Prophecy: a pilgrimage will be made about the largest island of Savai'i.
My idea of a vacation typically involves moving my rather robust rear end around
the edges of the country on a piece of aluminum and two tiers. As I spend more
time in and around the Apia area, I really start to get restless. I am
fortunate that Candice, a fellow volunteer from my training group, also has a
taste for such silliness. So to quell this restlessness, I planned a trip with
her to bike around Savai'i. The plan was to leave on the 15th of December and
tool about in Savai'i, staying with other volunteers and corrupting the fine
peoples in the far reaches. It's just our luck that such reaches are paved
and sport stores which stock large quantities of water, salty snack food, and
canned tuna. Of course the following sounds much more adventurous if one
pictures a deserted island covered with foliage and bicycles equipped brush
Some time between the initial planning of the trip and the
time we actually left, others thought such a bike trip sounded like a good
idea. I did my best to discourage them: I described the extreme dehydration,
the occasional necessity of cannibalism, and the ritual sacrifice of small
children along the way to the god of firm tires and overcast skys (strangely
enough this duty is delegated to the same god). In the end three others would
not be abated. Candice and I were joined by Jordan, Stephanie, and Jame all
from group 76. Jame is pronounced like 'Jamie' except in New York City the
socialists banned the letter 'i' in names hoping to reduce individualism and
On the 15th, group 76 was celebrating the birth of one of it's members, Vik,
in his village Sale'auala on Savai'i. The goal was to ride from Apia to the
wharf, take the ferry to Salealoga, bike up to Viks village, and enjoy some
hot dogs. Well, I was focused on the hot dogs but others may have focused more
on other carbon based consumables. The Upolu side of this leg is a little over 20
miles and the Savai'i portion is around 30. If one averages about 10 miles per
hour, not an unreasonable number given much of the land is flat-ish, that's
only five hours with a firm piece of plastic covered in faux leather crammed
in ones nether-regions. Leaving at 7.30 we could be at the wharf in time to catch
the 10am ferry, arrive at Savaii around 11.30 and make it to Viks around
three. Well that was a plan, not 'the' plan because definite articles are to
be used sparingly when planning more or less anything.
For instance there is a subset of folks who feel that leaving sharp pieces of
cable in the streets of Apia to be a good idea. So we started with a flat tire
about 1/4 of a mile from the Peace Corps office. This also happened to be
across the street from a couple of bars and attracted the attention of a
drunken individual whose slurred Samoan was especially difficult for me to
understand. I balanced my time between changing the tire and intercepting his
touchy feely intentions. Ten or fifteen minutes later we were back on the road
and we could probably still make the ferry if we didn't stop.
The ride from Apia to the wharf is really pleasant. It runs along the coast and
any changes in elevation are modest. I was expecting a relatively benign trip
to the wharf. About 2/3's of the way there Jame says she needs to stop for some
water. We stop, drink a bit and she says she needs to sit down. At that point
she faints, though she contends she didn't faint because she never hit the ground
-- next time I'll forego catching her to make it official. At this point my
mind shifted from catching the 10 o-clock ferry to wondering if we should
call the trip off. See, this was supposed to be the easy part, and taxi vans
are easily to come by.
We sat for a while under a tree in someones front yard filling her with
rehydration salts, food, and other pleasantries. She said she wanted to keep
on going, so I gave her my water bladder to carry in her backpack and we
trudged on. I rode in the back to keep an eye on her, and I just kept
imagining her collapsing while riding. I know, I'm always called the
pessimist, but really I was being an optimist. If she passed out and was run
over by a car, we could use her bike for parts. Otherwise we arrive with no
problems: Either way I win!
Sadly enough the rest of the trip to the wharf was uneventful. We got there in
plenty of time to eat, catch the noon ferry, and get a shot of a more or less
typical Samoan bicycle. Candice used her feminine wiles to convince a
gentlemen with an empty truck to let us put our bikes on the back which saved
us 5ST per bike. I laid down on the floor of the ferry and slept (completely
socially acceptable here) most of the way there.
The wharf on Savai'i is located in Salealoga. The Peace Corps maintains a
small office space across the street from the wharf. We were picking up Jordan,
who made the 10am ferry, before we continued on to Viks place. When we
arrived there were a few volunteers there who were cavorting about and
undoubtably up to no good. It turns out a few of the guys from the new group
who swore in a week or so prior cannot move into their sites until January
15th. Their organizations have put them up in a beach fale for the time being,
and they were hanging out at the office where Internet access flows as freely
as it can through a modem.
We ambled along towards to Viks place stopping as necessary for breaks. As we
ride around the country the large roads all run through different villages.
If one grew up in Arkansas or any other place where there are rural areas, and
by rural I mean lacking conventional plumbing, you might appreciate the
spectacle of having a bunch of non-native looking people passing in front of
the house. People here are friendly, and will try to get your attention as you
pass through. A common, and quite effective, method of obtaining someones
attention here is to make kissing sounds. Also, it's also common to say 'fa'
(the Samoan word for 'bye') as you meet someone in passing. So we pass through
villages we get lots of kissing noises (from adults) and lots of 'bye bye'
(from the kids). Based on anecdotal experience, the amount of 'bye bye' and
kissing sounds seems more frequent on Savai'i than on Upolu. It also seems to
drive some volunteers kind of crazy. I just look at it from the perspective of
people who live in a small community who think "hey a white dude on a bike
I'll make a kissing sound to say "what's up"" -- more or less a friendly
greeting. So when we would stop for our breaks, I'd try my hand at small talk,
and a lot of the people here really enjoy having their picture taken. (It's
also probably useful to mention that children are sometimes told that white
people will eat them.
We rolled up at Viks, I believe, around five. At this point my arse is a little
sore and I'm giving off a pungent ripe smell. The rest of group 76 is already
there, and seem somewhat relieved that we made it. His house is really nice. I
was a little confused by the flagpole in the front until Vik told me half of
his house is going to be the first pulenu'u (village mayor) office in the
country. I made a point of telling his host father/pulenu'u how nice the place
was. I eventually made my way to the shower where I also washed my clothes. I
then had hot dogs, baked beans, and other tasty goodness.
I think the days riding curtailed any party intentions my fellow riders may
have had. I don't think they even realize it now that they rode close to 50
miles in one day which I think was quite an accomplishment. Eventually they
spent most of their time laying around while Candice gave out back massages.
The following morning Neocon John (oh to be a neoconservative in the Peace
Corps), inspired by the back rubs from the previous night, asked if someone
would walk on his back. I was happy to oblige him.
It was decided that a break was needed and Manase, a touristy village with
beach fale's for rent was just around the corner. I had made arrangements for
us to spend that night with another volunteer named Maka. His family in the
states owns a meat farm in upstate New York. Since he's from the rural part of
the state I don't normally refer to him as a Yankee though he's probably close
enough to be mistaken for Canadian. During training we are sent off for a
"Volunteer Visit" where we spend a few days with a current volunteer. I spent
my visit with Maka and his Samoan family. I wasn't eager to spend the 50ST on
a beach fale, and I kind of wanted to hang out with Maka. So I left the ladies
at the beach fales and pushed on.
I rode along the coast for a while before I headed into the mountains and
eventually the road passed across a lava field made in the early 1900's after
what I speculate was an unsatisfying sacrifice of some Tongans. While the
first day was nice and overcast, this day was decidedly not so. I could always
see storm clouds and eventually I did catch up to them, but most of this leg
was bright and sunny. The benefit of this was a very picturesque ride.
Maka lives in Papa Sataua which lies above the village of Sataua on a
substantial hill. I tend to stop a lot and take pictures, and I was in the
process of doing this when a boy walked up and asked me where I was going. I
thought to myself this is my opportunity, I could get this kid to push me up
the hill. I started telling him how strong he was and asked him if he could
push me up the hill. Another boy who spoke English helped me convey the
message I was trying to get across. Of course I was only joking with him, but
I believe he was committed to pushing me up the hill toward the end of the
At the top of the hill across the street from the road leading to Makas place
is a little fale folks sit under when waiting for buses. As I approached I
noticed that there were about five young men sitting around drinking. They
began to take notice of me, and their first question was something to the
effect of "where are the four girls?". It seems Maka had told his family and
it didn't take long for the word to get out that four Peace Corps girls were
coming... oh yeah and some guy. Needless to say, they were a little sad to see
I arrived at Makas a little tired. After taking a shower he made some coffee
and appetizers. We hung out and talked for a bit, and eventually his brother
Malo showed up. The pictures below don't really do justice to his hands. Years
of husking coconuts coupled with superior genetics have given him some huge
hands. Malo showed up with a bottle of vodka in hand. The better part of the
bottle had already been consumed with his friends, and when they passed out he
snuck off with the remainder. He too was expecting some ladies. He'd already
become smitten with Peta, Jordans Samoans name, even though he had never met
Not to be dissuaded and adapting to new conditions, Malo decided that he and
Maka should share the rest of the fagu malosi (fagu=bottle, malosi=strong). As
dinner rolled around, Malo decided we should eat at Makas place instead of the
fale with the rest of the family, and he brought dinner out to us. It was
typical Samoan food: taro, a couple different soups, and cocoa. His family
tends to cook good food. As the night wore on, the strong bottle began to get
the better of Malo, and he and Maka began to dance in a sitting position which
I read somewhere is common among Polynesian folks.
The following day was pretty laid back. The others arrived in the afternoon to
little fanfare. Maka and I rode to the bottom of the hill to provide moral
support and carry any heavy stuff up the hill for them. The young men who were
there waiting for me lost interest in the span of a day and were no longer
there. Everyone was pretty funky so baths were in order. We had dinner with
Makas family that evening and made them happy by eating large quantities of
food. The best way to be a good guest here is to have seconds or thirds at
meals. We stayed up late that night and slept in a bit.
Our next destination was the beach fales at Satuiatua where we were going to
stay the night, but we were going to go a little out of the way and spend
lunchtime at Falealupo. Falealupo is the village on the western most chunk of
Samoa and it also has the distinction of being the last part of land on this
side of the international date line. So many colorfully refer to sunset there
as the last sunset on earth. This is where many of us are planning on spending
New Years Eve, and Maka wanted to confirm reservations with the proprietor of
the beach fales so he accompanied us. We spent lunch time at the fales
allowing the hottest part of the day to pass us by.
One of the more interesting sights around Falealupo is the Catholic Church
below. It was blown asunder, as the saying goes, along with the village around
it by cyclone Ofa in 1990. After the heavy smiting the village was moved
inland, but some of the more permanent structures like foundations and this
church still survive.
Across the street from the church is a grave which is uncharacteristically
open (as can be seen behind Candice). Inside are the remains of several people
who died long enough ago such that only their bones remain. I'm not sure why
this is, but I do know that Samoans look at graves a little differently than
most folks back home do. Many families have graves in their front yard for
highly respected members of the family. It's also common for Samoans to hang
out and sleep on graves or even to use them to dry their laundry.
After leaving Falealupo, Maka returned to his village and we tooled along to
the village of Satuiatua where we were planing on staying at beach fales for
the evening. It was overcast and we were rained on a bit, but it was more or
less uneventful. Since we didn't call ahead, all that was available for dinner
was fish and chips but that didn't matter since I knew this place would have
cereal for breakfast. I know it sounds strange but I never really have cereal
here, and I really like the stuff. It's not lack of availability, but my own
personal lack of self control -- an open box in the morning will probably be
empty the next day. The cereal offerings are New Zealand/Australian variants
of the standard stuff you'd get back in the States but the names are much
better. Really, Frosted Miniwheats is so banal. Now Frosted Minispooners,
that's a name that just rolls off your tongue.
We were planning on staying the night with a married couple, Jan and Ray, who
also came with group 76. Between Satuiatua and their village is the village of
Taga which is know for its blow holes. These are channels in the rocks created
by cooling lava which connect breaking waves to the surface. As the waves
crash into the shore the energy pushes water into these channels and forces it
out the other end. Jan biked there and met us so we could all do the touristy
thing together. We were charged 5ST to get in and then when we got to the
blowholes a gentleman named Tofa tried to charge us 1ST per bike to "park"
them. After we declined and told him we'd "park" the bikes on the road, he
Dead crabs littered the beach, and I speculate they had the trip of their
lives through the holes which were quite loud and impressive. After some
substantial gawking we went to a fale along side the road for lunch and a nap.
The next destination was Jans place in Vaiala. It was a couple hours and a
flat tire away. We stopped a few times for water and I speculate to alleviate
the pressure created by the bike seats.
Jan and Ray have a nice place. Across the street is a pool where we bathed
shortly after arriving. Candice and I went to the store to pick up some food
so we could have French toast, or Freedom toast if one prefers, for dinner.
Ray has been experimenting with the normal Samoan fare and he made some tasty
meat balls with corned beef and ground taro. I must admit that I'd never eaten
corned beef before coming here. My host family preferred to eat it straight
out of the can which produced a gelatinous cylinder like a huge can of cat
food. Being psychologically challenged by the texture, I never actually ate it
until they snuck it in by putting it inside of a toasted sandwich which was
actually pretty good. Though sometimes I stare into the corned beef and try to
read the future like tea leaves.
Jan and Ray are interesting folks. They joined the Peace Corps 20 years ago
shortly after getting married and served in Morocco. I suppose they enjoyed
that experience because after their kids grew up they joined again. I really
look forward to talking to these folks in the future.
That night we slept in the open fale surrounded by mosquito coils, or as I
like to call them "Samoan incense", and took our leave the next morning after
a satisfying breakfast of scrambled eggs and hot dogs. It was about 45 minutes
to the wharf.
On Upolu, Jame and Stephanie decided the bus was better to take back to Apia.
Candice, Jordan and I biked back and we made it home by around two in the
afternoon. I went home to clean myself up. After almost a week of hand washing
clothing and drying them on the back of my bike while we rode, I had developed
a pungent, yet self assuring, smell. I also got a bit of sun and cultivated
what I like to refer to as the "used car salesman tan" which qualifies me for
membership in the "Rick Delkemp Fan Club".
And to provide a little contrast: