Sunday, November 20 (Day 82)
I might have got home by 1.30am but that still means I was out for 7 hours last night. The hangover isn’t pleasant in this humid little room with the fan churning my sweaty, smelly alcohol breath around and around and around. You spin me right round, baby, right round.
It is noon before I emerge from my bat cave. Outside, a German and an Austrian lad are enjoying a Pall Mall each on the veranda, peering out at the stormy clouds threatening to break the humidity. I really laugh when I discover that they have come all the way to Samoa to watch the 2014 FIFA World Cup first round playoff between four of the world’s worst teams: The Cook Islands, Tonga, Samoa and American Samoa. The winners of this four-team round robin are rewarded with a berth in the Oceania World Cup group. I seem to recall that American Samoa lost 36-0 to Australia some years ago, the biggest defeat in world cup history. Damn! This mini tournament starts the day after I leave. I am gutted. Watching the world’s worst football teams take each other on is like its own mini World Cup finals. Respect to David and his Austrian friend for coming all the way here to experience this highlight of the world football calendar.
(Update 28th November: Samoa have narrowly made it through to Round Two of Oceania qualifying for Brazil 2014 after a tight 1-0 win to deny close neighbours American Samoa. Tonga finished second, on goals scored, after they defeated the Cook Islands 2-1)
Sundays in Apia really are a write off. It’s like the majority of the world’s population has been wiped out by a killer virus (perhaps they have been) and there are only 50 of us left, aimlessly strolling around the capital city of Samoa along with several hundred dogs. There’s only one supermarket open and all that seems to stock is tinned corned beef, tinned tuna and a vast array of sugary biscuits.
I find myself singing Ghost Town by the Specials as I stroll up the peninsula, but abandon my walk after a couple of kilometres in fear of two mischievous-looking dogs that seem to be following me. Despite my Samoan dog fear, I haven’t experienced a single dodgy incident with the local hounds.
More aimless wandering takes me in the opposite direction to the wharf, where I watch the ferry slip lazily into port from American Samoa. Close to the wharf is the famous Aggie Grey’s. This is a delightful colonial hotel that has seen guests including the British Royal Family overnight. I hang around the cocktail bar for a quick Vailima, pretending to be rich enough to stay here and imagining former guests that include Marlon Brando drinking in this charming pastiche of yesteryear.
Back at the motel I meet the lovely Montse from Spain. She’s just arrived in Samoa and asks me to give her a few pointers about Savaii. Damn, I wish I was leaving for that island tomorrow with her instead of flying back to New Zealand. By the way, Robert Louis Stevenson, the man who wrote Treasure Island, chose to spend his last years on Upolu. I am starting to see what the attraction was.
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.