Catching the bus to get around the city is a cheap and easy way to get around town. They are safe enough as long as you’re not a woman standing around alone at night waiting for them. Compared to taxis which charge 10 SBD per kilometre, a bus ride is only 3 SBD to almost anywhere around the city.
Buses here are usually white vans that have had their first life in Japan and then decommissioned to commence the rest of their existence on the pothole-ridden streets of Honiara. If I were a car, I couldn’t think of a worse place to spend retirement.
Anyone can aspire to get into the bus business if they can afford the upfront costs of investing in a van. Buses are a two-man team requiring a driver and a conductor – ideally one of this duo will be a mechanic. Buses make about 750 SBD – 1,000 SBD a day, and about 30% of the profit will be split between the driver and conductor earning them around 150 SBD each a day.
There are several bus stops around the city but they are hard to spot for the unacquainted eye because there aren’t any signs telling you so. You can tell a bus stop when you see a cluster of white vans with conductors shouting out their end destinations like auctioneers: “KOLAKOLAKOLAKOLAKOLA,” or “WHITERIVERWHITERIVERIVERIVERIVER.” Also, don’t bother looking for a bus schedule – there aren’t any. In general though you shouldn’t need to wait more than 20 minutes for a bus.
After you’ve deciphered whether the bus is going in your direction, it’s smart to choose a bus where you can see the conductor has shut the door behind him – that indicates air-conditioning. The bus won’t move until they’ve filled up all the seats or until they give up which is usually no more than five to ten minutes.
Once you’re on the bus, the difference between being on a Solomon Islands bus and inside a morgue will not be unsimilar – everyone is deathly silent. At some point in the ride the conductor will hold out his hand, which is your cue to hand over your 3 SBD with the most uninterested disdain you can muster. I still am yet to find out why this is such a serious affair but half the fun of catching a bus here is pretending like you are wishing you’d never gotten on.
To indicate that you want the bus to stop, a simple “stop” or “yeah” will do. But, if you’re a cool cat and want to stop bus like the locals, you either make a loud and confident “TSS-TSS” sound or smooching sound. Best to practice in private before attempting in public as you could come out sounding like a wet rag.
And that’s all there is to catching a bus. Catching a bus is always lots of fun especially when it’s outside the market and people start loading in interesting things like sacks of vegetables, bags of fish, or bowls and plastic ware from Chinatown. The next step after this, open-backed trucks.