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.
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.
Wednesday, November 9 (Day 71)
A few weeks ago I declared that I never wanted to travel alone again. Well, I’ve subsequently changed my tune on that. When I reflect back over the past 10 weeks I realise that I’ve rarely been totally alone. Most places I’ve visited I’ve found decent company – even if it is only a passing conversation with a stranger – and I have also been fortunate enough to make several new friendships with individuals I very much hope I will stay in contact with in the future. Travelling alone sort of forces you to come out of your shell and be open and friendly to all and sundry. I guess in the past when I backpacked solo but had a woman back home I just didn’t allow myself to be so outgoing, certainly limiting my social interaction with women I met on the road. But, now free as a bird so as to speak, I find that I am only truly alone when I really want to be. Now that Will and Lauren have departed and I am on my own again I sort of feel inclined to keep myself to myself for a couple of days (although this could quickly change). Self-imposed loneliness, you could call it. I’m still in contact with five friends I met in Argentina and a similar number from New Zealand. Already if I left Samoa today I would be able to name another half dozen people I consider to be friends that I have met in the Pacific. All this from being solo. I’m pretty sure that if I’d travelled with a partner or a wing man these past months, the number of new friends would only total a handful.
As my bus isn’t due to leave today until 4pm I’ve got no excuse not to invest in some very expensive internet time and sort a few things out back in Europe. I’ve managed to book one leg at least of my Christmas flights and uploaded a week or more’s worth of blogs plus a few photos for good measure. The Wi-Fi might be the second most expensive I’ve ever come across (Norway, as usual wins the crown for the world’s most insane prices) but the speed rivals the best of what you might expect anywhere in Europe and, as for the location…if Carlsberg did South Pacific Wi-Fi locations they’d probably do Jane’s Fales’ beach bar on Manase beach. I’ve never had a spot like this anywhere in the world, adjacent to a turquoise lagoon, to check my emails and the latest news.
I check the BBC, The Guardian, the FT, and Max Keiser websites for the first time in weeks and I discover that the next leg in the global economic meltdown seems to be playing out (by the time I upload this blog in a few days’ time it will probably all have blown over for the time being). There’s talk of the euro being broken up apparently; Italy could default; the students are back out on the streets of London. As I am reading all this, multi-tasking with blog uploads and emails within my allotted hour, an email pops up from one of my British Baltic-based mates, who is in London on business. He says he nipped down to see first-hand what was happening with the student march and it sounds like, from what he was saying, the police were behaving a bit over the top. Well, some of them were out of order the previous time the students were out on the streets in big numbers (remember the lad with cerebral palsy who got pulled from his wheelchair and dragged along the street by a copper in London) so I’m not surprised to hear they are being heavy handed again. The UK is a bloody mess. It is coming apart at the seams. The authorities are going to crack down on democratic descent because I reckon they’ve got the fear of God in them that they are going to lose control of the whole house of cards soon. I must admit it is all rather titillating hearing about all this from the middle of the Pacific Ocean. When I set off on this trip I remember contemplating what it might be like to be somewhere like Samoa if one of the currencies tanked. I don’t suppose this will actually happen, because most of this is the slow dance of ‘beggar thy neighbour’ being played by Europe and the US, but, when I look at images of grimy, God-forsaken London on the Guardian website and then I look out at this paradise before my eyes, I can’t say I feel too inclined to return to all that nonsense. As my friend points out to me on his email (although I suspect he’s quite drunk): the system is broke. It is time for us to create our own new personal paradigms.
I celebrate not being in Europe with another dip in the lagoon during another wild storm. At one point I can’t see my outstretched legs for the rain.
I’ve been hanging around all Wednesday so that I can catch the one bus per day that heads up to Falealupo, on the far western peninsula of Samoa’s islands. Stood in the road for an hour it appears that the 4pm bus is a ‘no show’. When I go back and tell Frida, the lady who insisted on four separate occasions today that it definitely leaves at four, she just sort of shrugs and just continues with what she’s doing. It takes her a good 30 minutes before she attempts to address the issue. Oh, bus go early today. Never mind.
Never mind, luv. I’ve been waiting around all day for that bus. One of the lads working for her tells me the bus always goes at 2.30pm.
As a kind of protest against her inept performance (or dastardly plan to make me stay here for a third evening) I decide not to stay again at her place for the night. I’m going to stay down the road at Jane’s – the place with the Wi-Fi bar on the lagoon. But FFS, if this mob aren’t even more inept. It’s 30 minutes before they make up a fale and then, best of all, at dinner my veggie special is rice and five slices of cucumber. When I point out to them that I’m a growing lad and that a vegetarian needs something in place of the meat rather than an empty space on the plate, the Samoan girl serving me just shrugs and giggles. Can I just have an egg or something? No, chef Busy.
5 minutes later, my stomach rumbling from looking at the large meals the carnivores are devouring: You sure you can’t just do me an egg? She just smiles and stands there like a spare part. Huuuhuuu haaahaaa. Sorry, chicken not working. For comedy value a chicken scuttles past just as she’s telling me this.
I’m a journalist you know, doing a review of all the hotels in Samoa. (That should sort it)
10 minutes later an omelette arrives. Back of the net.
Sorry? Back of what?
Nothing, never mind. Thanks for the omelette.
As I walk away to the beach feeling happy with myself for my omelette victory a huge hornet pops up and, for seemingly no reason whatsoever, stings me on my hand, leaving half of its tail in my index finger. It looks like the thorn from a rose bush. That sting felt akin to receiving a quite significant electrical shock. Even the Samoan hornets are loopy.
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.