Saturday, November 19 (Day 81)
Lalomanu – Apia, Samoa
Fact of the day: Pacific yellow-bellied sea snakes gather in swarms at breeding season that have been observed up to 100 kilometres in length.
I don't want to leave. I don't want to leave...
My final night of sleeping in a beach fale is probably the most restless of all my time in Fiji in Samoa. I was always going to struggle, faced with an all-out night-time assault from the fear and my break-up demons, but the crying babies, howling packs of dogs and fruit bats feeding their young, don’t really help me too much either.
This is as far east as I go. When my bus departs here today I begin four days of travel heading in a south westerly and then a predominantly north westerly direction. From Apia it is 2890 kilometres to Auckland - I guess a similar distance as it is from London to Moscow. When you realise that Hawaii is another 3000 kilometres in the other direction, you start to appreciate just how vast the Pacific Ocean is.
Just as I’m leaving Taufua I discover that eight of the All Blacks – those All Black players with Samoan roots – will be here on Sunday. That would have been a rather apt way to finish my 2011 Rugby World Cup trip.
Perched on boxes of ripened cooking bananas and bread fruit, Christmas carol reggae tunes a-playing, I begin my two-hour bus journey back to Apia, bumping into my German friends, Dorothee and Tom, as they jump on a couple of kilometres up the road. The journey takes us through the stunning interior of Upolu, with virgin rainforest, misty rivers and vertical soaring mountains. In our tradition we say that the mountain over there used to be a man before he turned into rock. Do you think that might be possible? My new rugby-mad 15-year-old Samoan friend asks me, pointing out at the strangely shaped distant set of mountains. Yes, why not? I think anything is possible. Maybe it isn’t true but there’s a good chance that it might really be correct.
As we reach Apia I spot my second game of kirikiti since I have been in Samoa. Basically, this is a unique version of the game of cricket that is only played in Samoa. I wish I could film this game because it really does look like a Monty Python sketch making fun of the sport of cricket. I mean, they have three stumps but they are twice as big and twice as wide as in the game we are all familiar with. Instead of wearing all whites, the Samoans are playing in multi-coloured sarongs, and seem to be jumping up and down singing and shouting as the bowler races in to bowl. The ‘cricket bat’ appears to be much larger than we might expect and, if I am not mistaken, it looks from the window of my passing bus like it is made of plastic, not willow. A couple of the fielders also appear to be holding cricket bats out on the boundary line. The ball also seems exceedingly bouncy. Very, very bizarre stuff. Deserving of further investigation when I get back to England next week.
I am not quite up to 5pm clubbing, so a sweaty afternoon lie low, during a thunderstorm, takes me through till the crazy time of 6.30pm. I always look forward to taxi drives here. My young afable Samoan driver purchased the taxi we are in with the cash he managed to save from picking apples in New Zealand for seven months. Now he lives back in Samoa so he can help support his extended family on Upolu. Fa’a-Samoa – the Samoan way of life, takes precedence over everything in this country of 180,000. Practically every day I hear stories of how Samoans have returned home from abroad just so they can look after their parents, cousins and grandparents. These people are driven by family values and concerns for their loved ones, not by the selfish individual greed of that thing we call capitalism.
Y-Not Bar is packed out and, fortunately for me, it is happy hour for another 60 minutes. At just 5 tala (1.3 pounds) for a rum&coke, the hour is indeed happy. Peering out at the monsoon rain flooding Apia’s streets, Samuel comes over and introduces himself:
I can see you are alone my friend so I thought I’d come and join you.
Samuel is the assistant commissioner of the Samoan national fire service. He’s a lovely bloke, aged around 30 I guess, and as well as keeping me company until my German friends arrive, he also buys me a double rum & coke before leaving to see his father. I’ve experienced this kind of behaviour from Samoans throughout my time here. They will come over to you, introduce themselves, buy you a drink, thank you for choosing to holiday in their country and then offer their help should you have any problems during the remainder of your stay. Each and every one of them seems to value their family above any personal desires for wealth and status. You really have got to love the Samoans.
The party might not be as bonkers as it was on my first night on Samoa but it is still pretty barking. Like a scene straight out of Twin Peaks, I glance around the corner of one door to see if the dimly-lit men’s toilet cubicle is free, only for a Chinese dwarf to walk out under the arm I’m using to balance up against the wall. There are girls wearing midsummer’s eve garlands in their hair – something I’ve only ever seen in the Baltic States - and the Samoan fa’afafine (those blokes who dress up like girls but are still boys) are out in big numbers, giggling and smiling a lot. An evening of clubbing in Apia is fun, silly and bizarre in ways that are difficult to explain unless you experience it for yourself…which you should one day if you get the chance. The sign which reads: No smoking till 10pm, sums it all up.
With my German friends down and out by 11pm and off home in a taxi, I nip down the road to V-Bar (the place where I spent much of my first ‘crazy’ night in Apia, two weeks ago) to buy some food. The club is still kicking and I’ve made instant friends with the campest bunch of lads I have met in my entire life. Spotting me glancing at a passing high-heeled Samoan girl one of the lads asks me: Darling, you sure you aren’t checking out the guy and not the girl? No, the girl lads. That’s a shame sweetie. I get introduced to many of the best known personalities in the local Samoan gay scene as well as to a couple of their (apparently) jealous boyfriends. They are good value company this lot. I can even deal with one of the lads telling me I look sexy tonight. I sense though, after finishing my chips, the club kicking out, and one of the lads inviting me to a private party, that it is time for me to get myself a taxi home.
As ever, finding and stopping a cab is as easy as buying a pint of milk. My driver tells me he plays rugby to a high standard in New Zealand but he has come home because his grannie wants him to be nearer to her in her latter years. These people are lovely.
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.