Our Place in Town

MKR appartments, part of the Le Well empire. Nothing to do with the TV cooking programme.

We’re staying at MKR appartments, right in town. Comfortable, lots of street sounds, and the water is definitely not bland. It flows clear and fast from the taps, available for washing, showering and flushing. We’ve been advised not to drink it directly, not unless boiled. The trick is to boil a jug each night and then let cool overnight for drinking the next day.

Nice little appartment with good kitchen facilities and a bed in the alcove. Air-con too which helps cool the room at night. There’s plenty going on around us without even stepping out: the market and bus station opposite, with Samoa’s brightly painted pasi buses circling constantly looking for passengers; the shop on the corner booming out music; the clank-clank of metal joists being laid at a new building under construction. Not too mention the open air Zumba class every afternoon, the wailing three-year old next door, and the barber shop singers practising for Apia music festival in September. Funny really, how all these noises emanate from every side, converging waves of varying intensity, merging and cancelling each other out. We tune in, then out and only listen to the sound of that lovely flowing water.  So bland, but not really.

Local bus or pasi ‘The Tree of Life’ – hopefully not named after that long Terence Malik film.

Beyond the street life, the screech and song of downtown Apia, we can can see the ridge of hills that divides Upolu. A few houses up there, cooler and quieter than here. Few roads though – uninterrupted green bush, topped by the odd wispy cloud, then acres of pale blue sky. Over the other side is the east coast where all the best beaches lie, together with five star resorts and lounging holidaymakers. A different kind of noise over there.  The sound of people reading and the occasional whisper of a page being turned.  Later the clink of ice cubes in glasses, friendly conversations over a fish dinner, and the gentle lapping of waves on pebbles.  Nothing as lively as here – with buses hooting and the odd scrape-scrape of road-sweepers’ spades across the surface of the road.

Last night we discovered Fish Market – a great fish and chip restaurant where the fish is so fresh it blows salty kisses at you.  Eat me, eat me, eat me.  One giant bottle of Vailima beer and yellow-fin tuna fried battered and fried with machine chips.  Delicious, just what Manu would have ordered.  Even the sauce wasn’t bland.  We’ll definitely have to go back there.

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Arrival

View from our appartment

After a sighting of Sonny Bill Williams in the departure lounge – we thought he might be on our flight – we flew to Apia, Samoa.  Arrived in darkness, only the dark calm waters of the Pacific beneath us, and after some manoeuvring through cloud, the distant silhouette of Upolu.  Then with a wide swing through one hundred and eighty degrees, we touched down into twenty-something heat.  Welcome to Samoa, Mr Bond.  Except this wasn’t the start of a 007 film, or anything like it.  Our three suitcases weighed down with wine and cheese and Kellogg’s All-Bran were a bit of a giveaway that we weren’t clandestine secret service agents.  And the six by four cardboard bike box was another, balanced precariously across a wonky airport trolley and sweeping up other passengers like a snow-plough.

“Are you here for long?” said the first customs officer.  At least that’s what I thought he said.  It may have been, what’s’ that fat holiday maker doing on one end of your cardboard box?  Or is that a famous All-Black with a penchant for shoulder charges on the other?  But it was probably just ‘Welcome to Samoa, Mr Southall.’  And ‘You know it’s bloody hot here, don’t you?  Too hot for cycling.  And the dogs are aggressive.”

Peter, our taxi driver guided us to his car.  He crammed the bike, box, and another case into a very small boot, and us into the back seat.  Then calmed us down with some Rod Stewart music, followed by The Chainsmokers.  Eclatic mix.  By then we’d lost the fat holiday-maker and SBW too,  although there was no evidence he’d ever been on the plane.

It was a slow journey to Apia – maximum speed of forty kilometres per hour – although on this stretch of road distance is measured by the number of churches, at least forty, possibly two hundred.  Save a prayer, except no Duran Duran on the car stereo.  So a long scenic ride (actually not so scenic seeing it was night), the shadows of trees slipping past, then the occasional band of youths prowling around a torch, and lots of well illuminated churches.  No road signs.  But the ocean was on our left – we had to be heading the right way – Peter wasn’t intending to kidnap the bike.

And so at ten (or later – it felt like the middle of the night), we swung down another road and stopped at our appartments.  Thank God, we’d arrived at last.  Somewhere sometime in Samoa.  (No Simple Minds on the radio either.)  Peter was great – he carried all our bags up, not only to the first floor, but the second.  He was helped by Lofa, the building night-watchman, who greeted us warmly as well.  We began to feel like we’d landed on our feet – even pedals – since the bike had made it this far too.

Tomorrow – or the day after since this is Samoa – read about our trials and tribulations trying to access the internet.  No wonder hymn books are bigger here than Facebook.  And no Mr Bond, you can’t open a bank account at ANZ Samoa.  Just use one of those gold coins hidden in your briefcase.  Sorry, your bike box.

Big bold bike box

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Air New Zealand Bike Box
We fly to Apia on Monday, 10th July.  Accommodation booked, everything else open.  Fifty-five hours until we reach paradise.  Then three months to panic.

The bike travels in its own box.  Cardboard upholstery, six inches of wheel room, no movie.  Twenty five dollars for the box, plenty more for an extra bag in the hold.  But hey, cycling in all that humidity?  Worth every cent.