Stranded in Samoa: Upolu Island

Trip Start May 31, 2008
Trip End Dec 15, 2008

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Flag of Samoa Western  , Upolu,
Tuesday, October 21, 2008

I awoke with a start. Rubbing the carpet imprints on my cheek, I wondered how intelligent it had been to press my face to the floor of the Faleolo Airport. Considering the amount of monstrously huge cockroaches I'd been desperately dodging for two weeks, it probably wasn't the best choice of makeshift beds. I sat up, absently wiping the drool from my face, and tried to focus my bleary eyes - which is when I noticed my glasses weren't on. Vision cleared, I looked up and immediately wished I'd stayed comatose on the floor because Monsieur Frenchman was barreling my way already, gums flapping. At two thirty in the morning, I would have rather chanced choking to death on a roach in my sleep than talk to this man who bitched and swore in such rapid Parisian that I felt like telling him I wasn't Canadian - I was, in fact, American and that I did hate his arrogant french guts (something he decided to introduce himself with "hi, I'm Frenchman and everyone seems to hate my arrogant french guts, why IS that??") and if he didn't stop harassing me purely because I could sort of understand him (not really) I was  going to start screaming RAPE!

You have to understand: I had been up since 6am the previous morning after a fitful sleep involving dreams about giant rats leaving their diseased turds in my bag and some mass confusion in the middle of the night that, turns out, was 20 villagers chasing a guy who'd used a machete (while drunk) to slash two other Samoans. That coupled with my friend, Julia having $500 tala ($300ish NZD) stolen from right next to her head all in the same night. So, did I want to hear about Monsieur Frenchman's problems? Hell no. The plane had a flat tire, they were trying to fix it, we are on a small island, shit happens and it's not their fault necessarily. In any case, there's nothing that can be done about it and you cannot travel to a developing country and expect it to be smooth sailing 100% of the time. Chill out dude or at very least piss off!

Sitting on the floor trying not to think about the fact that I have no clean underwear, they announced that the flight was cancelled and they were going to try to find somewhere for all of us to sleep. That's when I began to laugh: I was stranded in Samoa. There are worse things than being stranded on an island paradise - especially when they farm you out to a ridiculously posh resort where you have air conditioning (that you find too cold), a TV (that you don't turn on), four walls/no bugs (but you open the balcony door because you already miss the sound of the ocean lulling you to sleep) and a shower head - instead of a hose/pipe in the wall - that gushes hot water (but you turn it cold because your skin is still a little too sensitive from all the sun). I had TWO showers to get all the salt off and used every towel in there just because I could. I drank four cups of tea in an hour just because they were there and I ordered a ridiculous amount of room service (and didn't eat even half of it) because we were given vouchers. I called reception every house to remember what it felt like to use a phone without worrying about how much "...hello..." was going to cost you.

Though I'm making myself sound Western civilization-starved, I thoroughly enjoyed living in a Samoan fale (fah-lay) for the last two weeks. It was perfect. The wind off the ocean (which was spitting distance from my 'front door') came in through the woven/thatched walls but the rain was kept out. I could (and did) pull my mattress up to the front of the fale and laid there staring at infinite turquoise that changed colours so often I wondered if the sea was being playful or moody.

Samoa has two islands (not counting 'American Samoa' which I know nothing about and where I never was); Upolu and Savai'i. Upolu houses the capital - Apia - and is where I began and ended my trip. Because this trip was less about adventure and more about me desperately needing some time out, I didn't see much of either island. On Upolu I saw Apia and Lalomanu Beach.

Apia is just what you would expect the capital city of a developing country to be - necessary and unforgiving. What I mean by that is that the second you get into 'town' you feel coated in grime and are immediately sweating. It's not a big town by any means (no more than 40 mins walking from one side to the other) but compared to the villages just outside of it, it was clogged and polluted. By 'necessary' I mean that there was very little in Apia that didn't need to be there (except the McDonalds!) which translates to ugly buildings, too many industrial areas and very little beauty. Of course, that's just one perspective/opinion. If I hadn't already seen so many 'cities' like it, maybe I would think it has more to offer than mere necessity but that was also the only reason I was there. Out of necessity.

The first couple of nights I stayed  a 40 min walk outside of Apia in a village called Faatoia, in a cluster of fales run by a kind family. It was interesting to see the dynamics of a Samoan family. The father was often absent while the children worked around the property. The mother, unsurprisingly, was busy in the kitchen most of the time; she made no family decisions and left the older children to look after the younger ones rarely, if ever, intervening. Which led to me witnessing the extremely clever 12 yr old daughter (we'd previously been discussing evolution) slapping her (very bratty) 4 yr old brother so angrily I gasped. In response she said: "It's good for him. He's bad and needs to learn." I said nothing. She was obviously the boss when it came to him as their mother had been only a few feet away and had ignored the whole thing. The general impression I gleaned was that, unless the father was around, the children were left to their own devices with the daughter carrying the baby around with her and disciplining the boys. When the Rev was around, the children were put to work, though he was never unkind in his requests of them they rarely got to relax but didn't seem bothered by it. (I tried to get the secret to his success for you, Dad, but when he shot a glance at the huge stick in the corner and winked I thought it best not to press him further. After all, the kids may be maniacs but corporal punishment is still illegal back home..heh.)

I'm not a fan of Apia (maybe you could tell?); among other things, there are too many leering men who seemed to think that because I was a visitor, it gave them the right to obscene gestures and drunken attempts at invading my personal space. On my last day, when a boy who couldn't have been much older than my teen aged brother asked me for the 30 millionth time if I was married, I crossed the street away from him and laughed, calling back; "I'm beginning to wish I was!"

Lalomanu Beach was much better. (Before Lalomanu I took the ferry across to Savai'i and spent a week there, I will have a separate entry for that island and the pictures I took there.) Clear across the island, it took almost three hours on the public bus (check out the pics - I fell in love with them) through some amazing rainforest landscape and a bunch of villages. It was a fantastic ride - all for 5 tala = 3.5 NZD - and sure beat taking an 'air conditioned coach' like Flight Center suggested for a steep 250 tala!

Arriving with no plans, Julia (more on her later) and I walked the whole 5 minutes it took to check out each fale option, choosing the cheapest one. They were very confused when we said no, we didn't want to share, there were plenty free (all of them actually) so could we please have our own. Their looks said; "But... you're friends which is like family and why wouldn't you want to sleep side by side??" It was impossible to explain the desire for your own private fale in a culture that didn't understand - or believe in - the concept of person space. But, in the end, we had our own right next to each other.

The fales were fine; the food, though not great, was exactly what we expected to find...but the bathrooms were unforgivable. I'm sure, after reading my Asia blogs, you all understand just how BAD it has to be for me (also a notorious cheap ass) to say something is unforgivable enough to move somewhere more expensive. But - it really was. ...shudder... So, the next day we moved next door and were so grateful at the sight of the bathrooms we jumped for joy. And god!...when they set a salad in front of us we WEPT. And asked for more, piling the green veggie goodness high on our plates. Take THAT deep-fried-EVERYTHING-induced scurvy! Roughage never tasted so sweet.
Highlights of Upolu Island were skinny dipping in the ocean under the most brilliant bed of stars I've ever seen and, on our last night, laying in the sand talking about The Meaning of Life and seeing not just one, but two (!!)shooting stars travel clear across the sky, making me gasp and squeeze my eyes shut tight...

...I wish I may...I wish I might...
xox K
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