from coral atolls encircling lagoons
Last Updated : GMT 11:59:16
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Egypt Today, egypt today
Last Updated : GMT 11:59:16
Egypt Today, egypt today

To mountainous landmasses

From coral atolls encircling lagoons

Egypt Today, egypt today

Egypt Today, egypt today From coral atolls encircling lagoons

Solomon Islands in South Pacific
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From coral atolls encircling beautiful lagoons, to mountainous landmasses of pristine rainforest, the 992 islands of the Solomons offer a rare chance to get off the beaten path and uncover a pristine archipelago in its raw and natural state.
Although known by keen divers for its abundance of wreck sites, these islands offer so much more. You can visit intact cultures, observe the abundant birdlife, and practise "pidgin" English with smiling locals. These are islands adrift in time, where villagers still cling to lifestyles that have barely changed for centuries and traditional practices such as shark-calling, the making of shell money, and sacred skull shrines from the days of headhunting can still be seen today.
Honiara, on the island of Guadalcanal, is the hub and gateway to the Solomons, and provides an excellent base for further exploration. I check in at the United Church Rest House, which enjoys panoramic views of Honiara and is an excellent place for meeting an interesting mix of islanders, expats and travellers. While chatting one evening, I hear of an interesting day trip to the nearby island of Savo, situated across the oily smooth waters of Iron Bottom Sound, a 16-km channel filled with the sunken wrecks of dozens of WWII ships.
The next day, I agree on a set price for a day trip with Sam the boatman, which would include a circular route around the island with stops. Then we are off, speeding towards the infamous laying fields of the megapodes. The megapode bird, about the size of a chicken, ingeniously makes use of Savo's thermal volcanic sands to incubate its eggs. Every day, hundreds of megapodes lay their eggs, and every day the villagers dig them up, thank God for the free bounty, and carry them off to nearby volcanic hot springs to cook them.
On this particular morning, the "laying fields" of Agatopa village are literally bristling with the posteriors of villagers, who, with heads deep in the sand, are digging up the morning's harvest of eggs. Much of Savo is a mass of volcanic mountains and the climb to the single crater on the top of the range provides a temptation hard to resist. Weary and bedraggled, I board the boat back to Honiara, and stagger into the local Yacht Club in the quest for an icy drink.
From Honiara, I catch a light plane (60-minute flight) to Seghe to access one of the Solomon's main attractions: the spectacular Marovo Lagoon. Containing around 400 islands, the Marovo Lagoon is the largest saltwater lagoon in the world encompassing 700 square km, and is protected by a double barrier reef system. During the 90s, several eco-lodges were established across the length of the lagoon to promote eco-tourism and to help prevent devastation by logging. 
Today, it is possible to island hop from one lodge to the next using motorised dugout canoes. Lodge hosts are keen to share their traditional village life, ancient taboo sites, WWII wrecks, deserted beaches and fabulous coral gardens. Many of the eco-lodges are built in traditional style using local materials, and situated next to palm-fringed white sandy beaches. Fabulous snorkelling and diving can be right at your doorstep with soft and hard corals, giant clams and a zillion colourful fish. 
From Seghe, an 18-km journey across the lagoon by motorised canoe and I arrive at my tropical home for a few days - the Uepi Island Resort ( situated on remote Uepi Island. Uepi is a classic raised barrier reef island, covered in impressive rainforest, outlined by fringing reef and sandy beach, flanked by the warm lagoon waters on one side, and the oceanic depths (2,000m) of "The Slot", a deep marine abyss, on the other. Uepi is approximately 2.5km long and 300 metres wide, mostly covered with tropical rainforest interspersed with walking tracks.
From my beachfront bungalow at dusk, I observe fishermen still trolling lines from their slender canoes between the dozens of islands that sprawl out to the horizon. Scenes such as this must have inspired novelist James Michener in his Pulitzer Prize-winning book Tales from the South Pacific to describe the Marovo Lagoon, as 'the eighth wonder of the world'. The Uepi Island Resort is the most luxurious of Marovo's eco-lodges, but others to consider include Charapoana Lodge (just across the passage from Uepi Island), Kahaini Guesthouse (Kahaini Island) and Matikuri Lodge (on the western arc of the lagoon). 
I return to Honiara and take a short flight to Malaita, to visit the "wane i asi" or "salt-water people". As if 992 islands weren't enough in the Solomon Islands, villagers are still creating more in the Lau Lagoon (off the island's north-east coast), where islanders cling to age-old traditions. 
Originally forced into the shallow waters of the lagoon by fierce headhunting warfare, the salt-water people have built more than one hundred islands scattered along the 32km length of the lagoon. Nobody knows exactly when the first artificial island was formed, but legend has it that a bushman fishing in the lagoon built a cairn of rocks on which to place his lunch, and from these humble beginnings sprung the island world of the salt-water people. 
It's a typically clear morning on the Lau Lagoon, as a cool offshore breeze ripples the turquoise waters fanning wavelets towards the outer reef; 40-year-old Stephen Yeo sits on the front step of his simple thatched kitchen hut and rolls some dark tobacco in a page torn from an exercise book. "I first learnt to build islands from my father," he says, raising a smouldering twig from a nearby fire to light his cigarette. In a puff of smoke, he nods towards the tools of his trade: a dugout canoe, a long metal bar, a diving mask and plenty of muscle. 
Not surprisingly, life on an artificial island is a cramped affair given that every square metre is gained with backbreaking work. Leaf houses built almost entirely out of the coconut palm stand side-by-side almost one on top of the next. There seems little room for privacy, but, then, on an island this size, everyone is related and everyone is someone's cousin or brother's brother.
With an islander's agility, Stephen boards his dugout directly from his house and waves goodbye to his wife Mary. He is looking for large foundation stones for the new island's outer walls, and the floor of the shallow lagoon is paved with the perfect material; dense coral rock that has lain there for centuries. 
Island-building is often a community event, involving the wisdom and supervision of the elders, the bulk labour efforts of the women and the muscle of the young men. But if a villager needs an island building and has the means, he can employ the services of men like Stephen to do the hard work for him. Payment can be made in many forms of currency, from dolphin's teeth and shell money to the preferred Solomon dollar.
Standing shoulder deep in water, Stephen peers down through his mask at a suitable slab of coral. With explosive downward thrusts, he crashes the sharp point of his iron bar into the rock to prise it into blocks. Then, with the strength of a weightlifter, he wrestles a 30-chunk coral to the surface and hauls it into his waiting canoe. Within half an hour, he has a full load. 
At this stage, the new island is little more than a pile of rocks on the floor of the lagoon. To this, Stephen adds his latest load, being careful to place each stone in its correct position. As the wall breaks the surface, a new island is born. The corners of an island are always built first, followed by the walls, wide at the base and rising over two metres to clear the highest spring tides. Rocks are then tossed into the centre and brittle branch coral will be crushed to fill in the gaps. It is long, backbreaking work. There is no machinery used, and the artificial islands have only ever been built by human toil. 
Although the salt-water people create their own lands, they also own lands on the mainland for gardening. Stephen's wife Mary spends her day working in the family gardens, and the demands of a growing population means she has to trek one hour into the hills to reach her plots. In the meagre soils wrested from the grips of the rainforest, she grows taro, sweet potatoes, yams and cassava. Fish caught in the lagoon supplements the diet and any surplus is sold and traded at the local bush markets.
The bush markets have long maintained an important link between the salt-water people and the 'bush people' who populate the hills of Malaita. Every week, on market day, the islanders come ashore and climb the hills to trade produce with the bush people. In the old times, the traditional currency of  'shell money' would have changed hands. These days, shell money is largely reserved for paying 'bride price', for the purchase of land or island-building labour, or to smooth the way when an insult has been inadvertently given or a taboo transgressed.
Most artificial islands are built no more than a few hundred metres from the mainland, and are free of malarial mosquitoes that plague the coast. In this space between the salt-water people's water world and the humid confines of the coast, there's always a constant stream of traffic. Schoolgirls wade through the high tide, books held high above their heads; a boy heads off in his dugout to collect firewood on the mainland, and islanders return from their gardens laden with taro and cassava.
Darkness begins to fall on the artificial islands, and under the warm glow of kerosene lanterns and firelight, villagers relax on their verandas chewing betel nut and smoking tobacco. As the moon casts a trail of silvery light, the dozens of artificial islands that sprawl out to the horizon appear suspended, like stepping stones across the heavens. 


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