Solomon Islands – July 2013 by Nick Maister

On arrival in Honiara I met up with mate and Geelong Hospital Doc, Jon Dow, who had just returned from exploring the Solomon’s Western province. After a night in Honiara, Jon and I caught the short flight down to catch up with fellow Surfing Doc, Ant Brown in Kirakira, out East in Makira province. The plan being to commandeer a boat the next morning to head further east, to a spot renowned for hollow uncrowded reef setups and world-class fishing. As planned, and after loading numerous gallons of fuel, we set off on the estimated two hour journey. Three and a half hours later and with bruises on our arses that would last the rest of the trip, we arrived, having battled into a four-metre swell and 30 knot southeast wind. Alfred’s guest house and a fresh seafood meal that awaited us helped the memories of the hectic voyage fade as we began to froth on the options of waves in the region. That afternoon we surfed at the local left – it was small, but enough to forget the boat trip.

In the coming days, while we lacked the north swell that really make this place turn on during the southern hemisphere summer, some hunting around via 40–horse powered canoe did prove fruitful. We found a fun little set up on an Island 40 minutes east of Alfred’s that worked on the South East swell. Armed only with a board and pair of boardies each plus some wax we spent a couple of days there and all got our share of left hander cover ups. The locals were very friendly and hospitable, putting us up in some comfortable accommodation and feeding us up all for a nominal fee. We left Jon there waiting for a flight to return to work in Victoria (A feat he achieved just one day later that planned – not bad for Sol Air)

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Jon Dow and one of our welcoming parties.

As the south east swell backed off our attention tuned to fishing. There was some decent action on the fishing front. Some freight train strikes and some epic fights. I’d have to say our landed fish to lost lure rate was pretty low, but we ended up with wahoo, tuna and coral trout for dinner. Next time I return will be with steel trace and more lures, to up the catch rate – many of the local fish, such as dog tooth tuna, are unforgiving on nylon trace.

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Eventually we made our way back to Kirakira. En route we came across a boat load of people stranded as their engine had died. They had a guy holding a tarpaulin as a sail but were barely moving. They waved us over. Ant and I assumed we would need to tow them back to Kirakira – a journey of over an hour, flat out, by 40-horse. Following discussion with the boys on our boat in the local dialect our boys threw them some betel nut (a local nut they chew for its psychoactive properties), they all grinned and waved us on our way. This was mid morning and I would have been very surprised if their voyage under human-sail power would have seen them arrive in Kirakira before nightfall.

Back in Kirakira, what had started as a surf trip morphed into a medical mission. Ant had been there on hospital placement earlier in the year and had the place wired. The Bond Uni students from the Goldy had pretty much taken over the running of the hospital while the local Doctor had headed off overseas for a few weeks. I joined the team on the morning ward round and each day before planning the day’s tasks. We treated malaria and TB, drug overdoses, congenital heart disease, delivered babies, managed fractures (without x-ray). Without neurosurgery, we couldn’t do much for a huge extradural haematoma that was now infected. We also did a couple of cases in the theatre: washing out a septic knee and draining ascites. We managed to slot in a couple of tutorials for the nurses, one on xray interpretation and another on malaria, an opportunity they really thrived on.

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Ant and I in theatre

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A traction set up we built for a lady with a proximal femur fracture

On the wave front, the options around Kirakira were limited as they rely on the summer north swells. Our attention turned to the local groms who were all chomping at the bit to get their turn being pushed in to the local shorey on Ant’s old Firewire. The response was epic each time we arrived at the surf beach with a huge entourage of local kids following us up the beach. Many hours were spent surfing with the kids, and playing cricket and catch. We left the kid’s with Ant’s old board and a cricket set so they could well be ripping by the time we next return.

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Local rippers of the future

The time in Kirakira was rounded out by a fitting send off – a party with all the hospital staff. The dance floor got a good old workout by all following plenty of Solbrew beer, betel nut and a punch made from the potent local vodka. The hospital staff were grateful for our visit and welcomed us back at any time. An invite I will most certainly take up, next time perhaps during the Aussie summer to ensure the north swells are cranking. In any case, a visit to help out in the hospitals in this magnificent part of the world is a rewarding one and an opportunity I would highly recommend. With a new hospital being built out east near Alfred’s accommodation there are some exciting prospects on the horizon.

Nick Maister

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