Sunday, November 20 (Day 82)
I might have got home by 1.30am but that still means I was out for 7 hours last night. The hangover isn’t pleasant in this humid little room with the fan churning my sweaty, smelly alcohol breath around and around and around. You spin me right round, baby, right round.
It is noon before I emerge from my bat cave. Outside, a German and an Austrian lad are enjoying a Pall Mall each on the veranda, peering out at the stormy clouds threatening to break the humidity. I really laugh when I discover that they have come all the way to Samoa to watch the 2014 FIFA World Cup first round playoff between four of the world’s worst teams: The Cook Islands, Tonga, Samoa and American Samoa. The winners of this four-team round robin are rewarded with a berth in the Oceania World Cup group. I seem to recall that American Samoa lost 36-0 to Australia some years ago, the biggest defeat in world cup history. Damn! This mini tournament starts the day after I leave. I am gutted. Watching the world’s worst football teams take each other on is like its own mini World Cup finals. Respect to David and his Austrian friend for coming all the way here to experience this highlight of the world football calendar.
(Update 28th November: Samoa have narrowly made it through to Round Two of Oceania qualifying for Brazil 2014 after a tight 1-0 win to deny close neighbours American Samoa. Tonga finished second, on goals scored, after they defeated the Cook Islands 2-1)
Sundays in Apia really are a write off. It’s like the majority of the world’s population has been wiped out by a killer virus (perhaps they have been) and there are only 50 of us left, aimlessly strolling around the capital city of Samoa along with several hundred dogs. There’s only one supermarket open and all that seems to stock is tinned corned beef, tinned tuna and a vast array of sugary biscuits.
I find myself singing Ghost Town by the Specials as I stroll up the peninsula, but abandon my walk after a couple of kilometres in fear of two mischievous-looking dogs that seem to be following me. Despite my Samoan dog fear, I haven’t experienced a single dodgy incident with the local hounds.
More aimless wandering takes me in the opposite direction to the wharf, where I watch the ferry slip lazily into port from American Samoa. Close to the wharf is the famous Aggie Grey’s. This is a delightful colonial hotel that has seen guests including the British Royal Family overnight. I hang around the cocktail bar for a quick Vailima, pretending to be rich enough to stay here and imagining former guests that include Marlon Brando drinking in this charming pastiche of yesteryear.
Back at the motel I meet the lovely Montse from Spain. She’s just arrived in Samoa and asks me to give her a few pointers about Savaii. Damn, I wish I was leaving for that island tomorrow with her instead of flying back to New Zealand. By the way, Robert Louis Stevenson, the man who wrote Treasure Island, chose to spend his last years on Upolu. I am starting to see what the attraction was.
Thursday, November 17 (Day 79)
“Notwithstanding they are cannibals they are naturally of a good disposition”
Captain James Cook, the Pacific, 1775
Brilliant. It says it all really.
After breakfast by the beach I have to turn down the invitation from two cute, friendly Norwegian girls to join them on a small private boat and swim with turtles. My knee is just too much of a mess. If I swim in the ocean it will probably become horribly infected and I know what it is like to return to England from a tropical land and end up in hospital for a few days. I’m feeling a little out of sorts today after Monday’s accident and think it’s best to just put some tunes on and spend the day horizontal, reflecting upon the transient nature of happiness.
I’ve always considered myself to be a mountain person but I’m starting to reconsider this. I don’t think I ever feel as happy as when I am in the sun in some gorgeous chilled place with the tunes on and the evenings pregnant with endless possibilities. The Pacific has reawakened memories of Ayia Napa ’95-’97; of being content to base my life around sunrises and sunsets.
I am conscious of the fact that I haven’t uploaded any blogs for nine days and haven’t been in contact with home. They have dial up internet here but the thought of checking my emails fills me with a sense of foreboding. I don’t know why but I’ve got a fear on me that something is wrong back in England.
I think this is officially the world’s worst internet. In 45 minutes I manage to load four emails and one solitary page on More Than a Game for 6 pounds. Truthfully though I have really enjoyed my disconnect from TV, newspapers, state propaganda, mobile communication, and internet during my time in Samoa. For once, it is really refreshing to have absolutely no idea about what is going on in the outside world. Maybe we’d all feel happier without the TV news, magazine ads and the lies the newspapers fill our heads with.
This is the last day of my 2011 trip when I can go to bed knowing I don’t need to move on the following day. It is therefore my last true day of absolute freedom on this particular, unforgettable tour. Tonight’s sun downer beer is especially emotional. The scene, with local kids playing touch rugby on the beach, as the sun dips below the horizon, puts me in mind of Duran Duran’s fantastic Save a Prayer video.
I’m blessed with plenty of good company tonight. Ingri, one of the Norwegian girls, was working in the world’s most northern settlement on Svalbard (79 degrees north) before she decided to come to the bottom of the world to visit the Pacific islands. She reckons she might be able to find me a job up there if I don’t assimilate to life upon my return next week. There’s also a cool English couple travelling with their four kids (never let it be said that young kids can’t go travelling. Many of them learn more in three months than they do during a couple of years of state schooling in my humble opinion), a very sweet Kiwi girl, Jessica, and two American lads who work on American Samoa. It is fair to say though that their descriptions of the country don’t motivate me to head there any time soon. American Samoa became an American territory as far back as 1900 but the Americanization of its culture didn’t kick into full affect until the time of the Kennedy regime during the 1960s. The country’s claim to fame, apparently, is that it has the world’s most successful branch of McDonalds, per capita, as well as some of the world’s most obese people. Once two parts of the same culture, today, Samoa and American Samoa are now like two totally different worlds.
I love where my bed for the night is. I am basically sleeping on a mattress, cocooned inside a mosquito net, on the floor of what looks like a small bandstand, next to the sea, below 200 billion galaxies. The fale is totally open, so if anybody or anything wanted to disturb me, they could just stroll or crawl straight on in. All that separates me from the sea, the beach and the infinite universe above is a couple of millimetres of mosquito netting.
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.
Monday, October 31 (Day 61)
Mango Bay, Fiji
The Solomon Islands, Tuvalu, New Caledonia, Vanuatu, Wallis & Futuna, Tokelau, American Samoa, Niue, Tonga, Cook Islands, French Polynesia, Easter Island…last night’s conversation with Scunny Mark has got me thinking and projecting ideas on to the infinite possibilities white board of life. The South Pacific has always been the most far away, unlikely-to-ever visit place on my personal world map of travel but, now I am here in Fiji, the world, as I visualise it, has shrunk once again. Why not do a trip that starts in say Papua New Guinea or the eastern islands of Indonesia or the Philippines and then moves eastwards, taking in all of the Pacific island states listed above? I have never in my entire life heard of anybody who has set out on a full tour of the Pacific, but now I am here I realise it is well doable. Where the flights don’t really connect up there are twice monthly container ship routes and you could always jump on a yacht and offer your services (God knows what services I could offer) in return for passage to the next island state. You could do it in three or four months, I reckon. Surely this could rate as one of the world’s lesser travelled great adventure routes? A 2013 South Pacific extravaganza anybody?
Funny I should be building castles in the sky when I am struggling to move my arse from Mango Bay, two hours up the road to Suva. A hangover and a free overnight stay were my excuse yesterday. God knows what my excuse is today. Feeling far too chilled to put a rucksack on my shoulder maybe. Actually, the main reason I was planning to stay in Suva was so I could catch what I assumed would be an early morning bus from there to my next port-of-call, Levuka. It turns out I can leave here after breakfast tomorrow and catch a connecting bus from the big smoke (Suva is the biggest city in the Pacific) to Levuka at 1.30, so I’m laughing.
“So, you got lucky last night! Did you bang her in the dorm?” Tashkent asks me.
I knew it. I knew they were all going to think we’d hooked up. I’m not sure what Jenna would think if she knew that half of the punters at Mango Bay think she had banana flambé for dessert last night.
There’s a new arrival. A British-Iranian girl has just flown in from LA on her way back to Australia. She’s got real class. This place seems to be sucking in some nice women. Maybe that’s another of my excuses for not leaving gorgeous Mango Bay.
You know that you truly have too much time on your hands and life is easy when the highlight of your day is international crab racing. Yes, I celebrate this Halloween by buying the temporary rights to a Fijian crab (going by the name of ‘Rose’) and racing it against nine other crabs. The race is at 9pm local time so that’s 9am in the UK. I am thinking, as a crowd of us are gathered in a circle with beer bottles and cocktails in hand, cheering and shouting at the crabs, that some of my mates have just arrived at the office in London, Leicester and Birmingham. What would they think if they knew that at the same time I’m on the other side of the planet, half cut, racing and betting on crabs, which have got numbers painted on their shells? Or have they all long since given up on my ability to live what might be considered a normal, balanced life?
I’m happy to announce that my luck is obviously changing as Rose romps home and I win the contents of the kitty, thus making this another free night at Mango Bay. You’ve got to feel sorry for the Australian crab, Skippy, though. As the master of ceremonies picks up the winning crab and takes her to the winners rostrum, he manages to step on the Australian crab and send him to an untimely death. RIP Skippy.