SOMEWHERE in the Solomon Islands lies a place that remains unscathed by time – or tourists.
The inhabitants of Rendova live life much like they have for centuries. They fish and grow vegetables for food and get by doing what they have always done.
Eco Lodge only opened last year and manager Kilo Paza is a resident of the island, which is home to a 5000-strong population of Solomon Islanders. Unlike most people who live here, Jo left the island to study business overseas and came back to set up the lodge.
Upon my arrival on the island I spot eight locals sitting on wooden seats singing a song. They swing their feet as they combine English and pigeon English into a charming melody.
Paza is smiling as they sing and once they are done he shows us to the lodge. The five rustic huts that make up the lodge are basic – but perfect. Floor-to-ceiling windows and air-conditioning just wouldn’t be right here.
The shared dining room is a big space with a few key fixtures where people eat and chat. Lunch is fresh-caught fish and island-grown cassava. The island is self sufficient – like it has been for centuries – and a stay here is designed to showcase that.
There are no powdery, white-sand beaches, no cocktails or bartenders, no wifi or TVs. There are tours but these take in the natural surroundings (mangroves, rocks and the jungle) or the people.
And the people are what this island is all about.
Although many places preach that they are untouched, it’s hardly ever true. Usually there is someone who looks after press, there are switches for so many different things inside lavish rooms, there are cocktails, electricity, hot showers … you get the drift. Clearly these places are not untouched at all – just designed to seem as if they are.
Paza leads a village tour where islanders re-enact scenes from life. Elderly women weave baskets from palm fronds, a mother demonstrates her knack for making toys from tree bark, friends reveal how they turn poison into something edible, while another woman mashes local greens together in preparation for dinner.
Although the villagers are spread out in such a way that we can walk past them and take it all in, the truth is they’d be doing the same thing anyway, regardless of whether we were there or not.
Mums still make toys out of tree bark, the baskets used today are still made from palm fronds, and the food is the same. Extended families live together like they always have and when I see a boy with a broken arm and ask Paza who treated it he explains that the village doctor did – like always.
The only physical difference today is the clothing they wear. Historically their attire would have been made out of trees branches and straw, but today charitable clothing comes from various associations in different countries and that’s what they wear.
The kids’ excitement to see tourists is what highlights just how untouched this island is. They jump around me, in front of me and follow me. Paza explains that since this lodge is fairly new they have not seen many visitors.
When I take photos they are astounded at the images (some have never seen their reflection in the mirror). When I join in and dance with the local women the whole village goes into a loud, almost-violent uproar of laughter. And when I leave the children grab onto my hand and don’t want to let go.
Although I’ve had an experience that most other people can’t claim to have had, the children – and the adults – of Titiru have also experienced something new. The difference is I can share my story.
Their story, like their lives, will probably remain untouched. And that’s the beauty of travel really.