Crossing The Apolima Strait

Lady Samoa III – the big ferry.

At twenty kilometres wide and half a kilometre deep, the only way across the Apolima Strait is by ferry. Either on the comfortable two-decked Lady Samoan III, or if you want your morning coffees shaken and not stirred, on the barge-like Samoan Express I.

We sit at a trestle table at Mulifanua Wharf, waiting for the ferry to arrive so we can board. Kate reads the Samoan on Sunday while I stare into the dregs of an empty coffee cup, trying to read the future. Will North Korea fire their missiles, will America retaliate, and will Jacinda win the NZ election?

Islands of Manono and Apolima in Strait.

Two tourists sit alongside each other at the next table. A solid-looking man with a machete moustache and his wife with a jungle of hair. They sit exactly one foot apart, the gap between them never varying. If he shuffles an inch to the right, so does she. If she moves a centimetre to the left, he follows. Both of them have orange cans of Fanta in front of them, also precisely one foot apart. They look like a couple who always choose the same as each other: soft drinks, sandwich fillings, and how they like their eggs cooked.

A chestnut-haired dog wanders past, tongue dangling from one end and bollocks from the other. For a Samoan dog, it’s not too skinny. Nevertheless it flicks back its ears and drools at us, eyeing any opportunity for food. Then a kid squeals over by the cafe and throws his carton of KimChi microwaveable noodles all over the floor. Patiently his mother starts to scrape them up. The dog noses in and gobbles the rest.

Bored, I get up and walk to the jetty. The sun is shining and the shadows are short. No sign of the ferry yet, nothing but turquoise water and the profiles of Manono and Apolima, the two islets in the strait. In the distance, the hazy shape of Savai’i.

When I get back to the table, Kate is chatting to the solid man and his wife, prising out their life stories.

“My parents were going to call me Edward.” The man has a gentle reassuring voice, like he might be a radio presenter. “But they settled on Tom instead.”

“Ooh, ahh.” His wife is a shrieker, her manner hysterical. “Mum and Dad wanted a Teresa, but the name was taken. They settled on Patricia.”

“So you’re Tom and Trish, then?” says Kate. “From Tauranga?”

They nod simultaneously, their heads a satisfying twelve inches apart. Then Tom leans heavily with his elbow on the table and clicks at something with his camera. Next to him, Trish does the same with her phone. I turn to see what they’re photographing. And witness a blue metal cliff surging towards the jetty, the Lady Samoan III rollicking in.

Disinfected lower deck.

We get in our car, queue up, show our ticket, and drive up a ramp into the belly of the ship . A steward beckons us to within a millimetre of the car in front, then we climb a steep metal staircase up to deck one. The lounge here is crammed with plastic yellow seats, a booth of a cafe at the back that doesn’t sell seasick tablets or rum, and a TV at the front dominated by a preacher. It is Sunday after all. Father’s Day too, but that isn’t what worries me. It’s the smell of disinfectant as if the last trip across necessitated a lot of cleaning up.

Perhaps unwisely we ascend another staircase to deck two. Open air, with more yellow seats, an orange lifeboat, and a bile green floor. The disinfectant smell is not as strong, but any motion of the ship will be magnified. Still, we have the option of going back down.

And sure enough as we chug outside the reef, past Manono and Apolima, the swell rises. Blows in from a wild west. Hits the ferry broadside, swinging it like a barrel.

Safely across on the other side.

I hold onto my seat and concentrate on the horizon. Kate is busy chatting to Tom and Trish again, listening to their holiday plans.

It’s going to be an up and down journey.

Rolllin’, rollin’, rollin’,

Rollin’, rollin’, rollin’,

Rollin’, rollin’, rollin’,

Rollin, rollin, rollin,

Rawhide!

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