Tuesday, November 8 (Day 70)
Manase, Savai’i (Samoa)
It is raining cats and dogs. Or, in the case of Samoa, it is raining very angry, packs of hounds and bitches. The rainy season has arrived in Samoa with full affect today. Most of the day has been spent inside my hut, inside a mosquito net, peering out at the scorching hot torrential rain leaving tiny clouds of steam when it hits the earth, not so much contemplating life as contemplating when I should have my next morning or afternoon kip.
During a break in the weather I make it as far as the petrol station to buy water and happen to bump into my two American buddies, Will and Lauren, whom I met at stunning Tano, just as they are alighting from the local loony bus. Thank the Lord for their company because otherwise I think I’d hide away all day to avoid the sex tourist birds (although they have lost some of their voom voom voom after two of their number departed this morning). The lagoon here is gorgeous with huge waves breaking off the reef, which I guess is about 800 metres off shore. Yeah, it is gorgeous, but I am finding that anxiety is creeping back into my life after an absence of what seems like weeks. I need to sort myself out an apartment for my return to Europe, book flights for Christmas before the prices get silly, find some way of uploading my blogs, let my mum know I’m OK and also to start working on the next issue of my magazine. Not only is internet about as rare in Samoa as a gang of swimming turtles and as costly as a night’s accommodation for a miserly hour, but I just don’t feel like trying to rewire my brain to the tasks at hand and the need to get the going-back-home mind set. It has taken so long to reach this gloriously chilled, laid back, anxiety-free, couldn’t-give-a-monkey’s state of mind that it feels a bit ridiculous to attempt to undo all those positive mental changes that have come with this way of thinking and feeling.
Maybe I can just put it off a few more days…
OK, I will quickly email my mum to let her know I’m in Samoa.
Michael emails from Tonga. He says it is all rather bonkers. He’s having a good laugh: fantastic beaches, lots of random, weird stuff going on, but he’s a bit scared of his roommate who has just got out of jail after six months inside a Tongan prison.
There are also emails from Maverick, Ruby, Sarah, German Maverick and even the lovely Mackie.
After the stress of checking my email account and seeing 178 unopened emails (this kind of stuff does become stressful once you have reached the disconnected stage of having no mobile sim card and no internet coverage), I buy some cold beers and dive back into the lagoon with Lauren and Will. This setting looks straight out of a Conde Nast magazine shoot. It is simply wonderful here. Storm clouds are once again rolling in from the north. I’m going to stay in the turquoise water and wait for them to dump their full load on this town.
Once the downpour gathers pace the rain is so powerful that it begins to hurt my arms and head but no way am I shifting from here. You can no longer see the offshore reef for the vertical columns of water falling from the heavens; the gusts of wind causing the normally placid lagoon to suddenly resemble the North Sea. You won’t be surprised to hear that this is very much one of those feeling very alive moments.
After dinner the extended family (‘aiga) that own and run these fales put on a traditional Samoan Fiafia. I can quite honestly say it is one of the strangest theatrical performances I’ve ever witnessed. Aside from the Haka and its Samoan equivalent, there is all-male half-naked Samoan slap-dancing (yes, slap-dancing), full-on drumming, some weird prancing about and slow-motion hand gesturing by a couple of Samoan girls to traditional songs and, best of all, a fire show in the middle of a thunderstorm, the local lads performing in ankle high mud and water while they negotiate their fiery batons. The MC is on the microphone asking us to join in with some Samoan chants and clapping. He reminds me a bit of a bloke who calls out the numbers at an old school bingo hall.
This being Samoa there is a particularly strange bit near the finale, called the siva, where one lady, who I believe the daughter of the chief (the taupou), just sort of slowly strolls around in the mud and water smiling and wobbling her very large arse around (they love large women here) like she’s high on marijuana. On her head is a huge bright feathery I-don’t-know-what that you could imagine some Native American chief wearing, and her heavily tattooed legs look like they’ve been oiled up. As she completes half a circuit, one of the family’s young lads – I reckon he’s about four years old – lies face down in the mud and puddles, the rain still pouring down, while she pushes her left foot down firmly on his backside. You should see the pained expression of this little fella as he lays there, rain belting down, mud oozing into his mouth. He doesn’t look confident that she won’t crush him to death. It’s all a bit like a medieval court jesters’ show. As soon as the performance ends Will gets ready to leg it from the scene. That’s definitely the strangest show I’ve ever seen, he tells me. You’ve got to give it to the Samoans – they are certainly good at putting the weird into weirdness.
Word of the day: ridiculous.
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.