Friday, November 18 (Day 80)
It is all rather predictable. There is only one cloud in the entire sky and that is the dark grey cloud known as the fear. Tomorrow I begin my journey west, and my concerns and anxieties about returning to Europe consume me from the very first moment I awaken.
Jessica, Linda, Ingri and I hire a taxi and set off for the To Sua Ocean trench. This wonderful place is home to a huge sunken waterhole where you can swim in pools of salty sea water that are fed by the open sea. The only way visitors can access the waterhole is if they descend a 25-metre vertical ladder to the hidden grotto below. To say this is dangerous is an understatement. It certainly wouldn’t be allowed in most western countries. If you were to fall descending this ladder, there’s a good chance that would be the end of you. Woos of the day is me. I feel very under the weather today, my knee is playing up and I have a shocking migraine. I peer down from above the ladder into the crystal clear waterhole below and, with my fear of heights combined with the way I feel today, I just don’t trust myself to climb down without potentially having an accident. While the girls enjoy the watery delights of the sea trench, I take photos for them and indulge the stunning coastal vistas from the immaculate gardens set on sea cliffs above this stretch of the South Pacific Ocean. Close by, at a series of blowholes, there is still evidence of 2009 tsunami damage, with some sections of coastline littered with fallen trees and the large boulders that washed up here.
Once back at Taufua, I spend the rest of my day lying around like a lemon. I just don’t feel good today.
As I watch my final South Pacific Ocean sunset I feel like shedding a tear or two, knowing that this chapter of my life is closing. Beer in hand, Cemeteries of London by Coldplay, playing on Taufua’s beach bar speakers, I don’t want the sun to dip below the western horizon, and the night to chase away the day. I have felt so happy and cut off from many of the anxieties of everyday life since I first came to the Pacific in October. I wish I could go home and see my family and then return straight back here for another couple of months.
Next door, I join Linda, Ingri, Jessica and a lad from the Czech Republic (who, aged 30, speaks less Russian than me) to watch my final Samoan Fiafia. To be honest, this one puts me in mind of Russ Abbott. There is even one tune that has a touch of Agadoo about it. Tonight’s fire show on the beach is class, and the slap dancing bizarre as ever and well worth seeing. The rest of the evening’s entertainment smacks of 1980s east coast of England holiday camps. I guess I might expect Samoa to serve up this unusual combo.
Wednesday, November 16 (Day 78 continued)
This place was wiped out in September 2009 by a catastrophic tsunami that surged in from the ocean after a large 8.1 magnitude off-shore earthquake. The matai tells me that 58 members of his extended family were killed here and a further 150 more people died along this stretch of pristine coastline. On the road trip in today I spotted dozens of low-lying buildings and even a church that appear to have been permanently abandoned since the 2009 disaster.
I’ve asked the Matai and several leading members of the community whether there is some Tsunami rebuilding project that I can highlight for More Than a Game but the good news is that the Samoan government and the local communities are on top of it all and don’t really need outside help. Most of the rebuilding work is now close to completion.
You can read detailed accounts of the 2009 Samoan Tsunami in the new book Surviving a tsunami: dealing with disaster by Jackie Faasisila, Angela Jowitt & Walter Dudley.
The physical damage has now been repaired but the personal losses endured by the people of southern and eastern Upolu will remain for all of their lives.