In less than two weeks, we’ll be leaving Samoa for good and returning to New Zealand. While we’re looking forward to coming home – friends, family, cat, home comforts – we’ll also miss Samoa too, after spending so long here. It’s always felt as though we’ve unlimited time ahead of us, time to do everything we want, time to visit every place we read about. Except of course we don’t. Even three months runs out eventually. And the more we explore, the more we become aware of how little we’ve scratched the surface, even in a country as small as Samoa.
Today for instance, we took an inconspicuous right turn off the Le Mafa Pass and found ourselves driving into a valley that time and tourism have forgotten. The road zigzagged to the top of a ridge, where a party of American Samoans in two utes had also stopped. We joined them and gazed onto the hidden north-east coastline, where several remote villages bordered the enclosed blue waters of Fagaloa Bay.
The road down was steep and narrow, but passable. It curved tightly around the coast, up and down smaller ridges between the villages. Hardly any other vehicles and we saw no shops. A primary school held a cultural day with all the children dressed in pink and blue lavalavas, singing and dancing madly.
We drove further, the sea sprawling on one side, and green peaks towering on the other. A dirt paddock of bony cows, a stream, and a distant fortress of rock and vertical water. At times, we felt we were in Marlborough Sounds rather than tropical Samoa.
At lunchtime, back on the main road, we found an hotel we must have passed before, but never noticed. We went inside and sat at a little white table on an expanse of decking and ordered lunch and drinks. Small hard seeds fell from the tree above us, splattering onto our heads, but fortunately not our drinks – or lunch. Across the water were the red roofs of Piula Theological College with its famous Cave Pool. An American family at the adjoining table told us about new Samoan delicacies – palusami, eel stew – on sale at the food market in Apia, just below our apartment.
On television tonight, a celebration of different cultures: singing, dancing, serving food from woven baskets, as well as the more serious message of stopping family violence, and empowering children and women
In spite of the innate conservatism that seems to rule – and conceal – some aspects of Samoan life, there are those who want change.
And the more we explore, the more we find: on TV, in the newspapers, by word of mouth, and by knocking on ordinary looking doors in streets we haven’t visited before.
Two weeks to go, and really, we know nothing.