By Jacqui Gibson, Epicure & Culture Contributor
“Start by biting into the betel nut,” Alex tells me, lifting the white-fleshy nut to his reddened mouth in full demonstration mode.
I’m on a trip to the Solomon Islands, a region known for its world-class diving and World War II relics. It’s barely mid-morning in Guadalcanal. A dozen men line up on the roadside in steamy, 85-degree heat to sell their wares. Betel nut seller, Alex, is showing me the ropes.
Chewing, he dips the tip of a fruit leaf stalk into limestone and bites it off. “Doing this helps to soften the nut for a longer, lasting chew,” he says, sucking in drool.
What Is Betel Nut?
Betel nut is the seed of the Areca palm. It’s widely used throughout Africa, Asia and the South Pacific as a mild stimulant, a bit like drinking kava in Fiji.
Watching him closely I can see the potent leaf-stalk-limestone-betel-nut concoction makes one’s mouth water profusely and want to spit.
Feeling The Betel Nut Effects
The fourth, and optional extra, explains Alex, as he spews out a stream of red spittle, is a Pall Mall cigarette.
Smoke a ciggie and bingo!; you achieve the feeling of alcohol.
Job done. Mission accomplished.
Betel Nut History & Culture In The Solomon Islands
Betel nut chewing is one of the many age-old practices still going strong in the Solomons Islands – nearly a thousand islands approximately 6,000 miles southwest of Los Angeles and just a three-hour flight from Brisbane, Australia.
It’s here you’ll still find families raised under coconut palms in basic wooden huts no bigger than the average child’s bedroom.
It’s where, to live well, you depend on the bounty of the sea and the abundance of the marketplace; and where a fisherman’s dugout canoe is more precious than the latest gaming console or even the internet itself.
For many in the Solomons, the day begins with sun-up and finishes when the sun’s light fades. Cooking is strictly an outside affair, banana is the sweet treat of choice and to quench one’s thirst requires a quick dash to the village well.What's your definition of #paradise? Here is ours. Click To Tweet
Solomon Islands Tourism: Experiencing Raw, Natural Beauty
I arrive in Honiara – the capital city – to be met by Stella, my guide.
Stella promises me a good taste of the Solomons. “You’ll see it’s not like anywhere else. It’s beautiful, and raw. To me, that’s the best part about it.”
It turns out she’s right.
The Honiara local and mother-of-one took up tourism in her late 20s to steer Kiwis like me away from cheap package-deal holidays towards an off-the-beaten-track, eco-adventure in the Solomons.
A Trip To The Solomon Islands’ Western Province For Adventure & Culture
On the first day of our tour, Stella picks me up in an air-conditioned minivan and announces we’re off on a trip to the Solomon Islands’ Western Province in a tiny domestic plane to sample some of the South Pacific’s best snorkeling, heritage and culture.
Our base camp is Fatboys, an Aussie-owned but locally-run eco-resort named after the chilled-out character in Charles Dickens’ Pickwick Papers.
Fish plucked straight out of the ocean is on the menu every day, served in an open-air cafe set over the water. Breakfast is Western-style, with plenty of banana, papaya and coconut on offer.
Directly beneath the bar I find the water fizzing with life. One night, as the sun sets, I see black tip reef sharks on the prowl, clown fish dashing for cover, squid skulking on the sea floor and umpteen schools of brightly-colored fish milling about.
The Western Province is a snorkeler’s haven.
A day later we grab a mask, flippers and speedboat and zip out to an unmarked spot in the ocean. Our goal is to snorkel over an American fighter plane shot down during World War II, still eerily visible after more than 70 years in the water.
We pick our time and go at low tide, later in the day. With the light fading, it’s a little spooky out. But then we see it – and quickly plop overboard to glide atop this tangible reminder of a brutal and bloody war.For a unique #snorkeling #adventure beyond simply seeing coral, check this out! Click To Tweet
A Visit To Saeraghi In The Solomon Islands
Saeraghi is next on the cards. Stella insists I can’t leave without the full immersion Melanesian village experience.
Curiously, though, the beach is empty when we pull up.
But not for long.
Within minutes of approaching the shore, we’re pounced on by painted men with spears in a surprise attack.
“Is this the day I die?” I panic, sweat trickling down my back.
That’s when the fearsome grimaces give way to laughter, and the entire village comes out of hiding.
“Not to worry! This is the traditional welcome ceremony for any guest,” smiles one villager.
Going ashore, I’m gifted a lei of fragrant frangipani, as well as a refreshing coconut cocktail made from plugging a plant shoot into a young coconut.
I tour the village to see how fire is made with hard graft and no flint, and how cooking is done using hot stones and no electricity.
Later, we all sit down and feast on locally-caught fish, home-grown salad and delicious sweet potato. Our dinner plates are woven from green coconut leaves and we eat with our fingers.
Saeraghi is the last stop during my trip to the Solomon Islands. Its glassy waters — like the people themselves — are irresistible.
So, to finish the perfect Solomon Islands trip, I jump off the jetty with the village kids. It’s the simple things that make the best holidays.Here's how to experience #local life in the #SolomonIslands Click To Tweet
Liked this post? Pin it for later!
- Best time to visit: May to October is the best time to travel to the Solomon Islands.
- How to get there: To get to the Solomon Islands from the United States, you will first need to fly to Fiji or Australia. Solomon Airlines flies from both countries to the Solomon’s capital of Honiara. Book at www.flysolomons.com
- How to get around: To get to the Western Province from Honiara, take a Solomon Airlines domestic flight to Gizo – the stop off point for Fatboys Resort and Saeraghi Village.
- Language spoken: Pidgin is the common language of the Solomons, though English is widely spoken, alongside dozens of local dialects.
- Approximate daily budget: Expect to pay anywhere between $US 40 – $US 260 per night for accommodation (eco-resort options tend to be cheaper than resort accommodation). Talk to your accommodation provider about free water taxi transfers and deals on meals and activities.
- Health and safety: Visitors to the Solomons need malaria tablets and insect repellant (there is malaria in the Solomons), as well as modest clothing to wear on top of swimsuits.
- Visitor information, including suggested itineraries: www.visitsolomons.com.sb
The writer traveled courtesy of the Solomon Islands Visitors Bureau. As always, all opinions are her own.
Latest posts by Jacqui Gibson (see all)
- How To Take An Eco-Friendly Trip To The Solomon Islands - Mar 27, 2018
- How To Explore Coffee Culture In Wellington, New Zealand - Oct 26, 2017
- Learning About Hurricane Katrina From The People Who Lived It - Oct 2, 2017