Life is good at Fatboys.
It took us a little while to get out here, in our little boat, zooming across the ocean. But wow, it was worth the trip. This charming resort on an island of its own, surrounded by calm and crystal waters.
When heading to Fatboys the first question is, why call a place Fatboys? I had a few theories. But it's answered on the wall as soon as you step off the boat:
"Fatboys comes from the character Joe in Charles Dickens' "The Pickwick Papers". The fatboy's life revolves around eating, sleeping, and making every attempt to avoid work. Whilst at Fatboys, guests can become "Joe the Fatboy".
When we'd arrived yesterday, just as we were docking, some of the boys from the resort were unloading their catch from a fishing trip.
"Just around here," they answered, when we asked where they'd been.
The Spanish mackerel they pulled onto the deck was the size of my leg.
We ate it a few hours later for lunch.
Right now, we're eating the rest of it for breakfast.
It's not so bad, becoming Joe the Fatboy.
We've got a fun day planned. A little island hopping, some snorkelling, another lunch on a beach somewhere. But first, we finish breakfast slowly. I have a second cup of tea. Then we head back to the rooms to chill for a bit. There's no rush. There never is, around here.
The four of us are staying in a lovable two piece cottage, right on the water. There's a little balcony, attached to another little balcony, attached to the sand, attached to the ocean. The water's shallow, barely reaches your knees. Water is clear as glass. Calm. Rooms are simple, soothing. No television. Just good food and the ocean.
Exactly what I've needed.
As soon as breakfast settles it's back to the boat. We all climb in, head back out onto the water.
Fatboys is located in Gizo, in the Western Province of the Solomons, a collection of islands, great for snorkelling, diving, lots of boutique resorts. As we whiz through the waves I realise how funny it is that since we landed here, we go almost everywhere by boat. Hardly any driving, walking, biking, training, flying. It's pretty much boat, everywhere.
It's almost normal to us now. Getting in a car would be kind of weird.
We spend the morning hopping through a few different islands before reaching our snorkelling spot.
The girls gear up, jump in, spend an hour exploring the water. For me, the water is off limits again. I hang about on the sand for a few hours. That's fine. Perfect, actually. There are few things I love more than sitting in the sand on a quiet beach.
Lea is with us today. Lea is one of the staff from Fatboys, always chipper and wearing a cheeky smile.
Her and Fiona, our guide, disappear for a moment into the island, then come back.
"There's a guy living over there," Fiona tells me, pointing down the beach, where she's just come from.
"Like a village?" I ask.
"No just a guy."
She grabs a Coke from the cooler bin. Lea takes one too. She offers me one. I shake my head.
"Just one guy?"
"Yeah, and his kid. It's his job, to look after the island."
Must be lonely, I think. Or maybe, paradise. I know a few people who'd fantasise about swapping jobs with him, probably every day.
When the girls have had enough of the water, it's time to head to a new island for lunch. We pile back into the boat and zoom out.
The ocean has a slight attitude today, rocking our boat more than usual. Every few seconds we get a healthy spray across our faces, island after island whizzing past us. I sit with Fiona, up the front.
"How many islands do you have here?" I ask her.
"Is there an official number?"
Nine hundred and ninety two islands. We've been to about eleven.
Nine hundred and eighty one to go.
"And why are they called The Solomons? Solomon was an explorer, like Cook?"
"No," she laughs. "There was another explorer that came here, a Spanish guy. I forgot his name. But when he got here he guessed this was where King Solomon hid his gold. So that's how he named it."
"And did he find the gold?"
We both have a chuckle.
After a longish boat ride we finally pull into shore. Kennedy Island, they call this one.
There's a story to this island too, and it's not about a king named Kennedy or his hidden gold. In 1943, a man by the name of John Kennedy, who would later become US president, had his ship smashed by the Japanese navy during World War 2. Two of his crew died, but Kennedy and the rest managed to swim here and survive long enough to find rescue (and get an island named after them). No doubt a few Solomon coconuts would have kept them going. Maybe the odd Spanish mackerel too.
Lunch for us, though it doesn't need to be, is slightly more lavish than that. When we arrive, a crew is there cooking us an island feast certainly fit for a president or two; grilled crayfish, boiled yams and cassava, fried rice, sweet potatoes, fresh fish, stewed pumpkin and greens, and of course some fine Solomon Islands tropical fruit. SO YUM. I want to be a Fatboy forever.
After that, it's back to the resort. We spend the rest of the afternoon recharging in the cottage. Then, just before dinner, we're into the boat one last time. Where to now? Heading out for a "wine down", they tell us.
The "wine down" is a Fatboys treat, for guests to end the day with a sunset and a glass of vino on your own private island. We get taken fifteen minutes out to a tiny island, maybe the size of a tennis court or two. Ocean is warm, calm, sand is soft like flour. Although we've almost stopped noticing all that. We're getting used to these perfect islands.
We haul the beach chairs off the boat, the cooler bin full of wine and sodas, ready to watch the sunset. The girls open the wine and polish it quickly. We all snap photos. Then, I go sit with Lea in the sand. Open a beer, pour myself two sips, give her the rest.
"What's it like, working at Fatboys?"
"Fun," she says. "I get to do lots of different jobs."
"Like coming out here with us," I say, tapping the beer can.
"Yeah," she laughs.
"So what do you guys do out here, for fun?"
"Play snooker. Chew betel nut."
I look at her, make a face.
"You chew it. Makes you high. You haven't seen it?"
I shake my head.
"You want to try it?"
"I'll ask the boys for you. Tonight."
That night after dinner, Lea tells the guy behind the bar he's chewing betel nut with me tonight. I pull up a stool, introduce myself. He's soft spoken, with a boyish face, curly brown hair.
He fetches the goods from under the bar; half a betel nut, plus a sprig of 'fruit leaf', and a bag of coral powder.
"This first," he says, rolling half a betel nut between his fingers. He pops it in his mouth and starts chewing. Then he dips the sprig in the lime powder, takes a bite.
"And now you just chew. And spit."
He grins. His teeth are going red already.
I copy him. Start chewing. It tastes terrible.
"And where do I spit?"
"There," he says, pointing behind me. "In the sea."
We both walk out to the jetty and spit into the ocean.
"You see how it's red?"
We stand out there for a while, chewing, making our teeth red. In between spits, we chat. Get to know each other. He has a girlfriend. Not married yet. Chews betel nut every day. Not very good at snooker.
"You feel anything?" he asks.
"Not really. What am I supposed to feel?"
He points to his head.
"A bit high. Happy."
I shrug, shake my head.
"Maybe you need to chew more."
I shake my head again, spit what I have left into the sea. There are lots of delicious things to chew on in the Solomon Islands. Betel nut isn't one of them. We go back and sit at the bar. I order a ginger ale and a bowl of fruit.
This is more like it.
The next morning we're in for something a little different. We're heading to the market in Gizo town. It's a short boat ride. When we arrive, the place is brimming with action. Waterfront lined with boats, bumper to bumper.
"They're waiting for passengers," Fiona tells us, pointing to all the young drivers milling about. "Ladies come here in the morning for the market, then head back to their islands."
Just so happens, today is the grand re-opening of the market, in a brand new building. Everybody's in Gizo town to check it out, people are giving speeches, the streets are blocked off with crowds. Markets are one of my favourite things to wander, always full of delicious treasures. I can't wait.
As we duck past the crowds and file inside, the tables are lined with beautiful island produce. There's no shortage of treats to try.
The first thing that catches my eye is a round yellow fruit, looks like a big passionfruit.
"What is that?" I ask the friendly man.
"Is there an English name?"
He shakes his head.
I turn to Fiona standing next to me.
"What's it taste like?"
"I've never heard of it," she says.
The man cuts one open, neatly carves off a slice and hands it to me on the knife. I slurp it down.
"So good," I grin, reaching out for another.
"You want to get one?" Fiona asks.
"How about three," I smile.
With my bag of poutera in hand, we continue wandering the aisles. Cakes, donuts, fruits, soups. I could wander these stalls and eat all day long. But, time is short. We've got to get back to Fatboys, pack. We've got lunch waiting, and then a flight to catch.
With the time we have, I try a coconut cake, a pumpkin roti, grab some bananas for later.
Wishing I could stay all day, I make a mental note - next time you head to a Solomons market, go early, with an empty stomach.
Not all is lost. Lunch back at Fatboys is my favourite tropical fruit smoothie, followed by seafood noodles (amazing). If you ever make it to Fatboys, you certainly won't be disappointed with the kitchen. It lives up to its name. Food at Fatboys is always a winner.
Of course, before we head to the room to pack, I remember I have poutera for dessert. I ask Lea for a knife at the bar and start cutting them up.
"You know what these are?" I ask her.
I look at Fiona and laugh. "Lea knows!"
I cut her a slice. Nobody else wants any. I take care of them myself. They go down like candy.
It's sad saying bye to Fatboys. For delicious food, beautiful views, a place to put your feet up and recharge, you couldn't ask for a better place. A few more days would have been perfect. Piling into the boat, all our bags in tow, we wave bye to the crew one last time.
It's not every day you get dropped at the airport by boat, but today is one of them. After a short ride we pull up to a stone jetty, on a small island, feels like the middle of nowhere. That's because it kind of is.
We haul our bags off, walk along the jetty. It feels like nothing is here. But we turn the corner and find the cutest, smallest, strangest airport we've ever seen. We all look at each other and laugh, wander out onto the airstrip, snap a few photos.
"The Japanese built this," Fiona tells us. "The Japanese left a lot of stuff here actually, that we still use today."
Eventually the plane arrives - a tiny little thing.
The crew consists of two; the pilot, and the co-pilot. They jump out, refuel the plane, then wave us on.
As we take off, we stare out the windows, watch the islands of Gizo slowly disappear below us. What a magical place. But, there are other corners of this country to explore. For now we head to the capital. Next stop - Honiara.