— I just returned from two weeks in the Pacific. I am in the airport right now. I have been traveling back from Honiara airport to San Juan. Tropic to Tropic. I was in the Solomon Islands to be precise, though that is not precise at all as it names a huge land area of about 30,000 square km and comprising many atolls as well as the ocean between and around. Of all the places I have ever been or seen it is the most liquid. The sea is the playground, freeway, main food source, mythical and spiritual ground (though this might seem contradictory).

I had to constantly remind myself that I was very far away from home, as far away as could be. How uncanny that in the Pacific tropics and in the Caribbean we move with the same rhythm, that logically the houses take the same shapes, raised from the ground of course to be away from all sorts of critters, to be cool and to create another outdoor shaded space, among other reasons. That the palm frond roofs are weaved in the same way, that we have the same histories of colonialism, the same american military trash in the waters. In Honiara, the biggest town we went through, and only for a few hours, students in their uniforms walk slowly and avoid the early afternoon sun. I felt at home. Same sweat, same road. We were in areas remote to us but not to themselves.

There are some remarkable differences though with what I know:

Children of all ages and gender manage their dugout canoes through distances that would be frightening to most adults. I was most impressed by two 7 year old girls crossing island to island on a tiny canoe. I could have lifted each one with one hand, their bodies were perfectly balanced, only one of them rowing. People get on canoes like on a bike, fully dressed, they arrive everywhere completely dry. Rowing from place to place does not mean at all that you will get wet.

I asked a few basic questions of a canoe maker: Everyone knows how to make a canoe: father, uncle, mother, each family must know how to. The fruit of the tree Atuna racemosa is used for caulking, the seed is made into a paste. The tree that is used to make the canoe is called tau tau on one island but something else on another island. On the last night I was there I learned from another rower with a bright blue patch of caulking on his canoe that melted Crayola will also work in a pinch.

If you have the time to go all the way to the Solomons, you’d better bring some goods and not just money. Money is an almost useless placeholder. People would much rather trade a carving for a wetsuit or a good knife. Money is maybe just another long trip to town to buy what is needed which is probably batteries or a dress. Might as well bring it with. One man looked up to D on our boat and one hand on the paddle the other on the USB stick asked her, “More music please” and then, “You have African gospel?”. Yes, D had some African Gospel.

And the sky! One moonless night we spent in a very dark ocean night, was so gloriously filled with stars that I finally was able to make some sense of the myth from my side of the world. The stars were very brightly reflected in the water, creating a disorienting double landscape. You really could confuse the stars with something lurking brightly below a canoe. In caribbean mythology Anacacuya, in a canoe, mistakes a starry reflection for a large beautiful shell in the water and dives in for it. He drowns. I had never understood the confusion of star for shell, until now. I was completely unfamiliar with the atoll geology, but every time we visited a small island that had already been through devastating logging 20 perhaps or even 15 years ago—there and only there— I could recognize the tree species. What the place looks after it has been wiped out…that is something that I recognize. I see maga, maría, mangle rojo, a jackfruit or two, coconut palm of course and almendros, lots and lots of almendros.

Next time I will bring a hammock to trade.

Beatriz Santiago Muñoz was born in 1972, in Puerto Rico. She is an artist and filmmaker currently based in San Juan. Her films arise from long periods of observation and research to explore the social and political conditions of her native Puerto Rico and the Caribbean. Her recent solo exhibitions have been held at El Museo del Barrio (2017), New Museum, New York (2016); Pérez Art Museum Miami (2016); Sala de Arte Público Siqueiros, Mexico City (2014); and Gasworks, London (2013). In 2017 she participated in the Whitney Biennial. She has been awarded the Creative Capital Visual Art Award (2015) and the Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation Award (2017). Santiago Muñoz is also a cofounder of Beta-Local, an arts organization in San Juan, Puerto Rico, and Director of Sessions, a series of experimental seminars anchored in the specific geography and emerging art practices of Puerto Rico.