Thursday, December 29
At midnight on December 29th Samoa will jump forward in time a full 24 hours to December 31st meaning, that for the Pacific islanders, December 30th 2011 will never happen. As a result, more than 500 of the nation's 186,000 citizens will have no birthday this year, unless they choose to celebrate the 30th December in a different country.
The decision to move the International Dateline was taken because much of Samoa's trade is with New Zealand and Australia. In 1892, Samoans experienced two 'July fourths' as the International Dateline was moved to allow the country to improve trade with the United States.
Friday, December 16
Samoa is to join the WTO after first applying in 1998. New membership does, however, come at a price, with the country forced to open its markets to the import of many low grade products, particularly high-fat turkey products from the US, which have been proven to lead to higher rates of obesity and heart disease.
As ever, what looks like a good deal on paper for a small nation is inevitably a very bad deal for many of that nation's citizens.
It is in the interests of every Samoan that the country's WTO delegation seeks the best deal possible for its people before the country joins the WTO.
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.
Wednesday, November 23 (Day 84)
Auckland, New Zealand – Seoul, South Korea
If you’d told me this time last year that on November 23, 2011 I’d be getting up from bed in an Auckland airport motel at 1am and driving to New Zealand’s main airport to meet a bloke called Michael, arriving on a flight from Tonga, I just wouldn’t have been able to work out how and why this would come to pass.
Back at the hostel we swap war stories about Tonga, Fiji and Samoa. Tonga sounds like it is very far removed from the modern world, with plenty of seemingly strange idiosyncrasies that make this Pacific kingdom just as special as Samoa when it comes to being ‘different’. Michael tells me he was evacuated from one remote island on a small speedboat after a hurricane warning was issued. I think that was the same storm that came through Samoa around a week ago. He is due to fly back to London on Friday but might change his flight and hang around to see if he can find a job in New Zealand. I’m laughing because a month of lying on beaches and having a silly amount of time to think has clearly left Michael with more questions than answers about what he wants to do and where he wants to be in life. We crash at around 4am and get three hours sleep before it’s time for me to head back to the airport.
Leg two of my journey back to Europe from the Pacific is a 12-hour flight from New Zealand to South Korea, which over-flies the east coast of Australia, the misty and mysterious mountains of Papua New Guinea and the vast open sea between the Philippines and Guam. It’s daylight all day and I don’t sleep a wink, but Korean Airlines is a quality airline. The stewardesses are absolutely charming and when it comes to politeness it is pretty difficult to beat the Koreans. The food is great, the drinks keep flowing and I manage to catch up with three movies that were released after I first left Europe for Argentina in June. Black Brown White (a road trip movie set in Morocco and Spain), and Wer Wenn Nicht Wir (a political drama set in 1970s Germany) are both well worth seeing.
I am spending the night in Incheon. My Korean Airlines ticket includes a complimentary stopover and hotel here tonight. After leaving South Korean customs and immigration and picking up my free hotel and meal vouchers I step out of the airport and into the open air. You’ve got to laugh. I’m wearing my beach flip flops, a T-shirt still caked in sand, three-quarter length jeans and the temperature is two degrees Celsius. I can’t tell you how cold 2C feels after weeks of it being 23-28 degrees at night in the Pacific. I spot a couple of Koreans, kitted out in long winter coats, scarves and gloves, pointing and giggling at me. You can hardly blame them.
I have to give a big shout to Korean Airlines. Basically, it is 24 hours of flying between New Zealand and London but instead of doing the journey in one long drag, with three or four hours between flights in Korea, I have a 20-hour stopover in Seoul. Not only does the airline provide complimentary dinner and breakfast during this lay-over, but they’ve also put me up at the 5-star Hyatt Regency Incheon.
I’ve got a gorgeous room with a huge double bed that I may well get lost in during the night. Time for my first hot bath in three months. Dinner is absolutely superb – a four-course buffet. I am extremely tired and struggling with jet lag but I’m going to try and stay awake so I can enjoy this luxury for a couple of hours.
Watching the huge LG TV from the comfort of my equally huge bed, I discover that the Occupy movement spread throughout the US and around the world during October and November. The press though are vilifying the movement as being a bunch of Trotskyite and Anarchist type individuals who just want to kick off with the police. They have no clear message apparently. It is convenient for the TV and newspaper morons to paint popular protest with this brush of one-dimensional negativity. Most of society is being depleted by the movement of capital from the bottom to the rich at the top. The capitalism model is clearly broken and democracy doesn’t really exist anymore. In my view the reason this movement looks like it doesn’t have a clear message is because, in some senses, it is not a group of people with one clear set of political ideals. Inequality and political nepotism are two of the many reasons ‘the 99 per cent’ are out on the streets. I think there is some similarity between ‘Occupy’ and Solidarnosc, the 1980s anti-Communism movement that helped topple the communist regime in Eastern Europe.
After sleeping on the ground for much of the past six weeks I’m almost inclined to leave the comfort of my huge bed and lie on the floor.
Monday, November 21 (Day 83)
Apia, Samoa – Auckland, New Zealand
On my way to catch the 10am local bus to the airport a 50-something gentleman stops me in the street and asks me whether I have enjoyed my time in Samoa. Upon hearing that I have had a wonderful time here he thanks me for choosing to visit his country and asks me to pop in and see him for a cup of tea should I choose to return one day. This experience, on my way to leaving this country, tells you much about the people of Samoa. As I was when I had to leave Fiji, once again I am feeling gutted to be getting on a plane today.
My only compensation on the departing airport bus is the company of a very pretty Czech girl from Ostrava, who arrived in the country last night. I am the only punter that jumps off as we pass the airport. Passing the driver 2 tala, I wave goodbye to Pavlina and lug my dirty and battered rucksack across to Faleolo International Airport, where Tom and Dorothee are checking in for the same flight as me. All three of us agree that Samoa is a special place; a very special place.
Back 2 the future...Everything we gain we lose. When I flew to Samoa I gained an extra day in my life and now, as I leave, I lose one.
People born on December 30 will have no birthday this year in Samoa. Currently this country is the place where the world’s day ends. As of January 1st it will become the place where the world begins its day. They are moving the International Date Line in five weeks’ time.
On board this flight is one of the New Zealand All Blacks as well as members of the Samoan women’s national netball team (apparently one of the top teams in the world, ranked 13th). One of the ‘girls’ (who is a fa’afafine), is actually bigger than the resident world champion rugby international.
My Monday, November 21st 2011 lasts from when I get up at 7am until 1pm, when my flight departs this brilliant country. The moment we fly out west past the furthest craggy shores of Savaii, Monday instantly becomes Tuesday. And my unforgettable South Pacific adventure is over.
Tuesday, November 15 (Day 77)
Aganoa – Salelologa (Savai’i) – Mulifanua – Apia (Upolu) (Samoa)
There’s a huge Huntsman spider parked behind the door in the toilet. What is it with spiders the size of plates and toilets in the tropics? Aside from this scary looking character and other unwanted enemies such as the SNMA (Samoan National Mosquito Army) I must declare that I am a big fan of Samoa. Yes, there are many, many weird and wonderful idiosyncrasies here but, after a week or two, you find yourself assimilating to all this and the abnormal soon begins to seem a bit more… normal. No, it is not Fiji in terms of levels of comfort and standards, but it beats its South Pacific cousin in ways that are only just becoming apparent to me. You certainly feel like you are travelling somewhere very, very real when you are in this country. Life is easy and simple here and sometimes you have to conclude that this is the way it should be. The TV, newspapers, glossy magazines, mainstream advertising, internet, government propaganda, one-dimensional US culture; all of it seems to absent from this place.
I say my farewells to Glass Knee, Ulrika (Stephanie-Claudia-Barbara), and Scorchio and kindly get dropped off at the ferry terminal by Shaun, a surfer from Cape Town. After 12 days in Samoa I have several unanswered questions. Here are two of them:
1) Why does the bus driver tell you the bus fare is 1.50 and then, when you give him 1.50, he gives you 50 sene change? (This has happened on three occasions)
2) Why do they operate a ferry schedule that runs completely independently of the ferry schedule? The Lady Samoa II is timetabled to leave at 10am. I arrive at 9.30 but it is leaving at 12. The same ferry timetable discrepancy occurred on the trip over to Savai’i.
With water surging into the Samoan sky from blowholes on the rocky shore of Savaii, it is time to leave beautiful, chilled cloud cuckoo land and set sail for the island of Upolu.
It is 2pm by the time I reach the crazy capital. Until today I hadn’t seen a single policeman in Samoa – literally not one - and now, as I lug my backpack down the dusty streets of Apia, there are uniformed police absolutely everywhere. A local lad who has just spent a couple of days on Savai’I with a very freckly Chilean girl he knows from Upolu tells me:
Police because schools fighting.
Upon telling me this I have visions of twenty of the hardest lads from each school kicking off with each other like two firms of football hooligans.
How many of them were fighting? Twenty?
No, man, when the schools fight every student from each school is fighting with the other school.
That is Samoa all over: peaceful, friendly and chilled out, and then one sunny Tuesday afternoon the whole of the country’s police force is called in to action to prevent an all-out-war between two secondary schools.
Monday, November 14 (Day 76)
Aganoa Beach Retreat & Rainforest Reserve – Pulemelei – Aganoa (Savai’i, Samoa)
This place is in danger of becoming Mango Bay 2.0. My intended one night stay became two yesterday and, despite my best intentions to leave this morning; I will now stay for a third evening. Time is a-running-out though. This time next week I leave Samoa and begin my long and arduous three-day journey home from one side of the globe to the other; from perpetual summer to gloomy winter.
Ulrika and I are off in search of the Pulemelei mound, said to be the largest ancient structure in all of Polynesia. If this fact is true then you might expect this to be top of the pops when it comes to local tourist attractions, and yet it is proving pretty damned impossible to find out any useful information about this centuries-old site.
A record four cars and trucks pass us on the road before the fifth stops to give us a lift. There are few places where hitchhiking is as safe and easy as Samoa. When we are dropped off, near the well signposted Afu-A-Au waterfalls, we soon discover that there is absolutely no signage for Pulemelei. The driver is confident though that we should follow a nearby track towards the river and keep to the pathways from there. After a few hundred metres, a young bandana-wearing lad, accompanied by a well-trained hunting dog and brandishing a machete, appears seemingly out of nowhere and asks us for some cash for our visit to the mound. Ulrika is great company; she’s thoughtful and a really good laugh, but I wish sometimes she’d go with the flow a bit more instead of questioning absolutely everything. She’s suggesting to this lad that he might be a fraud and perhaps we shouldn’t give him the cash. I mean, come on, he’s holding a machete and he’s got a dog with him that could tear us limb from limb. He’s asking us for three quid between the two of us. If he’s a crook I think he could do a bit better than demanding three of Her Majesty the Queen’s pounds off of us.
Our hike lasts for a good four or five kilometres until the path narrows, passes first through a coconut grove and then an overgrown track of bright, colourful flowers and weeds. We ascend some steep rocks and, almost without realising it, we are stood atop of the mound. This is crazy. This structure must be sixty metres square and, aside from its summit, it is entirely overgrown with thick green weeds and bushes. Right in the centre of the mound, two gorgeous mango trees, heavily laden with fruit, wrap their roots around the black volcanic stones below. I don’t think we passed a single mango tree on the route here. Strange, that these two attractive trees should make this mound home. This is proper Indiana Jones stuff. I mean, it doesn’t appear that this pyramid-type structure has been properly excavated. From the summit there are commanding views of the distant sea and, to our north-west, we can just make out the partly hidden peaks of Savai’i’s tallest mountains: Mount Maugamua, Mata’aga, and 1866-metre high Mount Silisili (Yes, the tallest mountain in all of Samoa is called ‘Silly Silly’). These mountains are all located on a high plateau, which does an exceedingly good job of concealing most of their delights from the world below and thus giving them a touch of Arthur Conan Doyle’s Lost World. Below the ‘mound’ there is, I would say, around one hundred square metres worth of land that is overgrown with nothing more than thick weeds and beyond that is a coconut grove. Use your imagination and you can picture this pyramid devoid of foliage, towering above a flat area of land below. I just don’t get it. With around 100 labourers, they could clear the pyramid in less than a week and quickly get to work on clearing the flat area in front of it. What you would then have is a legendary hidden pyramid rising up into the heavens; a nation’s leading tourist attraction that would encourage many of the thousands of visitors to Samoa’s ‘Upolu island, who never make it across the Apolima strait, to visit Savai’i. The only information I have, thus far, about this place is that it is one of a reputed 150 ‘star mounds’ that have so far been discovered throughout Samoa and American Samoa. Many leading archaeologists have only recently become aware of these Samoan structures, and dozens of star mounds remain unexcavated. Indulging our imaginations for an hour or so, Ulrika and I finally leave this very special place and set off back to Aganoa to enjoy my final afternoon and evening of simple pleasures there. The very first car that passes stops and the nice Samoan couple inside drop us off at the entrance to the rainforest reserve.
I think this is one of the nicest beaches I’ve ever had the pleasure of sunbathing on. You can totally relax here, safe in the knowledge, that nobody and no creature will ever come and disturb you. The sun has got his hat on again today and the water, although noticeably colder than it was in Fiji, is still well above 20 degrees and an absolute pleasure to swim in. I spend a good half hour playing a game of ‘tag ‘with a dozen curious fish with short memories. This mob of beige and white fish, one of an astounding 900 different varieties of fish living off these islands, seem absolutely fascinated by my presence and regularly venture within a few centimetres of my legs. What I do is to try and trick them into the shoreline where I attempt to tag at least one of the fish before they swim off. They never tire of this game because they always forget that they’ve played it five seconds later. Glass Knee Charlie returns from his latest surf on the treacherous reef and tells me he’s just spotted two reef sharks out there.
In the early evening, shortly before sundown, the family that run the surf retreat give me a lift in the back of their truck to the Salelologa wharf so that I can get some cash out from the ATM to pay them for my stay here. This jump off point for inter-island ferries, along with the tourist town of Manase, are the only two places on the whole of this island where you can access cash.
The Australian owner, his Samoan wife and a couple of their relatives are off shopping for provisions, including fresh bread for tomorrow’s breakfast. It’s a gorgeous journey in the back of the van, waving to locals; the wind in my face. On the return leg, I ride in the front with the Aussie owner and he tells me about life in Samoa. He’s been living here for 15 years after a five-year stint in Fiji prior to that (where he says life was even more idyllic before the first of the Fijian military coups in the 1980s). Things have changed very little here during his time on Savai’i. The locals remain friendly and governed by family and village life. Crime is virtually unheard of and most families are almost entirely self-sufficient. It is only the past few years’ huge increases in fuel prices that have really made life more difficult. Fortunately, the locals are not too reliant on rice, which has increased in price by 100 per cent in two years, but when you earn 2 Tala/hour (roughly 60 pence), your money doesn’t stretch too far. (We have the radio switched on during our conversation, and I suddenly overhear some news about thousands of people ‘occupying’ the streets of Philadelphia and Detroit. I’ve heard virtually no news during the past five weeks and couldn’t tell you what the hell the ‘news people’ are talking about.)
I honestly don’t know anybody that has cancer on this island, the Aussie owner tells me. Back home, every second or third person I know seems to be getting cancer or needs open heart surgery. But here, very few people get really sick. I don’t know what they are doing to people in the western world with the food, water and the air; the radiation levels in some places in the United States are making young kids ill.
Sometimes, it really seems like the powers that be in the developed world have some kind of agenda to kill us all off. It makes me laugh when I meet people who still believe their governments are there to ‘look after them’. All of the food I’ve consumed on this island comes from the local soil, trees, bushes and animals. Those that eat fish, enjoy a bountiful supply of fresh, tasty meals straight from the ocean. It is all absolutely organic and free range…and free. I’ve never tasted fruit that tastes as good as it does in the Pacific. And I can also say that I haven’t seen a single chemtrail (the crap from aircraft that hangs in the European skies for hours) up in the heavens during my five weeks in the Pacific. Don’t believe the nonsense they tell you that chemtrails are natural and are caused by commercial airliners: watch a normal commercial airliner and you will notice that its vapour trail begins to disappear within seconds. Chemtrails are created by other aircraft that are purposely filling our otherwise clean air with metals, toxins and poisonous chemicals. They hang there in the sky and gradually drop to earth, poisoning each and every one of us that breathe them in. You don’t think your government would do that to you? Well, question then why in some parts of the UK, Canada and the US the authorities purposely contaminate the population’s drinking water with highly toxic, poisonous fluoride. No, it doesn’t keep your teeth healthy and white. That’s a lie. The fluoride in the water poisons and dumbs down the population. Why would the government poison its own people through the food you eat, the water you drink and the air you breathe? It wouldn’t have anything to do with the global pharmaceutical industry would it? Or the multi-billion dollar private health care and insurance industries? Or Eugenics? Or population reduction?
I don’t know. You tell me. If I were you, I’d leave Europe and come and live in the Pacific instead.
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.