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Samoa visit: 8th - 11th Dec 2003

INDEPENDENT SAMOA (8th to 11th December) Tuesday 9th December @ 1250 we left Auckland on a Polynesian Airlines flight for Apia, the capital of Samoa, duly arriving a day earlier, on Monday 8th at 1630. That damn International Dateline again!!! There were not many foreigners (and no backpackers) on the flight – mainly big (in every sense of the word) Samoan families on board. Independent Samoa is not to be confused with American Samoa, which is something else altogether – aka another US state in all but name). As we disembarked at Faleolo airport just outside Apia we were struck by the most incredible heat and humidity as we walked across the apron to customs and immigration. It is only a wee airport –runway right next to the sea – and you still walk to and from your Boeing 737! The heat was like a physical blow! Nothing had prepared us for the 30+degrees C and almost 100% humidity. Just sitting still without any exertion and the sweat ran down you in rivulets. We spent 2 days in Apia at the Millenia Hotel which was a bit pricey, but it had aircon in the room. Strolling to a local restaurant in the evening for dinner brought on further sauna-like experiences, which only ice-cold Vailima beers (brewed on the island and very good too) temporarily succeeded in reducing, slaking raging thirsts and cooling fevered brows. Even at night the heat and humidity did not relent! Our main reason for coming to Samoa was Robert Louis Stevenson and we duly paid our respects. We went to visit his former home at Vailima – now an excellent museum with all the rooms faithfully and magnificently restored as they were when he lived there with his American wife Fanny. RL Stevenson is held in very high esteem by the Samoans – they called him “Tusitala” – Teller of Tales. He was a very staunch supporter and help with their bid for independence from the Brits, Americans and Germans who all held sway over these 2 tiny Polynesian islands: Upolu and Savaii: dominated by volcanic lava fields and rugged mountains with a fringe of coral reefs and lagoons. After touring the house, despite the hot and humid weather, we started the 1 hour trek up Mount Vaea (only 476m) – the site of his tomb. The trail went through dense tropical rainforest, before suddenly emerging in a wee clearing right on the summit of the hill. And there was the tomb: a white sarcophagus atop a white rectangular base. There were plagues on each site of the sarcophagus. We gingerly deposited the sprig of heather which we had picked on Caerketton Hill in the Pentlands ( where RLS used to go to look over his home city of Edinburgh) and brought all this way on our pilgrimage. MISSION ACCOMPLISHED. RLS arrived in Samoa in December 1889 in search of relief for his tuberculosis. On 3rd December 1894 he suffered a stroke and died at Vailima and was buried on top of the hill as per his wishes. The Samoan chief Tu’imaleali’ifano said of his death: “Talofa e I lo matoa Tusitala. Ua tagi le fatu ma le ‘ele ‘ele – “our beloved Tusitala. The stars and the earth weep.” Truly a memorable final resting place with magnificent views down the coast and Apia and over the surrounding mountains and rainforests. It was a moving moment for us having achieved our goal – Sue was especially satisfied – considering our exertions in the heat and humidity to attain the summit. It is a tranquil and silent spot and it’s not difficult to understand why RLS wanted to be here forever. These epitaphs – both by RLS – are on the tomb: Under the wide and starry sky, Dig the grave and let me lie. Glad did I live and gladly die, And I laid me down with a will. This be the verse you grave for me: Here he lies where he longed to be; Home is the sailor, home from the sea, And the hunter home from the hill. Fanny his wife died in California in 1914 and her ashes were interred in the tomb; her epitaph reads: Teacher, tender, comrade, wife; A fellow farer, true through life, Hearth whole and soul free, The august father gave to me. Our final day on Samoa was spent in more traditional accommodation at Virgin Cove Resort on the south coast near the village of Saanapu. Situated down a very rough gravel track on a secluded palm-fringed beach, we stayed in a Fale – a traditional Samoan hut, with thatched coconut-leaf roof and blinds – the latter for rolling down and closing to form walls and a door at night; plus sleeping mats and a big mossie net – the latte was absolutely essential and worked wonderfully! The Pacific was lapping less than 20 feet away from our front “door”. Coconut palms, banyan trees, breadfruit trees, pure white sandy beach, black blocks of lava, coconut-crabs scuttling about, exotic birds calling in the dense undergrowth. This was fairly close to Paradise, if wasn’t for the infernal heat! We were looking out over a turquoise lagoon with the surf breaking on reefs about 300m offshore; so the inner waters were calm and safe for swimming. And behind the fale was thick, luxuriant, green virgin rainforest. There were only 7 guests in total, so all nice and quiet with meals in a communal fale. Sue in her lavalava (Samoan sarong) looked quite like a local – only the hibiscus behind her ear was missing! Benny (one of the resort’s Samoan staff) – a big, burly lad with pained finger and toenails – took us on a wee 2 and a half hour guided walk through lush rainforest and mangrove swamps, to a beach and a very welcome swim! He strode ahead with his machete flailing, clearing the undergrowth away. We saw lots of flying foxes (bats the size of crows!) roosting and hanging high up in banyan trees; taking off and swooping over the tree canopy. When we reached the beach Benny shinned up a 30ft coconut palm, lopped off half a dozen of the fruit with his machete – they landed with a loud and healthy thud. (Sleeping under a coconut palm is not the place to be they say hereabouts!) Once on the ground again, he chopped off the outer husk from the coconuts, deftly lopped off their tops and we were drinking pure, cool coconut milk straight from the nut in no time! Brilliant. Truly “THE MILKBOTTLE ON THE DOORSTEP OF MANKIND.” We left Samoa on Thursday 11th at 1950, duly lost a day again and arrived back in Auckland on Friday 12th at 2345 – totally knackered, but pleased with our mission to this isolated little Polynesian corner of Paradise.

Virgin Cove Resort, South Coast