Travel!

Wanting Some Mo’ Samoa

By Dave Fox
Apia, Samoa
November 29, 2005

samoa-samys-fast-food-shack-copyright-globejotting-dot-comAfter a stressful arrival in Fiji on Friday, I expected a repeat performance two days later in Samoa. Fueling my fears were the following warnings from my guidebook (“Moon Handbooks: South Pacific” by David Stanley):

…Nobody means any harm, and violent crime is almost unknown, but be careful: The concept of individual ownership is not entirely accepted by the Samoans. Don’t leave valuables unattended. Someone might even steal your laundry off the line….

…Another unique Samoan characteristic is musu, to be sullen. A previously communicative individual will suddenly become silent and moody. This often bears no relation to what’s happening at the time, and when a Samoan becomes musu, the best approach is just to sit back and wait until they get a grip….

Last night, Seth suggested that he, Lisa, and I rent a car for the day. We decided against that plan after reading the following:

Some Samoans in remote areas resent sightseers who drive through their village in rented automobiles…. Cases of local children shouting insults, baring their bottoms, and even stoning motorists are not unknown….

…You’ll often see people walking along a paved highway oblivious to approaching traffic, especially in the late afternoon. If you’re forced to swerve dangerously to miss them or have to stop to avoid hitting another car, they’ll just laugh. If you do hit something valuable, like a large pig, drive back to Apia and turn yourself into the police (tel. 22-222). If you stop you could be stoned, and heaven help you if you hit a Samoan! One Apia car rental company has this line in their brochure: “Stopping to verify the extend [sic] of possible injuries to a third party could prove fatal to yourself….”

I showed Seth and Lisa what the guidebook said. We decided a taxi might be a better plan, though the book had little positive to say about the cabbies either.

I’ve been ripped off by cab drivers in more countries than I can count. I avoid taxis whenever possible. But to get around the island, we had no choice. We flagged a driver down. His name was Jerry.

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Samoan taxis have no meters. You negotiate a price at the start of a journey. Jerry agreed to take us to a waterfall, famous for its flat and slippery rocks you can slide down, for 15 Samoan tala – about 6 US dollars. He promised to return 90 minutes later to take us back to Apia.

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We climbed down a steep staircase to the falls, painfully aware we’d have to climb back up afterward. Late morning temperatures were already flirting with 90 degrees Fahreinheit. We frolicked in the water and survived the 7-million-step climb back to the top, where we were greeted by a girl who sold us about 20 small bananas for 2 tala. We tried to buy fewer. We even offered to pay 2 tala for half the number of bananas she wanted to give us, but she was firm in her price and her quantity.

Jerry returned with his taxi right on schedule. We hopped in and argued about what to do next. Seth and Lisa wanted beaches. I wanted downtown Apian culture. Jerry told us the best beaches were several hours away, but he knew some sea caves worth splashing in that were only 45 minutes from town. So we headed toward the caves.

samoa-bbq-copyright-globejotting-dot-comThe road wound around the coast past a trillion palm trees and scattered towns. Every few miles, we’d screech past a roadside barbecue.

We talked Jerry into stopping at one. Five tala (about two US dollars) scored us a plate heaped with barbecued chicken legs, sausages, turkey tails, and bananas. One plate was plenty for two people.

At the caves, we encountered kamikaze children diving off a small cliff into a shallow pool.  Jerry told me all children spoke Samoan at home and didn’t learn English until they started school. But these seven- and eight-year-olds spoke English as well as they dove – with accents that sounded like American-Australian hybrids. Older Samoans spoke English with a stronger Polynesian accent, but foreign television is affecting the way young Samoans speak English.

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We swam for a while at the caves, but I was insisting we head back to Apia in time for some Samoan city culture. I wanted to meet more people. The best place to do this, I suggested, was a bar.

“You want to go dancing?” Jerry asked us. We thought he was joking. It was 3 in the afternoon. But he took us to a club that had live reggae from 1 p.m. until late in the evening. It was a dirty, rickety building, scant with tables, packed with friendly, tipsy people. Temperatures were in the mid 30s Celcius – low 90s Fahreinheit – but that wasn’t stopping people from moving around the dance floor as if they were posessed by the ghost of Bob Marley.

The next thing I knew, I was surrounded by men asking my permission to dance with Lisa (who they assumed was my wife). Lisa told me she hates dancing… which is why I told them they absolutely had my permission to dance with her. She did well under the circumstances. The building had no air conditioning. Temperatures were well into the 90s now (mid to upper 30s Celcius) with humidity that made our clothes gooey with perspiration even when we stood still.

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A cute girl named Lazzi started hitting on me. She gave me her phone number. She told me Samoan boys bored her and she was falling in love with me. Alas, my ship was leaving. I had to leave the club with Jerry the cab driver instead. He drove us back to our floating five-star hotel.

samoa-jerry-taxi-2-copyright-globejotting-dot-comJerry stuck with us the entire day. He showed us places we never would have seen in a rental car – from the sea caves to the barbecue joint to the sweatiest, happiest reggae dive bar in the South Pacific. His fee for spending the day with us was 95 tala – around $35 US, divided by three people. We tipped him heartily. He deserved it. He didn’t even bother to count as I crunched the bills into his palm.

I didn’t just give him the money though. I gave him a hug. I told him he had restored my faith in taxi drivers. I asked for his phone number. If I’m ever back in Samoa, I want him as my guide.

You have to take guidebook warnings with a grain of salt. Authors of such books usually have a passion for the places they write about. They also have a responsibility to their readers to warn us of pitfalls. I don’t doubt there are places in Samoa where visitors might not be welcomed so heartily as we were. But I had felt edgy as I arrived – in part because of the guidebook warnings, in part because of my less than tame arrival in Fiji two days earlier. Maybe it’s because my expectations were low that I had one of my most amazing travel days ever in Samoa.

Few times in my travels has leaving a place been so hard… in spite of an air-conditioned luxury cruise liner to return to.

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Four hours from now, we cross the Equator back into the Northern Hemisphere. Next stop, tomorrow morning: Christmas Island, Kiribati.

Published on Tuesday, November 29, 2005

6 Responses to “Wanting Some Mo’ Samoa”

  1. Stephanie
    November 29, 2005 at 10:50 PM

    Fantastic blog. I am very jealous, as I am currently living in London and freezing my bottom off. Sounds like quite an adventure.

  2. December 2, 2005 at 6:31 AM

    I’m sorry that the comments in my book made you apprehensive. But in the end, you had a great time, as I always do in Samoa. It and Fiji are my favorite South Pacific countries.

  3. faia'oga
    February 22, 2006 at 8:40 AM

    Talofa
    Having stumbled upon your blog, I enjoyed reading of(as I knew you would eventually describe) a realistic image of many of the friendly and humourous characteristics of my people. The most enjoyable experience of visiting Samoa is to expect the unexpected.

  4. May 5, 2006 at 7:30 AM

    Talofa,
    I enjoyed reading about your adventure in Samoa. I’ve always thought the description of Samoa in travel books to be a bit dubious. I’m glad the true Samoan hospitality came through.
    Cheers,
    Fotu

  5. fala
    June 30, 2006 at 8:55 AM

    malo tama ua a mai oe ia ua ou oo mai ia Australia mai New Zealand ua ou alofa tele i ia lauu atanuu ia fafetai lava
    tofa sofua

  6. fala
    June 30, 2006 at 8:55 AM

    malo tama ua a mai oe ia ua ou oo mai ia Australia mai New Zealand ua ou alofa tele i ia lauu atanuu ia fafetai lava
    tofa sofua

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