Friday, November 11 (Day 73)
Manase – Falealupo, Savai’i (Samoa)
Heading out on the northern coast road the first sight of note that we come across is a striking 100-year-old catholic church bigger than many European cathedrals. This is apparently for a village of 500 inhabitants. There are 362 villages in Samoa. I wouldn’t be surprised if there are more than six or seven hundred churches. Nobody does churches quite like the Samoans do.
Our one hour taxi ride crosses a huge lava field and dissects thick rainforest full of banyan trees before continuing past rubber tree plantations. There are also long stretches of craggy, tourist-free coast until we reach the town of Asau. The driver tells me that Savai’i’s first runway was on an offshore reef that we can see around 4 kilometres out to sea from the coast road. First the Yanks, then the Aussies, and finally the Kiwis used this air strip for the now defunct local saw mill, which they took turns at running, as well as whatever else they wanted to get up to with a conveniently anonymous offshore coral reef runway. Now, I’m not suggesting of course that the US government would ever use a little known airfield in the middle of nowhere to perpetrate illegal acts. Oh no, not the American government and military…
Our driver drops us off at beach fale right on the far western tip of the island. There is a fantastic deserted beach here with reef protecting us from the elements and just seven fale on the sand facing out to sea. We bag four of them.
Come they told him, a rup-a-pum-pum
A new born king to see, a rup-a-pum-pum, rup-a-pum pum, rup-a-pum-pum
Yeahhhhh, come they told him. Yeahhh, to behold him. Relax. Rewind DJ
This Vocodered Samoan Reggae Rap Christmas selection really is some of the most astoundingly bad music I’ve heard in my entire life. But it is actually so bad that, in the end, you just can’t help but love it.
As we look at our watches, incredibly, it is a couple of minutes shy of eleven minutes past eleven on Armistice Day. Our location here on the peninsula is not only the most western part of Samoa but also the most western point on the entire planet. As we look out to sea from here, everything out there exists in ‘tomorrow’. We are quite literally looking out across the sea almost 24 hours into the future. Just beyond this beach is the International Dateline, meaning that any boat we might spot out there on the high seas is bobbing up and down on the waves on the morning of Saturday, November 12th. The fact that we are here on the very edge of the world at 11:11 on the 11.11.11 is more than a little bit of a head spin for all present.
Interestingly enough, it is said that before the Christian missionaries arrived, this peninsula was believed to be the gateway for souls into the next world. It is fitting, I guess, that a place with such a legend should end up serving as ‘the gateway to tomorrow’ several centuries later when Greenwich was chosen as the location from where world time zones are measured and west of Samoa as the location of the International Dateline.
Stephanie and I join Glass Knee and Scorchio for a trip out to the nearby Banyan tree canopy walk. It’s another six quid job and I’m not inclined to cash out that much for a vertiginous walk between two trees, especially after enjoying such pleasures on a far grander scale in Borneo. So instead I stay and chat to the Matai (village chief). Adjacent they are using the funds gained here wisely to build a brand new longhouse school, which will have ten classrooms and educate local kids from primary up to high school age. Canada has also thrown in some cash to help finance the project and, with the local men of the village expected to volunteer their manual work for free, things are coming along swimmingly. The banyan tree is 230 years old and locals used to – but truthfully probably still do – believe that the tree is home to spirits. Out of rainy season tourists can sleep up in the tree’s canopy under the stars with only a mosquito net for protection. If we slept there now one or two of us would probably get blown or washed off the canopy to our certain deaths.
Back at our temporary home for the night, another violent storm rolls in off the sea and the fale’s odd job man does a good job of securing our temporary homes from the elements with ropes and plastic sheeting. We all cower inside our respective huts, each of us, I suspect, feeling rather in the hands of Mother Nature. This storm is like a mini-typhoon and I am starting to wonder what the hell we will do to keep ourselves safe if one hits this island in the coming days. There’s testimony to the power of nature only 200 metres from here where the half-remaining shell of an abandoned Catholic church remains after this part of the island was ravaged by two hurricanes in 1990 and 1991. With the worst over, we are all inclined to lie low for the next hour either reading or pulling a siesta.
I finish A Clockwork Orange, a book that now finds its place in my ten favourite reads. If you like Orwell or Huxley, or J D Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye, this is the book for you. Stanley Kubrick’s 1972 film version of this masterpiece – a film still banned in the UK (for the obvious fear of the effect it might have on ferule street gangs) – does no real justice to Anthony Burgess’ original story and even drops the all-important final chapter of the tale.
The meals are getting worse. We all feel like we might come down with food poisoning after tonight’s dubious offering. That aside though, this location on the edge of the world is simply stunning, and I especially like the open-air shower where everybody can see you bathing naked.
Monday, November 7 (Day 69)
Lano - Manase, Savai’i, Samoa
I didn’t sleep a wink last night. My head was buzzing when I went to bed and then a lizard the size of a cat was trawling around in my hut and initially scared the hell out of me. After that, I was just dozing off when an almighty storm blew in off the ocean, buffeting my open-to-the-elements hut with wind and rain, and I had a paranoid turn that it was some typhoon that the laid-back locals were somehow unaware of. And then there was the pack of dogs on the beach, scurrying around looking for any trouble they could find like the chavy-psychopathic characters in a Clockwork Orange (a brilliant read, by the way) that I’m now reading. From my safe vantage point up above them I was taken by the unexplained urge to attack them with all manner of coconut husks, sticks and stones just for the hell of it. In the end, I resisted the temptation.
Aside from a nice friendly old school gentleman, the locals don’t seem that impressed – maybe even a tad resentful - I’m travelling on the local bus with them. We pass blackened lava fields that intersect the main road and countless tiny communities. At one main bure I spot what appears to be a gathering of all the village elders. A black pig, squealing its heart out, is lead in their direction, its front and hind legs tied vertically to a long pole. As the poor pig is dropped to the ground I can only wonder what is going through its head as it contemplates its final moments on this earth.
Manase comes as a bit of a surprise. I’ve only seen a handful of fales and hotels in Samoa, but that number doubles as you pull into this sizeable community. They’ve even introduced an ATM machine here. The bus drops me outside Tanu’s, probably the most commercial of the backpacking places here. I’ve heard mixed reviews about this place so I’m not entirely sure whether I’m allocating my remaining time wisely by staying here for a few days. Frida, the head lady, greets me with a smile and gives me a coconut to drink while I wait for my fale to be made up. And then various female palagis start appearing from out of the woodwork, most of them appearing the worse for wear after last night. An English girl with an arse the size of the SS Mauritania, and her two associates from Denmark and Canada stroll over and join Freda and me. During the first exchanges the three girls manage to tell me twice that they like the local Samoan boys. (I think they mean males above the age of 16.) I don’t really get why that would be the first thing they would want to tell me about themselves. Pretty much: Hey, we might only be in our late twenties, but we are already female sex tourists.
Female sex tourism is rarely if ever discussed, but you see it all over the world. Indeed, while the stereotype is that men are often regarded as being sex tourists, female sex tourism is far more prevalent on a global scale. The top destinations for female sex tourists are southern Europe, the Caribbean, south east Asia, Cuba, Senegal, Gambia, Kenya, Indonesia, Morocco, Costa Rica and Fiji. So, I guess if your girlfriend suddenly takes an interest in holidaying in any of the above you might have cause for concern.
As Frida leads me to my bure she tells me – and I really can’t tell if she’s joking or not – be careful of those three, they like the Samoan boys. I spend the rest of the day hiding in my bure, catching up with my blog and novel and trying to avoidthe sex floozies. I’m not sure whether I’m going to fit in here. All will be revealed at tonight’s going away party for Robin, one of the said birds, I guess.
At dinner I am literally cringing. The level of conversation between SS Mauritania, the Danske bird and the fit-but-stupid Canadian is shocking. They are all just short of 30 and they are behaving and talking like they are 15 or something. What the hell is it that happens to some women when they are approaching 30? The only decent company going (although the floozies are friendly enough) is a nice couple from Argentina. Vamos los pumas. Myself and the two Argies stare at our plates, then look up at each other and can’t contain our laughter as we are served up the bizarre combo of bread fruit, rice, taro and tinned spaghetti.
Post-dinner, I’d love to escape the sex floozies but I’ve kind of been cornered and talked into going for a drink up the road with them. But little did I realise when I set off with the (now) five of them that we’d be stopping off on the way to pick up their young lovers. The lads in question all have a bit of Manu Tuilagi about them, they are brown-skinned, all in good shape, all aged around 18-20, and they are all lying around dressed only in their surrongs, with their bananas occasionally hanging out. I’m cringing inside so much that I can hardly keep it in.
After a short stroll up the pitch dark road, fruit bats swooping overhead, it turns out the bar is closed and so we return to one of the sex tourist bird’s fales to play Uno and drink Vailima. The lads are not allowed to enter through the main gate so they have to go all the way along the beach and enter from there. And talk about ‘entering’ is the main topic of conversation here, masked by whispers and giggles, between the extremely affable but very immature local lads and the absurdly immature foreign birds. One of the sex tourist birds is a mess upon a mess of a female, aged around 25, who has got about as much sex appeal as a Butcher’s counter at 5pm on a Friday. Lying in her fale she suddenly exclaims:
Send him in. I’m ready.
FFS. FFS. You really have got to laugh. I guess it is all about knowing your markets in this life. You know, I’ve thought of an obvious joke here but I’m going to tell it anyway:
The chief of Manase decided that one of the ways this community could prosper was if the village banned dogs (true story). By doing this, he surmised, lots of foreign females would not feel intimidated by the packs of canines foaming at the mouth and roaming the streets, as they are in many of the other Samoan villages, and they would consequently make Manase their Samoan destination of choice. And so it came to pass. Manase is now thriving as a Samoan destination and is packing in the low end backpacker clientele. I wonder though whether the local chief realises that all he’s managed to do is ban Samoan dogs and replace them with a load of fat, weather-beaten dogs from Europe and North America. They might not bark much and run around the streets late at night but I bet they’re riddled with fleas.
Wednesday, November 2 (Day 63)
Mango Bay, Fiji
This website isn’t achieving what I wanted it to do. Yes, I have good numbers - on average more than 100 unique viewers a day, peaking at 400, and that’s without currently using Facebook, email or link exchanges to drive traffic. In Africa the project was a great success although had Bjorn and his missus not gone all my precious at the end of it in South Africa, it would have and (should have) achieved a lot, lot more. I never really spoke about that at the time. I just didn’t want to rock the boat. The Shirt 2010 was Bjorn’s project, after all, so it didn’t seem right for me to kick up a fuss at the time about some of the bad decisions and personal conflicts that occurred right at the very end of our time in Africa. If I do manage to put a book together about these past 18 months’ adventures, as I hope I will, then I will go into all that then. Furthermore, in Argentina I struggled to find the projects that I’d wanted so much to champion and, when I finally did track two down, it was during my last two days, with an unsuccessful visit to the slums and an eye opening and humbling night on the streets with the homeless in Buenos Aires. More info will follow about the Buenos Aires street project after I get home.
In NZ I didn’t see any projects and I feel bad for that, but the truth is since my personal life took a turn in July I’ve had to concentrate on fixing myself before I can start worrying about others again. I realise today that the healing process is kicking in. I feel happy; very happy in fact. Sorry for not championing the grass roots projects as I’d intended but for the moment at least I feel very good about myself for the first time in four months. If you do get the chance, please take a look at the Projects We Like page, where you can click on the pictures and be redirected to the relevant websites. More projects will be added to this page when I get back to Europe and I am extremely keen that this website develops further to help promote the work of grass roots organisations which do wonderful work helping those less fortunate than ourselves.
Yes, you’ve guessed it. I’m still here. In Mango Bay. It’s like the Hotel California – you can check in but you can never leave. I sort of feel bad that I didn’t leave with Ruby, the British Iranian girl who is off to Caqalai Island to hook up with some National Geographic people who are making a film about venomous sea snakes. I was encouraging her to go on a two day road trip with me to see the snakes and to spend a night at the former colonial capital, Levuka. She was umming and erring - understandably with jet lag and enjoying the Mango Bay vibe - but today she suddenly said let’s go and I just felt too much in bits from last night’s back-of-the-net evening to pack my stuff and leave here in the space of half an hour. I should have gone. Sorry Ruby. Not that my day is bad: Kayaking on the lagoon with my French friend, reading A Clockwork Orange under the shade of a coconut tree, another kava ceremony, sunbathing factor 40 stylee, and falling asleep in a hammock under a palm tree.
It is time to leave this place now. This particular party and my personal Fijian rehab are over. My new year began yesterday. It’s time to get back on the road.