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.
Sunday, 6th November (Day 68)
Lano, Savai’i (Samoa)
Dreams, nightmares, visions… I awaken so many times during the night that I could so easily be sleeping through two half turns of the earth, not one. It is remarkable to be lain on a bed so close to the sea. At high tide I am less than one metre away from the tide’s reach and, with the front of my bure open to the elements, I occasionally feel as if my bed is floating gently above the sea on its own little tiny island of peaceful seclusion.
I awaken to find the whole night sky is ablaze; fruit bats are attacking the tree nearby with gusto and wild dogs sing to the moon. I awaken again and find total darkness has consumed this scene; the cockroaches and bugs are restless, marching up and down the protective veneer of my mosquito net, the geckos are having a field day. The brilliant stars have been replaced by dark thick rainclouds, threatening to dump their watery load on the brave fishermen who are out there, somewhere. And, finally, when it no longer seems possible that the night can be so long, the sun peers above the horizon directly beyond me, chases away the last of the mercifully cool breeze, and night becomes day turning from black, to blue, to orange, to yellow in the time it takes one bug to circumnavigate my mosquito net.
Breakfast at 8 must be on Samoan time because it is closer to 10 before the eggs, pancakes, fruit and coffee are served up. And who could wish for more, sat here with this window onto paradise?
Lano is the kind of place where the water is so clear and its temperature so damn perfect that you sunbathe lying in the sea, only the tip of your nose and your mouth above the waves. No need, perhaps, to describe this feeling of complete escape and isolation; this contentment.
It’s like ever since I first touched down in Fiji, three weeks ago; this whole experience has felt like I’m playing the lead role in my own imaginary movie. There have been breaks for the adverts when it has suddenly turned real again, but once those commercial slots have finished I’ve zipped back into the unreal. South America and New Zealand were the right side of exciting, their respective tournaments were top notch at times, and each had world class attractions, but none of it, for reasons I can’t necessarily explain, was anything like how Fiji and Samoa feels.
I spend the evening (and much of the late afternoon) with Will and Lauren, a young American couple that are not in fact a couple at all. Lauren, 24, is on her way back to Australia where she’s hoping to find one of those countless ridiculously well-paid jobs that are going begging in the new United States, thanks to Australia having the world’s strongest currency. Will, who is around 30, is on his way back to the States after enjoying a five-day stopover here in Samoa with his friend. I encourage Lauren, who loves photography, to put together a photo exhibition of her travels when she gets back to Australia. It doesn’t need to be anything flashy – just a dozen photos in a local café. (Lauren, if you read this, you’ve got no excuse not to do it now!) We put the world to rights, predictably enough discuss relationships, and all three of us lick our plates clean after a gorgeous curried vegetables and mashed potato dinner, washed down with Vailima. I’m paying 60 tala (17 pathetic pounds) for my dream bure by the lagoon, cooked breakfast and this lovely dinner. Sometimes paradise does come cheap.