Friday, December 23
Thank you and Merry Christmas to all of you who followed and/or supported More Than a Game during 2011. Without your interest this project would not exist.
Please remember those less fortunate than us, particularly at this time of the year. If you can, please check out the page on this website 'Projects we like', where you can read about grassroots projects and charities that are trying to improve the lives of others.
We hope you continue to follow More Than a Game during 2012. Happy Christmas to you all!
We are in the process of 'optimizing' the More Than a Game website. This basically means adding new content, photos, videos, tags, links and a number of other improvements that all help drive traffic to the site. Daily traffic numbers are already averaging over 250, with a new high of over 500 unique users on December 5.
We hope you enjoy the ongoing improvements to this website.
Tuesday, December 6
More Than a Game will launch its UEFA Euro 2012 blog in January.
The blog will feature all the latest news and gossip in the lead up to next summer's European Championships in Ukraine and Poland.
We will of course also be bringing you daily blogs, news, photos and videos from the tournament itself when it begins in June.
Wednesday, November 30
I have been back in Europe almost a week now, and it is fair to say that the happy-go-lucky me that left the Pacific no longer feels quite so sunny. It is grey, miserable, and Europe seems like a depressing place with the continent's economic woes seemingly impacting upon everybody.
I am trying to stay positive but the truth is I wish I was back in Fiji or Samoa. Hopefully, a weekend out with half a dozen of my mates will help me transition back to reality.
I've started adding links to all the blog text. This will enable readers to read more about the people, places and things mentioned in More Than a Game stories. Just click on the link and a new window will be opened with information about that topic.
I have also begun uploading dozens of photos. Many of these are now added to the Fiji pages. You can access previous pages by either clicking on the Archive months (you can find this on the right hand side of this page), or by clicking 'Previous', which you will find at the very bottom of this page on the left hand side.
Over the next few weeks I will continue to add photos, links, additional info about projects we like, as well as redeveloping the website.
Saturday, November 12 (Day 74)
Falealupo – Alofaaga Blowholes - Aganoa Beach Retreat & Rainforest
Another howling storm wakes me during the night and leaves me temporarily disoriented. Where the hell am I? Oh, yeah, I remember – edge of the world, middle of the Pacific Ocean. I’ve no idea what time it is. Maybe it is 2, maybe it is 4, but the realisation that I am horizontal in a hut on an island in the Pacific is causing my head to spin. How can it be possible that I am here, in a part of the world I thought I’d never see nor experience? Am I really experiencing this or is it all a dream? Do I really exist? Why do we exist?
Yep, all those old chestnuts; those questions about reality and existence are rushing around my head as the wind howls, the rain lashes and the waves crash. With a momentary lull in the storm I can hear my own heart beating and it scares me. Sometimes, it just feels like none of this is really happening; that my life isn’t real. I guess that everybody has these kinds of thoughts occasionally but it worries me just how often this stuff occupies my mind. I mean, what is the point of it all, really? Just to be born, grow up, work and make babies? And just so the babies you’ve created end up doing exactly the same thing with their lives? Isn’t that a bit pointless? Futile? Is life just about trying to make the most from the chances we are given? Is the meaning of life the attainment of contentment and happiness for us and our loved ones?
With these thoughts darting around my head, I open my fale at 7am to nip to the communal toilet and the first thing I see is a giant black pig, with twizzled white tusks and eyes that look strangely human, strolling casually past me in the opposite direction. Oink, oink, oink he says. Yes, morning fella
As if to further test my grasp on reality….stood at the local bus stop hoping for transport south it begins to rain on one tree. Literally, it is tipping it down on a single half-a-metre wide banyan tree, whilst the rest of the local foliage is bathed in sunlight. Our resident weather forecaster, Scorchio, says he’s never seen anything like it. I am not sure I would like to predict the weather in Samoa he tells me, the two of us roaring with laughter at this bizarre spectacle.
Talking of futile, Claudia (aka Barbara/Stephanie) and I jump off the local bus at Alofaaga so that we can explore the world famous blowholes located there. Scorchio and Glass Knee have already visited here so they continue on the bus to Aganoa. The chat I’ve read and been told is that this is home to some of the world’s most spectacular blow holes. It is probably four hours since high tide and the calm after yesterday’s storm means that there is very little wind and ocean swell. Consequently, there are no 40-metre blasts of water up into the heavens. The best the elements muster up is probably a 15-metre high ejaculation. Still, not bad. Beats Croydon of a Saturday afternoon.
Aganoa Beach Resort is located within a protected rainforest reserve. This is an absolutely gorgeous secluded spot, only reachable by paying to enter the rainforest reserve and then walking two kilometres down a winding single track road. There’s a wooden deck restaurant and bar built just above the beach and a dozen fale, ringed by the rainforest and the beach. Aganoa is also something of a surfers’ paradise with a long, prominent reef located just 400 metres or so offshore. At high tide, when the swell is strong, the waves are epic, looking like the opening credits for Hawaii Five Oh, for anybody who is old enough to remember that programme. With only two sessions of surfing to my name this place is well out of my league. I genuinely think that there is a good chance I would get myself killed if I tried to join the half dozen experienced surfers staying here and attempted to surf off this reef. With the good weather appearing to return in the late afternoon for the first time in a week, I am more than happy to spend my time here horizontal on its gorgeous beach and hopping in and out of the crystal clear waters, which are full of curious fish and many of the 200 different varieties of coral found in Samoa.
Part of me wishes that I could extend this trip for another three months to take in another half dozen South Pacific states but during the past couple of days I have also been feeling a bit exhausted by the constant battle with mosquitos, cockroaches (I found one five inches long in my bed earlier) and the like. Because of the past seven days’ stormy weather it has been impossible to get clothes dry and half of my rucksack is full with wet or damp t-shirts, pants and shorts that smell like they’ve been living in a Chinese workers’ cellar for a couple of months. The humidity, until today, has been stifling and the stormy weather begins to get you down. As a great improvement on New Zealand and the world of dormitories I do have accommodation to myself these days but, I must admit, clean white sheets devoid of mosquito nets and coconut palm window shutters does appeal. Basically I would love to continue this adventure but I would need to book into a four star for one night, get properly cleaned up, all my clothes washed and ironed and to spend a night in a bed with air con before I could set off on another leg.
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.
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.
Friday, October 28 (Day 58)
Nadi Bay – Nadi – Mango Bay
I catch the local bus to Nadi and from there it’s another local express service to the Coral Coast. The coast line is pretty damn spectacular with a coral reef and waves crashing a kilometre or so out to sea from the beach. To the sounds of Fijian reggae, Sangatoka is the biggest town we encounter and has bags of character, a superb market and a gorgeous spot next to a slow flowing river. There’s a laid back equatorial vibe to the place.
Finally I got dropped off at Mango Bay, a ‘flashpackers resort’ on the Coral Coast. The crew staying here seem very cool with a mixed bunch of punters from Lebanon, Uzbekistan, Switzerland, Finland, the US and Estonia. We end up boozing by the beach, downing copious amounts of kava until 2.30am.
A funny moment from the night is when two cool American girls I’m hanging out with tell me they’ve been married (to each other) for two years. As I did with Wendy at Blue Lagoon, I pull out my best poker face to disguise my otherwise obvious surprise.
Monday, October 24 (Day 54)
Coral View Resort, Tavewa Island
The crowd are going nuts. The melodic tunes fill the air with a sense of euphoria. Each time I drop a tune the atmosphere lifts another notch. This feels unbelievable.
I wake up to see the skinny girl from Bournemouth trying her best to negotiate her way to the floor from her bunk bed above me without waking me. That dream felt so damn real. It’s been like that every night since I came to Fiji. Maybe it’s the Kava. Maybe it’s the climate. God knows, but I’m enjoying the intensity of these nightly visions.
I spend the morning with the lad from London. He is genuinely cool but not up his own arse unlike most girls of his age (26) from London. (No I haven’t become a woman hater. I’m just telling it how I see it.) In fact, we hit it off so well that a Swiss girl, overhearing one of our colourful conversations, enquires as to whether we have been travelling together for a lot of months.
“No, we met yesterday. We are just mavericks.” He replies.
I like that. Mavericks. Definitely my word of the day. Yes, we are both mavericks in some senses. And, strangely enough, there are two more mavericks staying on this island, who we are also knocking about with. Sarah, the lady from Pompey, definitely falls into that category as does Ingrid from Frankfurt, a force of nature, around the same age as Sarah, I guess, who seems to inhabit her own autonomous republic of herself. She still goes to raves, occasionally drops tablets in her mouth that she shouldn’t at parties, and hangs around a lot in Thailand, discovering the kinds of parties the country was once legendary for before Tom, Dick and Hans ruined Ko Pha Ngan and Ko Samui and made them mainstream events. Four mavericks, all with very different tales, coming together on one island in the Pacific. Maverick Island.
The remainder of the day follows a now familiar pattern of sunbathing and eating, which is only interrupted by such troubling questions as Where to next? Rum and coke or beer? Trance or dub step? How many hours till dinner? Black or red t-shirt tonight? Can I be bothered to have a shower? Why do young English girls have such flabby arses? How many slices of pineapple for dessert?
To be fair though, I’ve overdone the sun and underdone the water. In the evening I’m suffering from dehydration and have to pull out one of those emergency rehydration sachets that the army use, to get myself back together.
With Maverick departed for Nanuya Lailai, I spend the evening with Sarah, 43, who was married for 15 years and is now largeing it around the world. We are both damaged goods and consequently spend the whole night picking through each other’s failed relationships. Why did it go wrong? Where did it go wrong? How did we meet that person? What were the best things about them? How long did it take to get over them? In the interim, Sarah Maverick has been with men much younger and much older than her and now she’s concluded in the future it will ideally have to be plus or minus five years. She still wants a kid. She’s definitely leaving it a bit late in the day. She tells me a few home truths about dating women who are approaching thirty and the crazy decisions they end up making in their late twenties. Half a bottle of Jack Daniels can ruin your life if it is in the hands of the wrong woman.