Friday, December 23
Dozens have been injured in Christchurch after a series of new Chritsmas earthquakes rattled the city. The strongest quakes were measured at 5.8 and 5.9. The quakes come ten months after a 6.3 magnitude quake killed more than 180 people in the New Zealand city.
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.
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.
Thursday, November 10 (Day 72)
Manase – Mount Matavanu Volcano Crater – Manase (Samoa)
It’s around 6am as a scary giant black object descends from inside of my mosquito net and parks itself at the end of my bed.
Get away! Get away! What the hell are you? Leave me alone!
Curled up in a ball, I’m lashing out at this creature with my sweaty bed sheets but it just isn’t moving. I now find myself punching it and pleading for it to leave me the hell alone. Half panicking and barely awake, I take a big kick at the creature and send it flying out of my mosquito net and on to the floor. It doesn’t make a sound. Waiting a couple of minutes - a nearby cockerel showing off to everybody that he’s up and about - I finally pluck up the courage to peer over the side of my bed and investigate what this horrid creature of the night; this Satan’s spawn is.
It is my jeans and black t-shirt, which I’d carefully folded up and left at the end of my bed when I crashed last night. I don’t quite know how I could have had such a vivid dream about the creature floating down out of the sky but as I opened my sleepy little eyes the dream and the reality just sort of merged into one in an instant, and my jeans and t-shirt really looked like the thing in my dream. I guess I can blame it on the poison from that bloody hornet that stung me last night circulating around my body or, alternatively, I’ve finally gone well and truly over the edge. My finger is now the size of one of those blow-up novelty hands with the pointy finger that you can buy at joke shops. It’s red and huge, and hurts considerably more than my scorpion sting did in Africa last year.
As it is proving so damn hard to get out of Manase on public transport I’ve decided to team up with Charlie, an ex-St Helen’s rugby player, Barbara, a German primary school teacher, and Carlos, the weatherman on Spain’s Channel 4 News. They are going to do the 20kilometre hike to the local volcano crater today and will share a taxi up to the peninsula with me tomorrow.
We set off in a taxi and get dropped off 8kilometres from the ‘volcano crater payment hut’. It’s a beautiful, peaceful walk along a cleared track, past plantations rich with fruit and vegetables, the local birds singing their hearts out. The self-sufficient life is alive and well in Samoa. It’s another 28 degrees day and another dark, overcast morning with constant heavy downpours. We three lads are soaked through to the bone but Barbara has come properly prepared with waterproofs and a brolly. It seems like the glorious sunbathing days in the South Pacific are well and truly over.
Carlos presents the weather to about half a million people each evening when he’s doing his day job. Charlie has already invented a nickname for him: Scorchio, inspired by the Fast Show sketch. Scorchio is a sound lad, happy, he says, to be out of his usual suit and tie attire and hiking through paradise in his shorts and vest top with no deadlines hanging over him. We discuss the economic crisis in Spain and he tells me that salaries, including his own, are being viciously cut pretty much across the board. Spain is spiralling downwards at pace. Charlie was playing for St Helen’s when he picked up a shocking knee injury. One more injury later, his promising career was cut short after a season playing in the French First Division. Charlie Glass Knee is only 24 and has switched career paths to become a photojournalist. Already he’s had photos published in the Guardian, so he’s well on his way to a different kind of stardom it seems. Barbara is the first person I’ve met on this trip who has made up her own nickname/alter ego for me. Her name actually isn’t Barbara at all but as we reach the payment hut and meet Da World Famous Craterman, she tells him, seemingly for no apparent reason, that her name is Barbara. Da World Famous Craterman looks like a bearded aborigine who doesn’t shower very often. All around his hut there are rather odd signs in pidgin English declaring that Da World Famous Craterman is the main man and an inspiration to all that pass here.
People from 126 countries come here to see my crater. I very famous around the world. Yesterday boy come from new country I never hear about before. I forget name.
He runs over to his book and proudly points to:
Girts from Latvija.
Yes, Latvia! New person come from Latvia. New country. Heeheee heee heee hoooo
Amongst this fella’s 126 countries there’s a country that goes by the name of ‘Sargistan’, and two of the Anglo-Saxon world’s wannabe breakaway states, namely Texas and Cornwall. Country ‘105’ is Jersey; ‘117’ Wisconsin; and ‘Africa’ also gets its own Da Craterman statehood.
Recovered from this burst of excitement our strange host takes us to his hut, asks us to sign his guestbook and then demands 20 Tala each for the privilege of passing beyond here and continuing on to the crater. Six quid is a hell of a lot of cash to walk past somebody’s wooden hut. Barbara, who I sense always plays things on her own terms, tells Da World Famous Craterman she certainly isn’t going to pay that much money for said privilege. She’s right. It is absurd, but Samoa is absurd in general. What follows is the spectacle of a Mexican standoff with neither of them willing to back down. I’m too tired and too long into my world tour to argue with this hobbit, oh keeper of the key and guardian of the crater path. I certainly don’t feel like traipsing 8 kilometres straight back to the road in the torrential rain without seeing anything.
If you don’t want pay, get off my mountain! I work hard keep mountain clean and nice. (Actually I think he just sits in his hut all day, biting his toe nails and waiting to be paid for doing sweet FA) You no pay, you no visit my crater!
You’ve got to laugh. I think he just came close to dropping in a few choice expletives. This is not the cool-as-a-cucumber Da World Famous Crater Man that the Lonely Planet has been banging on about. Barbara, a lady of principles, ends the standoff by saying she’s going to leave. The three of us that remain hand over our cash to the now very agitated weirdo in the hut, and set off for the crater rim.
It’s a 600 metre sheer drop once we get there and with the lava track oozing with mud, it wouldn’t be inconceivable that some poor punter – perhaps one of us - could slip and fall into the lush abyss below and to their certain death from here. This volcano caused absolute havoc when it erupted on this island a century or so ago. Many parts of northern Savai’i are covered by the remnants of the huge lava flows, with lava fields stretching more than 10 kilometres east to west and north to south in one particular part of northern Savai’i.
Third warning! Very dangerous! Craterman is the main man.
Another one of Da Craterman’s signs reads as we negotiate the narrow rim ledge where we are rewarded with views of the waves crashing on the distant reef near our accommodation more than a dozen kilometres away. Most of Savai’I island’s interior is impenetrable. Pretty impressive for the fourth largest island in all of Polynesia after New Zealand’s North and South islands and Hawaii. There isn’t a single road that crosses through the interior. Unless, you are prepared to invest several days in a guided hike through virgin rainforest, this spot up on the crater’s edge of Mount Matavanu is about as deep into the interior of this island as it is possible to reach. The story goes that when the circular island road was completed just a few years ago, many village communities, especially those situated towards the mountainous central plateau, had never seen a white man in living memory.
Da Craterman is an inspiration to all
Not to Barbara you’re not fella.
When we finish the return leg we are back at the main road five minutes before the taxi is due. An hour later there is still no sign of the useless sod.
With no other option than to start walking back, we stroll back to the coast before Glass Knee stops off at a small shop to buy water. Upon hearing that Charlie Glass Knee and I are English, the lady who works here insists that we accept two free cans of cold drink as a present. It goes down a treat.
One of my daughters is married to an Englishman. I like the English very much
Our Samoan lady friend moved back home from Australia three years ago. She has got real class and is so much more Western than any other Samoan women I have so far met in this country. When she hears about our taxi ‘no show’ she insists again that she helps us, this time calling for her husband to give us a lift back into town with their sons in their truck. And so, Scorchio, Glass knee and I ride all the way back to Manase in the back of an open-air truck, the wind in our faces and a 12-inch long machete our only company. After being close to giving up on the bonkers Samoans, my faith has been totally restored by this family’s amazing kindness.
Hello Barbara! We shout as we pass our female friend who is strolling down the road with a lady carrying bananas on her head. Seconds later our taxi driver zips by us in the opposite direction. I guess for once he might learn that turning up an hour late is just a bit too silly, even if his country does run on Samoa Time.
Once back at the fale, rain coming down in hounds and bitches, I feel absolutely done in from my exertions. My knees are killing me. 24 kilometres of steep uphill and downhill walking is probably the most exercise I’ve had in nearly six months. I collapse on to my bed, listen to the rain and waves outside and crash out for the afternoon.
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.
Wednesday, November 2 (Day 63)
Mango Bay, Fiji
This website isn’t achieving what I wanted it to do. Yes, I have good numbers - on average more than 100 unique viewers a day, peaking at 400, and that’s without currently using Facebook, email or link exchanges to drive traffic. In Africa the project was a great success although had Bjorn and his missus not gone all my precious at the end of it in South Africa, it would have and (should have) achieved a lot, lot more. I never really spoke about that at the time. I just didn’t want to rock the boat. The Shirt 2010 was Bjorn’s project, after all, so it didn’t seem right for me to kick up a fuss at the time about some of the bad decisions and personal conflicts that occurred right at the very end of our time in Africa. If I do manage to put a book together about these past 18 months’ adventures, as I hope I will, then I will go into all that then. Furthermore, in Argentina I struggled to find the projects that I’d wanted so much to champion and, when I finally did track two down, it was during my last two days, with an unsuccessful visit to the slums and an eye opening and humbling night on the streets with the homeless in Buenos Aires. More info will follow about the Buenos Aires street project after I get home.
In NZ I didn’t see any projects and I feel bad for that, but the truth is since my personal life took a turn in July I’ve had to concentrate on fixing myself before I can start worrying about others again. I realise today that the healing process is kicking in. I feel happy; very happy in fact. Sorry for not championing the grass roots projects as I’d intended but for the moment at least I feel very good about myself for the first time in four months. If you do get the chance, please take a look at the Projects We Like page, where you can click on the pictures and be redirected to the relevant websites. More projects will be added to this page when I get back to Europe and I am extremely keen that this website develops further to help promote the work of grass roots organisations which do wonderful work helping those less fortunate than ourselves.
Yes, you’ve guessed it. I’m still here. In Mango Bay. It’s like the Hotel California – you can check in but you can never leave. I sort of feel bad that I didn’t leave with Ruby, the British Iranian girl who is off to Caqalai Island to hook up with some National Geographic people who are making a film about venomous sea snakes. I was encouraging her to go on a two day road trip with me to see the snakes and to spend a night at the former colonial capital, Levuka. She was umming and erring - understandably with jet lag and enjoying the Mango Bay vibe - but today she suddenly said let’s go and I just felt too much in bits from last night’s back-of-the-net evening to pack my stuff and leave here in the space of half an hour. I should have gone. Sorry Ruby. Not that my day is bad: Kayaking on the lagoon with my French friend, reading A Clockwork Orange under the shade of a coconut tree, another kava ceremony, sunbathing factor 40 stylee, and falling asleep in a hammock under a palm tree.
It is time to leave this place now. This particular party and my personal Fijian rehab are over. My new year began yesterday. It’s time to get back on the road.
Monday, October 31 (Day 61)
Mango Bay, Fiji
The Solomon Islands, Tuvalu, New Caledonia, Vanuatu, Wallis & Futuna, Tokelau, American Samoa, Niue, Tonga, Cook Islands, French Polynesia, Easter Island…last night’s conversation with Scunny Mark has got me thinking and projecting ideas on to the infinite possibilities white board of life. The South Pacific has always been the most far away, unlikely-to-ever visit place on my personal world map of travel but, now I am here in Fiji, the world, as I visualise it, has shrunk once again. Why not do a trip that starts in say Papua New Guinea or the eastern islands of Indonesia or the Philippines and then moves eastwards, taking in all of the Pacific island states listed above? I have never in my entire life heard of anybody who has set out on a full tour of the Pacific, but now I am here I realise it is well doable. Where the flights don’t really connect up there are twice monthly container ship routes and you could always jump on a yacht and offer your services (God knows what services I could offer) in return for passage to the next island state. You could do it in three or four months, I reckon. Surely this could rate as one of the world’s lesser travelled great adventure routes? A 2013 South Pacific extravaganza anybody?
Funny I should be building castles in the sky when I am struggling to move my arse from Mango Bay, two hours up the road to Suva. A hangover and a free overnight stay were my excuse yesterday. God knows what my excuse is today. Feeling far too chilled to put a rucksack on my shoulder maybe. Actually, the main reason I was planning to stay in Suva was so I could catch what I assumed would be an early morning bus from there to my next port-of-call, Levuka. It turns out I can leave here after breakfast tomorrow and catch a connecting bus from the big smoke (Suva is the biggest city in the Pacific) to Levuka at 1.30, so I’m laughing.
“So, you got lucky last night! Did you bang her in the dorm?” Tashkent asks me.
I knew it. I knew they were all going to think we’d hooked up. I’m not sure what Jenna would think if she knew that half of the punters at Mango Bay think she had banana flambé for dessert last night.
There’s a new arrival. A British-Iranian girl has just flown in from LA on her way back to Australia. She’s got real class. This place seems to be sucking in some nice women. Maybe that’s another of my excuses for not leaving gorgeous Mango Bay.
You know that you truly have too much time on your hands and life is easy when the highlight of your day is international crab racing. Yes, I celebrate this Halloween by buying the temporary rights to a Fijian crab (going by the name of ‘Rose’) and racing it against nine other crabs. The race is at 9pm local time so that’s 9am in the UK. I am thinking, as a crowd of us are gathered in a circle with beer bottles and cocktails in hand, cheering and shouting at the crabs, that some of my mates have just arrived at the office in London, Leicester and Birmingham. What would they think if they knew that at the same time I’m on the other side of the planet, half cut, racing and betting on crabs, which have got numbers painted on their shells? Or have they all long since given up on my ability to live what might be considered a normal, balanced life?
I’m happy to announce that my luck is obviously changing as Rose romps home and I win the contents of the kitty, thus making this another free night at Mango Bay. You’ve got to feel sorry for the Australian crab, Skippy, though. As the master of ceremonies picks up the winning crab and takes her to the winners rostrum, he manages to step on the Australian crab and send him to an untimely death. RIP Skippy.
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.