My flight from Fiji to Samoa is one of those God-awful affairs that occurs in the dead of night and is best forgotten. I had assumed it was at this hour because the flight continued on to Hawaii, but no, that’s a different schedule. This one was not even half-full and exists for what reason I know not. Maybe the return to Fiji at 5:30am is full. So I figure I’ll just kill a few hours until the sun comes up, and then take a bus or shuttle into town. There’s only one problem- there is no bus or shuttle, because there are no flights. Faleolo airport on the island of Upola in Samoa is not exactly Grand Central Station. That’s because the frequent air shuttles to Pago Pago in American Samoa leave from the old small airport close in to town. So I end up taking an expensive taxi in, and am lucky to find that.
There is one benefit to the wait, though. The wait for sunlight allows for a nice tour of rural Samoa on the hour-long ride to Apia, and that’s something you can’t see in the capital. Tours would cost more than twice this. Since I’m paying only $14 a night for a place anyway- less than a dorm bed in Nadi- cost is not much of a factor, just the hassle of checking in to a room at 6am seems absurd somehow. How did I know the flight would be on time? The capital city of Apia is totally different from the villages, which are centered around traditional fale houses, post-and-beam open structures which seem to be multi-purpose, though at the early hour I think I caught some people still sleeping there. An intermediate step toward modernity seems to be actual houses with sides, but curvilinear hip roofs, that with tin roofs even!
Apia is something of a real live- if slightly funky- capital city, nicer than Honiara, S.I. at least, with multiple coffee houses and kick-ass caffeine. I’m enjoying my dirt-cheap digs, too, as a matter of principle, if nothing else, though it’s nice to be part of a pre-hostel situation in which the local people’s lodgings included communal kitchen as a matter of course. Those can still be found elsewhere, too, the Caribbean sometimes, for one. I check around and $30 will get me a private bathroom, but not much more, and $50 will get me that and A/C, but no Sat-TV. I think I’ll just enjoy the discount to my Australia-size current budget deficit. I don’t even complain about the $3.50/hour charge for Wi-Fi, especially when that’s the absolute cheapest available at any cyber-café in town, especially when it’s in my room, especially when there’s no rounding to the next fifteen minutes, like in Fiji, so I can log in-and-out at will, handy for a long e-mail.
Apia doesn’t have much, but it DOES have a long coastal stretch rimming the city, so that’s nice. My cheapo hotel is very close to the market and bus station and supermarkets, so that’s nice, too. Those are at least as good as Fiji (influence from brother American Samoa?) and far better than Honiara. The people seem to be a little rougher, though, less graceful and less gracious, a wild quality I’d noticed in New Zealand and already decided it was a Maori thing. Despite the Polynesian self-designation as friendliest of the friendlies, I’d rate them below the Melanesians. Some of these guys, in fact, seem to wear on their faces something I’d describe as something between a perpetual frown and a scowl… a ‘frowl’ or a ‘scown’, maybe? Some of them look like they’d rather kick my ass than tolerate it, maybe an influence from the infamous ‘Sons of Samoa’ gangs in the US and NZ?
The market women seem pretty nice, though, but surprisingly clumsy at dealing with foreigners. People are constantly bumping into me and cutting me off, less polite in general, not bump-and-grab, mind you, just bump. The food doesn’t look especially appetizing, either, variations on the ‘deep-fried’ theme. I know where these big bellies come from, and I can spell it out in two words- ‘extra crispy,’ just like the Colonel does it. These people don’t add years to their lives; they add inches. Chinese immigration is in its infancy here, so they cater mostly to local tastes. One of the few Chinese places has ‘egg fu yung’, though, so given my newfound semi-vegetarianism and theories of culinary DNA, I have to try that, to compare to related versions in Indonesia and the US. It turns out to be something very familiar. In the US we call it ‘scrambled eggs’, though given the addition of some green and reds, maybe ‘harvest eggs’ or maybe a ‘dirty scramble’. I haven’t found anything called ‘chop suey’ yet without chicken, though, but I’ll be looking, since the vegetarian version in Fiji was okay. The culinary genome project never sleeps. Neither does my hunger. The fresh produce market has plenty of fruits, but not many vegetables, almost nothing in fact. That you have to get in the supermarket in its own little refrigerated section. That’ll give you a clue as to where they come from.
Churches are everywhere here, Christian ones of all kinds, so it’ll be interesting to see Samoa on a Sunday. They’re called ekalesia in the local lingo. That sounds like it came straight from Greek. Once you start reading the street signs in Athens, you realize that many- if not most- of the modern English and Spanish words you assumed came from Latin, in fact originally came from Greek. You do that, too, don’t you? All the countries around here seem shut down pretty tight on Sundays, half day on Saturdays, too, though Tonga may be the strictest. That’ll be next week.
For now I’m just waiting on a clear sunny day to go to the neighboring island of Savai’i, supposedly the cradle of Polynesian culture. That may or may not happen, given the daily rains we’ve been having. After staying city-bound in Honiara for a week, I’m anxious to make some tracks, see some islands. That is what defines the region, after all, not FaceBook. And after a few days in Apia I’m starting to get antsy. There’s a ferry several times a day across the drink to the big island, but I’m unsure. I’ll have to give up my dirt-cheap digs here to do it. Will there be Internet there? I know in my heart that Salelologa is just another sh*tty little town that I’ll end up walking around aimlessly like I’m doing now in Apia. How could it be anything else? But enough of that ‘tude… I need to keep the best face on things, polish the shiny happy Hardie K for public show, accept some responsibility for… you, my readers? Not exactly…
There’s this young Japanese girl where I’m staying, and I mean super young, can’t be a day over eighteen, okay maybe twenty-one, though admittedly the older I get, the younger they look. She’s traveling alone, too, and doesn’t seem very happy, staring off into space mostly. I’ve seen her a day or two now, and wanted to say hi, but she doesn’t make eye contact, deliberately avoids it, I suspect. I finally break the ice today and she seems okay, but I don’t know, since I see her later alone in a parking lot in town, staring vacantly at the gravel. Her hair is cut off short, which may just be her style, or orientation, or disease, or it may mean some guy dumped her… hard. That’s what young Thai girls do, if they’re the dumpee. Now I’ve seen young Japanese girls traveling alone many times, but never looking this lost. Why do parents let their kids do this? Do they even know? Anyway, she doesn’t need to see the dark side of my moon. Who knows? Maybe she’s thinking the same about me… I’ll try to engage her, but carefully. I don’t want to scare her away. She’s probably okay, just an overdose of self-consciousness. I know the type.
So then I get this BIG IDEA (that’s the best part of independent travel; big ideas are okay). There’s another island only slightly farther away than Savai’i, but in the other direction! It’s called America, American Samoa, that is- greenbacks, KFC, Kmart, le schmear entire if my calculations are correct. Now that could be interesting. They’re US nationals, if not citizens, with full rights to immigrate to the mainland. If I know my Constitutional law, that privilege should be reciprocal, meaning that I should have full rights to live there, visa-free and without time limits. Opportunities like this don’t present themselves every day, paradise with no passport. Maybe I should check it out. The half-hour RT flight is less than $200 total, but I can’t find a hotel for less than $100 to save my life. Rev the engine and… chill…
Weather drops to 80% precip on Sunday. That’s like a sunny day for these parts, and as good as it’ll get, too, rain scheduled for the entire week to come. But the Pago Pago idea entices me enough that I’ll wait another day to talk to a travel agent. They just might have a package deal or something thrifty for the homies, maybe a mid-week special, since I don’t have to fly on to Tonga until Friday. I DO have to fly from a different airport, though, so no short-cuts there. Till then I’ll just chill and enjoy a quiet Sunday, since I don’t have any choice, maybe go to church. What religion do I want today? So I decide to go church-hopping, just follow the music. It somehow pleases me to wander a city when it’s totally abandoned, like a graveyard at midnight, very similar, actually, as though I’m somehow vindicated by its lifelessness.
But the churches are busy, everyone dressed in their Sunday best, mostly white. I like the ones that open right on to the street, so I can just look in through the doorway and get the vibe. I don’t particularly care for the part, “now let’s welcome our visitors.” That’s usually me. I don’t want to get that involved, unless they’ve got food. No Christian church has ever kicked me out, though a mosque has. I’m not sure a Hindu temple would let me in in the first place, ‘Hindu only.’ Do they issue membership cards?
So I’m trying to engage Tanaka, the Japanese girl, but it’s not easy. She’s either the shiest most sensitive person I’ve ever met, or someone’s hurt her badly, left her unable to even make eye contact. I think of all the dogs I’ve ever seen beaten. I’m like Attila the Hun compared to this girl. I try to check her wrists for slashes or gashes, but she’s wearing long sleeves. In this heat? That makes sense, no cause for worry. She says she’s been sick with some diarrhea, so I guess that CAN cause some vacant stares. She also says she’s traveling around the world. Good luck. So I say her a little prayer and entrust her to the gods. I’m going to Pago Pago for a couple days, America in the South Pacific. How much can a hotel for two nights possibly set me back? In another week I’ll be back in the REAL America. Stay tuned…