Tuesday, January 10, 2012
A friend sent me a link to this excellent 30-minute radio programme about the world's worst football team - American Samoa - playing against Samoa, Tonga and the Cook Islands in the World Cup qualifiers in Apia back in November. The American Samoan team became the first team in history to play a match with a trans-gender player (a Fa'afafine) ! Their Dutch manager apparently had a religious/spiritual experience during the play offs in Samoa...
Click on this link to listen to the BBC documentary.
Monday, November 21 (Day 83)
Apia, Samoa – Auckland, New Zealand
On my way to catch the 10am local bus to the airport a 50-something gentleman stops me in the street and asks me whether I have enjoyed my time in Samoa. Upon hearing that I have had a wonderful time here he thanks me for choosing to visit his country and asks me to pop in and see him for a cup of tea should I choose to return one day. This experience, on my way to leaving this country, tells you much about the people of Samoa. As I was when I had to leave Fiji, once again I am feeling gutted to be getting on a plane today.
My only compensation on the departing airport bus is the company of a very pretty Czech girl from Ostrava, who arrived in the country last night. I am the only punter that jumps off as we pass the airport. Passing the driver 2 tala, I wave goodbye to Pavlina and lug my dirty and battered rucksack across to Faleolo International Airport, where Tom and Dorothee are checking in for the same flight as me. All three of us agree that Samoa is a special place; a very special place.
Back 2 the future...Everything we gain we lose. When I flew to Samoa I gained an extra day in my life and now, as I leave, I lose one.
People born on December 30 will have no birthday this year in Samoa. Currently this country is the place where the world’s day ends. As of January 1st it will become the place where the world begins its day. They are moving the International Date Line in five weeks’ time.
On board this flight is one of the New Zealand All Blacks as well as members of the Samoan women’s national netball team (apparently one of the top teams in the world, ranked 13th). One of the ‘girls’ (who is a fa’afafine), is actually bigger than the resident world champion rugby international.
My Monday, November 21st 2011 lasts from when I get up at 7am until 1pm, when my flight departs this brilliant country. The moment we fly out west past the furthest craggy shores of Savaii, Monday instantly becomes Tuesday. And my unforgettable South Pacific adventure is over.
Saturday, November 19 (Day 81)
Lalomanu – Apia, Samoa
Fact of the day: Pacific yellow-bellied sea snakes gather in swarms at breeding season that have been observed up to 100 kilometres in length.
I don't want to leave. I don't want to leave...
My final night of sleeping in a beach fale is probably the most restless of all my time in Fiji in Samoa. I was always going to struggle, faced with an all-out night-time assault from the fear and my break-up demons, but the crying babies, howling packs of dogs and fruit bats feeding their young, don’t really help me too much either.
This is as far east as I go. When my bus departs here today I begin four days of travel heading in a south westerly and then a predominantly north westerly direction. From Apia it is 2890 kilometres to Auckland - I guess a similar distance as it is from London to Moscow. When you realise that Hawaii is another 3000 kilometres in the other direction, you start to appreciate just how vast the Pacific Ocean is.
Just as I’m leaving Taufua I discover that eight of the All Blacks – those All Black players with Samoan roots – will be here on Sunday. That would have been a rather apt way to finish my 2011 Rugby World Cup trip.
Perched on boxes of ripened cooking bananas and bread fruit, Christmas carol reggae tunes a-playing, I begin my two-hour bus journey back to Apia, bumping into my German friends, Dorothee and Tom, as they jump on a couple of kilometres up the road. The journey takes us through the stunning interior of Upolu, with virgin rainforest, misty rivers and vertical soaring mountains. In our tradition we say that the mountain over there used to be a man before he turned into rock. Do you think that might be possible? My new rugby-mad 15-year-old Samoan friend asks me, pointing out at the strangely shaped distant set of mountains. Yes, why not? I think anything is possible. Maybe it isn’t true but there’s a good chance that it might really be correct.
As we reach Apia I spot my second game of kirikiti since I have been in Samoa. Basically, this is a unique version of the game of cricket that is only played in Samoa. I wish I could film this game because it really does look like a Monty Python sketch making fun of the sport of cricket. I mean, they have three stumps but they are twice as big and twice as wide as in the game we are all familiar with. Instead of wearing all whites, the Samoans are playing in multi-coloured sarongs, and seem to be jumping up and down singing and shouting as the bowler races in to bowl. The ‘cricket bat’ appears to be much larger than we might expect and, if I am not mistaken, it looks from the window of my passing bus like it is made of plastic, not willow. A couple of the fielders also appear to be holding cricket bats out on the boundary line. The ball also seems exceedingly bouncy. Very, very bizarre stuff. Deserving of further investigation when I get back to England next week.
I am not quite up to 5pm clubbing, so a sweaty afternoon lie low, during a thunderstorm, takes me through till the crazy time of 6.30pm. I always look forward to taxi drives here. My young afable Samoan driver purchased the taxi we are in with the cash he managed to save from picking apples in New Zealand for seven months. Now he lives back in Samoa so he can help support his extended family on Upolu. Fa’a-Samoa – the Samoan way of life, takes precedence over everything in this country of 180,000. Practically every day I hear stories of how Samoans have returned home from abroad just so they can look after their parents, cousins and grandparents. These people are driven by family values and concerns for their loved ones, not by the selfish individual greed of that thing we call capitalism.
Y-Not Bar is packed out and, fortunately for me, it is happy hour for another 60 minutes. At just 5 tala (1.3 pounds) for a rum&coke, the hour is indeed happy. Peering out at the monsoon rain flooding Apia’s streets, Samuel comes over and introduces himself:
I can see you are alone my friend so I thought I’d come and join you.
Samuel is the assistant commissioner of the Samoan national fire service. He’s a lovely bloke, aged around 30 I guess, and as well as keeping me company until my German friends arrive, he also buys me a double rum & coke before leaving to see his father. I’ve experienced this kind of behaviour from Samoans throughout my time here. They will come over to you, introduce themselves, buy you a drink, thank you for choosing to holiday in their country and then offer their help should you have any problems during the remainder of your stay. Each and every one of them seems to value their family above any personal desires for wealth and status. You really have got to love the Samoans.
The party might not be as bonkers as it was on my first night on Samoa but it is still pretty barking. Like a scene straight out of Twin Peaks, I glance around the corner of one door to see if the dimly-lit men’s toilet cubicle is free, only for a Chinese dwarf to walk out under the arm I’m using to balance up against the wall. There are girls wearing midsummer’s eve garlands in their hair – something I’ve only ever seen in the Baltic States - and the Samoan fa’afafine (those blokes who dress up like girls but are still boys) are out in big numbers, giggling and smiling a lot. An evening of clubbing in Apia is fun, silly and bizarre in ways that are difficult to explain unless you experience it for yourself…which you should one day if you get the chance. The sign which reads: No smoking till 10pm, sums it all up.
With my German friends down and out by 11pm and off home in a taxi, I nip down the road to V-Bar (the place where I spent much of my first ‘crazy’ night in Apia, two weeks ago) to buy some food. The club is still kicking and I’ve made instant friends with the campest bunch of lads I have met in my entire life. Spotting me glancing at a passing high-heeled Samoan girl one of the lads asks me: Darling, you sure you aren’t checking out the guy and not the girl? No, the girl lads. That’s a shame sweetie. I get introduced to many of the best known personalities in the local Samoan gay scene as well as to a couple of their (apparently) jealous boyfriends. They are good value company this lot. I can even deal with one of the lads telling me I look sexy tonight. I sense though, after finishing my chips, the club kicking out, and one of the lads inviting me to a private party, that it is time for me to get myself a taxi home.
As ever, finding and stopping a cab is as easy as buying a pint of milk. My driver tells me he plays rugby to a high standard in New Zealand but he has come home because his grannie wants him to be nearer to her in her latter years. These people are lovely.
Thursday, November 3
Now, I’m not sure how to properly explain this or, indeed, to get the point across as to quite how absurd and bizarre this all feels. But I will try…
Shortly after leaving Fiji at 8pm on Friday, November 4 our aircraft crosses the International Date Line and I find that I have travelled backwards in time. As our flight to Apia only lasts 90 minutes, the time and date when we arrive in Samoa is, wait for this…11pm on Thursday, November 3. Try as I will, I just can’t get my head around this. It is Thursday again. Ok, there might only be one hour of the day left, but I’ve already done Thursday and most of Friday for that matter. So, I’m one day older and one day younger. I’m going to spend a night in a hotel room in Samoa at exactly the same time as I spent a night in a hotel room in Fiji. I find myself withdrawing cash in Samoa several hours before I last withdrew money in Fiji…today…yesterday. Three hours ago I was living twelve hours ahead of my family and friends in the UK, now I’m 11 hours behind them. It is all very, very confusing.
As if all this isn’t a head spin, I wasn’t quite prepared for the wonderful new delights of Samoa.It’s now midnight and it is 28 degrees. Apia International is about the size as a basketball court. In fact, I’d describe it as Kaliningrad international airport with palm trees and emotionless blokes wearing surrongs. I’ve turned up blind here. The Lonely Planet is thin on the ground about the logistics of this place. I’ve got nothing booked and I don’t have any idea how to sort the 35 kilometre journey from here to the capital. Fortunately Jade, one of the top people at the Samoan National Tourism Board, has still got her tourism desk open at midnight, kindly books me a room in town, arranges a meeting between the two of us for tomorrow and points me in the direction of the special 25 Tala (7 pathetic pounds) airport shuttle. On board there are six lone blokes. A couple of them are US military types (always worth swerving in my opinion if only to avoid their warped world views), while the only other bloke, aside from myself, who doesn’t seem to have much clue, has the persona and the creepiness of an Austrian paedophile. In fact, I’m pretty sure he is one.
It is pitch dark along the main road. Despite the odd very dim street lamp, I can still see the glorious splendour of the Milky Way from the bus window. I’m impressed that the first pot holes are a mere couple hundred metres from the airport car park exit. We pass tiny villages with huge churches which look like Lithuanian Catholic cathedrals. The local blokes are strolling around naked above their surrongs (certainly a no-no in Fiji). And dogs, oh my God, there are wild dogs everywhere roaming the streets. When we do arrive in Apia, which resembles a ghost town during a ghost town holiday, the only punter I see is a half-naked elderly homeless bloke. As I peer out at him I see him get attacked by three dogs. I turn my head and look out of the rear window of the van and it looks like the dogs are eating him.
When I’m dropped off at Tatiana’s – the Samoan Motel with a very Russian sounding name - the 130kg poker-faced security bloke tells me I’m at the wrong Tatiana’s and then kindly drives me all the way back into town, not engaging(in a polite way) in any small talk I try to make. 50 tala (15 quid) gets me a room and some kind of breakfast.
It is now 2am and the only person that has smiled thus far was Jade at the airport, although I think I detected a half smile from the transfer driver when he realised I was his last drop off and he could go home. In Fiji it was bula! and omnipresent broad smiles, whereas the Samoans do this sort of delayed turn up of the mouth, wink and then whisper where you from?
They have this floaty weird silent thing going on that I can only liken to the good people of Iceland and Estonia (when they are sober that is). Here you have these gargantuan blokes who whisper on their mobiles. I reckon they’d make good contract killers. I sit outside the motel, shortly after checking in, where you could hear a pin drop when the dogs are not barking. Sensing something I turn around and spot that one bloke of around 110 kilos is stood behind me. I didn’t hear him come, not the slightest sound.