Sold on the Solomons - Mobile

HONIARA, Solomon Islands -- If it weren't for the potholes, cavernous pits slowing us down on the road to Honiara, in the Solomon Islands, I might have missed the sign on the tree, "Dolphin View Cottage." But Andrew, our guide, knew the road by heart.

"That's Guyas Tohabellana," he said, waving at a stocky, dark-skinned man in rumpled shorts, a faded T-shirt and flip-flops. "He works here in Guadalcanal. C'mon, let's say hello."

Beyond the bungalow, Guyas' two teenagers lounged on a picnic table, playing with their pet cockatoo. Behind them the beach sloped down to Iron Bottom Sound, the World War II graveyard where 50-odd American and Japanese ships lie at rest. Across the water, Savo Island shimmered on the horizon.

For a couple of minutes, the two men chatted, speaking Pijin so quietly I couldn't make out the words. Then Guyas turned to me and we shook hands.

"You're from America!" he said, switching to English and lighting up. "Do you like it here? Have you been to Gizo and seen the beautiful coral reefs? Yes, my grandfather was a coast watcher during World War II, a spy you'd say, reporting Japanese movements to the Americans. He watched the battle of Savo Island from right here."

A name and a handshake are de rigueur in the Solomons, deep in the South Pacific. Being American counts, too, especially here, where 5,800 Americans were killed or injured fighting the invading Japanese.

"We're known for two things," said Ellison Kyere, from the tourist office, when my partner Steve ....

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