Wednesday, July 09, 2008

A probligo's perambulation in paradise - 1


“The Nation Founded On God” is proclaimed on a memorial to the independance of Samoa just across the road from their Parliament Buildings. Next door stands a corrugated iron shed and behind is a rather more conventional European style “house”, which from memory is the headquarters of the Samoa Institute of Research.

There are two things that hit you when you step off the plane from Auckland. First is the heat. The second is the fact that it is just 0030. A half hour after midnight. You do the immigration, ag, customs things. You wander through a small door into the main part of the terminal to find a small wiry Samoan holding a card with a list of names. Oh! Part way down it says “Probligo”!! Well, not really, but this is the probligo’s perambulation so it will have to stand.

I learn, very quickly, that our car is “just over there” and that very soon I will be driving it into Apia. At 0130. In the dark. I have no idea of the landmarks I need to find the hotel. There is no way that I could identify them in the dark if I did know them. We had asked to pick up the car tomorrow, in Apia, and to bus/taxi from the airport. However, nothing daunted!! So I open the door and ... no steering wheel. Ooops, silly probligo. Left hand drive. You can always tell a tourist in Apia. They turn on the wipers to turn at intersections and the turn on the indicators when it starts to rain. After getting lost just the once when I turned right... wrong... left at the wrong time, we reached the hotel in double quick time at about 0240. Yeah, well quick time would be about 40 minutes. We took about 80 minutes. That makes it double quick time...

In the warm light of day, another will certainly catch the attention– apart from the heat that is – and that is the number of churches. I counted Catholic, Methodist, Methodist Ecclesiastic, Assembly of God, LDS, Church of Samoa, Chapel of the Triple Heart, and one Bahai’i Temple. I did not find any hint of Freemasons or Oddfellows. Every village has at least one church. In one stretch between Apia and the airport, it would have been possible (given the right viewpoint) to photograph up to five churches and shrines in one frame.

There are two things that I have “discovered” in our various jaunts into the tropics. They are directly related, and can heavily impact one upon the other.

The first is “attitude” - your (or my) attitude to your surroundings, your expectations.
The second is the reasons why you went in the first place.

So, to explain –
The probligo’s first reason to visit Samoa is to see the place – as honestly and as unsanitised as possible; the “real” Samoa.

The second reason is as far as possible to have a relaxing time, doing things as different as possible from the normal humdrum routine of life. The second reason is, not to go “native” (though that would be a lot of fun) but to at least have genuine and unmodified contact with “people” rather than “tourist events”.

Then being the good mix of Scots and Yorkie that the probligo be, I want to do it at the cheapest possible price. So that, for starters brings back the expectations somewhat. Like accommodation for example. We stayed at the “Kitano” in Apia. It was a convenient tourist hotel, not expensive, and looked like what we wanted. It turned out to be acceptable with one or two individual disappointments. So when you walk into your hotel room, and one or two of the slate tiles in the floor are broken, you notice that the bottom corner has rotted off the bathroom door, the laminex is starting to lift off the bathroom vanity… Turn around; the toilet is spotless, the shower clean enough to eat in, there is a small millipede gliding between two tiles, the mirrors and handbasin are clean… Which is more important? What you use? Or the fact that the place is getting a bit old and tired and needs a bit of a tarting up that they can probably not afford? The disappointments? Two meals, one that I had and one that “the better half” ordered. If I wanted to be really picky I could point at one particular member of the restaurant staff who was a bit too likely to go walkabout while on the job. But that is all.

We also spent a week out at Savai’i at “Tanu Beach Fales”. Tanu is the family name, not the beach name. It is one of four similar establishments in Manase village. “Fale” is the Samoan for “house”, or more correctly “building”; it relates directly with the Maori “whare”. There is a whole, for me fascinating, trail of thought – the probligo theory of organic development of culture – that connects such things as traditional architecture with environment. Hence the Inuit make the best use of their most abundant materials – hides, rock and ice - to construct houses. So too with the Samoans – their traditional fale is designed (has developed organically) in response to several centuries of hurricane, heat and rain. The most available materials are timber and coconut palm. The need for shelter is minimal; a heavy rain storm is as good a warm shower as any you will find; the need for ventilation is paramount; the need to withstand the forces of a hurricane is minimised. So, as one person ( another Nzer I think) described them it was like camping in a wooden tent.

Inside, the sleeping arrangements were just as basic – a 4 inch foam rubber squab on the floor.

We had arranged one day (2 nights) in Apia to pick up the car, change money, general orientation. With the first two achieved the second took a little longer. We set out with the intention of finding two points on the map we had been given with the car. First discovery – there are one heck of a lot of churches in Samoa. Second discovery – there are no street name signs in Samoa. Oh, we did find two; one just outside the original Aggie Grey’s Hotel, the other in the hills on the Cross-Island Road.

Our only success was to get ourselves to the enigmatically indicated “sliding rocks” which, once found, immediately became better defined. “Sliding” as in for sliding on or down (at some risk to the crown jewels), and rocks in terms of waterfall over lava shelf with the intent of sliding down....

No, I didn’t. We had left the togs in the hotel.

Day 2 – On our way to Savai’i...

There are interesting little details to Samoa... like having you car sprayed before driving onto the ferry at the Upolu end. The tourist brochures make it quite clear, but give no reason. So, you drive into this little dirt pull-off area with a bit of a shack at one end. A youngish lad trots out with an ordinary garden hose and kinda points it in the general direction of the car. After a brief “wash” you drive the car down the road another couple hundred metres or so to the ferry. No one else seems to make the effort, though there was a 4WD pulling in when we pulled out. A sign on the door of the shed proclaims "Giant African Snail Control".

There is quite a wait at the ferry; the instructions are to turn up an hour before sailing time. There is a coffee bar which is well populated. We are still digesting the (very strong) cup we had at breakfast. And it is starting to get B****y HOT!! Not coffee weather at all atall.

The ferry appears out in the strait, rocking and rolling its way over, disappears for a while behind the buildings, then reappears.

That is Savai’i in the background.

On the trip over, I was sitting next to a young lad who was returning from fruit-picking in Hawke Bay. Very nice young guy and he spoke English much more fluently than I could ever speak Samoan. About half way over, he said that he was very tired (another arrival at 0030) so he lay down for a kip or five.

After landing we drive the 40 odd miles round to Manase, find the Tanu compound, and settle in. A swim in the lagoon at high tide is like a very large warm bath.

In true Samoan / Polynesian style, meals are communal. Special guests are always at the right hand end of the wharekai (I don’t know the Samoan equivalent; terrible!). The food is good, well prepared solid local fare; meat (chicken, spam, pork on one special occasion, and beef), taro, breadfruit, potato, Samoan chop suey, taro leaf cooked in coconut (Samoan spinach) are all served on the same plate. Oh, and “lemon tea” to wash it all down. Lemon juice in hot water; and very refreshing it be too. If you want “civilisation”, there are two independent bars, a tourist hotel, and a coffee shop that hides behind the local gas station.

And so, as Pepys is so often misquoted, to bed.

Day 3

Having ended day 2 with food, day 3 starts with breakfast. No choice; papaya, pawpaw, pineapple, “ladyfinger” bananas, a small piece of coconut, local oranges. Deliciously ripe, deliciously simple.

The local oranges are a real echo to my childhood. I can remember Samoan (and Cook Island) oranges on the table; slightly “green”, easy to break in to, full of juice inside, and as sweet as anything you can imagine. They are rather like over-sized mandarin oranges. Buy a bag of five from a local for T2 (two tala – about NZD1.20) or so and you have lunch for two. You no longer see them in NZ. Med fruitfly, transport costs and CER with Australia have seen to that. Speaking of lunch, we have also discovered “pineapple pie” (a pineapple curd in a thick pastry), and keke. Keke is a “cake” in biscuit form, filled with what I am reliably informed is the local cocoa bean after roasting and grinding. Terry Pratchett had better watch out – there is a far more potent weapon in the culinary field armoury than dwarf bread.

Drove out and about for a bit during the afternoon. Had a swim. Watched the sunset. Had dinner.

Day 4

Sunday. We went to church – at the invitation of the Tanu family.

Oh, an interesting little sidelight from the latter part of the day. On every evening - except on Sunday - some of the young boys would play touch rugby in the lagoon in the late sunset. On Sunday evening, some of the young-uns were paying in the beach. Teenage (daughter) supervising them pulled them up at one point, "You know that you are not allowed to run on Sundays. Just walk."


T. F. Stern said...

Looks and sounds like you were rewarded along the lines of your "expectations".

There's a line in the movie, Six Days Seven Nights, that holds the same wisdom you mentioned basically. The pilot of the small plane tells the fellow looking for paradise, "if you didn't bring it with you it aint here" (close enough)

The probligo said...

I don't agree TF. To say "if you didn't bring it with you it aint here" is redolent of the idea of a McD or BK on every corner, of martinis by the pool, and seeing as much as you can from a hotel deckchair. That might be fantastic for Honolulu but is not my idea of a holiday in paradise.

Samoa was way past my expectations - primarily because we faced several challenges (starting with driving at 0130) and we met some of the most beautiful people you could imagine.

The probligo said...

Oh, yes, if you are seeking paradise you can find it in most places. All that you need is a mind open to realities, and able to shift to the ideas of different paradises.

There are places that would never be paradise as they are in present times - we don't need to list them - but which have been in the past and hopefully can be again in the future.