Apia, Western Samoa.
Samoa is a place that I've long since wished to see because of its association with Robert Louis Stevenson so I was quite excited about our visit, even though it was sadly the penultimate port, apart from Sydney, of our grand voyage around the world. After our disappointment in the beaches of Papeete and in Bora Bora about not being able to swim, our dreams of an idyllic day on a palm fringed beach in the tropics might be about to be realised.
Alan and I optimistically dressed in our swimmers and packed our striped towels in Alan's backpack. During breakfast in the Horizon Court we made sandwiches for lunch and put in a couple of the ubiquitous breakfast doughnuts for morning tea. We had put drinks in the cooler section of the backpack so we were ready to go.
Apia, on the island of Upolu, is quite large but is also quite unprepossessing. The first place we looked out for was the famous Aggie Gray's hotel. There it was, an ordinary yellow coloured building near the waterfront that gave no indication of its history. Apparently there is also a new Aggie Gray's Resort on the beach somewhere in Upolu as well but we didn't see it on our trip.
As well as having a swim at the beach, the only other thing I really wanted to do was to see the house of Tusitala, the Teller of Tales, aka Robert Louis Stevenson. Arthur was keen to revisit a beautiful waterfall he knew of so those were the thingsthat were on our agenda for the day.
The driverof the van we'd hired knew very little English and we knew no Samoan. The information sheet from the ship had some basic words, such as the Samoan words for yes and thankyou but that didn't help much. It also had helpful things such had rules for the basic local etiquette such as not pointing your feet at the chief whilst sitting in a fale!
We discovered very quickly that Samoa is a country of churches and meeting halls. Each village seemed to have one or more churches and several open sided meeting halls. I couldn't help comparing the numbers of places of worship to the number of temples we'd seen in Thailand on out trip a few years ago. It doesn't matter how few other facilities some places have, there is always a church or temple.
The first stop was on the north coast at Piula Theological College to see the sea cave. There was a charge, of course. We were to discover that nearly everything in Samoa has a charge associated with it, even the beaches.
Everyone else trudged off down the path to the cave. It might be wussy but I've become wary and I knew that there'd be an uphill trek back from the cave which would mean fish-out-of-water type gasping for air. I don't like doing that so I avoid such situations.
Back to the treatise. Apparently there are many sea caves in the islands which were created by ancient volcanic activity. We were to see a lot of rocks that day which I recognised as being of the a'a type of lava. You see! Travel really does educate and broaden the mind! I'd never have known about lava types had it not been for this cruise.
This particular pool was formed by a natural freshwater spring which flows from the cave and out to sea. You can swim there by the sea in fresh water but it was cold and none of my group were interested. Besides, they were keen to get to the beach so before long we were on our way again. The trip was not exciting. It had been raining so there was mud on the road and the thick vegetation was damp and monotonous.
We drove and drove and drove across the island, every so often stopping to look at an unremarkable waterfall or a flowing river. Each time the owners rushed up to collect the fee. Nothing we saw was worth paying for.
Eventually we reached the south coast where the resort was situated. Surprisingly, there was no charge. We walked through the exotically decorated lobby. Elaine stopped to read some notices pinned in a case on the wall. Guests could buy a picnic lunch consisting of a filled roll, a piece of fruit and a drink for something like $60. Whew! Thank goodness we'd brought our own food.
The resort was rather nice. We walked through the tropical gardens to the beach. There was a pleasant bar built out over the water but we opted for the dazzling white coral sand to the right. This was just what we'd been hoping for. There were palms bending over to give us shade and a row of long chairs to laze on. It was beautiful.
Oh, oh! An attendant appeared. There was a charge of $7 for the use of the chairs. That came to an enormous amount of $56 to sit on some chairs for an hour! No way.
We walked on past the chairs and found some shady a'a rocks at the edge of the sand to sit on. Behind the palms was a row of unoccupied and very basic fales which didn't seem to belong to the resort. Alan just had to go exploring, of course, and he came back with a plastic chair he'd borrowed from the verandah of one of the fales so at least he was comfortable.
The water was looking very inviting. Alan and I decided to have a swim before lunch but the others hadn't worn their swimmers so they settled down on their striped towels to eat first.
I dipped a toe in. The water temperature was pleasant. At the edge it was only ankle deep and I walked and walked until it eventually almost reached my knees, but every step was potential agony.
The beautiful white sand was made of coral, sharp cutting coral!
I had almost reached the edge of the turquoise water. Beyond was the reef. The water was still only up to my calves. I faced the sad fact that the tide was out and still receding and there would be no swimming. Again. Resigned to the myth that tropical island beaches are wonderful places to swim and laze about, I lowered myself into the water and lay there like a beached whale with not even enough water to get me afloat!
Having painfully and slowly made our way back to the beach, Alan and I sat down to eat lunch. The others had given up the idea of swimming so once we'd eaten I looked around to find somewhere to change. From outside I'd noticed that each of the fales we were in front of had a chair and a surfboard on its verandah and I was curious to see what was inside. The door of the nearest wasn't locked. In fact it had no lock at all! Inside there was a notice pasted on the wall advising guests to secure their belongings. I looked around. There was no glass in the windows which stretched around the sides and back of the hut, only blinds made of woven palm leaves and half of them were missing. There was no furniture except for a bench and the verandah chair. I don't know how you could secure your belongings apart from sitting on them!
We set off again, back across the island. Two of the couples, Shirley and Arthur, and Elaine and Vincenzo, had brought bags of the chocolates that are put on our beds each night. Most of us on the ship had accumulated a large bagful by this stage of our trip as we don't want to eat chocolate last thing at night. Those who don't live in Sydney so have to fly home don't want the extra weight in their luggage. Elaine had already given hers to some children we'd passed earlier and Shirley wanted to stop to give hers away. Richard eats both his and Patricia's each night so they had none and we'd been saving ours to give to Mollie and Lucy.
We spotted a group of homeward bound schoolchildren so we stopped. Once the chocolates were produced children appeared out of nowhere and the chocolates were gone in a flash. I thought about what would happen if you did that at home! You'd be arrested!
We continued on, Arthur all the time looking out for a road that might lead to his waterfall but without success. Eventually we turned off towards the house of RLS. The grounds were surrounded by a long, long painted wall which seemed to go on forever but soon we were through the gates and on the driveway which ascended to the house. It is a large two-storied timber house with wide verandahs. There is a hurge covered area built onto the side which is used for concerts but that was empty except for an enormous modern sculpture of a reclining Samoan.
The house, though, was packed full of tourists, mostly from our ship, and a long queue of people was waiting to buy tickets to enter. I wandered around, looking through the windows but all I could see inside were displays of things for sale. The others, apart from Alan who wasn't really interested anyway, had all visited the house before.
I was content. I'd seen the house - maybe not the interior but that didn't really matter. RLS probably spent a lot of time sitting on the verandah anyway.
As we drove away I was reminded of the day two years ago when Alan, Lyn and I had visited Ernest Hemingway's house in Key West in Florida and I couldn't help drawing comparisons. There were certain similarities. Both authors spent time travelling and both chose to escape to what they considered an idyllic locale. Both were sun seekers so both places were hot and tropical. Both were fairly remote. Both houses were two storied with surrounding verandahs. Both writers were somewhat unconventional. Both suffered periods of ill health and Stevenson, too, experienced depression near the end of his life. Hemingway admired Stevenson's work. Strange!
Our trip back to Apia was just as uneventful, and dare I say it, as boring as before and we were happy to get back home on board.
We had all acquired vast amounts of alcohol on our trips ashore during our voyage and had a need to use some of the excess up. Besides this was our last 'adventure' port, the next being Auckland which is civilised and like home, so we agreed to meet by the pool for Sailaway and have a drink or two.
Armed with a huge unopened bottle of Arak which I'd bought way back in Aqaba, a bottle of strawberry fizzy wine from Colon, the last huge can of Kingfisher beer from Mumbai and a couple of beers from somewhere else, we joined the others at a round table by the ice cream servery up on Deck 12 near the pool. It was good. We had a view of the town and plenty to drink. The bar was serving nibblies by then so Alan went over to grab some along with a bucket of ice. We were all set.
The Arak was good but pow-er-ful!! Most of the crowd tried some. I love the way it clouds up as soon as you add the water. Good memories of our youthful summers in Greece drinking ouzo by the Mediterranean filled my head. Remember the sun-warmed sweet tomatoes the Greeks serve with Ouzo? Yum.
As we pulled away from the dock the ship's horn sounded a farewell to the Pacific islands and drew me back to the present. Soon it would be all over. Never mind, we still had time to have fun.
We were merry and becoming merrier as Apia shrank into the distance. Before long we'd left it behind and then we could only see the sea. No more land. Goodbye, Samoa.
The strawberry wine was a good antidote to the Arak but in just a short time I seemed to be becoming tipsy. What used we say? Never mix grain and grape? Or maybe the sea was becoming rough. I seemed to be tipping over. Everyone was looking puzzled. Surely we hadn't drunk that much already!
I was facing the water and I glanced out. I could see the ship's wake. The ship's wake! I was looking out through the side windows! How was the wake visible?
"We're going back!" Richard said.
Sure enough, we were doing a doughnut. Well, half one, anyway. The new Italian had gone barmy! Vincenzo the new Italian captain, that is, not Vincenzo, our friend.
We watched as land reappeared then the speaker above our heads crackled into life. We've all become so obedient on board that when the captain addresses the ship everyone immediately quietens down. On this occasion we were especially interested to hear what he had to say and since his English accent isn't so good, we had to listen very carefully.
"We have a medical emergency and we are turning back towards Apia," we heard. "A tender will be coming from shore to meet us and the patient will be transferred to Apia Hospital."
At once, speculation started. Who was the patient.? Was it the woman who had fallen over this morning on Deck 14? Was it another heart attack victim? Why wasn't he/she put ashore while were already in Apia? And so on and so on. We never did find out who it was and what had happened so suddenly. We never do so we always have to rely on gossip and there's plenty of that! Oh, well, back to the partying.