Rain falls from a dark sky. The little sand island on the horizon has vanished. The horizon too, obscured by a thick grey mist that creeps across the lagoon.
Hardly anyone else has made it to bteakfast, a buffet in the same open-air terrace where dinner was served last night. The hour is early: seven-thirty on a dull Monday morning. No-one else has an entire west coast to pound underneath two wheels today.
I want to leave promptly at eight, ready to tackle the hill at Sataua before the day grows too hot. But the weather has other plans. The clouds mass together like a funeral cortège, black ties, black suits, and black shoes. Then breaking down, they tumult enough tears to wash the toes of the dead. Big heavy drops that pummel the palm tree leaves and puddle around coconut husks on the ground. I won’t be going anywhere for a while, not until this cloudburst has passed.
I check my bags again, tyre pressures, bungee straps. At least if it’s overcast today, the sun won’t be quite so intense. Although the humidity may be up. Whatever, it’s all part of the course. This is the wild west coast. The reef is sparse and the beaches few. The breakers crash like wild horses against the black lava rocks.
The rain stops as suddenly as it started. The air is still damp, the road slick. Easy going to begin with, through the villages of Vaisala and Fagasa where people wave and say hello. At one school, the entire school erupts into a chorus of ‘bye-byes’, their voices shrill and frantic, until a teacher yells at them to stop.
At Sataua, the riad ascends. Today’s big hill. A straightforward five hundred and eighty feet up, with no false summits. Yet enough to sweat over. I still have to stop, rest and drink lots of water. Several times over.
I pass the entrance to Falealupo Peninsula, a ‘Jurassic Park’ style archway onto the dirt track to Cape Mulinu’u. After our last experience there, the man who wanted money for photos of the sea, I’ve decided to bypass the whole peninsula and carry on along the main road.
All that pedalling uphill reaps a reward. A long descent back down to Falelima on the coast, with magnicent views of the ocean on the right and the central mountains on the left. At one point, I glimpse a black sea arch through a gap in the trees. Further on, a sign that advertises tariffs for the beach: bizarrely three Tala per adult to access, yet five Tala per photo. Even down here, photos cost money.
The road ascends another hill, one I didn’t expect. Then another hill so steep it clutches at my wheels. So much for believing I only had one hill today. This is not a flat route, but ungently undulating.
At Foalalo, two teams of local youths are playing cricket. Their pitch extends across the village green and onto the main road. Several fielders stand on the centreline, and I steer over to the right hand verge in case there’s a six. And at Gaga’emalae, another cricket match is underway, similarly taking over much of the highway. A man stops the traffic every time the ball is in play. Most of the village is watching too, a hundred or more men, women and children crouched attentively in the shade.
A little while after, I reach Satuiatua, my destination. The Beach Fales here are run entirely by women. They put me in Fale number five, where two cats, mother and kitten, rummage after the chip packet I’ve put in the bin. Then a dog wanders up to lap from the plastic bowl of water on the steps. Other than the women, the dog, the cats, and the pigs that later sniff their way along the beach, I am the only guest staying here. A ghost town on the beach, snorkelling alone in a green empty sea, and eating dinner by myself in the restaurant. When dusk falls, my light is the only one. Even the stars and moon are absent.