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.