So. Here we are in Malaupaina Lagoon, in the Three Sisters Island Group, 10 miles east of Kira Kira, San Cristobal, in the Solomon Islands. The voyage is behind us. The pressure is off. We have arrived.
Except Walter is not here.
We unpack the big Avon inflatable and mount the 35hp motor on it. We fire up the outboard and zoom around the lagoon. It is one mile in diameter, just like Walter said, and about 40 feet deep in the middle.
The entrance is narrow and just deep enough for the Moira to enter at half tide or more. Some nice little reefs adjoin the pass and the corals look alive and rich.
A rickety wood dock juts out into the lagoon on the north coast. We tie up the Avon and go ashore.
A shed nestled into the dark green edge of the rain forest turns out to be Walter's workshop. His diving gear is strewn around casually. We continue up a little path through the rain forest and find three well built tree houses in the huge branches of some Banyan trees on the shore of the lagoon.
The island is magnificent, and there are no people. Walter and company must have gone to Honiara to get supplies or something. Anyway, Freddy and I are alone on this lovely little tropical island with absolutely nothing to do.
In the afternoon, we walk through the coconut plantation to the eastern shore of the island. Just looking around. We take a picnic lunch and sunbathe nude on a little sand beach with the open ocean swells lazily booming onto Malaupaina's windward fringing reef.
I close my eyes, soak up the sunshine, my future an empty horizon. In a way, I feel really comfortable with that. My old life is finished, gone. The voyage here was a trial by water, a task to accomplish. And for the first time since....since I was a child, I have no obligations, no ties, no projects, no expectations.
A coconut falls from a 100 foot high tree in the rowed plantation. It makes a very convincing "Thud." I open my eyes a little to look up at the coconuts in the top of the tree over where we are lying. They are off to one side of us. No problem. I close my eyes and as I drift off to sleep, the plantation says "Thud" again.
The birds are singing in the trees ashore. It is a glorious, magnificent, superlative dawn. From the companionway hatch, I look out over Malaupaina's quiet lagoon at the rows of tall coconut trees guarding its southern end. To starboard the rain forest yawns green and lush and golden in the dawn sun.
I am just putting the kettle on when I hear the low,
powerful thrumming of big propellers. I look out the porthole and there she is, big, fat
and ugly as Hell the El Torito. Walter designed her himself, along the lines of a pumpkin
seed. A very big pumpkin seed, 65 feet long and 35 feet wide. He built her back in 1970 as
his personal research vessel. She isn't fast, she isn't beautiful, but she is as strong
and stable a sea boat as has ever been welded together.
I call Freddy and go on deck, grinning and waving. I can see Walter at the helm in the wheelhouse. His new wife Janice and his friends and his children are all out on the broad foredeck waving back. I'm not a bit surprised by the tears in my eyes.
As Walter ties up to the dock, Freddy and I come alongside in the Avon and climb aboard into the arms of our dearest friends in the world.
Dr. Walter A Starck II evolved from a different branch of the ape family than the rest of us humans. Maybe a spider monkey branch. In any case he bears only a superficial resemblance to a tall, very thin, odd looking human being. He's grown a somewhat scraggly beard on his narrow, Lincolnesque face. He has windblown hair, big hands and feet. Walter is not good looking, but his eyes are alive with the mischief of the universe. He moves with the grace of a cat; a blur of constant motion. One can not focus on the physical Walter. Something about him grabs the psyche of the normal people of this planet. We are seized and held by his spell.
I might add that he is twice as nimble, twice as strong, twice as intelligent as anyone I've ever met.
For most of the day and into the night Walter and I talk in the air conditioned lounge of the El Torito. I have no idea what the other people are doing. When I'm around Walter there simply are no other people. And I can't recall, afterwards, what we talk about all that time. I can only remember talking earnestly about a wide range of things, from coral reefs to dolphins to the mysteries of the mind, to practicalities of living on a tropical island 3 miles by 1.5 miles in size, to the political situation here in the Solomons. I do remember that last part.
While he was in Honiara, there was a big hoohah about the Solomons upcoming independence from Mother England. The release from colonial paternalism has engendered a backlash effect. Over the years, Mother England kept a lid on many of the Solomon Islander's natural inclinations. With independence, they would like to resume their normal behavior patterns. Hopefully, this does not include such fun and games as head-hunting and cooking bushmen for dinner.
It turns out the Melanesians are, like many small town people, very prejudiced. The hue of one's skin is of maximum social significance between them. Thus, a man from New Georgia who has a blacker skin than a man from Guadalcanal is inferior. And vice-a-versa.
People who live along the coast traditionally feel those who live inland are "bush people" and in the old days bush people were used as slaves and dinners and sometimes they got dropped, alive, into holes to help hold up the main house supports. Their spirits are still holding up some of the houses here.
While these are long standing, and thus acceptable, social problems, there are even less acceptable hominids in the islands these days. With independence, the Melanesians hope to be rid of these pesky people. In particular, England, during a period of crisis in the Gilbert Islands, moved a colony of Micronesians to one of the Solomon Islands. They would have to go. And the Chinese - who own the stores - must never be citizens of the new Solomons. While the soon to be Solomon Government recognizes the need to have Europeans around they should be allowed to stay for only limited periods. A couple of months for casual visitors, maybe two years, at the most, for contract workers. And Europeans must, like the Chinese, never be citizens of the new Solomons.
Their new constitution has a clause in it which says only people with all four grandparents born in the Solomon Islands can be true citizens of the new country. Everybody else will be second class citizens or temporary residents at the discretion of the immigration officials. Only Solomon Island Citizens (first class) can own property. The property now owned by Europeans (white people) or Chinese or anyone else (including anyone of mixed blood) will become property of the State and leased to the individuals. The government will revise the rental fee annually on the basis of what is happening on the property.
Walter was in the final stages of buying Malaupaina when the government announced all this. England is flabbergasted and protesting stuffily about the bigotry clause in the constitution. She might not give the Solomons the promised 40 million pounds sterling in aid unless the Solomon officials modify the offensive clause. At least, Mother England suggests, one might allow someone born in the Solomons with just one parent born in the Solomons to be a true citizen. The Solomon Islanders are thinking of a compromise, something like a person, born in the Solomons who has one parent born here, providing both the parent's parents were born in the Solomons.
In any case, Walter does not have any Solomon Island ancestors at all and is not especially keen about being a second class citizen nor is he wild about leasing Malaupaina from the government. He has several reasons for his caution. First of all, the government will set the rental fee later and alter it at whim. Not very good. Second, one of the Fisheries people in Honiara, an Englishman named Dick Clark, is unable to imagine why anyone would want to be off by themselves on a little island investigating fish and coral reefs.
"Surely this Starck fellow is up to something out there," Mr. Clark is fond of saying at the Honiara Club. He also can't comprehend how anyone can do research and support a large research vessel unless the work is being done for the Government. Since Walt and I are independent scientists with a small private foundation which does nothing at all to support us, Mr. Clark concluded Walter must be a CIA agent. A spy.
Malaupaina is, according to Mr. Clark's profound logic, a CIA facility. Clark feels his deduction is proof enough and so does not mind telling other government people he has conclusively proved, to his own satisfaction, that Walter (and everyone else who visits with him) is CIA. Walter and I, two of the world's most ardent nonjoiners, have a good laugh about this. But Walter thinks it is typical of the problems which will follow independence, and potentially not humorous at all.
Another problem is the attitude of the Solomon Island Government officials about research or any activity in their area. There has to be a clear cut benefit to the Government (usually this means cash) from any "outside" business. They are paranoid someone might come to their islands and reap some reward from their visit without the government getting a cut of the action.
For example, should a research student come here and investigate something (i.e. sex habits of clown fish) and then go home and get a doctoral degree with a dissertation based on their research here, this would be unfair - a con game. The student would get a university degree based on information stolen from these islands. Therefore, the stolen information would provide the student plenty of money over the years. And what would the islands get out of it? It was their own (undiscovered) information to begin with. The student will benefit, so why shouldn't the Solomon Island Government? Sure, they would have a copy of the published papers and could read all about sex habits of clown fish, but what use is that to anyone? Who cares about the sex habits of clown fish?
The government frowns on research unless conducted within the context of island development by people who are paid by aid programs (never by the island government). Researchers must be U.N., government workers or consultants. They can ignore this research, Walter points out, because the aid programs agree not to release any information which the government does not approve of.
For all these reasons, Walter has decided to leave Malaupaina at the end of next year and go to Australia.
So. There it is. The long range plans which I didn't have won't develop. No dolphin research. No proposals or projects.
When I arrived last week I was comfortable with the idea of having no firm plans....Well, I still am. In fact, I'm happy not to have anything to do for a year.
Maybe Freddy and I will sail around the Solomons to have a look about. Just be tourists for a few months. Why not? The only thing bothering me is the strange drive that made me rush here in the first place. The odd Moirae events, pushing me along from one coincidence to another. Was it all for nothing? I feel like I've been chasing something, tracking something, only to rush out into a clearing and find the tracks end in thin air. I stand in the clearing and turn around slowly looking for my quarry but the clearing is empty. The trail gone.
Maybe there is something about the clearing itself I am missing?