen unloading cargo in Noro and was doing the same here.

We anchored taking shelter behind a reef near one end of the town which appeared to consist of a single road. We spotted the satellite antennae of the telecoms building and thought we could make out a shop with a large Sol beer billboard.

Landing with our rubbish, a friendly local led us to the dump, a cutting by the roadside just out of town.

The few shops all seem to sell the same, rice, tins of corned beef and tuna, as well as biscuits and toiletries. One shop was taking its deliveries from the ship and we spotted three large sacks of onions. Shan was on them in a flash as we had just run out. 40pence each (UK). They don’t grow here and are all imported from Oz or NZ. She also managed to get eggs and nibbles. Lars and I found the bottle store that sold only had beer, catastrophe and we only had enough Gin for one final happy hour.

A walk to chat to the police chief, who assured us there were no “Rascals” on his patch, then onto the Telcoms building. Having purchased an hour each we set to battle with the system that proved very unreliable and slow. Finally we were turfed out as it was closing time and resolved to return in the morning.

Back aboard and with great sorrow the last of the Gordons was drunk so it didn’t matter that we had also run out of Limes and we were down to our last 4 tins of tonic. A great gloom has descended, though we do still have some Rum!

Bob the Blog