We groan out of bed at six. No more raucous sounds from downstairs, but our heads ache from lack of sleep. I drag my bags to the car, bumping them and myself down our irregular staircase. Kate follows me. Then kindly drives me to Outdoor Samoa at Mulifanua.
I’m hiring a mountain bike plus rack and panniers for the week, the right sort of equipment to cycle the hundred and eighty kilometres around Savai’i. It will be hot and sticky in the heat, but I’m looking forward to my adventure, even half-asleep, my eyes drooping closed.
Mika explains the features of the bike, pedals that propel the back wheel, and handbrakes that slow and stop forward motion. The panniers click on easily at the back, and there’s a handy bag on the handlebars too for carrying maps, suncream and valuables.
“Dogs are not too much of a problem.” Mika maintains a deadpan face. “The ones wandering around a village will ignore you. And if they do chase, then don’t look scared, just shout ‘Alu’ and raise your arm as if you mean to throw a stone.”
My bags fit into the panniers and my pump into the bag on the handlebars. The pump will double as a stick, one long swing outward if any dogs do prove persistent. Then loaded up, I ride the few kilometres down to the ferry terminal at Mulifanua Wharf. The bike moves well, and the road is flat and dog-free. Plenty of time too to purchase tickets at the wharf, one for the bike, another for me. Then I sit in the shade and watch the islands in the Apolima Strait: the closest one, Manono, then the steeper island of Apolima. Beyond them both lies a dull blue shadow on the horizon: the island of Savai’i.
Another shape appears and grows larger: the ferry, the Lady Samoa III, cruising in. It docks in front of me, lowers its ramp and tens of cars drive off. Men in orange vests line up the cars waiting to go on, while men in yellow vests organise the empty car deck on the ship. Then an orange vest takes my ticket, and a yellow vest beckons me forward. As the only cyclist, my bike is the first vehicle onboard. And feeling privileged, I steer my two wheels up the ramp and into an alcove under the steps. Lock the frame to a vertical steel pipe to prevent the bike from falling over.
Not that the crossing is going to be rough. Despite the strong winds yesterday, the sea looks calm today. And sure enough, the Lady Samoa rolls from side to side, but nothing too alarming for a tipsy old duck in a mid-Pacific swell. An episode of ‘Karena and Kasey’s Kitchen Diplomacy’ steams up on the big television screen. The two girls learn how to cook perfect dumplings in Shanghai, then consume even larger dumplings that are filled with soup. As always with Samoan Shipping Corps, the TV scheduling is spot on and guaranteed to entertain. People ignore the magical blue waters slipping by outside, the potential sightings of dolphins and whales, and instead concentrate on how to make sticky starchy savouries from Northern China. I imagine that when we dock at Salelologa, everyone will rush off, not to see the sights of Savai’i, but to get to the nearest kitchen and try out some dumpling recipes for themselves.
An hour later we dock. The wharf bulges and strains. Not with dumplings, but queues of Savai’ians ready to board for Upolu. Buses belch out black smoke and bass, while white taxis manoeuvre like fast-acting placebos. Young boys weave everywhere, selling Ringos, and Bongos and cans of a soft drink called ‘Taxi’. Today is the beginning of the Teuila Festival in Apia. Everyone wants to be there. Or not be there.
I wheel my bike down the green metal ramp and into the mayhem. For once, no-one calls out ‘Taxi’. They can see I have my own ride. And reaching the road, I do as Mika showed me and pedal. Push one pedal and then the other. It’s so easy, even a child could do it. I steer alongside the taxis and stay well clear of the buses. Someone toots in my ear, but it’s hello, not a warning. Large groups of school children shout ‘bye-bye’ as I pass them, their version of hello too.
It takes a few minutes to reach the end of the single road that is Salelologa. Then right at the island’s only traffic lights, onto the east coast. The sun shines, the dogs lie contented, and everything is flat. Well almost, there are hints of hills, a slight gradient, but nothing to agonise over. One village merges into another, little shops, churches, and communal fales whirring by. You see so much more on a bicycle, and people see you too. They all wave ‘bye-bye’.
As I reach the entrance to the Savaiian Hotel, I know I’m halfway to my destination. The villages space out, and a turquoise sea glints on my right. It can’t be much further now, but it is. I pass the bleached moonscape of the Amoa Hotel, several more churches, then another headland.
Until I arrive at Joelan Fales on Lano Beach, my destination. A friendly lady walks out to greet me, and offer tea.
My fale is right on the ocean’s edge, the water visible through a gap in the palm slats. I unpack, go for a swim, then relax. So quiet, so peaceful after last night.
Later, I eat dinner in their restaurant. Only two other guests stay here tonight: Conway, a Londoner, who is travelling around the South Pacific for several months on his way to the Ashes in Australia; and Ros, an Austrian girl, who is specifically here to do nothing. We talk music and travel and Samoa, and drink Vailima beer as well.
Several hours later, tired but happy, I shine a torch back to my fale and collapse gratefully to bed.