October 9 – Apia, Western Samoa

[It’s October 14th as I upload, and we’re in Port Vila on Vanuatu – will upload as much as an hour’s slow Internet allows.]

October 9 – Apia, island of Upola, Western Samoa, an unforgettable day

It is Saturday, October 11, as I write. The clock program on my computer handles Samoa and New Zealand just fine but fails when it comes to the Pacific islands in between. Fortunately, on this side of the Dateline that’s just a matter of being an hour off.

We crossed the line on the globe in the middle of the night so missed Friday entirely. No wonder Magellan ran into confusion when he arrived home after circumnavigating the globe and was off in his reporting by one day.

Yesterday we went ashore in Western Samoa’s capital city, Apia.

Traditional dancers and singers met us at the harbour of Apia, Western Samoa
Traditional dancers and singers met us at the harbour of Apia, Western Samoa

Performers welcomed us on the wharf. The Royal Police Band

Royal Police Band of Apia greet the ship
Royal Police Band of Apia greet the ship

played popular western tunes, a familiar touch to international visitors.

Dancers added a cultural note, moving in the slow weave that characterizes Polynesian dance. The singers who accompanied them sang Samoan songs in the haunting three-part harmony typical of these islands.

Once onshore we walked through an onslaught of taxi drivers. Ships are infrequent in this port. About three per month drop anchor, disgorging a thousand or more foreigners who bring cash and western values. More come in on flights, but their numbers are less concentrated than a shipload of tourists.

Along with two other couples, we hired a taxi driver for the short ride to the Robert Louis Stevenson’s home, which has been turned into a lovely museum. A westerner who took the time to get to know Samoans, Stevenson was revered in the place he fled to recover from tuberculosis.

A brain aneurysm took his life, and he was buried atop a hill overlooking the harbour and his home. Grieving Samoan friends passed his coffin from hand to hand along a trail that led from Apia to the hilltop, a distance of more than five kilometres. One of the museum guides told us the route is called the trail of the loving hearts, a reference to the esteem in which Stevenson is held. Stevenson was a Scot , who wrote many books including Treasure Island

The taxi driver waited while we visited the museum, as four of us had opted to take him up on his offer of a sightseeing tour. Had we known he intended to take us along a route with minimal scenic value, we might have declined and missed a highlight of the whole cruise. Fortunately, Lanita and Bob

Lanita & Bob from the ship, our taxi driver, and Cathryn seeing Apia and nearby villages
Lanita & Bob from the ship, our taxi driver, and Cathryn seeing Apia and nearby villages

shared our sense of adventure and proved ideal travel companions on this outing.

We drove through one small village

In this village the chief insists all roofs be blue
In this village the chief insists all roofs be blue

after another, along the coastal road that wanders west from Apia. Each is a cluster of modest houses, some with walls and glass windows, others open to breezes. Every house has its guest

Trash bins are above ground to protect them from dogs
Trash bins are above ground to protect them from dogs

house, an open space where people gather to visit, sleep, or just find relief from the relentless sun.

Vowels are prominent in the Samoan language. That was reflected in the village names: Lepea, Vaiusu, Vaigaga, Puipaa, Faleula, Tuanai, Leauvaa, Fasitoouta. They are clan groupings, each governed by a chief and served by at least one church.

Western consumer goods have brought a problem not part of traditional village life – inorganic trash. In Western Samoa the government has made a concerted effort to avoid the trash-strewn neighbourhoods and roadways that plague American Samoa. The Keep Samoa Clean campaign seems to be working, giving even modest villages a more prosperous appearance than in American Samoa. We found that generally the Western Samoans were more industrious and entrepreneurial than the American Samoans. This may be due to the fact that American Samoans are more dependent on aid sent from the U.S.

Trash cans with tightly fitting lids are not part of Upola’s garbage collecting system. Instead, residents have wire baskets or metal barrels attached to poles high enough to discourage wandering dogs from strewing garbage between the thrice-weekly pickups.

Our guide stopped at a turtle-filled pond next to the Congregational academy where he sends one of his six children to school. He was disappointed to find the normally clear water murky, but we still caught sight of turtles surfacing and diving. Their shells appeared to be about three feet long. When they reach maturity, the Congregational pastor and students lift them out of the pond and carry them across the road, where they can assume a normal breeding life in the sea.

The best part of our three-hour trip was a visit to our guide’s home.

Our taxi driver's house, open to sea breezes
Our taxi driver's home, open to sea breezes

I’ll let the pictures tell the story. He and his six children share a living space no larger than an average living and dining room of a North American home. They have separate huts for cooking, showering, washing up, and dining.

Shower facilities at our driver's home
Shower facilities at our driver
The driver's pig farrowed the day before - six more pigs for special celebrations
The driver's pig farrowed the day before - six more pigs for special celebrations
Our guide showing off family photos
Our guide showing off family photos
Entertainment centre in our driver's home
Entertainment centre in our driver's home

The homes and guest houses of the extended family occupy both sides of the road and cluster around a Methodist church they all attend. Like many Samoans, the family village depends on support from those who have found work in other countries, primarily New Zealand.

Cluny MacPherson, one of the cruise lecturers, pointed out how unsustainable such remittances are. Migrants still feel connected to family back home, but their children, born and reared outside of Samoa, don’t feel the same attachment and are less likely to continue sending money back to relatives not really part of their lives.

Our last stop of the day was at one of the central markets, this one selling farm produce and handicrafts. This time of the year, just heading into summer’s heat, the offerings were limited. Most vendors were selling coconuts, breadfruit, taro, pineapple, cocoa beans, bananas, or papaya.

Farmers market in Apia
Farmers market in Apia

One thought on “October 9 – Apia, Western Samoa

  1. I especially loved the story of the Stevenson fellow and how the people who loved him passed his coffin five kilometers. It’s amazing how much of a difference just one person can make. I also loved the piglets!!

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