Wednesday, November 16 (Day 78 continued)
This place was wiped out in September 2009 by a catastrophic tsunami that surged in from the ocean after a large 8.1 magnitude off-shore earthquake. The matai tells me that 58 members of his extended family were killed here and a further 150 more people died along this stretch of pristine coastline. On the road trip in today I spotted dozens of low-lying buildings and even a church that appear to have been permanently abandoned since the 2009 disaster.
I’ve asked the Matai and several leading members of the community whether there is some Tsunami rebuilding project that I can highlight for More Than a Game but the good news is that the Samoan government and the local communities are on top of it all and don’t really need outside help. Most of the rebuilding work is now close to completion.
You can read detailed accounts of the 2009 Samoan Tsunami in the new book Surviving a tsunami: dealing with disaster by Jackie Faasisila, Angela Jowitt & Walter Dudley.
The physical damage has now been repaired but the personal losses endured by the people of southern and eastern Upolu will remain for all of their lives.
Friday, November 11 (Day 73)
Manase – Falealupo, Savai’i (Samoa)
Heading out on the northern coast road the first sight of note that we come across is a striking 100-year-old catholic church bigger than many European cathedrals. This is apparently for a village of 500 inhabitants. There are 362 villages in Samoa. I wouldn’t be surprised if there are more than six or seven hundred churches. Nobody does churches quite like the Samoans do.
Our one hour taxi ride crosses a huge lava field and dissects thick rainforest full of banyan trees before continuing past rubber tree plantations. There are also long stretches of craggy, tourist-free coast until we reach the town of Asau. The driver tells me that Savai’i’s first runway was on an offshore reef that we can see around 4 kilometres out to sea from the coast road. First the Yanks, then the Aussies, and finally the Kiwis used this air strip for the now defunct local saw mill, which they took turns at running, as well as whatever else they wanted to get up to with a conveniently anonymous offshore coral reef runway. Now, I’m not suggesting of course that the US government would ever use a little known airfield in the middle of nowhere to perpetrate illegal acts. Oh no, not the American government and military…
Our driver drops us off at beach fale right on the far western tip of the island. There is a fantastic deserted beach here with reef protecting us from the elements and just seven fale on the sand facing out to sea. We bag four of them.
Come they told him, a rup-a-pum-pum
A new born king to see, a rup-a-pum-pum, rup-a-pum pum, rup-a-pum-pum
Yeahhhhh, come they told him. Yeahhh, to behold him. Relax. Rewind DJ
This Vocodered Samoan Reggae Rap Christmas selection really is some of the most astoundingly bad music I’ve heard in my entire life. But it is actually so bad that, in the end, you just can’t help but love it.
As we look at our watches, incredibly, it is a couple of minutes shy of eleven minutes past eleven on Armistice Day. Our location here on the peninsula is not only the most western part of Samoa but also the most western point on the entire planet. As we look out to sea from here, everything out there exists in ‘tomorrow’. We are quite literally looking out across the sea almost 24 hours into the future. Just beyond this beach is the International Dateline, meaning that any boat we might spot out there on the high seas is bobbing up and down on the waves on the morning of Saturday, November 12th. The fact that we are here on the very edge of the world at 11:11 on the 11.11.11 is more than a little bit of a head spin for all present.
Interestingly enough, it is said that before the Christian missionaries arrived, this peninsula was believed to be the gateway for souls into the next world. It is fitting, I guess, that a place with such a legend should end up serving as ‘the gateway to tomorrow’ several centuries later when Greenwich was chosen as the location from where world time zones are measured and west of Samoa as the location of the International Dateline.
Stephanie and I join Glass Knee and Scorchio for a trip out to the nearby Banyan tree canopy walk. It’s another six quid job and I’m not inclined to cash out that much for a vertiginous walk between two trees, especially after enjoying such pleasures on a far grander scale in Borneo. So instead I stay and chat to the Matai (village chief). Adjacent they are using the funds gained here wisely to build a brand new longhouse school, which will have ten classrooms and educate local kids from primary up to high school age. Canada has also thrown in some cash to help finance the project and, with the local men of the village expected to volunteer their manual work for free, things are coming along swimmingly. The banyan tree is 230 years old and locals used to – but truthfully probably still do – believe that the tree is home to spirits. Out of rainy season tourists can sleep up in the tree’s canopy under the stars with only a mosquito net for protection. If we slept there now one or two of us would probably get blown or washed off the canopy to our certain deaths.
Back at our temporary home for the night, another violent storm rolls in off the sea and the fale’s odd job man does a good job of securing our temporary homes from the elements with ropes and plastic sheeting. We all cower inside our respective huts, each of us, I suspect, feeling rather in the hands of Mother Nature. This storm is like a mini-typhoon and I am starting to wonder what the hell we will do to keep ourselves safe if one hits this island in the coming days. There’s testimony to the power of nature only 200 metres from here where the half-remaining shell of an abandoned Catholic church remains after this part of the island was ravaged by two hurricanes in 1990 and 1991. With the worst over, we are all inclined to lie low for the next hour either reading or pulling a siesta.
I finish A Clockwork Orange, a book that now finds its place in my ten favourite reads. If you like Orwell or Huxley, or J D Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye, this is the book for you. Stanley Kubrick’s 1972 film version of this masterpiece – a film still banned in the UK (for the obvious fear of the effect it might have on ferule street gangs) – does no real justice to Anthony Burgess’ original story and even drops the all-important final chapter of the tale.
The meals are getting worse. We all feel like we might come down with food poisoning after tonight’s dubious offering. That aside though, this location on the edge of the world is simply stunning, and I especially like the open-air shower where everybody can see you bathing naked.