Raphael Kessler

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South East Asia 1999

  1. Vietnam - February 1999
  2. Thailand - April 1999
  3. Malaysia and Singapore - May 1999
  4. Indonesia - June 1999
Africa to home, the long way
- Africa
  1. South Africa
  2. Namibia and Botswana
  3. Zimbabwe, Zambia, Malawi, Tanzania and Kenya
  4. Uganda
  5. Ethiopia
  6. Egypt
- Middle East and Balkans
  1. Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and Turkey
  2. Balkans
  3. Turkey
  4. Iran
- Asia
  1. Pakistan
  2. China
  3. Tibet
  4. Nepal
  5. India 1
  6. India 2
  7. India 3
  8. Sri Lanka
  9. Bangladesh
  10. Myanmar
  11. Thailand
  12. Cambodia
  13. Laos
  14. China, Macao and Hong Kong
  15. Mongolia
- North America and Caribbean
  Caribbean, USA, Mexico and Canada
- Scandinavia and Eastern Europe
  1. Russia
  2. Sweden
  3. Baltics
  4. Poland and Czech Republic
South America 2002
  1. Brazil
  2. Argentina
  3. Chile and Easter Island
Central America and Mexico 2002
  1. Panama
  2. Costa Rica
  3. Nicaragua
  4. Honduras
  5. El Salvador
  6. Guatemala
  7. Belize
  8. Mexico
South America 2003-4
  1. Trinidad and Tobago
  2. Guyana, Suriname and French Guiana
  3. Venezuela
  4. Colombia
  5. Ecuador and The Galapagos Islands
  6. Peru
  7. Bolivia
  8. Argentina
  9. Uruguay and Paraguay
  10. Bolivia 2
  11. Peru 2
Specific Pacific
  1. California to Fiji+ French Polynesia & Cook Islands
  2. Samoa, Niue and American Samoa
  3. Tonga and New Zealand
  4. Australia 1
  5. Australia 2

Samoa, Niue and American Samoa


Greetings once again from the lovely Polynesian islands.

When I last wrote I was in Nadi, just about to leave Fiji. Before getting on my early morning flight, I decided to go for a therapeutic massage. I thought it would prepare me for the trip. It didn't. My masseuse was an albino Fijian. The first I had seen and quite a strange looking person. There was more wrong with her than just that though. She had nasty blotches on her arms, from I don't know what. Anyway, this shouldn't be important as long as you get a good massage. Except for the fact that as she was kneading and pummelling away, I occasionally looked up to see this bizarre unfortunate grimacing, with her head cocked to one side in a manner reminiscent of Igor, Frankenstein's devilish and deformed assistant. What made it worse, was that I had had a bit of a poor excuse of a curry so every time she put pressure anywhere near my abdomen, I wanted to throw up.

With that experience, I was sufficiently traumatised to board the plane that would confuse me completely through the international date line.

I left Fiji early Sunday morning, arrived in Auckland nearing midday Sunday still and then arrived in Samoa early Saturday afternoon. That meant that in conversation that day (Saturday), I would refer to the day before yesterday, which was also a Saturday, but obviously not today. Or was it?

At the airport, I met a Mauritian, Brit called Rey who had previously been in Samoa for a couple of months and we chatted on the bus ride from the airport to town, which took about an hour. As we arrived in town, the bus stopped over the road from a monstrosity of an edifice. Small rectangular vitreous tiles, recessed tinted windows, strange and entirely pointless architectural anomalies. There was only one culture on earth that could have built such an abomination. I exclaimed "f@%*#g b*^!@#d Chinese!" much to Rey's consternation. I then explained my colourful outburst. I asked him if he knew what the building was. He thought it was a sports complex, though wasn't sure. The bus driver had just helped some people off with their luggage and as he got back on board I asked him what the building was, he told me it was the government building. I asked who built it and although slightly surprised at the question, he confirmed my assumption, the bloody Chinese. Clearly not satisfied with their cultural devolution at home, they have decided to pollute the Pacific islands with their Maoist architecture. The only concession here being a tiled representation of a Fale (traditional Samoan house) on top of the thing. The tiled Fale thing looks more like a cancerous wart than the thatched abode it is supposed to be imitating. Somehow this seemed more appropriate though.

I did a bit of an unofficial survey of the locals thoughts on the building. Some said they had never actually looked at it previously. Others that "if we got it for free, it doesn't really matter", actually it was only the expats and foreigners I spoke to who seemed to think it mattered that it was so hideous.

At the hotel we were staying in, we quickly settled in and then went to get something to eat. Later we met Nora and Mags, a couple of Irish girls who were a good laugh. In no time Nora just became known as Batty. Because she clearly is.

I went out to check out the Saturday nightlife in Apia, which was reasonable. Something that should be noted is, in many of the Pacific islands, it is important to remember that size is a status symbol. Furthermore, that really big girls are generally thought of as beauties. By that standard, I was ushered quite forcibly on to the dance-floor and then proceeded to have the pleasure of dancing with Anastasia, the most beautiful girl there, if using the traditional criteria.

As Samoa is a very Christian country, at midnight all the bars and clubs have to close as there is no partying on Sunday. This curtailed any prospects with Anastasia and I, so heaving a sigh of relief as the power to the music was switched off, I walked back to the hotel, on my own. I've never needed a bouncer before, certainly not that sort. Walking back to the hotel, I met a local woman and her daughter going in the same direction and we got chatting. When at one point a couple of girls ran out in the road she said "That's my nephew".
I corrected her "Your niece".
"No, he's a faggot."
"Okay, a fafafina" - Fafafina is the name they give the transvestites in Samoa, a number of whom could be seen in the clubs.
"That's it."
"Is it a problem that he's a fafafina?"
"Yeah, because he's a faggot, there's a lot of them."
Not really a lot more to say on that theme, so we changed the subject. It is strange though in such a Christian country, the number and prominence of the fafafina.

My second Sunday in three or less days (it is very difficult to keep up with it all - maintaining a diary is even trickier) was spent firstly observing a small selection of church services, the Catholics were, as I had previously told, the best singers. Then I went looking around Apia and tried to see what was actually open on a Sunday. It was :- A small grotty supermarket, McDonalds, a tourist agency, one of the numerous car rental companies and the cinema, but only in the afternoon. Quite a limited selection really. Many of the beaches have signs prohibiting swimming on Sundays too. It is nice to see the locals out on a Sunday though as the majority are all dressed in white. As the men wear a lavalava, they do not look too dissimilar to the women, it all looks quite picturesque though.

The following morning, Nora, Mags and I rented a car to do a round Ireland tour. Apart from the obvious formality of getting the car, there is a con prevalent in this part of the world, whereby foreigners must all get either a local licence or at least an endorsement. The con is that it is really only to get an administrative fee. So after a few minutes at the Department of Transport, we were ready to go.

Our first stop was to Vailima, the estate of the Scottish author Robert Louis Stevenson. RLS was quite a frail bloke and relocated to Samoa as the weather was good for him. His estate was extensive and impressive and the house more than adequate for him and his extended family. He seemed to really relish his time in Samoa, if the photographic and literary evidence is anything to go by. Unfortunately his life was cut short and he died after spending only four years there.

Our next stop was to the Bahai'i temple, one of only seven in the world. I had visited the one in Delhi, when in India (obviously) and this one was also nice and serene. The Bahai'i faith is actually a philosophy of combining all the major world faiths into one. There are no priests and no formal prayers, no pulpits, nor directional focus. The temples are nine-sided to represent the nine major faiths (I can't work out which they are supposed to be either) and are set in pleasantly manicured gardens and open for anyone of any faith to pray in, in the calm, quiet, serenity created through the landscaping, location and architecture.

We continued onwards, checking out the coastal scenery and several nice waterfalls. Got to Lalomano, the only decent beach on Upolu (the island we were on) although far from the best beach I have seen. We then continued onwards, saw more waterfalls and coastal roads, as well as the mountains of the interior. Although not massive, they are higher than any in the UK.

My favourite bit of our tour was when we came to a Kirikiti match. This is a local version of Cricket, although the bat is longer and a bit more like a baseball bat, or would be if it were not for the fact that it is triangular (in cross section). The rules seem less rigid and game play is quicker and seemed more fun. I got chatting with some of the fielders. One of whom explained that they had decided for this game, each innings would consist of three batsmen. This meant the change over of teams was quite quick, although the majority stayed out to field for the duration. As most were wearing their Lavalava (sarong), it made the whole thing more picturesque.

Our last stop was to a viewpoint overlooking Apia and the harbour, where we got to watch the sunset as we received a free total blood transfusion, thanks to the swarms of aggressive mosquitoes. It seemed appropriate driving around with a couple of Irish girls as the driving reminded me of Ireland in so far as that most other road users would wave as we passed. Children at the roadside too. All very social.

One thing that none of us liked was the proliferation of Mormon temples. The Mormons are a strange Christian sect, that actively proselytise. They particularly prey on the less educated. All around Samoa can be seen Mormon temples, instantly recognisable for their identical construction, with a basketball court, often a big satellite dish and a fence surrounding everything. These are almost the only fences you see in Samoa. All over, one can see the typical Mormon missionaries in their trademark black trousers, crisp white shirt and tie, with a badge with their name on. Always Elder something or other. That doesn't make sense, some of them must be younger. For an impartial simple history read http://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/mormon/index.shtml - I should mention that I bloody hate the Mormons. They try to impose their racist beliefs on cultures that are perfectly happy without them. It is only just recently that non-whites were seen in a "revelation" to be worthy of hearing the word. Previously they were incapable and entirely beneath contempt. It is not just their poor dress sense, lack of humour, racism, homogeneity or lack of realism that pisses me off. It is also the fact that they educate that the fossils are part of a conspiracy and were only buried quite recently. That and the fact that they do not drink alcohol, coffee, Coke, anything that might have any kind of stimulant in. Enough on that rant though.

Although I met a number of Samoans who claimed to be Mormons, they were completely apathetic to the precepts of the church. In one village I visited, the Matai (chief) got the Mormons in as it made finacial sense. They continued in their old ways though, drinking, smoking, sleeping around and with traditional practices, such as tattooing too. In Apia, a girl I know there is only a Mormon when playing basket ball. As she likes the game and they are the only ones with the courts, she tells them she is a Mormon, when she wants to play.

After a day and a half sorting some things out in Apia I then got the boat over to Savai'i, the bigger island. On arrival, there was no bus to where I was going, so I asked one of the police near the port, if he knew anything about when there was a bus. He went off to investigate. I then got chatting to Joe, another policeman, fully attired with the official lavalava (sarong) and a helmet reminiscent of an English Bobby's, except it was white. He greeted me with "Welcome to Paradise" and we discussed the police's role in "paradise" :-

"So Joe, is there a lot of trouble in Paradise?"
"No, none at all"
"So it's quite an easy job then being a policeman here?"
"Yes, very"
"Do you actually ever do any work?"
"No, not really, there isn't anything to do, there isn't any crime"
"That's a good job then, I must say I really like your uniform and the helmet rounds it off well. Why don't you two have helmets?" - [obviously to the other two policemen there, who were wearing peaked caps].
"Because we're traffic police"
"Do you have a car?"
"No we just get lifts"
"OK, so being a traffic policeman, is that much different to Joe's job?"
"Not really"
"So you also do nothing apart from standing around chatting and smoking?"
"That's pretty much it"
"Can I get a photo of the 'Paradise Police' then?"

Whereupon they so much liked the description the three of them posed for a photo, then excused themselves as they had to go as their friend had turned up to give them a lift somewhere. I think the most investigation they had done in weeks, was to find out when there was a bus to Manase for me.

There is a reason that they don't have anything to do. The Ainga (village - pronounced eye-inn-gah) generally takes care of its own. Particularly within village boundaries and as such the Matai (an elected chief) will exact punishments on people who misbehave or break the law. The majority of justice is dealt with in this way and as such it is self-regulating and the country has extremely little crime. Only really in Apia does petty theft occur, because it is outside the jurisdiction of the villages.

The place I went to stay is a very chilled beach resort. I had an open, traditional thatched fale. It is essentially a thatched roof supported by posts, with a raised platform below. For a bit more privacy, there are blinds made from inter-woven palm fronds that can be raised or lowered as needed. Although the majority of Samoans now have brick built homes, many of them, in part at least resemble the fale, with a large open area. The majority of the fales in use have a corrugated roof as opposed to thatched, as it saves on the effort of replacing the thatch intermittently. Apart from being in an idyllic setting, the resort was nice and social, with everyone sitting together for communal meals. One evening, there was a Fia Fia (dance and music display). These are not only performed for tourists but are a part of the living tradition. There had actually been one a few days earlier (the night before I arrived) to celebrate the first birthday of one of the family. The Fia Fia was a mix of the traditional and entertainment for us (and taking the Mickey by them). Some of the music and dance was extremely impressive and the first dance which was done with the men and women sat on the ground facing each other, using just their upper bodies to dance and vocalising the music was quite mesmerising. Later displays involved several guys who would simultaneously and in perfect unison dance, leaping around and slap themselves raw from head to toe (quite literally) as living percussion. There were more delicate dances too, with men and women in clearly defined roles. Generally the woman gesticulating with her hands as she slowly moved around rhythmically, the man making submissive dancing gestures and leaping around. The most amusing example of this performed by Trudy, a local girl with the traditional tattooing, down to just below her knees. Sami, her husband, actually from Finland then leapt around with the sort of gusto that by far outweighed an talent, something he was eminently aware of, and played to good effect.

A couple of the guys involved had the full body tattoos. Pe'a. These are seen as a rite of passage for only the bravest and strongest men. The tattoos actually start from about half way down the sides of their torso, dipping in the middle on front and back to just below the navel. Then the intricate pattern continues without interruption to just below the knees. The quickest time to get these done is at least three weeks and it can be up to a year. They are done in a traditional way, so no anaesthetic. The pain involved must be considerable and in some cases people have died from blood poisoning. Although I am not a fan of tattoos in the slightest, these are certainly works of art and impressive to behold. They are a cultural rite and look appropriate and almost regal on the Samoan men. The female equivalent I did not find at all endearing. It is less intricate, being largely made up of crosses with a couple of bands. Considering the size of all the people I saw with these tattoos, I am sure they must have taken longer than the three week minimum.

During their performances, the Pe'a would understandably be proud of their body art and would hitch up their lavalava as they danced, effectively mooning us and demonstrating how far the tattoos go.

In Savai'i I decided to do a few dives. The dive operation there has not had the opportunity to find all the best sites around the island, so we went to some new, previously undived spots, as well as a couple that Dirk (the owner) knew. There were some nice fish and on one dive, a manta came through which was nice.

Whilst chatting with an Australian expat, John, over breakfast, he decided to reorganise his family's plans to fit to my intentions and took me on a tour of the island. It transpired during the day that John is the CEO of Polynesian, the Samoan national airline and one of the more significant carriers in the region. Our first stop we went to was the Blow Holes. These are lava tubes that during a high tide will have jets of water forced through them. propelling up to two hundred feet (sixty-five metres) in the air. The local trick is to put a coconut or similar in the hole just before the swell comes and watch as it is launched skyward. At the time we were there, they were apparently underperforming and so were only going about fifty to a hundred feet (fifteen to thirty metres). Still impressive though.

Our next point was to a mineral water, waterfall. In a beautiful forested surrounding with large ferns, it looked like a setting for "The Lost World" or similar. The water was clean and refreshing, so we could swim in it. Our next and final stop was to a prehistoric pyramid that is apparently the largest prehistoric structure in Polynesia. The shape in plan view is of a five-pointed star and nobody actually knows what its purpose was. There were no written records and it is completely wiped out from the collective oral tradition. The various theories include a ceremonial platform. A platform for religious or regal gatherings and a hunting platform. Whatever it was, it now provides a nice vantage point looking out across the forest to the coast.

John and family then took me to the airport. I had previously asked him if my big bag would be okay on the plane, as on the short island hops, Polynesian do not like to carry much luggage. His simple reply was "It's alright, I'll take it". When we got to the airport, he told me to check the flight was still going as bad weather can stop it. The lady at the desk there confirmed it was. So, I went to get my bags from the car and say goodbye. John then came to say hello to his staff, who were delighted and impressed to see him. He pointed to my bag and said that it wasn't a problem. They obsequiously all nodded and agreed. I decided to take the flight as it is cheap at forty-six tala (less than ten pounds, eighteen dollars) and thought it might afford nice views of the islands. The small "Islander" plane came in, John said hello to the pilot and then after som checks and paperwork left early with me as its only passenger. As we walked to the plane the pilot asked me my seat number, I asked if it mattered, he replied that it didn't, I could have any seat on the plane I wanted. I asked for the one up front and left, he said that was his, any other. I sat at the back where I had a nice view from windows either side of me. quarter of an hour later I was in Apia. I had some time to kill before my flight that evening to Niue, which I spent in the downtown hustle and bustle of a Sunday afternoon in Apia.

The flight to Niue takes only a little over an hour and so we arrived at the completely inappropriate time of two thirty in the morning. In the Pacific the majority of flights are at ridiculous times, the connections finally arriving in either New Zealand or Australia at a sensible hour of the morning. They also try to fly at night as the Pacific air is notoriously thin, so the cooler night time air improves the aerodynamic lift. A little bit of a technical digression there.

Niue is a small country, in regards to both geography and population. It is formed of one uplifted coral atoll and has a population of around thirteen hundred people now. Last year, cyclone Heta battered the island, destroying lots of houses, cars and general buildings, as well as uprooting many of the trees. The loss of life was restricted to two, a mother and her baby. The baby actually died from having been smothered by her dead mother. The recovery has been almost total and there is little remaining evidence of the cyclone damage, although in between, there are bare foundations from houses now disappeared.

Captain Cook dubbed this "The Savage Island" all because of an incident when he and some crew got in a longboat to go ashore. There he saw a crowd of natives with red teeth waving weapons and shouting in what seemed a threatening manner. So, he turned round got on his boat and left, having never stepped ashore. It was a shame really as what had actually taken place from the islanders point of view was that they saw these people coming ashore so ran down to wave to them, not thinking their tools anything to worry about, nor their red stained teeth - stained from a local variety of red banana. They were actually shouting something along the lines of "hello white man, come and have a drink with us".

The Niuean people are still a social crowd, and a story I was told of a tourist couple reflects some of Captain Cooks experience. The couple had decided to explore one of the sea tracks between some houses. There is no concept of "Keep Out" anywhere on Niue, so they didn't think it would be a problem. When they came back up to the road though, there was a man shouting at them and waving a machete. Understandably worried, but realising that trying to pacify him was their best option they went over to him. When they got to him, they found he had just been waving at them and wanted to know if they wanted a banana. They said they did so he used his machete to hack some from the tree. Then he offered them a coconut, climbed the tree and chopped it open with his machete. Earlier, he hadn't really been waving his machete at them, it was that he had been waving and happened to have a machete in his hand at the time. Just goes to show you can't trust everything Cap'n Cookie got up to.

One last story I like that demonstrates some of the Niuean character was told to me by the New Zealand Assistant High Commissioner. He was called over just recently by one of the government ministers and told there was something important that needed discussing. Thinking it might be something to do with bilateral relations, the aid coming from New Zealand or something similar, he braced himself. The minister then said "Recently, driven past you a few times and you didn't wave. Some other people here too, they said that you didn't wave at them. Why aren't you waving? You should be waving." Sociability and friendliness in a country this size is obviously an important thing. If you are deemed not to be friendly enough, it becomes a government issue.

When I got to Niue, I went to the Matavai resort, the nicest spot on the island. Although the price is beyond what I normally would pay, John had said that I should drop his name and try to get a discount. When I met Dean, the manager, the morning after I arrived, he reduced the price by forty percent and I acquiesced.

Matavai was fortunately almost unscathed by cyclone Heta. Only the gardens were damaged. It is on a cliff top promontory with lovely views to left and right along the coastline. In front along the reef, spinner dolphins can regularly be seen swimming past in pods.

My first day I decided to go for a cycle along the coast, after ten minutes I realised that midday was not a good time, so  I turned around, stopping at a little shop to get an ice-cream and a drink. Chatting with the owner, it turned out he (Avi) was an Israeli who had emigrated and married a local girl. During our chatting, it turned out that my grandfather and his great-uncle were good friends. They actually named a town and built the first house there together in the thirties. Funny how you can come half-way around the world to one of the worlds smallest, most isolated countries and find someone you have a connection with.

Avi's first wife had left him, because "she didn't like the life here in the kibbutz". Some days later, I told Avi I liked the description, although I thought that moshav was more accurate. He said he thought so too, but no-one knew what a moshav was. For your information, it is like a kibbutz, except it is made up of smaller separate businesses.

The next day, I decided to rent a car to go see the island. This must be one of the easiest places in the world to do that. No rental agreements, licence checking or anything, just pay the day rate and take the car. After all, there isn't anywhere you can run away to.

The first thing I wanted to do was check out the commercial centre in the capital, Alofi, to see what was on offer. I must have blinked the first time I went past it as I missed it completely. Looking at my map, I realised that I was well outside the capital. I turned round and thirty seconds later found it. After approximately forty-three seconds investigation. I knew exactly what was on offer.

Onwards I went and stopped at a number of caves and viewpoints. The caves are nice and several open out to the sea, with stalagmites and stalactites all the way to the openings. There were also some nice chasms, with snorkelling opportunity in between the limestone walls, protecting from the surging ocean beyond. There was some nice snorkelling, with nice fishes, shrimps and morays. My favourite location was Togo, a walk through the rainforest, then to the rugged limestone pinnacles. There are lots of jagged shards of limestone jutting metres skyward, going off into the distance in both directions, along the coast. Very nice. The island of Niue is certainly more dramatic and picturesque than most of the pacific islands I have visited. This is no doubt due its more peculiar type of raised atoll formation.

There are five churches in the whole of Niue, three of them are from the bloody Mormons. There are only about thirteen hundred people left in the country. The Niueans however seem to have a healthy cynicism for the Mormons. When the Mormons decided to have a movie night [they have the only big screens in Niue], the locals decided that for Thursday night [or whichever night it was], they would be Mormons. The rest of the time they really didn't care.

The lifestyle in Niue was generally very laid back and easy going. Everyone knows everyone, which both makes things easy and difficult. People take their kids to work with them and the family unit is strong and supportive. The Niueans also travel quite a bit and are more worldly than many of the other Pacific Islanders I met. This is no doubt as they have to look out, their not being a huge amount to look in for.

During my time in Niue there was constant concern about Meena, a cyclone that started off as a depression off to the northeast. Not far from where Heta had come from. Thankfully Meena headed away, but in a place so vulnerable to the weather, people understandably try to keep abreast of these sorts of things and have a healthy level of paranoia.

Towards the end of my time, the swell receded and it was flat enough to go diving. Unfortunately much of the hard coral was destroyed by Heta, but the fish were apparently unaffected. They were there in profusion and many that I had not seen before. Several that I had wanted to see, after having seen their pictures in the fish recognition books I regularly flick through at different dive spots. These included ribbon eels, clown triggerfish, dartfish and others. The main reason to dive Niue though was to see the Niue sea kraits. These are a type of sea snake that are endemic to Niue. They have brown and white bands. I have never before seen or heard of anywhere that has any type of sea snake in such quantities. It brings the BBC and National Geographic amongst others to film and observe them. They apparently have a four week cycle when there are very few of them in "Snake Gulley" - the location where they are most easily found - then the numbers build until the area is thick with them, then they drop off, to nobody knows where. There hasn't been much study of them, so no-one really knows what is going on or where they disappear to. When I was there, it was a peak time and there were hundreds if not thousands to see. They can apparently spend half an hour underwater if they are active or two hours if they are inactive, before having to go back up to the surface to breathe. Due to the number in the area that meant swimming around with them going up and down all around. Diving back after having taken a few breaths. Lots of them were curled up in groups at the bottom, where some that had returned from the surface would come back and intertwine themselves, almost as though they were tying themselves into intricate knots. It was very graceful. Others would be swimming around hunting. With a venom approximately ten times more deadly than a cobra's, they can easily stun their prey. Thankfully they are not aggressive, far from it. On the same dive, we went into a pitch-black cave, where there were painted crayfish nested. These are big lobster like crustaceans nested in a hole in the rock. They reminded me of a nest of aliens from a science fiction film, or like the people who used to live in the catacombs in the past. With the light from my torch lighting one up at a time, in almost every direction, in front, behind, above and below. A different and enjoyable dive.

There had been some technical problems with the aircraft taking me back to Samoa, so there was a seventeen hour delay. This meant, instead of leaving at 0500 we left at 2200. I had a connecting flight that was to take me to Pago Pago - American Samoa - that I was clearly going to miss. It did mean that I had another easy going day in Niue though. When we finally did get back to Apia, Samoa, I was told that I had two options. Either to stay the night in Apia (where Polynesian would put me in a hotel) and go to Pago Pago in the morning. Or, to get a flight that had been put on for those that had missed their connection and Polynesian would put me up for a night in Pago Pago. I decided to take the latter option. By the time it was all cleared, ready to go etc. and we arrived, it was gone two o'clock in the morning. I went to speak to the people at the Polynesian office about my accommodation, who had no idea what I was talking about. Finally after several phone calls, they sorted it out and got me a taxi and a voucher to stay at The Tradewinds, the best hotel in American Samoa.

The main reason I had come to American Samoa, was to see the differences between this and the other Samoa. The two halves of the country were split between the Germans and the Americans in 1900. The Germans lost control of Western Samoa to New Zealand in 1914. Recently Western Samoa dropped the Western bit and is now know simply as Samoa. That pisses off the American Samoans, but that is just tough luck.

There were several immediately apparent differences on arrival. First was the airport, much larger runway and so forth. Also the airport security and staff, much more official and intimidating looking. The next was the cars, lots of big American cars. Not really much use as there is only about thirty miles of useable road and lastly was the much poorer quality of the road. Not that the roads in Samoa are well paved, just better and wider that in American Samoa.

After a much needed good nights sleep, it transpired that due to the late hour of my check-in, my voucher was still good for another nights accommodation. So, off I went to see the island. I walked a lot and got several buses to random places. As there is only one proper road, it was not hard to work out which way to go. This was another difference, the buses. Whereas in Samoa they have actual, although basic buses. In American Samoa they are pick-up trucks that have been stripped down and had a bus stuck on the back. When I got to the end of the island, some concerned locals asked me if I was lost. They apparently don't get any tourists down there. I said I couldn't be lost as I didn't know where I was going. That just confused them more. I assured them I was okay and thanked them for their concern. They thought that I might have come off the Oriana cruise ship apparently in town today. I told them that really wasn't by transport and started to walk back down towards the direction of town. At the end of the island, the coastline is very picturesque, reminiscent of the karst scenery of Krabi in Thailand or Ha Long Bay in Vietnam. More about the differences though, something I had noticed was that there was an almost continual village, though with different names all along the road, without any real physical separation. It was also very unusual to see more traditional style buildings and I don't think I saw one Fale, the whole time. Something that was also clear was the amount of servicemen Samoa had provided for America's current conflicts. There were yellow ribbons everywhere and signs saying the names of sons and daughters who were "Defending America's Freedom". Something I had noticed near the airport was the large army base, Samoa doesn't even have an army, it doesn't need it. When I asked some people why there were so many American Samoans in the army they said the reason was effectively twofold. For the money and also to get full citizenship.

As a colony, American Samoans are not American Citizens, they cannot simply move to the mainland, nor can they vote in presidential elections. Their representative in Congress cannot vote. They do however get a lot of aid from Washington, something like one hundred and fifty million dollars a year. The majority of that money is used for the local administration, to buy cars, to build houses and to give benefits to the locals. Most American Samoans don't work, or at least very much. Most of the shops are owned by Koreans and the actual workforce is made up almost entirely of "Western" Samoans and Phillipinos. Everyone I met who was working was not American Samoan. They apparently look down on "Westerns", as told to me both by the American Samoans and "Westerns". The Samoans see the "Amerikans" as having lost the Fa'a Samoa [Samoan way], which is generally about taking it easy, working only as hard as needed and working as a community.

In American Samoa, the security and police are armed and so are some of the populace. When I was there, there was a report of a high school student pulling out a gun and threatening his teacher with it as he couldn't find his mobile phone. The Police in "Western" Samoa don't have guns, nobody does. Even the idea, of something like this happening in Samoa is beyond comprehension. Respect and hierarchy are very important parts of the Fa'a Samoa, something that appears to have been lost in American Samoa.

Pago Pago, the capital of American Samoa is a rundown, dirty town. It looks decidedly third world, with ramshackle buildings and the like. Although in Apia not all the buildings are in the greatest state of repair, comparatively they are pristine. In many ways, it is the opposite to how many would presume.

Another marked difference is the cost there. The cheapest accommodation in Pago Pago was sixty dollars a night, the equivalent in Apia costs about ten - and that is more expensive than the villages around the country. Thankfully I was not paying the hundred and thirty-five dollar a night cost for my suite and so after a couple of days, I decided to head back to Apia.

Back in Apia, it was nice to be in familiar territory again and to see some people I had got to know previously and to be in comfortable surroundings.

My next stop is in Tonga, of course I will keep you posted.

Keep well


A footnote:

The most recent genetic and sociological evidence seems to prove that the Polynesians came from what is currently Indonesia and that area of South East Asia, then migrated eastwards. Thor Heyardahl's theories about them coming from South America have been entirely discredited and disproved. Although my command of Bahasa Indonesia [The Indonesian Language] is very basic, I could notice some similarities with Samoan particularly the numbers, where several sound similar but 'two - Dua' and 'five - lima' are identical. I am sure there are many more words in common, but I personally don't know enough Samoan and Bahasa Indonesia to draw the parallels.



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