In the days before Samoa skipped west of the date line, Cape Mulinu’u was the last land on earth to witness a sunset.
These days it still has an amazing beach, amazing rocks, amazing ocean, but you have to pay to take a photograph.
As we drive up, we spot a man lying on his back inside a fale. He appears to be asleep, a bike resting by his side. Perhaps he is tired after riding. But as we get out of the car, he jumps up and runs towards us like an angry dog. His hand is extended but his suddenness is alarming, and he wears an indecipherable scowl. He gabbles something about the Star Mound, a pile of stones behind us, although his English is indecipherable as well. We wave a hasty goodbye and leave. This is not a good place to consort with strangers. The guide book warns of extortionate custom fees and thefts throughout this peninsula.
A little further up the road, we stop again to take a picture of the sea. The same man appears again – he’s been stalking us on his bicycle. He demands payment for the photo, even though we’re on the road and not photographing people or animals. His attitude echoes a similar experience at Gatavai on the South Coast two days ago, when an aggressive young man similarly ran at us, planted probing hands all over our car, then leaned through the window and demanded to know if if we were going to take photos. That time we’d escaped by asking about the flags on the trees – and received back a cockle and mussel story about how they warned off poachers who fished with dynamite.
Today we didn’t hang around, not after being chased on a bicycle. We got back in the car and drove away.
Meanwhile the man cycled back to his fale to lie down and sleep again. Later, when he returns home for dinner, he may have to explain the day’s happenings to his chief.
“Only three Tala.” He’ll screw up his face and tip a pile of coins into his chief’s hands. “Just three pictures of the sea.”
“No sunsets?” His chief will scowl too. “You know how much it costs us to maintain the view? How much energy goes into producing a sunset every night?”
“I’m sorry.” The man will tighten his lavalava and kneel. “I’ll cycle faster tomorrow. And charge the palagis for looking too, and breathing our air.”
Except maybe he won’t return home for dinner. Maybe he’ll stay at his post and watch the sunset on his own. No-one else with him, every golden ray to himself. It may not be the last sunset on earth anymore. But unlike all the palagis, he can watch this particular sunset for free.