The Benefits of Solitude

View from the Treehouse

View from the Treehouse (my current home)

There is something about this place that induces laziness.

Where the first month was a challenging oscillation between paradise-found and cabin fever, I have more recently found myself surrendering to the slow pace and tiny world that is my island home.   No longer pacing the deck, itching for some movement and variation in my day, I am now more regularly okay with flopping in a hammock with a book.

Being on such a tiny island for an extended period has definitely had its challenges though. Like some mega meditation-marathon I have regularly been forced to sit quietly with my own thoughts, which as anyone who’s ever attempted meditation will know, is no easy task. In these moments I can feel my mind grasping desperately for stimulation and distraction, but finding none, the occasional pearl of wisdom or insight surfaces instead – the benefits of solitude.

The Penthouse, Oravae

The Penthouse (my home for the first month)

In the past I have often likened hiking to meditation – focused solely on my surroundings, my mind empty of other thought – however even then I have more to entertain my brain than on this tiny patch of coral. I’m getting better at it though, the mind having surrendered to a degree, and the laziness that had so frustrated me at the start has now taken a hold, I have slid into island time. Now even to sit upright seems to take great effort. Better to lie in a hammock or recline in bed with a laptop.

An Adventure off the Island

So it really shouldn’t have been any surprise to me that a 15km walk from Gizo town to Saeragi Beach on the main island of Ghizo a few days ago was such a shock to the system, but for some reason it was.  Despite having a significant walking pedigree and being on largely flat terrain, my hammock-softened feet ached pathetically and muscles that I thought had long since given up complaining about walking were back on my case. Barely seven months ago I was a highly tuned walking machine, hiking briskly with a full pack for up to 10 hours a day up and down the mountains of New Zealand. Even up until six weeks ago, my city routine at home included 12km of walking a day as part of the daily commute. My feet just don’t hurt walking now, or so I thought. Just one short month of lolling about on an island seems to have changed all that, and it was depressing to think I might have lost all that hard-won condition.

DSC05074The road to Saeragi, comprised largely of hard white crushed coral, reflected the hot sun and the four hour journey in the searing midday heat was made all the more challenging by a battle with dehydration, sending me slightly cross-eyed. It was tempting to try and utilize the tunnel of tall palm trees arcing over the road for some shade but at the same time, remaining cognisant of the fall line of coconuts. Death by coconut is not uncommon here. The walk was well worth the effort though, and as the road wound its way along the coast I passed many houses and small villages filled with friendly locals keen for a chat.

Island Life

Back on tiny Sepo Island, the days continue to merge seamlessly into one another. Every morning from my bed in the Treehouse I watch a golden sun rise up over the top of Kolumbangara Volcano in the distance, and every night I watch the silvery luminescent glow of tiny worms gliding in slashes and loops across the surface of the inky black water below like the vapour trail of a plane across the sky. The much-feared (for me only) spiders of the island continue to loiter annoyingly on the sidelines of my world, popping up every few days to spoil the serenity. I have a new philosophy though – do not seek and ye shall not find – so I’ve stopped searching the room with my headlight before going to bed, preferring to just focus on where I’m going and trying to avoid wondering what else is lurking in the shadows.

The Book

My mission here, apart from helping the good folk of Oravae Cottage with some business ideas, was to begin writing a book on my New Zealand end-to-end hike. So how is it coming along? Slowly. Despite having churned out 30,000 words so far I’ve come to realise they’re unfortunately not the right ones. It’s all part of the learning process though and as Teddy Roosevelt once said, better to “fail while daring greatly”, and I do not regret having left my ‘safe job’ to try. Having said that I’m not planning to fail, it’s just that success might take a little longer than I thought.

I have just two weeks left here before the next chapter of the journey of a Soul Trekker begins. My life has quite regularly taken radical changes of direction that I could not have foreseen perhaps two months earlier, however I don’t think I have been quite so without a plan as I am now. I have absolutely no idea what will happen after my time on the island is up, but I’m sure it will be interesting.

Stay tuned…DSC05070

Time to escape

From the moment I returned from hiking the Te Araroa Trail in New Zealand my time sitting in an office in the corporate city world was limited.  In the words of wild man Bodhi, resisting arrest at the end of the classic surf movie Point Break, “You know I can’t handle a cage man!”

The Turnaround

When I sat down to chat with my boss at five to five on a Monday afternoon, pausing to find the right words, he already knew what was coming.  “Time to go?”  He’d smiled ruefully across the desk at me and I’d nodded.  An alternative to normality had presented itself to me.  A job helping manage a two cottage resort on a remote island off Gizo in the Solomon Islands.  It’s called Oravae Cottage and it will be my new home.  The island only takes one booking at a time so I am banking on having a reasonable amount of spare time to begin writing my book in earnest and pondering the meaning of life.  Oh and a spot of snorkelling, scuba diving, and hiking up the neighbouring volcano across the lagoon too.

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A New Life

Although I won’t be adding to the bank account during my time there, my quality of living promises to be rich.  Life will be simple but I consider the benefits…

  • swimming in warm clear tropical waters every day
  • turtles, sharks, fish, clams and even dugongs, all just a few fin-kicks offshore
  • fresh clean air
  • time to write
  • free from crowds and noise
  • a far slower pace of life
  • healthy simple food, rich in fresh fish and vegetables

Yes, this definitely promises to offer a life more aligned with my new values and needs. Of course there is downside too.  Actually I can only think of one, but it’s a considerable one in my book.  Spiders.  Quite sizeable ones too apparently.  My skin shivers at the thought every time I imagine what I might encounter in the middle of the night while I head to the loo.

A Challenge of the Eight Legged Variety

The friend who offered me the opportunity to move there several months ago did a wonderful job singing the praises of the island paradise that could be my new home as he outlined living arrangements and what would be required of me.  Just as the deal was nearly done he gleefully added “Oh, and they have these huuuge spiders too!”  He spread the fingers of one hand out wide and placed them against the wall next to our table in demonstration.  Registering the look of horror on my face he immediately started back-pedalling, “oh they’re not that bad actually.  And last time I went there I didn’t even see one at all!”  But the seed had been planted and my heart sunk.  In all seriousness, this wasn’t a matter I could gloss over.  This is a creature known to reduce me to a whimpering ball curled up on a bed, sobbing in horror.  I have been known to drag complete strangers off the street, innocently enquiring how they felt about spiders before asking if perhaps they wouldn’t mind removing one from my hallway.  No, this was not something I could realistically deal with.

My friend’s face fell “Really?”  He was disappointed.  But then I thought again about the other wildlife there – the fish, the sharks, the turtles and birds.  Every day.  Just offshore. In 30c degree water.  Maybe I could find a way to deal with the insects?


Moving Forward

So the next chapter is locked away – three months on a beautiful tropical island, starting 29 October.  I will say goodbye to the city and to my high rise office building.  Say goodbye to writing office policies and procedures that no one ever reads, say goodbye to meetings, never ending corporate planning sessions and other tasks that induce glazed eyes and an empty heart.  I will breathe in the fresh air, follow my passion and let intuition be my guide for the chapter to follow.  I’m throwing it all to the wind and will see where I land.

Of course I am plotting future treks too.  Somewhere amongst it all next year I will do another long distance hike.  To tune myself to the environment again and make sure I’m “keeping it real”.  Out there I can hear my inner voice saying whatever it is I need to hear.

Hopefully I’ll hear it in the Solomons too!