We knew Vaisala Beach Hotel would be odd.
‘Quirky,’ says the Lonely Planet, ‘A distinct retro charm.”
‘Should be in a novel by Graham Green,’ said Simone, an expat we met at Satuaitua Fales.
And quirky it is. Odd too. And as empty as a barn.
The lady on reception stares at us as if we’ve broken some sacred Samoan custom. Not removed our jandals soon enough, or perhaps removed some other item of clothing too quickly. We tell her about our reservation, our surname, and where we’re from, and she stares some more. Then slides over a registration form for me to fill in.
I wonder how she knows what type of room we’ve booked, how long we intend to stay. Perhaps she diligently memorises all the bookings, perhaps she exercises a photographic memory. But it’s far simpler. Only four guests stay here tonight: ourselves and another couple from Hamilton.
A second lady with a stone face escorts us to our room. She resists Kate’s attempts at banter and remains as impassive as a Cold War submarine. She leads us down several steps and along a concrete path lined with shells. Shells from the beach that is, not the Second World War. Our room lies at the far end, bang next door to the other couple. We hope they’re not too noisy because if we decide to change rooms, there are only a further twenty-two to choose from. As things turn out though, our neighbours are peaceful palagis. It’s the resident team of workmen under our balcony who make the noise, dropping planks and hammering nails as they build a wooden walkway to the next bay.
We try to ignore them and settle in. The room is spacious and airy with air-conditioning, a fan, and best of all, an ensuite bathroom. No grubbing through loose sand and stones to get to the toilet tonight. A proper bed too, a wardrobe, a fridge and a faded picture of Edwardian ladies on the wall. Luxury, even if the decor has seen better times.
The stone faced lady makes a point of showing us the balcony, with its magnicent view of the sea and the multi-talented crew at work. Then she escorts us to the bathroom with its mini hand-basin, toilet and shower. Kate asks about toilet paper and the lady points out two rolls on the fridge. Then promptly confiscates one of the rolls, as if we’re not to be trusted. She says nothing about soap and shampoo. Probably because there aren’t any. Though there is a plug for the handbasin. We can fill it to the brim with water if we want to, but not suds.
Back at the main building, we order fish ‘n chips for lunch. The food is good, the view too, as we sit on the edge of a grand veranda, nervously perched on a latticework of tubular scaffolding underneath. We are the only people eating here – on what feels like the deck of the Marie Celeste – plus a ginger cat meowing at our feet. A dull blue ocean stretches out in front of us, and behind a dining room of titanic proportions with blue tablecloths and no other patrons. Even the reception is now empty. Everyone has vanished, including the stoical ladies.
We return to our room, get changed, and go snorkelling in the wonderful wide bay. The water runs deep, the coral far out, and we see hardly any fish.
Now wondering if we’ve come to the hotel at the end of the ocean, we squelch back to our room, get changed again, and return to the precarious veranda for dinner. The couple from Hamilton are just finishing theirs. They smile and disappear, leaving us on our own again. Then the lights flicker and the clouds burst. Rain splatters onto the veranda with the enthusiasm of a Samoan waterfall. If the floorboards were dodgy before, they now become decidedly slippery. Even sitting tight in our chairs, the droplets lash with the ferocity of firehoses over the balustrade.
We retreat like sad Lilliputians to the dining room. A girl brings us our meals, ironically smaller portions than at lunchtime yet costing twenty Tala more. My fish is described as ‘barbequed’, but this really means it is smothered in barbeque sauce. The girl smiles nicely though, so we don’t complain. She shows more emotion than all the other staff combined.
In silence, we eat our meals, surrounded by darkness, the creak of old wood, and the sad meows of two thin cats – the ginger one, plus a mean looking tortoiseshell. Still alone, and with umbrellas the girl has kindly provided, we wander back to our room. No noise from the couple next door. They must be asleep. Lots of strange sounds from the darkened rooms around us however, the ones we thought were empty. A weird kind of whipping like a stick being swished through the air. Then a repeated female hooting, like some exotic new species of songbird, or a tribal mating call. Perhaps there are other people here. Perhaps not. Maybe we’re imagining things. Or marooned.
We lock our door, the balcony door and all the windows. Lie down on the comfortable bed. Try to fall asleep. Outside some noisy ghosts play volleyball on the beach. Somewhere else a vampire laughs and howls.
Funny. This is one odd hotel.