“Hey, Robyn, how was Samoa?”
Oh, I’m glad you asked! It went a bit like this…
I left New Zealand on Saturday and arrived in Samoa on Friday. Samoa is, at the moment, exactly 24 hours behind New Zealand. You know how some people brag that New Zealand is the first country in the world to see the sunrise of a new day? Well, Samoa brags that it’s the last country in the world to see the sun set.
I arrived at about five in the morning. My alleged transport to the hotel (I hadn’t specifically requested it, but my travel agent said it was part of the package) was no where to be seen, so I got the rickety old bus into Apia. It was actually really nice bumping along the road, passing through numerous villages, seeing the sun rising. By six o’clock lots of people were up an about. Children were waiting for school buses, women were out sweeping around their fales.
I got to the hotel and checked in. The guy who showed me to my room revealed that he had gone to school in New Zealand. Specifically at the Catholic boys high school in Hamilton, just down the road from where I lived.
I caught up on sleep for a few hours, then walked around Apia. A small boy came up and asked me if I had any money. The Lonely Planet guide said not to give money to kids who asked, because they didn’t need it. I could tell he was just trying me on – he had a packet of cigarettes in his hand. He walked with me for a while, then said goodbye and ran off.
I discovered, to my delight, that Australian Twisties are available. Also, the “Chihuahua” song is being played everywhere.
I went on a tour around ‘Upolu island. Accompanying me were two Japanese men who were in Samoa on business, and two women whose husbands were off on a fishing trip. It rained a bit, so many of the scenic delights were obscured by tropical mists, but I did get to see a lovely waterfall and discover how coconut cream is made (It turns out it’s not by skimming the top of the milk from the coconut cow). The tour stopped at a beach and I went for a swim. White sand, clear ocean, lovely.
Then, almost straight after everyone had piled back in the van, it started raining again. We drove around some more and visited a freshwater pool in a cave. To get through it we had to go through a theological college. A bunch of guys were playing a game of kilikiti (Samoan cricket) out in the field in the rain. I was impressed by that. Life doesn’t stop because it’s raining. You just get out there in your lavalava and t-shirt and have some fun. If everyone in Samoa sat around inside moaning about the weather everytime it rained, nothing would ever get done.
The van made its way back to Apia, and the tour guide and driver sang some songs and got us singing one of those kinds of bilingual songs that you sing when you’re learning a language. I can’t remember how it goes, though I do remember that alofa is love (y’know, like aroha in Maori or aloha in Hawaiian).
Samoa is very religious and pretty much everything shuts down on Sunday and almost everyone goes to church. I was going to write “everyone goes to church”, but I wrote that in my report on Samoa when I was seven years old, and my teacher, Mrs Whyte, noted that was incorrect.
I decided to go to a church service. I could have gone to one the grand old Catholic cathedral only a few minutes walk along from the hotel, but I’m not Catholic, and it would have been weird. So instead I wandered up a hill to the only Anglican church in Samoa. The minister seemed excited to see me. I don’t think they get many newcomers. It was cool singing hymns in Samoan, but it was also a very Anglican church service and it reminded me of why I’m not a frequent churchgoer.
Someone mentioned that the church was built not so much for the locals, but for people visiting Samoa who wished to attend an Anglican church service. It was built in the 1950s, when Samoa was under New Zealand administration. I can totally imagine it being built with the idea that if Her Majesty were to visit, it would be appropriate for there to be a Church of England.
I went back to the hotel and had some lunch then lay around the pool reading. It was nice.
Then I felt a bit sick. I ended up back at my hotel room with those two old favourites of travellers, vomiting and diarrhoea. After having thrown up everything I’d eaten that day, from the McDonald’s sundae I’d had a few hours before, back to the kiwifruit I’d had as part of breakfast, I went to bed.
Then the hotel maintenance man came to check out the air conditioning which had been dripping a bit before. While he waited for it to test itself, we talked. We discussed the difference between Samoan and Maori languages. He asked me if I sent money back to my parents. I laughed and said they had more money than I did, though I’m sure they wouldn’t object to any donations.
After he left I went to sleep. I woke up a few hours later and I was all itchy. I’d heard a mosquito buzzing around, so I guessed I’d been bitten. Oh well. I went back to sleep. I woke up again and was even itchier. I discovered insect bite-like bumps in places where an insect would have trouble getting, like under my arm. Something was wrong. I stumbled into the bathroom and checked out my skin. I was covered in itchy bumps, some the size of an insect bite, others as big as jam jar lids. Oh shit.
Being too tired to freak out, instead I got dressed, grabbed a book and staggered along to the hotel reception, noting that my vision was all spotty, like if you’re sitting down and stand up quickly. I flopped down into one of the reception couches and managed to construct a sentence that alerted the night staff that I needed to see a doctor. Someone got a taxi to take me to the 24 hour private hospital, as recommended by the sacred, holy Lonely Planet guide.
I got to the hospital and a doctor saw me. I showed him my bumps. He asked me to follow him, but a few steps along the hallway I knew I had to lie down, and I think I passed out on the floor. I woke up after a short time, thinking I was back in my hotel room and wondering who this strange man was lying over me. The doctor said he was going to admit me, and I was taken in a wheelchair to a room. They put a drip in my hand, gave me some drugs, and I slept.
Monday was a blur of nurses, injections, blood pressure, pulse and temperature checks and the difficult task of buttering a piece of toast with one hand. It turned out that I’d had an allergic reaction to something. I don’t know what it was. I’d eaten a lot of different things on Sunday. From what I’ve since read, allergic reactions are usually from fresh, rather than processed food, so I suspect if I’d stuck to McDonald’s I would have been ok.
The antihistamines I was being given made me drowsy, so I slept for much of the time. But when I was awake I read my book, that new one by Helen Fielding. It wasn’t all that great, but it was something to do.
I remember at one stage going to the toilet and noticing in the bathroom mirror that my face was covered in red dots.
I also remember being really annoyed, because ending up in hospital on holiday because of a food allergy is soooo cliche.
My skin was back to normal by Tuesday morning, except for a few rogue red dots that had stuck around on my face. After one last set of drugs the doctor said I could leave. I then had to deal with a hospital bill of about 1500 tala. I hadn’t taken my medical insurance documents with me because I was expecting that I’d just see a doctor then go back to the hotel (ha!). So I put as much as I could on my credit card, then rang up my dad and got him to wire me the rest.
It was kind of exotic going to the Western Union office to pick up the money. I was hoping that it would have been like in “Thelma and Louise” where I had to give a code word (“peaches”), but they just wanted to see my passport.
I watched a bit of local TV. There was a music video show that played a live Nsync song (but a crappy, soppy ballad, not one of their cool songs), the “Chihuahua” song, and a fa’afafine doing some incredibly bad lip synching to “I wanna dance with somebody”.
I’d seen that last video a few days before. There was a fellow sitting at the bar – hairless, tanned legs, sculpted eyebrows, and a bag trimmed with rainbow tape. He had been talking with the bartender, who was wearing a flower in his hair. The “I wanna dance with somebody” clip came on and the rainbow guy started mouthing the words. At the end of the chorus, he sang aloud, “with somebody who loves me” as he made eyes at the bartender. Maybe that’s what I was allergic to?
I paid my damn hospital bill in full. Conveniently located across the road from the hospital was Vailima, the Robert Louis Stevenson Museum. The author of such literary works as “Treasure Island” and “The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde”, had lived in Samoa for four years to ease his suffering from tuberculosis. A fa’afafine gave a tour of the house, always referring to RLS’s wife as “the wife Fanny,” which made me giggle.
The New Zealand Governor General, Dame Silvia Cartwright, was making an official visit to Samoa. I was first alerted to this when I was walking back to my hotel on Tuesday evening and saw an official motorcade coming down the road. First came the New Zealand car, a nice looking sedan. Then came the Samoan Prime Minister, in a blingy stretched limo. Stretched limousines are for third world dictators and/or teenagers going to the school ball. Prime Ministers should stick to nice sedans, ok?
A New Zealand Navy vessel was in town as part of this, so there were various New Zealand Navy people filling in time around Apia. At Vailima the tour guide asked two guys where they were from. “New Zillun” they replied. “Where? Oh, New Zealand!”
The current popularity of New Zealand hip-hop includes a significant number of artists of Samoan origin. So I was curious as to what the local Samoan music scene is like. In short: crap. Imagine a mushy pop ballad, like “Wind beneath my wings”, played on a cheesy synthesiser, and with the vocals recorded in Samoan. That sort of music appears to be hugely popular. I have no idea why, because it sounds terrible.
The local McDonald’s was tuned into a rock station that seemed to be from American Samoa, and was playing everything from Chuck Berry, to Talking Heads, to AC DC, to the Eagles, complete with a smooth as DJ who sounded exactly like a tropical island radio DJ should. But the local Samoan radio stations just played Samoan Phil Collins songs. Maybe because Samoa is such a religious country they don’t want any of that devil’s music rock ‘n’ roll? It seems like that rather there being a need for missionaries to bring God to the islands, instead there needs to be missionaries to bring non-shit music.
I visited the flea market. Most of the stuff for sale is the same sort of stuff you can get in markets around Auckland. There was also the nicer gift items that groovy gift shops in Auckland have, only much cheaper. I bought a tapa square, which is going to make me one of those Dorkland hipsters with a tapa cloth in their house. Only, like, I actually bought mine in Samoa, therefore it is more authentic and morally pure, etc.
The antihistamines were making me feel drowsy. I didn’t have the energy to do much. My life seemed to centre around three air conditioned buildings in town: McDonalds, the internet cafe and the movie theatre. I realised that I wasn’t really having much of a holiday anymore. I was due to leave on Saturday morning, but I just couldn’t be bothered hanging around Apia anymore, so I had the flight moved forward to one that evening.
In the taxi on the way to the airport, the driver was playing a CD with reggae versions of Christmas songs. But there seem to be a few he really, really liked and kept going to back to play them over and over and over again. The ride to the airport took about 40 minutes, and I lost count of the number of times I heard “Silent Night,” “Little Drummer Boy” and a truly diabolical version of the “12 Days of Christmas”. That last song is the worst simply because it’s been rewritten as a Christian song. Instead of “my true love” sending the gifts, it’s God, or “Jah Jah”. So immediately I start thinking of Jar Jar Binks from “Star Wars”, and that makes it a million times worse. In keeping with the religious theme, all the gifts have been changed to nice things, like a happy family.
Seriously, the United Nations need to give an aid package to Samoa to let the people have good music. Like, that Destiny’s Child Christmas CD. There could be one of those given to every village. It would be a start, at least.
I was glad to board the aeroplane. I had three lovely air conditioned seats to myself. I crossed back over the international dateline and happily arrived back in Auckland on Friday night. I bought some duty-free goodies just to have something nice out of the whole experience.
It was an unexpectedly crap holiday, but I still managed to have some fun along the way. But despite all the crap, which probably could have happened to me in any country, it was a beautiful country and the locals were really kind and friendly. Hopefully one day I’ll get to go back and see some more of Samoa.