Tuesday, November 15 (Day 77)
Aganoa – Salelologa (Savai’i) – Mulifanua – Apia (Upolu) (Samoa)
There’s a huge Huntsman spider parked behind the door in the toilet. What is it with spiders the size of plates and toilets in the tropics? Aside from this scary looking character and other unwanted enemies such as the SNMA (Samoan National Mosquito Army) I must declare that I am a big fan of Samoa. Yes, there are many, many weird and wonderful idiosyncrasies here but, after a week or two, you find yourself assimilating to all this and the abnormal soon begins to seem a bit more… normal. No, it is not Fiji in terms of levels of comfort and standards, but it beats its South Pacific cousin in ways that are only just becoming apparent to me. You certainly feel like you are travelling somewhere very, very real when you are in this country. Life is easy and simple here and sometimes you have to conclude that this is the way it should be. The TV, newspapers, glossy magazines, mainstream advertising, internet, government propaganda, one-dimensional US culture; all of it seems to absent from this place.
I say my farewells to Glass Knee, Ulrika (Stephanie-Claudia-Barbara), and Scorchio and kindly get dropped off at the ferry terminal by Shaun, a surfer from Cape Town. After 12 days in Samoa I have several unanswered questions. Here are two of them:
1) Why does the bus driver tell you the bus fare is 1.50 and then, when you give him 1.50, he gives you 50 sene change? (This has happened on three occasions)
2) Why do they operate a ferry schedule that runs completely independently of the ferry schedule? The Lady Samoa II is timetabled to leave at 10am. I arrive at 9.30 but it is leaving at 12. The same ferry timetable discrepancy occurred on the trip over to Savai’i.
With water surging into the Samoan sky from blowholes on the rocky shore of Savaii, it is time to leave beautiful, chilled cloud cuckoo land and set sail for the island of Upolu.
It is 2pm by the time I reach the crazy capital. Until today I hadn’t seen a single policeman in Samoa – literally not one - and now, as I lug my backpack down the dusty streets of Apia, there are uniformed police absolutely everywhere. A local lad who has just spent a couple of days on Savai’I with a very freckly Chilean girl he knows from Upolu tells me:
Police because schools fighting.
Upon telling me this I have visions of twenty of the hardest lads from each school kicking off with each other like two firms of football hooligans.
How many of them were fighting? Twenty?
No, man, when the schools fight every student from each school is fighting with the other school.
That is Samoa all over: peaceful, friendly and chilled out, and then one sunny Tuesday afternoon the whole of the country’s police force is called in to action to prevent an all-out-war between two secondary schools.
Monday, November 14 (Day 76)
Aganoa Beach Retreat & Rainforest Reserve – Pulemelei – Aganoa (Savai’i, Samoa)
This place is in danger of becoming Mango Bay 2.0. My intended one night stay became two yesterday and, despite my best intentions to leave this morning; I will now stay for a third evening. Time is a-running-out though. This time next week I leave Samoa and begin my long and arduous three-day journey home from one side of the globe to the other; from perpetual summer to gloomy winter.
Ulrika and I are off in search of the Pulemelei mound, said to be the largest ancient structure in all of Polynesia. If this fact is true then you might expect this to be top of the pops when it comes to local tourist attractions, and yet it is proving pretty damned impossible to find out any useful information about this centuries-old site.
A record four cars and trucks pass us on the road before the fifth stops to give us a lift. There are few places where hitchhiking is as safe and easy as Samoa. When we are dropped off, near the well signposted Afu-A-Au waterfalls, we soon discover that there is absolutely no signage for Pulemelei. The driver is confident though that we should follow a nearby track towards the river and keep to the pathways from there. After a few hundred metres, a young bandana-wearing lad, accompanied by a well-trained hunting dog and brandishing a machete, appears seemingly out of nowhere and asks us for some cash for our visit to the mound. Ulrika is great company; she’s thoughtful and a really good laugh, but I wish sometimes she’d go with the flow a bit more instead of questioning absolutely everything. She’s suggesting to this lad that he might be a fraud and perhaps we shouldn’t give him the cash. I mean, come on, he’s holding a machete and he’s got a dog with him that could tear us limb from limb. He’s asking us for three quid between the two of us. If he’s a crook I think he could do a bit better than demanding three of Her Majesty the Queen’s pounds off of us.
Our hike lasts for a good four or five kilometres until the path narrows, passes first through a coconut grove and then an overgrown track of bright, colourful flowers and weeds. We ascend some steep rocks and, almost without realising it, we are stood atop of the mound. This is crazy. This structure must be sixty metres square and, aside from its summit, it is entirely overgrown with thick green weeds and bushes. Right in the centre of the mound, two gorgeous mango trees, heavily laden with fruit, wrap their roots around the black volcanic stones below. I don’t think we passed a single mango tree on the route here. Strange, that these two attractive trees should make this mound home. This is proper Indiana Jones stuff. I mean, it doesn’t appear that this pyramid-type structure has been properly excavated. From the summit there are commanding views of the distant sea and, to our north-west, we can just make out the partly hidden peaks of Savai’i’s tallest mountains: Mount Maugamua, Mata’aga, and 1866-metre high Mount Silisili (Yes, the tallest mountain in all of Samoa is called ‘Silly Silly’). These mountains are all located on a high plateau, which does an exceedingly good job of concealing most of their delights from the world below and thus giving them a touch of Arthur Conan Doyle’s Lost World. Below the ‘mound’ there is, I would say, around one hundred square metres worth of land that is overgrown with nothing more than thick weeds and beyond that is a coconut grove. Use your imagination and you can picture this pyramid devoid of foliage, towering above a flat area of land below. I just don’t get it. With around 100 labourers, they could clear the pyramid in less than a week and quickly get to work on clearing the flat area in front of it. What you would then have is a legendary hidden pyramid rising up into the heavens; a nation’s leading tourist attraction that would encourage many of the thousands of visitors to Samoa’s ‘Upolu island, who never make it across the Apolima strait, to visit Savai’i. The only information I have, thus far, about this place is that it is one of a reputed 150 ‘star mounds’ that have so far been discovered throughout Samoa and American Samoa. Many leading archaeologists have only recently become aware of these Samoan structures, and dozens of star mounds remain unexcavated. Indulging our imaginations for an hour or so, Ulrika and I finally leave this very special place and set off back to Aganoa to enjoy my final afternoon and evening of simple pleasures there. The very first car that passes stops and the nice Samoan couple inside drop us off at the entrance to the rainforest reserve.
I think this is one of the nicest beaches I’ve ever had the pleasure of sunbathing on. You can totally relax here, safe in the knowledge, that nobody and no creature will ever come and disturb you. The sun has got his hat on again today and the water, although noticeably colder than it was in Fiji, is still well above 20 degrees and an absolute pleasure to swim in. I spend a good half hour playing a game of ‘tag ‘with a dozen curious fish with short memories. This mob of beige and white fish, one of an astounding 900 different varieties of fish living off these islands, seem absolutely fascinated by my presence and regularly venture within a few centimetres of my legs. What I do is to try and trick them into the shoreline where I attempt to tag at least one of the fish before they swim off. They never tire of this game because they always forget that they’ve played it five seconds later. Glass Knee Charlie returns from his latest surf on the treacherous reef and tells me he’s just spotted two reef sharks out there.
In the early evening, shortly before sundown, the family that run the surf retreat give me a lift in the back of their truck to the Salelologa wharf so that I can get some cash out from the ATM to pay them for my stay here. This jump off point for inter-island ferries, along with the tourist town of Manase, are the only two places on the whole of this island where you can access cash.
The Australian owner, his Samoan wife and a couple of their relatives are off shopping for provisions, including fresh bread for tomorrow’s breakfast. It’s a gorgeous journey in the back of the van, waving to locals; the wind in my face. On the return leg, I ride in the front with the Aussie owner and he tells me about life in Samoa. He’s been living here for 15 years after a five-year stint in Fiji prior to that (where he says life was even more idyllic before the first of the Fijian military coups in the 1980s). Things have changed very little here during his time on Savai’i. The locals remain friendly and governed by family and village life. Crime is virtually unheard of and most families are almost entirely self-sufficient. It is only the past few years’ huge increases in fuel prices that have really made life more difficult. Fortunately, the locals are not too reliant on rice, which has increased in price by 100 per cent in two years, but when you earn 2 Tala/hour (roughly 60 pence), your money doesn’t stretch too far. (We have the radio switched on during our conversation, and I suddenly overhear some news about thousands of people ‘occupying’ the streets of Philadelphia and Detroit. I’ve heard virtually no news during the past five weeks and couldn’t tell you what the hell the ‘news people’ are talking about.)
I honestly don’t know anybody that has cancer on this island, the Aussie owner tells me. Back home, every second or third person I know seems to be getting cancer or needs open heart surgery. But here, very few people get really sick. I don’t know what they are doing to people in the western world with the food, water and the air; the radiation levels in some places in the United States are making young kids ill.
Sometimes, it really seems like the powers that be in the developed world have some kind of agenda to kill us all off. It makes me laugh when I meet people who still believe their governments are there to ‘look after them’. All of the food I’ve consumed on this island comes from the local soil, trees, bushes and animals. Those that eat fish, enjoy a bountiful supply of fresh, tasty meals straight from the ocean. It is all absolutely organic and free range…and free. I’ve never tasted fruit that tastes as good as it does in the Pacific. And I can also say that I haven’t seen a single chemtrail (the crap from aircraft that hangs in the European skies for hours) up in the heavens during my five weeks in the Pacific. Don’t believe the nonsense they tell you that chemtrails are natural and are caused by commercial airliners: watch a normal commercial airliner and you will notice that its vapour trail begins to disappear within seconds. Chemtrails are created by other aircraft that are purposely filling our otherwise clean air with metals, toxins and poisonous chemicals. They hang there in the sky and gradually drop to earth, poisoning each and every one of us that breathe them in. You don’t think your government would do that to you? Well, question then why in some parts of the UK, Canada and the US the authorities purposely contaminate the population’s drinking water with highly toxic, poisonous fluoride. No, it doesn’t keep your teeth healthy and white. That’s a lie. The fluoride in the water poisons and dumbs down the population. Why would the government poison its own people through the food you eat, the water you drink and the air you breathe? It wouldn’t have anything to do with the global pharmaceutical industry would it? Or the multi-billion dollar private health care and insurance industries? Or Eugenics? Or population reduction?
I don’t know. You tell me. If I were you, I’d leave Europe and come and live in the Pacific instead.
Sunday, November 13 (Day 75)
Aganoa Beach Retreat & Rainforest reserve - Palauli Village - Aganoa
The birds’ symphony orchestra plays a gentle upbeat classical piece; the geckos finish their night shift with a few heavy slurps and gulps; a slightly cool breeze rustles the mosquito net, with a hint of perfume from the flowers of the rainforest. I absolutely adore mornings in the Pacific. In Europe I am certainly a night bird – a person who never wants to sleep at night and never feels like getting up in the mornings. But in this part of the world I am most definitely a morning person (I even find myself setting my alarm for 5.40am so that I don’t miss the best of the early morning sights, sounds and smells). At 6.30am everything seems good in the world, and the beach, the rolling waves, all look the more stunning in this subtle early morning light as I kick dead pieces of coral in the direction of the shoreline during my fifty yard stroll to breakfast. The coffee might only be instant but damn does it taste good at 7am with these views, the early morning sun light, the birds singing their morning chorus and the waves crashing angrily on the reef. Three mugs of coffee, scrambled eggs on toast, a plate loaded up with fresh papaya and pineapple. You can’t beat this. Especially on a Sunday morning. Life feels good today.
After breakfast I’m off to church. Six villages are attending a Christian Congregational service in one church in Palauli today, about five kilometres up the road from the rainforest reserve. All present are dressed in white colonial cricket whites from head to toe: white lavalavas (sarongs), white collar shirts and, in the case of the ladies, elegant white summer hats. All are immaculately white, not a crease in sight. Some of the young ladies look so pretty in their long dresses. Even the interior of the church is the same virginal colour with white sheets decorating the altar. The only exceptions to the all-blanc rule seem to be a couple of the young preachers and three or four of the old school seniors present. One of the preachers is wearing a Miami Vice (circa 1982) linen suit with black shirt and, yes, white tie. He looks like a Panamanian drug cartel leader (circa 1982) as he preaches hell and damnation. The church is full. I’d estimate that each row has on average 30 chairs, and it must be 40 deep to the altar. That would make it 1200 punters present. Ulrika and I park ourselves outside on the steps as it is chocker inside. I am dressed in a t-shirt and lavalava. Its colour (red) does make me rather stand out in a congregation of 1200 people. I like the lad sat just behind me. He must be in his sixties, certainly with a bit of power to his name judging by the reactions of others to his presence. And there he sits wearing a snazzy pair of sunglasses, chain smoking his way through the service, blinged up like he’s Big Ron, the one and only Ron Atkinson. Even his stripy kipper tie has an air of nonchalance about it.
I reckon a good ten per cent of the congregation are asleep during the latest of many sermons. When the preacher cracks a joke and sends a roar of laughter around the church the chuckles manage to awaken those who were briefly attending Slumber Land. With singing so important to the good people of the Pacific, Ulrika and I were expecting this service to be heavy on the hymns and light on the word of God, but instead it all feels rather solemn; the only hymn during our 45-minute stay is sung exclusively by the 30-strong choir sat near the back of the church.
The vision of everybody promenading out of church in their best whites and legging it for the local wooden buses and taxis is a sight to behold, as too is the procession of white-dressed locals hurrying off down both sides of the main road in the direction of home, like spectators from a sports match just after the final whistle. One thing that fascinates me is how there are so many variations of the same Christian religions around the world. For example, if you take Roman Catholics, you will find the religion to be strict on the details and central to political life in Spain; submerged in nationalism in Poland; conservative to the point of prudish in Germany; engines-a-revving ready to zoom off to the pub to gossip about everybody as soon as Mass finishes in Ireland; enthusiastically singing praise to Jesus in Kenya; intermingled with animist beliefs in southern Mexico; and informal, distant from the Vatican and less dogmatic in England. In the Pacific you’ve got a time warp colonial take on all Christian religions, including Catholicism. Here, the rituals and the dress code, it seems, are more important than they are in many other parts of the world where they practice the supposedly same religion. This is the world we live in. Nothing is quite as it seems and is supposed to be. There is no such thing, as far as I am concerned, as a stereotypical Christian, Muslim, Jew, Pagan or Hindu. In every corner of the world you will find a different take on the same belief systems.
I take back everything I wrote yesterday about being (half) ready to go home. Today, the weather is perfect. The sun is back, the storm clouds have gone, and the sea breeze is like a temperature gauge set to the optimum. I am able to air my clothes and repack those things I no longer need for my remaining days. And no, I really don’t feel like leaving the wonderful Pacific any time soon. Tune of the day: Bring Back the Sun by John O’Callaghan. You can apply the words of this euphoric dance tune to the sun in the sky or the happiness in your life. Either way it feels good – no, wonderful, in fact - that the sun is back today. This feels like the most Sundayish Sunday I can recall in a very long time.