Yellow Elephant

Yellow elephant – not white.

For two small islands surrounded by water, Samoa boasts some capacious buildings.

The Immaculate Conception Cathedral, big enough to hold a congregation of two thousand.

The open air stadium at Apia Park, where all major sporting events are held.

Then surprisingly, the Samoan Aquatic Centre out on Tuanaimato Road, a warehouse of a building with two full-sized fifty-metre swimming pools – and no people.

Impressive frontage.

Since we have no pool at our appartments, and Apia has no decent beaches either, I cycle up to this gigantic facility every week for a swim. Several times, I’ve been the only person up there, besides the cashier and two attendants. It’s a strange feeling swimming up and down in such a huge pool, glancing across at all the other vacant lanes, the grandstand of empty red and blue seats, then up at a high girdered roof that rumbles in the wind.

The pool was specially constructed by China for the 2007 South Pacific Games, and has also hosted the Oceania Swimming Championships. Apart from big events like these, it doesn’t appear to be used much on a day to day basis, at least not from what I’ve seen.

Main pool – empty!

Occasionally there have been other swimmers: another man doing laps in the main pool; a school group reluctantly following their leader; and at weekends, a party of local Samoans laughing and fooling about in the outside pool. But all too often, it’s only me. Fifty metres of blue nothing, staring at a black line underwater and wondering where the hell everyone else is. Perhaps Samoans don’t like the water too much, after all, I’ve heard many of them can’t swim. The pool is out of town too, a fifteen minute bike ride from Fugalei Street. Hopefully the entrance fee isn’t too much – at ten Tala, the same price as a large Vailima beer.

Although there are few patrons, the rules are strictly enforced. No footwear to be worn beyond the entrance kiosk, and everyone must shower before getting in the pool. No diving, no bombing, and definitely no inflatable pigs.

No stampede!

Once I spotted a hand printed sign below a metal ladder that led up to the walkway. Intrigued, I swam closer expecting it to say something like ‘No climbing’ or ‘Access only to authorised personnel’. But no. Bizarrely it read ‘No stampede’. Now I’m wondering if they secretly let elephants swim in the pool. It’s big enough and empty enough for lots of yellow elephants – Jumbo freestyle.


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