Mapping the limits of the soul: the Samoas pt 1
Damn! So much has happened in the past week since I last had the time, awakeness or innertubes to write!!
Even now, I write through a thick veil of bedlust! It is 10pm, and I just finished processing samples; the earliest night I have had yet!!
Let’s go chronologically briefly, before I get derailed in me rambling!! Ooooh I do like a ramble!!
Last Sunday we rolled into Pago Pago, American Samoa. We went hiking up along one of the ridges above the harbor and town. The view of the land below would have been truly dazzling, except we were in a cloud up there. We got truly dazzling views of the inside of a cloud instead!! Tutuila (the main island of American Samoa) is an old volcano. Pago Pago is where the crater was eroded away on one side to form a delicious harbor. Startlingly tall mountains drop greenly, precipitously into the deep blue waters of the Pacific. Wow!
My ankle, still not healed after five or six weeks (is it fractured? who knows? but diving goes on!! bubbles!!), hurt like hell all the way back down the hike (not helped by the ethereal rain making the trail into a water course of slipperiness), and I made everybody late for a meeting, or maybe a ship-moving (there have been a ton of these as the harbor charges money kick-back style every time we are asked by them to move). Hurried exodus in a van with bad brakes down third world road escarpments. Exhilarating!
I then headed out to the airport to get a flight out to Samoa (Independent Samoa, the nation not very far west of Tutuila). I arrived at the airport (that really does not look like an airport at all!) to find that I had just missed the last flight for the day. I headed back to the harbor in the slender hopes that the Hi’ialakai was still in port, although before I left I had been informed she, tired of all the shunting around in the harbor, might be headed out to sea. On the bus back I saw a ship identical to my home, dressed in white, offshore. I was out of luck. Which is why, when I rounded the corner to the harbor and saw my sweet home Hi’ialakai berthed there, I was stoked! Her sister ship, the Sette, who is also in town (family reunion!), had headed out instead! I skipped aboard, met and hung out with the new arrivals who are joining us for future legs of the cruise, and snoozed. I had to wake up early the next morning because the port was intending to kick us out again. Somebody is not paying somebody they should be paying. In the third world, tables only exist so you can pay someone under them! I headed off to the airport, and flew out to Samoa!!
I flew into Fagalei’i Airport in Apia. Apia is a nice little conurbation of villages. Upon arrival and wandering, I found that my 11 year old guide book was completely outdated, as the first hotel I sought was now a night club (very friendly gay manager, perhaps my finger nail polish, gained in secret rites aboard the ship in the vicinity of the equator, may have helped with this), the second had closed down, and the third had burnt down. Hmm. I wandered around Apia that night after checking into the first hotel I passed, seeing the market, eating coconut cookies. At 6pm all these gongs started going off everywhere. The dude I was speaking to at the time said it was a call to prayers. The traveller must cease traveling and sit (what do travelers do when they are arrested from traveling? do they know themselves?). The resident must seek his place of residence, and pray. The gongs go again at 7pm to say ‘resume living’. Apparently in Apia, adherence to these gongs is negotiable and low. In the villages outside, non-negotiable in a very serious way.
The next day, and several hours of Harry Potter later, I jumped on the bus to Mulifanua, ferry gateway to the traditional, sparely inhabited, and rugged island of Savai’i. It turns out that after weeks of being constantly around people, them in your space, you in theirs, all I wanted to do was curl up with a book and be alone.
On the way to Mulifanua (I am probably messing these names up a lot!), I made friends with an old man who gave me advice on life in Samoa, and told me that nail polish was a clear sign I was gay, and a mom and baby. The baby liked my style. He did not like my nose-boops though. Weird. He liked to try to wrestle my watch off my arm. My watch is yet to yield serious dividends with the ladies, but if my target audience was this child, I was a hit!!
I hung around the ferry terminal for a few hours, fending off some very friendly hustlers, hiding my finger nails in lightly clenched fists. No need to be too aggressive with it. You don’t want to antagonise anyone.
Within a couple of days of getting off the ocean, swearing off it for a while, I was back on the water! The pirate’s life for me!!
(Note: it seems that I have just dived right in there with the rambling, so let’s call the planned ‘in short’ approach off)
I easily found the bus to my intended destination, Vaisala. Vaisala is really close to a place with a forest nature preserve (Faleolupo?) that has a banyan tree you can sleep in!! I was heading there to make a booking and spend the night in the tree!! Air fist pumps!!
The bus was, as is usual on third world buses, a squeeze. No goats or pigs on this one though. I was sitting next to a really nice lady. Nice that was, until she noticed. My nails (two chipped fingers) were polished. After half an hour she saw flashes of pink through my limp fist clenching. After this, the smiles became downright infrequent, and the crossing herself every time I spoke with her began. Roh ro! I have never had someone cross themselves when I spoke to them before. It was a new experience, and one that really caught me off guard. It took me ages, and hearing the word Fa’afafine, for me to figure out what was going on. Word spread quickly on the small bus as we sped across the traditional, deeply Christian island that I was some kind of foreign weirdo. By the end of the ride, everybody knew. When I touched one of the conductors to ask where to exit, the bus erupted into laughter. He had been contaged with weird. I left the bus a little freaked out, and went to walk down the road to the hotel. A Samoan dude, Samoans are always friendly enough even when they think you are the devil, approached me as I walked. He had seen the bus. We exchanged names. He told me his was Fa’afafine, or Ine for short. I wondered as I wandered down the road, was this chance? Did the people on the bus tell this dude about me? Was everybody around here Fa’afafine, or did I find the only one straight off the bat? Was I walking towards some kind of world-renown den of iniquity populated by an international cast of unknown and subtle sexualities?
Harry Potter had not prepared me for this.