Getting to Kia

Tim had been planning on making a trip to Kia Village on
Isabel Island to help our literacy colleagues, Lee and Robin Montgomery run a teacher training workshop. Since it is Easter break for the girls, we decided to make it a family trip. We have been watching the shipping schedule and found out that the ship would be heading out Wednesday night. We don’t have internet access here in the village, but can send an email out via radio. So these entries will be posted by a friend in California.

We went down to the wharf shortly after 5:00 pm as the ship was due to leave at 6:00 pm. We carried our luggage on board and spread out the sleeping pads on the floor of the first class cabin. (Picture a 12′ x 12′ room with 13 spaces marked out on the linoleum floor for the passengers. One big advantage is that the cabin was air conditioned – when the ship was underway. The rest of the time it got pretty stuffy!) We piled our cargo on one side of our assigned spaces and spread our floor mats over the rest of our spaces. Because there were only 3 cabin spaces left when we bought our tickets, Tim ended up with a bench down in second class. (No air conditioning, but the open windows brought cool breezes and the bench was padded and long enough to stretch out on!)

On the Estrella with friend, Grant Bruner.

A corner of our cabin aboard the Estrella.

The wharf was full of people, and boxes and cargo waiting to be loaded onto the ship. Six o’clock found us still at the wharf, with the loading process still in full swing. Sometime later, an announcement was made that the ship was ready to go and the last passengers scrambled on board and those who weren’t passengers got off the ship. We pulled out from the wharf and anticipated enjoying a beautiful sunset as we headed out of Honiara. But instead of proceeding on our voyage, we pulled up to the refueling wharf! A fuel truck on the wharf then pumped diesel fuel into the ship’s fuel tanks while we had to enjoy the sunset from the stationary ship. Finally, at about 7:25, the ship left the wharf and we were on our way. The twinkling lights of Honiara shrank behind us as we traveled into the darkness ahead.

Once the ship was on its way and the air conditioning kicked in, I settled down with the book I was reading. Another missionary kid, Grant, is traveling with us to visit the Montgomerys as well. He and the girls sat up at the prow of the ship for quite some time, enjoying the cool breeze and the adventure of plowing through the gently rolling sea.

The self-inflating sleeping pads we travel with provide a comfortable place to sit and sleep. The rush of the day had left us pretty wiped out so we quickly settled down and were soon sleeping. The throbbing of the engine below us and gentle movement of the sea rocked us to sleep. Every once in a while, the heat seeping up from the engine below woke me. Feeling like a meat patty on a grill I’d roll over and fall asleep again. Occasionally another passenger would walk in or out of our cabin disturbing my sleep or the air conditioner would drip on me.

Around 2:00 am we reached the southern most tip of Isabel and the ship reached the first port of call at about 4:00. We woke up around 5:00, thankful that we had slept most of the night and we tried not to think about the fact that we were still not half way through our journey. Daylight found us off shore of one of the many villages where we would call in throughout the day. Cargo and passengers were transferred to the ship’s dingy and taken ashore as they would be at other ports of call along the way. Every time the ship stopped, the air conditioning stopped and the cabin would get warm and stuffy. As the ship got underway people would settle back down and go back to sleep.

The rest of the day we spent sleeping, reading and standing on the deck of the ship enjoying the view. On one side of the ship was Isabel Island and the other side the sea stretched before us reflecting the blue sky above like an impressionistic painting. In some ways it was nice to be able to relax and enjoy the view without worrying about any emails that needed answering or anything else we ‘have’ to do. Relatively speaking, one couldn’t ask for a more pleasant ship trip here in the Solomons.

At one point I realized that my sister and brother-in-law are on a Caribbean cruise this week. What very different experiences we are having! They are feasting, while we eat crackers and room temperature water. It would be a successful trip in my eyes if I drank enough water to keep hydrated, but not too much that I would be forced to use the ‘squatty-potty’ toilet on the ship.

The ship’s crew had told us they expected to reach our destination of Kia around 6:00 pm as there hadn’t been a lot of cargo to unload along the way. The sun began to set and a beautiful twilight evening descended on us. We sat on the bow of the ship and watched the trees and details of the island shoreline melt into a purple silhouette against the sky. The sky above became inky black dotted with pinpoints of stars. Far from any lights, the stars formed a wide streak of white lights.

Outside the wheelhouse, a crew member stood with a large hand held light that he used to scan the water way looking for reflectors that mark the inside passage to the village. The ship continued to slowly move through the waters making slow turns in response to the reflectors. Occasionally the light would illuminate a village house along the shoreline on the outside of the village. Soon we saw the wharf ahead of us, and our friends the Montgomerys waiting for us. We pulled in about 7:30 pm on Thursday night – 27 1/2 hours after we boarded the ship.

We grabbed our luggage and walked up to the Montgomery’s house where we enjoyed dinner and showers before heading to bed.