No Peace For Dead Writers

Kate’s gifts.

Colours ambush the long straight road up to Robert Louis Stevenson’s house. The plants on this island don’t know how to be wallflowers.  They shout in yellows, reds and greens. Yet this promises to be a peaceful walk. Or so I hope, enjoying a breeze that rustles palms and teuila flowers.

Then I listen more carefully. Embedded in the fragrance of the silence is the distant noise of dogs. Children shouting too.

Today isn’t any old old Friday. Today is the end of term.

I reach the start of the RLS Tomb trail and begin to climb. Sweat sheens my face while squeals of laughter shave the air ahead. A regiment of teenage girls march past single-file, giggling and hooting, amused by something further on.  At the top, a pounding of music. A party in full swing. Three separate beatboxes bash the air, a battle of hip-hop, vibrato and screaming pop princesses.

RIP RLS.

No peace for old Robbie’s soul nor his bones today. Two girls and a boy fluoresce and boogie on the wooden viewing platform. Another couple canoodle on top of his tomb, well inside the little chain fence labelled ‘Do Not Enter’.

Nice to see teenagers celebrating the storyteller, the Tusitala. To hear them not so nice. Next time they should try more traditional music, Andy Stewart or ‘The Mull of Kintyre’. Something that old Robbie would like. Or maybe he wouldn’t. Maybe music was the true reason he left Scotland.

I set off back down the track, sweating again. No cold dip at the end either. The RLS swimming pool is full, packed with pupils from Year 9. Possibly the most people in one tiny water hole ever. It’s the same in the adjoining Botanical Gardens, where a busload of children yell at the plants.

Kate arrives from her presentation ceremony at school. The staff have been gift-shop extravagent. They’ve given her wood carvings, a woven bag, a lacquered painted coconut, a fan and a little wooden turtle.  As the late, great Brucie would have said, ‘Didn’t she do well!’

“It’s really noisy here.” Kate threatens a wooden blade at no-one in general, and me in particular. “Let’s go somewhere quieter.”

“Okay.” I nod. The blade has a nasty hook at the end.

We drive to Le Petit Cafe, tucked away in a rue off a boulevard off an esplanade. The lemonade fizzes ferociously and the omelette squeaks louder than Lena Zavaroni.

“These mosquitoes get everywhere.” Kate brandishes a spoon in the air, then swats an extra milligram of protein that has landed on her crepe. “I know the place to go.”

The place turns out to be the main hall at school, where the end of term concert is gearing up in a storm. Enough Samoan audio power to rival the Jacobite Risings. The theme is ‘The Wave to Intellectual Success’ and the dancing is synchronised, collective and awesome. A troupe of pipers and sword-dancers on ‘Strictly Come Dancing’ couldn’t have performed better. Give us a twirl! Good game, good game! It’s not Mother Goose, is it? Years 9 through 13 each dance an episode in the lives of two boys growing up, one who does well and the other who falls – then is saved and rises again. The hall shakes with the bravado of cheering parents and siblings. It is a great noisy experience, even more entertainment than a whole season of the Generation Game.

Then back to the apartments where another party is in full swing.  Whisky bottles and matches adorn the balcony, while from underneath comes the yowling of a cat.

No peace for dead writers. Or live ones either.  Not here in Samoa. No peace for anyone.

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I, Black Dog

I, Black Dog.

I am black dog. I patrol carpark at Papapapai Falls. I wait for you in hire car. I follow you, silent, head down, tail still.

You keep distance. You don’t talk to me, pat me, or make eye contact. You don’t want me here. You came to see waterfall. Not black dog.

I don’t bark.  I don’t bother you. I was here first. Dawn till dusk, Monday to Sunday. You stay only long enough for photos.

I don’t whimper. I don’t beg. I don’t leave mess.  But I’m hungry. I want food. Sausage, meat, muesli bars. Anything.

Ignore the waterfall. Ignore the view. Take notice of black dog.

Black Dog with visitor.

You want me go away. You think I stray. I always here, in same spot. How can I be stray?

You’re the stray. You stray from home overseas, from apartment, from sausages in fridge, from meat pies and muesli bars.

I black dog. I patrol carpark at Papapapai Falls. I look out for you, I never bark, I never growl, I guard waterfall, though you never notice me.  Yours, black dog.

 

Brown-black Dog.

TRAVELLER’S NOTE: We visited Papapapai Falls two days ago, and brown-black dog circled the car and stood a few feet from the open door. We questioned brown-black dog about the whereabouts of black dog, and understood that black dog has been transferred to another waterfall on the island.

Two Weeks To Go

Returning soon.

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.

Hidden 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.

More like the Sounds.

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.

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.

Ted and Teresa ‘Do’ Cent Save

 

As soon as we heard the strains of Chopin’s Minute Waltz puttering through the wall, closely followed by the opening bars of Beethoven’s Fifth, Ta-Ta-Ta-Ta-Dah, we knew something was wrong. Ted detested classical music with a vengeance. To his front-row-shattered ears, this would be worse than Yehudi Menuhin having to listen to ten hours of extreme AC/DC. And Teresa, we knew, liked switching the radio to Classical FM after they’d had a row.

Sure enough, a sharp knock came on our door. Teresa waltzed in.

“Bloody Ted!” She popped a bluenailed finger at the party wall. “I suggested we get a few pressies for people, and the big wallop goes mad!”

Kate pursed her lips. “What’s his problem?”

“Oh, the usual male thing!” Teresa glanced at me and then waggled her eyelashes at Kate. “He says we can’t afford it, we’ve extended our holiday already and all that crap. As if it’s me spending all the money! What about the five bottles of Vailima he drinks every night? Or those big breakfasts at LL Bean he gets through at twenty eight Tala a plate.”

“They’re only twenty-five on the menu,” I said, correcting her. “Tell them to knock three Tala off. They’ve got the wrong price on the till.”

“Whatever!” Teresa waved her hands and pulled her hair. “I still want to get some pressies, especially as we’ve been here so long.”

“Why don’t you go over to Cent Save?” Kate pointed through our window at our least melodious shop. The same shop that blasted out music everyday from seven in the morning to seven at night on an ancient unlabelled speaker, and preventing any normal volume conversation in our apartment building.

“Yeah! What a great idea!” Teresa’s face lit up like a bioluminescent jellyfish. “Even Ted won’t be able to complain about that. And since he’s always going on about their choice of music, he can come over with me and check out their audio tapes.”

Since Cent Shop was only across the road, less that two minutes from door to door, we volunteered to go with them. The four of us trooped down our lop-stepped staircase, then glancing right and left, ran across the busy main road. Kate, Teresa and I made it across in one sprint. And Ted waddled over at his usual duck-with-a-suitcase pace, holding up his hands and stopping all the buses. The drivers – logically – worked out that in a collision, they’d come off worse.

Assembled again outside the shop, we used diving signals to communicate. The ambient music was that loud. Ted chopped a flat palm at his throat; he was out of air after blustering across the road. Similarly Teresa rotated a flattened hand from side to side, then pointed at her ears. She was having problems equalising under the enormous pressure of decibels from the shop’s speaker. Then Kate stepped forward, pointed two fingers at her eyes, then one finger at the shop’s entrance, meaning let’s go in and look.

We pushed open a soundproofed door and stepped inside. A smiling Asian lady regarded us from behind the till. She looked a little scared. She’d probably never had so many palangi all coming in at the same time.

As the door closed behind us, our ears experienced a long forgotten phenomenon. Not complete silence, but nearly. The same kind of quiet we’d get if we purchased a packet of pins from the haberdashery aisle, dropped them one by one onto the scrubbed linoleum floor and listened out for each tinkle.

“We should have come over here sooner,” I said. “It’s the most peace and quiet we’ve had in weeks.”

“It’s like the eye of the hurricane,” said Kate. “All that noise outside, and in the middle, absolutely still.”

“It’s cold too.” Teresa nodded at an air-conditioner purring on the wall.

“Well suits me.” Ted started to fiddle with his pockets, pulling out a number of plastic contraptions that looked suspiciously like his Bluetooth speakers. “They say revenge is a dish best served cold.”

“Ted, you’re not going to -.” Teresa tried to grab the devices off him.

But Ted was too quick. He held the speakers above his head and blundered down one of the aisles. Teresa squealed and chased after him. A moment later, an electronic yelp hit the empty air.

“What’s he up to?” Kate scratched her chin.

“He’s about to play something on those speakers.” I remembered the decibel storm raging when we’d returned from Savai’i. “And it’s not going to be Chopin or Beethoven. It’s going to be like Madison Square Garden on steroids.”

“What’s Madison Square Garden?”

“You don’t want to find out.”

We scooted past all the shop’s bargains – flip flops at twenty Tala a pair, twenty balloons in a pack, and enough plastic mirrors to keep even the Snow Queen happy – and ran to the door. Then waving a swift goodbye to the confused lady behind the till, we tugged the door open and sprang outside. Immediately the shop’s ambient music invaded our heads again. But it was nothing compared to the sound that erupted a moment later like Krakatoa behind us: AC/DC’s Back In Black hammering so loud, the shop window shook and merchandise fell off the racks.

Quickly, I did a thumbs up to Kate. Not ‘everything’s okay’ but the diving signal for ‘Up’. Time to end our shopping experience and get the hell back across the road.

Beach of Dreams

You’re dreaming…

This is the beach of dreams, where German twenty-somethings on a round-the-world ticket toast their white arses in the sun; where French couples canoodle and waltz their camper van plans for New Zealand; where tourists from Australia revert to Greek or Scottish or Filipino ancestry; and where Rocky, a strange short American anti-hero, wanders up and down in some perpetual nightmare.

Rocky is a parody of George. W, forever banished to the Pacific circuit. Or a former mercenary rom ‘The A Team’ or ‘Rambo’ who never spoke any lines. Or the little wooden man who pops out from the top of a barometer when the weather is expected to be fine. Rocky likes sunshine, sand, and sea. His skin, underneath his tattoos, is burnished like leather. He seems to possess only one pair of black and white shorts, like he always wanted to be in black and white movies, but came along in technicolour. He never wears a shirt or a vest, although he sometimes dons a cap.

He hassles the other guests with regular New York style interrogations. Assured, swaggering, bullish. ‘How long you here?’ ‘Where you from?’ ‘You remind me of a Krout I knew in Brooklyn.’ He must be sixty and a day. Shorts flapping over bandy knees, and a bare torso inking up to a grizzled head. He wears his map of tattoos like a billboard; they represent the journey he made to get here. His eyes burn with jealousy as he gazes across the shimmering lagoon. Today it is all his. No tide will ever ebb it away from him. Perhaps – truly – he was wafted here after living with the Sioux or wolves or a pod of dolphins.

At breakfast time, he’s first in line, spooning an orchard of apples, bananas and coconut slices ten feet high into his bowl. Then he empties several litres of hot water from the communal urn into empty beer bottles to carry back to his fale. He sits alone, occasionally rasping at diners on the other tables. ‘You know, don’t drink the tap water.’ ‘You know, don’t stay in the sun all day.’ ‘You know, this bit of the lagoon is best for swimming, that bit up there is too rocky.’ His voice is as powdery as the sand he trails everywhere with his oversized feet. Few people understand him. No-one goes to join him, at least not for long. Not that he listens either, for he’s too Gandhi important to be polite and make friends.

Beach of dreams?

Later, he’ll plough up and down in the lagoon – the public bit, not the rocky section he’s reserved as his own Rocky domain. He’ll surprise people who are snorkelling, springing out from a school of yellow fish like a tropical Gollum, then crouching behind a stand of coral like a new face on Mount Rushmore.

Perhaps he really is a former world leader pondering renegade glories.  His years at the top making razor sharp decisions. The people he lost, the people he gained. Those who were with him, those who were not. The day he learnt to speak gangster English, and the day he purchased those shorts from Walmarts, or the Warehouse, wherever he came from.

He’s not going anywhere soon. Not on the Cultural Village tour, not a trip to To Sua Trench, nor an airport transfer. Not even to the beach on the other side of breakfast, in the opposite direction to his fale. He’s been here two months – walking, cogitating, swimming, eating all the fruit – and he’ll probably be here another two, and two more after that.

The beach’s own ex-presidential look-a-like, wandering, wandering, wandering. Until nature and the sea turn him into a pillar of salt. Or he’s replaced by a later model with orange hair and big hands.

Plantation Road

Heading up Plantation Road.

Saturday escape is along a dirt track that twists and climbs and bounces seven kilometres to the theological college at Sauniatu. Not a route the tourists take in their ‘R’ registration rental cars. Nor the booming colourful faso buses, their tyres too fat and traction too soft to grip the tight stony corners.

It feels like we’ve left the twenty-first century behind and driven into a less frantic, earlier time.  All the houses cower well back from the road, their gardens lush and green and brimming with plants. Fields full of big-leafed taro, row after row of palms heavy with coconuts. Animals as well, a family of pigs rooting for edibles, a horse forlorn and shiny, even a couple of sheep standing aloof on top of a polished black grave.

A man wearing goggles and discoloured orange overalls attacks his hedge with a petrol trimmer. He as if he might attack us too. Then he lowers his weapon and smiles. “Waterfall?”he repeats, brushing a fly away from his eyes, then scratching his nose. “Thirty minutes. You have good day.”

Fields of taro.

It’s further than we thought, this secret swimming hole we seek, deep deep inside plantation country. And as we drive on, the houses grow more ramshackle, the potholes grander, the stones bigger. Ahead green hills loom up like teenage mountains, darkening the sky above us and convincing us we’re driving into the middle of nowhere. We’ve travelled a good few kilometres from the coast, perhaps a kilometre up too, approaching the ridge line that runs the length of the island.

“This can’t be right,” says Kate. “Another thirty minutes and we’ll be on the other side. Maybe that’s what he meant? The sea on the south coast?”

“Let’s carry on to that yellow thing up there.” I point through the dirty windscreen at a patch of yellow ahead. “If we haven’t seen anything then, let’s turn around.”

We pass another house, then a yard full of tractors and white minivans. A bunch of kids spring out of a hedge, asking for money, then a dog barks furiously on the other side. Things are not looking hopeful, nor is the sky turquoise any more, but a livid sheet of grey that threatens rain.

“We should turn around in a minute,” I say.

Sauniatu monument.

Then as the yellow patch materialises into a big metal sign, we spot a little stone monument by the side of the road.  ‘In 1904, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints purchased 800 acres of land in this valley.  It served as a refuge and gathering place for early members of the church.  Sauniatu, or in English, prepare to go forth.’

And a few yards ahead, distant grey buildings, a stone bridge across the river, and a uniformed guard sitting in a booth on the left hand side.

“Can we go up to the waterfall?” I wind down my window.

“Sure.” He nods, smiles, and gestures for us to go on.

Unlike everywhere else in Samoa, there is no charge. This waterfall and pool are not only secret, but Tala free too. And parking the car, we walk through long damp grass and down wet stone steps towards the sound of water.

Secret waterfall and pool.

The noise swells as we clutch a yellow metal rail. The steps are slippery and rough. Then rounding a corner, we see the waterfall, cascading over black hippopotamus rocks into a beautiful pool beneath. We descend further, eager to explore this secret place, yet a little afraid too. Lichens and ferns tower above us, a wall of rock the same shade as crocodile skin and Christmas pine.

No-one else here, apart from us. No laughter or voices, nothing except falling water and the hum of mosquitos. A place that resonates both good and bad: wonderful to look at, dark and mysterious.

Worth the long drive up plantation road. We gaze down in wonder, then feel the first drops of rain.

Back to the Sweat Box

Driving back into Apia.

Ted’s standing at the top of the stairs as I drag my cycling stuff back to up to the appartment. He’s grown bigger, or else I’ve shrunk. And perhaps I have. Pushing up all those hills, I must have burned off a few hundred calories of sweat.

“You’re back then?” Ted stares at me with lazy brown eyes.

“What does it look like?” Apia was already getting to me: the heat, the noise, the taxi-drivers. Kate had kindly picked me up from the ferry and driven me back. “You think I might be a ghost or something? I wasn’t ever going to come back, I was going to disappear on the big island?”

“I’m just saying.” Ted inhales deeply. There’s so much of him, no-one can squeeze past. “Was it good?”

“Fantastic. You should try it sometime.” Although I know he won’t. Exercise and Ted live in different streets.

“Maybe I will.” He grins, the remains of a doughnut between his teeth. “I hear you can get these e-bikes. Take all the hard work out of the hills.”

“You still have to pedal. Move your feet up and down.” I make a motion with my hands. I’m being hard on him, I know, but after nearly a week of not having to think about him and Teresa, let alone talk to them, I’d started to hope they didn’t exist. Not in Samoa anyway. They should have gone home weeks ago. Mid-September, they’re still in Apia. Next door.

“Hello stranger!” Their appartment door scrapes open, and Teresa pokes short blonde curls out. She’s had her hair cut. “You survived then? The dogs didn’t get you?”

“No. Fortunately, their barks are worse than their bites.”

“They didn’t bite then?” Ted bares strawberry teeth at me, trying to be funny..

“No. That’s what I’ve been saying.” Sometimes I wonder if Ted should be humanely put down. He’s worse than a dog, how he’s always lounging on the sofa with his tongue hanging out. He never goes for a walk and he easily eats half his body weight in chips everyday.

Apia Main Hospital.

“You know, you can get rabies from dog bites.” Teresa pulls a lemon face to go with her new hair. “You wouldn’t catch me riding a bike over here, the hospitals ain’t going to be able to do anything.”

“I don’t think the hospitals are too bad.” Kate steps up behind me, carrying the rest of my cycling gear. “The one here in Apia looked quite modern.”

“They’re too poor to afford treatment though,” says Teresa.

“I’m not sure they have to pay for everything,” says Kate. “And there’re lots of public health camapaigns too, against smoking, drink-driving, obesity.”

“Ha! Fat lot of use those are. I’ve seen some real lard-arses walking around town!” Ted guffaws.

I wish the corridor had a mirror, or a sheet of reflective glass. Something to remind Ted of his profile. Although he must glimpse himself in his bathroom mirror sometimes. And surely even Teresa wouldn’t be so patronising in private.

“Anyway, I didn’t get bitten.” I have to blow my own trumpet. With Ted and Teresa, even seventy-six trombones will never be loud enough. “Or fall off. Or get my fingers caught in the chain. I made it all the way around. A hundred and eighty kilometres in total.”

“How much?” Ted scratches his enormous paunch.

“A hundred and eighty.”

“Like darts?” His eyes widen.

“Yeah, like darts.”

I pull out my key, roll my eyes at Kate, and unlock the door to our apartment. Inside the temperature swelters, the air-con off, all the windows closed. Home sweat home, our own little sauna in the heat of Apia.

Perhaps cycling up those hills wasn’t so bad. Up, down, up, down, around and around. One big anti-clockwise circle around Savai’i.  Zero resemblance to darts.

Mosquito Lagoon Hotel

Moon set from the Mosquito platform.

I wish I could say the last night of my cycling trip was memorable.  And actually it was.  But not for the right reasons.

Mosquito Lagoon Hotel partially lived up to its promise. The mosquito bit: a big party of the bloodsucking insects took flying lessons in my room.  I’m not so sure about the lagoon part.  Rather naively, I thought I was going to be sleeping in a chalet over the water, able to gaze over the lagoon, then jump down and swim in it.

That’s what the blurb promised.  Except you should never believe the blurb, even here.

The hotel never recorded my booking.  They parked me in a ramshackle garden chalet instead.

The toilets had stick insects – but no paper.

I can’t complain though.  Really, it was very nice.  Freshly painted about twenty years ago – and with an almighty reassuring shiny padlock on the door.  Outside my door stretched a washing line where the staff squealed and hung up their swimwear. And just beyond lay the bathrooms, every sink empty of soap and every toilet lacking paper.

Little swimming hole.

But all was not lost.  I had a little balcony looking out on a blue tarpaulin full of garden waste and the hotel’s dinky little swimming hole.  And fifteen or twenty feet away, just visible through a gap in the trees, the sea.

I know, I’m getting fussy.  Lots of people would kill for a glimpse of water, and here am I quibbling over twenty feet.

But this is Samoa, you learn to expect wonderful sea views, especially when you’re paying for it.

Still, my little shack must be worth it.  Especially after all the uncertainty of checking in, almost as hard as cycling here.

There was no reception, but an ‘office’, carefully hidden behind a pile of palm leaves that had just been chopped down. A man in a patterned shirt glowered behind the counter.  When I said ‘Talofa’, he swivelled his eyes and stared at me.  I gave him my name, and he looked puzzled. I gave him my booking receipt too, and he stared a bit more, first at me, then at the receipt.  Maybe it was written in Swahili

Then he checked his big room organiser. Something was wrong.  He asked for my name again, stared at the room organiser a bit more, then back at my receipt again. This process went on for several minutes, until he shouted for someone who didn’t appear and asked my name again.

My little shack.

Puzzled myself, I sat down and studied the water left in my bottle.  I really wanted to dump my bags in whatever room I had and drink something cold.  Something exceptionally cold.  I had just cycled fifty-three kilometres in thirty plus degrees of heat.

But the man continued to stare, shout at passing staff members, and repeatedly ask my name.  Becoming exasperated, I suggested I phone the booking agents to see if they could work out what had gone wrong.  At which point, the man stood up, stared at his organiser again, and held out a key. Then another man led me through the little garden, and brought me to my own piece of paradise.

In the end, I didn’t hate the Mosquito Lagoon Hotel.  It’s situated in a wonderful spot, right by the lagoon, but they really need to get organised.  Losing room bookings sucks.  And as for the garden chalets, they need to be updated – or demolished.  And the restaurant?  How can you run out of fish when you’re right in the middle of the Pacific Ocean?

Circumference of Savai’i

Setting out from Satuiatua.

The women of Satuiatua wave goodbye as I set off on what will be the last – and longest – day of my journey. Fifty-three kilometres, curving around Cape Asuisui, then along the south coast to Salelologa where I started.

Once again, I thought the road would be flat and it isn’t. A long slow hill to start, through plantations and farms and waving palm trees, to the town of Taga. The dogs are frisky, first three farm dogs that run out on the road to bark at me, then a scruffy brown and white dog that looks like it has crawled through several hedges backwards.

The journey to Taga takes ages. The morning is young, the sun lukewarm, yet the hills extract a price. Sweat, sweat and sweat, as Churchill didn’t say about the beaches or fighting. He was never a cyclist though. He went everywhere in a Daimler.

After Taga, the road runs along the south coast. White waves crash onto black lava rocks. Mountains hide behind trees and bush. Pigs wander out randomly onto the road, while horses glance up pensively from grazing. The road meets a beautiful section of coastline with a perfect line of palm trees and a small lagoon. This is the same place where we stopped three weeks ago in the car and a youth sprang out to ask if we intended to take photos. Thankfully he’s not here today. His watch-post fale is empty.

Only traffic lights in Savai’i.

Past the airstrip at Maota, and two policemen sheltering in the shade, ready to jump out and stop cars. Then at Savai’i’s only set of traffic lights, I turn right, back into Salelologa: the same street I’d cycled up only five days before.

My moment of triumph!

Officially I have cycled all the way around the island.

Except with sweat dripping from my face, and my water bottle nearly empty, I’m more interested in finding my accommodation and getting something cold to drink. A Coke-cola, a Fanta, Vailima beer, anything really.

Celebration is not a priority. Rehydration is.