Pago Pago, Samoa Samoa – Make Mine Americano

California time is only two hours difference from Apia, Samoa being on daylight savings time, same day even. So the sun rises around 7am and sets 8-ish. I heard people in Fiji say it’s a nine-hour flight from there to LA, but I won’t be so lucky.
Mine’s that just to Honolulu, what with a ‘technical stop’ on Christmas Atoll, but at least I’ve got a five-hour nonstop to LA from there, so hoping for no jet-lag. Jet-lag is an east-west phenomenon; north-south is little affected, though polar flights may be the exception, possibly the worst… I’m bored. After some five days in Apia, Samoa, I’m somewhere between stir-crazy and stark-raving. I’ve listened to almost all the music on my laptop, stuff I’ve received over the last two years from record industry publicists, much of which I only listened to once to begin with, the ones I actually reviewed no more than five times max.

It’s no surprise I’m bored, since I knew these eight days in Samoa were there looming large the whole time with no compelling destination. I half-way assumed I’d get over to Savai’i at some point, but with all the rain it’s hard to get excited about simply schlepping it all over to another town for some undefined purpose. So the idea of hopping over to Pago Pago in American Samoa comes as a godsend. I can’t believe I didn’t even consider it before… but I didn’t, not at all. The only other option is to upgrade hotels here in Apia for a change of pace, but that’s pretty lame. Of course I’m only here eight days to begin with because the frequent flights to Fiji tend to fill up, for what reason I’m not sure, since the flight FROM Fiji certainly wasn’t full. If this side-trip to America works out, that’d be way cool. Too bad I don’t need any bucks USD.

If I sound lame complaining about being bored in Paradise, let it be said definitively that when I decided years ago to visit every country in the world, I never imagined it as a frolic in the park. It’s not. It’s a tour of duty, discipline being the operative concept. It is for any serious travel writer BTW, and I don’t count those who merely act out the typical tourist itineraries for you. The only difference between me and Paul Theroux out here- apart from his massive success- is that he traveled with a kayak, which quite impresses me FWIW, not his physical prowess necessarily, but the willingness to endure the hassle of traveling with a 2-ton gorilla. This is where the backpacker in me stands up to be heard. The first commandment in my Bible is ‘travel light’. That’s gospel, the only exception being when the extra weight is part of the trip’s theme… a la Theroux. Other than that he’s just traveling around shooting the sh*t with people, just like me, chewing the fat and then chewing the cud, waxing philosophical. You spend half a day doing something, and the rest of the day writing about it; that’s the gig. I’m sure I’ll run into an ex-PM from New Zealand any day now.

Next let it be said that image and reality are not the same thing. This is not the Caribbean, object of my last previous adventure only a half year ago, so still fresh on my mind. The hardest thing to realize- and the most distinctive difference in comparison with the Caribbean- is the sheer vastness of the Pacific. You can’t fly for an hour anywhere in the Caribbean and not see inhabited land somewhere. In the Pacific there are literally thousands of uninhabited islands. From Nadi, Fiji, we flew for almost two hours to ‘nearby’ Samoa, my 137th UN-member country BTW, and that’s not un-typical. This is in a Boeing-737, mind you, not the little Fokkers (!) that LIAT Airline flogs around the Caribs. More importantly, there are no cruise ships here, not many anyway, nothing compared to the Caribbean. I haven’t seen one since I left Auckland.

The Pago Pago idea is a good one, very good. It’s nice… not in the tourist sense, because there are none, not to speak of. I guess that’s why it’s nice for me. Once it’s been ‘done’ it’ll never be the virgin that it was before, especially not if it’s being done by everyone, and for money. Pago Pago is not like that, fairly pristine in fact, one of the prettier harbors in the world, if small, and surrounded by homes and lawns and villages, not geeked-out tourist resorts. There are hardly any hotels, in fact, at least in the ‘town’ itself, pretty much limited to one cheapie and the two Sadie Thompsons, one the former ‘Rainmaker’ of seedy Somerset Maugham fame, two extremes neither of which would please me.

I lucked out. Evalani’s, where I’m staying, is only a short walk from town, and is pleasantly mid-range, as good as any deal in Apia, really, shared bath more than made up for by cheap Internet. It’s good atmosphere, too, though I’d hesitate to say ‘authentic’. It may very well be a copy of what Americans think Polynesia is like, rather than the genuine thing itself, but that’s kitsch at least, good enough considering Evalani herself did time years ago on the stage in Vegas to some success apparently. Food’s cheap in Pago Pago, too, and more variety than Apia.

Of course the DNA of cuisine takes some weird turns this far from the source, so I bought some kim chee… WITH NO CABBAGE! I thought kim chee WAS cabbage. Then I bought a sushi roll with egg inside, and a big slice of… WTF?… SPAM! Gross! Someone put Spam in my sushi! Hand me a spoon! Chill… but there are more selections for a vegetarian here, and an entire genre of Pinoy food lacking in Western Samoa. Coffee’s even better, with decent coffee at US prices, which is good, twenty ounces for two bucks USD; do the math. Oh yeah, and they use US currency here, nickels dimes quarters, the whole enchilada. They even have enchiladas here! Apparently Mexican fishermen stop in here.

On the whole it’s not that much different from Western Samoa; that’s the attraction. Yet it’s still part of America. Here are the details- there are McD’s and KFC and Pizza Hut of course (but they’ve got those everywhere), US currency, yellow school buses, PBS, USPO, American football, and American slang. The police even have Harleys! There are also laundromats, and cars drive on the right, something Western Samoa also did until a year or so ago, probably just to piss the American Samoans off. There are NO KMarts or Home Depots or Safeway supermarkets, but then it’s a small town.

There are Napa auto parts and a modern Cineplex. All in all it’s a bit more modern than the west… but not much. The buses are cute folk art, just like the ones in the west, and there is a local produce market, but it’s spiffier than Apia’s. Almost no one wears the traditional lavalava here; I guess that’s a major difference. So many men wear them on Western Samoa that it makes it hard to tell who’s a transvestite, of which there are plenty also. There’s a Bank of Hawaii here, located conveniently next to the Dept. of Health and Human Services, and Bank of New Zealand, too, fair enough, fair dinkum.

On the whole I’d say people are friendlier in AS, though that might be subject to debate. My hotel clerk even hugged me at checkout (almost broke my back, actually), good service! Like many places, generally women are friendly and the men are jerks, preferring to cop a ‘tude rather than being nice, being mutha’s while the women are being mothers, looking for a tree to piss on in the middle of a desert (‘at’s a metapho’). Guys working on a sixty-foot-long boat even get weird when I ask to take a picture of it- “What do you do in America?” I’m a writer. “What kind of writer?” I’m a poet. “What’s that?” (Such is the state of the art). I write poems… (and all the men move away from me on the bench) and a few blogs (and all the men move back)… including a travel blog. “Oh, yeah? This boat here is the one we race…” and so on, Byron, Shelley, and Keats rolling over in their collective graves simultaneously at the depths to which their art has fallen. And a couple other guys jerked me around a little, but no big deal, maybe just a knee-jerk assertion of independence.

In West Samoa the ‘tude is more just a fashion statement, every guy with a punky shock of blonde hair dyed in, like Mary-Something’s hair gel erection, a highlight to contrast with the dark glasses. On the American side there are even some righteous repercussions from the Samoans who’ve come back to make things better, one Mary (no relation to the above) explaining to me about the massive corruption that goes on, and how many westerners have come to the American side to fill in the gaps by the Samoan-Americans who’ve gone on to America, more than half as a rule of thumb. So there’s plenty of politics here, and some people who’ve cut enough cane with the campesinos to know how to do it.

Then there’s the ‘yacht club.’ They anchor over and get their mail and repair their boats and what-not, supplementing the few genuine ex-pats who are hardy perennials. Here’s the deal on that- Americans can stay as long as they want, but to buy land, they have to marry in. Thus there are no big developments, mostly just home-grown ones, and franchises servicing the local economy. This is a tourist bonanza waiting to happen, best-kept secret in the South Pacific I reckon. Did I mention that the harbor is beautiful? So the west may have better beaches, but all in all I might prefer the American side, particularly for those advantages that citizenship would bring. I’m glad I came. Now it’s time to go already, boo-hoo.

1 thought on “Pago Pago, Samoa Samoa – Make Mine Americano”

  1. OK, you made the boat.

    With a few more hours (days?) you would had the whole enchilada (sic)

    So take the virtual tour and sample the podcasts, which in themselves offer a poetic justice to a whole culture that suffered the slings and arrows of Christianity.

    Samoans really caught on to biblical guilt: Why I know not!

    From Pago Pago,


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