Days M90-M91: The Fijian Chief

Days M90-M91: The Fijian Chief

January 15, 2012 by  
Filed under Fiji, The Odyssey Expedition

26.12.11-27.12.11:

Boxing Day was a long, lazy day, but one in which I learnt an important life lesson: if you’re in a small swimming pool and you get everybody in it to run in a circle, you can create a whirlpool. True story.

My ticket out of here, the Southern Lily 2, doesn’t leave until after New Year, so I’ve got a week or so to spend mooching about, causing trouble and generally being a crimson-headed nuisance.

The day after Boxing Day, a new chief would be installed as head of Sandy’s mum’s clan. I was invited along to the ceremony which would be held in the small village of Buca Levu, a couple of hours drive out of Suva on the eastern side of the main Fijian island of Viti Levu. I’d be a fool to turn an opportunity like this down, and as I keep telling the taxi drivers of the world, my mama ain’t never raised no fool.

So on Boxing Day night I stayed over at Sandy’s mum’s house in Delainavsei on the outskirts of Suva, ready to head out to the village at early o’clock in the morning. As there was so much stuff to take to the village (gift giving is incredibly important in Fijian culture) we wound up missing the bus, but Sandy’s brother, Kee, gave us a lift in his car.

The village was lovely – just off the main road and all built with local materials. Before I entered the house where I would be staying, I had been fully briefed by Sandy with regards protocol when in a Fijian village. First up, if everybody else is sitting, you must not stand. You must not walk in front of anybody, only behind them. When you walk behind somebody you must say “chillo” which is the Fijian for “excuse me”. The patriarch of the household is called “Tata Levu”, meaning “Big Father”. The matriarch is called “Nana Levu”.

When you enter a Fijian home it is traditional to give a small gift to Tata Levu, usually powered Kava. I had bought a couple of packs the day before at Sandy’s behest. As a guest, you must enter the house through the back door, never the front door. You must take your shoes off before entering and it’s respectful (but not essential) to wear a ‘sulu’ – the cotton sarong that you often see Fijian men wearing. Sandy had lent me a sulu of her brother’s.

When sitting on the floor to eat, your place at the table is important, so don’t just sit anywhere – wait until somebody shows you where to sit. And finally, most importantly, don’t touch anybody on the head: it is the height of bad manners. Missionaries were eaten for touching the chief’s head. Oh, and I wasn’t allowed to wear my hat.

After presenting my gift of kava to Tata Levu, we sat down to eat breakfast together. After that, Kee set off back to Suva and Sandy’s mum and I squelched our way across the muddy village (it’s the rainy season alright!) to an open sided structure with wooden pillars and a tin roof in the middle of the village green. The ceremony of chiefly matters was soon to begin.

As the final preparations were made I sat and chatted with Aisea Naigulevu, the softly spoken white-haired man who was about to become this clan’s first chief. Each village is made up of several clans – extended families – and to have a voice in the village council (and to stand a chance of becoming village chief yourself one day) your clan needs a chief. To be made chief is a great honour and a position that Aisea (pronounced Isaiah) will keep until the day he dies: there might not be an investiture of a new chief for another 20 years.

While Aisea went off to get ready for the ceremony, Sandy’s mum gave me a tour of the food preparations for the feast that would follow. Like at Christmas, cooking was done in a lovo – in this case, many lovos. Many really BIG lovos. At least two cows, five pigs and god knows how many chickens were being cooked. The taro was being delivered in wheelbarrows. Fish, lamb, vegetables of all shapes and sizes: everything was being put together by a team of villagers that put the caterers that did the royal wedding to shame.

Then it was back to the shelter on the green for the ceremony. Aisea sat at the front facing us all and some 200 villagers filed in: some of whom had come from Nadi on the other side of the island, some had even flown back from New Zealand and Australia. We all sat on the floor and when everyone was settled, the proceedings began.

First of all we had a church service, Fijians incorporate their new religion with the old pre-Christian rites. The minister spoke in Fijian so I kinda got a flavour of what it must have been like being a Catholic in the days before they started doing the mass in English.

After some very nicely sung hymns, the minister stood next to Aisea and spoke (I assume) about the new chiefs rights and responsibilities. He then anointed Aisea’s head with a drop of oil from a glass vial and Aisea stood up, now chief of the clan. Everybody queued up to shake his hand and get a photo standing next to Aisea.

And then the feasting began! There was so, so much food it was insane. The beautiful blue skies we had enjoyed in the morning had (predictably for Fiji at this time of year) given way to dark storm clouds in the afternoon. I don’t think I’ve ever been so grateful to have a tin roof over my head. I sat with my very full plate of food chatting with members of Sandy’s mum’s clan and revelling in the honour I had been shown to be invited to a private event such as this.

Once the food had all been demolished, people started heading back to their homes for an afternoon siesta. When in Rome…

That evening I sat playing cards with the kids by the light of a kerosene lamp. I introduced them to the wonderful world of the card game ‘speed’ (which is the fastest way to wreck your nice clean Bicycle deck) as well as showing them a card trick or two. They in turn went through every animal in the zoo and tried to teach me what the Fijian word for it was. Around 9pm I was invited to come and drink kava in another house, which of course I accepted.

The kava session was great. It’s funny that in almost all human cultures, conversation is always best over a drink: whether it’s a coffee, a bottle of San Miguel or a bowl of brown root water. We were drinking out of a traditional wooden kava bowl, which I have to recommend over the usual plastic washing-up bowl. It’s like the difference between drinking Coca-Cola out of a glass bottle and drinking it out of a plastic bottle. After spinning some tales from the road and putting the world to rights it was almost morning. I returned to Tata Levu’s house, took my space on the floor and fell fast asleep. What a great day.



Day M92: The Cannibal King

Day M92: The Cannibal King

January 15, 2012 by  
Filed under Fiji, The Odyssey Expedition

28.12.11:

It was just after 9am when I said my fond farewells to Sandy’s mum and the village of Buda Levu.

Me and Sandy's Mum

I jumped the bus north towards the town of Rakiraki, wanting to explore the island of Viti Levu a little more. In case you were wondering, ‘Levu’ means ‘Big’, so ‘Viti Levu’ means ‘Big Viti’. Well, actually, it means ‘Big Fiji’, as ‘Viti’ is the Fijian name for their own country: the version we know, ‘Fiji’, is actually a Tongan word. Strange but true!

This time of year the days start with a burst of blisteringly hot tropical sunshine, cooking the wet ground and creating a steamy atmosphere: yes you’ll sweat so you might as well get used to it. Around noon the clouds (typically) roll in, but then that’s what makes Viti Levu so marvellously green. The afternoon is given over to the rain gods and it’s remarkable that I made it this far without an umbrella.

The town of Rakiraki was small and unassuming. I stopped for lunch at the Wananavu Beach Resort at the most northerly point of the mainland. Then I went to look for the nearby tomb of Udre Udre (pronounced Undre Undre) – a notorious cannibal who, in his lifetime, ate 872 people. Seriously. This guy went through cadavers like they were potato chips. I mean, you’d think if you were going to dine on the bones of the dead, it would be a kinda once-a-year sorta deal. Not for Udre Udre. To munch your way through 872 (literally) mansized feasts for one, you’d have to chow down on a fellow homo sapien once a month, every month for over 72 years. That’s a lotta fish and people pie.

Puts Hannible Lector to shame.

I then headed along the magnificent north coast road to the city of Lautoka, a place I found neither pretty nor interesting. I was sorely tempted to press on to Nadi, but I thought I’d give Lautoka the benefit of the doubt. Silly me. I checked into the Lautoka Guesthouse and headed downstairs to the ‘pizza bar’. Now it’s been a couple of months since I last ate pizza, so I thought what the hell, lets go for it, and the Chicken Tikka pizza on offer did at least sound groovy.

Unfortunately, the pizza I got was the Bolognese one. Which would have been acceptable had the mincemeat not smelt of rotten mincemeat. I managed a couple of bites, but for the sake of my health (and sanity) I left it at that. In the three years I’ve been doing the Odyssey, in over 190 countries and territories, I haven’t had to see a doctor for anything other than preventative medicine, and I don’t intend to blemish my good attendance record any time soon.

I wandered the empty streets and after finding nothing going on, save some dogs making more dogs, I returned to my empty dorm. Wishing I had stayed in the village, I was then accompanied by two rather pleasant Americans from Arizona. A brother and sister, I was so relieved to have company I demanded they accompany me for beer. We went to a bar a little down the way, which was (predictably) emptier than Paris Hilton’s noggin. But we had a good old natter about the state of union, Obama’s chances in the upcoming elections and whether the constitution needs a reboot.



Days M93-M94: Ed’s Bar

Days M93-M94: Ed’s Bar

January 15, 2012 by  
Filed under Fiji, The Odyssey Expedition

29.12.11-30.12.11:

Since you can’t wear clothes for more than a day in Fiji without them turning into sweat rags, I had thrown my togs in for some rather overpriced cleaning at the local laundry. They wouldn’t be ready until 12 noon, but as soon as I had them back in my backpack where they belonged, I raced over to the bus station, found the first bus with ‘Nadi’ written on the front and jumped on board.

Fijians have this thing in which they’ll be an ‘n’ in the word, but you wouldn’t know that just by looking at it . For example ‘Nadi’ is pronounced ‘Nandi’ (and the cannibal king name was written ‘Udre Udre’ but pronounced ‘Undre Undre’). This quirk is by no means unique to Fiji: the capital of American Samoa, Pago Pago, is pronounced ‘Pango Pango’, I don’t know if this knowledge is ever going to help you get laid, but at least you could now pretend to have been on holiday in the South Seas.

Nadi is a pleasant little place. Most travellers and holiday-makers race through here on the way somewhere else, as Nadi is the home of Fiji’s international airport. But I found it a marvellous diversion for a couple of days. I checked into the Nadi Bay Resort and found a heavily tattooed and pierced Englishman in my dorm. Alex comes from Brighton and is involved in charity work over here in Fiji. A top bloke: the kind of guy who will engage you in intelligent conversation while at the same time scaring the kids. I like that.

I was in Nadi for two nights, and both of them I spent playing pool with the local sharks and hussies down at Ed’s Bar, something of a Nadi institution. I met a string of colourful characters: ex-pats, tourists, sailors, backpackers and natives, and did my best to antagonise as many of them as possible. This ship had better get to Suva soon… at this rate I’m going to run out of money before I leave the island.



Day M95: 2011, In Memoriam

Day M95: 2011, In Memoriam

January 15, 2012 by  
Filed under Fiji, The Odyssey Expedition

31.12.11:

I was looking to do something with some of the people I met last month for New Year, but all of them had either gone home or had shifted themselves off the mainland to an island resort for the holidays. So, out of ideas, I returned to Suva to see if my old partner in crime, Renato from Peru, was still knocking about at the South Seas hostel. He was. So we hit the bars hoping to see the new year in in fine fettle.

After a few drinks in the Bad Dog Café, we moved into O’Reilly’s next door. There I ran into James Shute, one of the cadets from The Southern Pearl (and relative of Neville). He had some bad news: the pilot onboard The Pearl, Captain Mafi, passed away in his sleep last night. I couldn’t believe it. Captain Mafi, the tall, wily, softly spoken Tongan — with whom I had sat up with for many a night this month drinking kava and putting the world to rights — was no longer with us.

A sad end to what has been a lousy year for The Odyssey Expedition. In 2009 I got to 133 countries. In 2010 I reached a further 51. This year I’ve been to 7.

The year started well. I was taking a short (ha!) break from The Odyssey (the tally was 184 countries visited, 16 to go…) and I got to see in the new year in Melbourne with my long-suffering girlfriend, Mandy. I had been assured by various parties that a yacht would be made available to help me get around the Pacific nations in three months rather than the seven or eight months it would take to do it on cargo ships. All I had to do was bide my time until this mythical sailing ship was ready to go.

A few days later I headed over to the mmmmmm HQ to talk shop and find out when I could expect to be paid enough to even cover my own expenses for devising, presenting and filming the eight-part TV show “Graham’s World”, which has now been broadcast in over 70 countries and repeated at least 100 times on National Geographic Adventure alone.

I have to admit, the answer “probably never” wasn’t quite what I was expecting.

Neither was my first royalty cheque from the mmmmmm (owners of mmmmmm) which arrived this September for an insulting 600 quid. I could have made more cash spending five minutes filming my cat falling off the television and selling it to You’ve Been Framed instead of spending 365 days of my life single-handedly shooting over 150 hours of footage in 133 countries, some of them the most dangerous places in the world.

Actually, I would have made more money staying at home and claiming the dole. There’s a incentive to get a proper job, eh kids?

People sometimes ask me if I’ve been robbed or conned on the road. My reply is “yes, but it wasn’t by a taxi driver…”.

Furious at mmmmmm, furious at myself for signing that f—ing contract (“I can’t believe you signed it!” gloated mmmmmm), furious at the world, I then found out that some huge family feud had blown up between my parents, my auntie and my cousin a couple of months before and nobody had told me about it. But there was something much more important going on in my family. It was my brother Alex who broke the news to me.

Our big sister, Nikki, had liver cancer.

I gave it a couple of weeks to see what the prognosis was, but when a biopsy revealed that the cancer in her liver was secondary, I flew home to the UK.

“Have they told you how serious it is?” asked Nikki when I went to see her at Wrexham Hospital. I nodded. “That’s why I’m here.”

When you’re travelling you get this foolish notion that everything and everyone at home exists in some kind of stasis, but of course, life goes on – for better or for worse. I was in the UK for three weeks, spending the majority of that time with Nikki and Alan, her eldest son. I did get to catch up with my old friends – Anna, Stuart and Matt dropped everything to come out to see me on my first (Monday) night back. My love for my mates and my hometown of Liverpool has not diminished one iota.

Towards the end of March I said goodbye to Nik (well, I couldn’t bring myself to use the word ‘goodbye’, so I just left it on a limp ‘see ya’ – it’s hard to use the word ‘goodbye’ when you know for certain you’re never going to see somebody you love ever again) and headed back to Australia, since I had been assured that I would be setting off into the Pacific in this yacht in just a few days time.

I left on the Sunday. Nikki died the following Saturday. I missed my own sister’s funeral, I missed being there for my family, my dad, my brothers, my four nephews now without a mum and whose father has been estranged for years… for what? Did this f—ing magic yacht actually leave at the end of March? No. April? No. May? No. Did it ever actually exist? To this day I can’t be sure.

But after the loss of Nikki and given the comforts of staying in Melbourne with Mands and the constant reassurances that this yacht would be ready to go “very very soon”, I was content to loosen the reigns on The Odyssey Expedition and wait while somebody else got their act together.

Meanwhile, the news coming out of the UK seemed to go from bloody awful to even worse. My uncle Brian suffered a stroke and was in critical condition in hospital, my dad had now fallen out big time with my older brother Mike and my good friend Simon lost his father to cancer. In the maelstrom of this doom and gloom I sat and I waited.

And waited.

And waited.

By July it was pretty self-evident that this yacht, if it did exist, would not be heading off into the wild blue yonder any time soon. So I hit the publicity circuit, appearing as a guest on Channel 9’s Today Show and dozens of radio programmes, always ending the interview with the plaintive cry of “if there are any skippers out there with a yacht, looking for a sailing challenge, please get in touch”.

Many did, but they all said the same thing. “Would love to do it, but you’ve left it too late in the season to start now. If only I knew about this in March…”.

I want you now to imagine your humble narrator kicking seven shades of crap out of himself for being so utterly stupid. And trusting. And… ugh, I don’t know, everything was just as messed up as they could possibly be.

By now I was hating Melbourne with a passion: that horrible, boring, expensive, smug, bitchy, racist, sprawling Stepford-Wife of a city. In six months I hadn’t been invited to the pub once. I had not attended a single house party. After the fondness and affection I felt from my friends back home in Liverpool, Melbourne seemed to go out of her way to make me feel uncomfortable, unwelcome and unwanted. And do you know the most frustrating thing? Hardly anybody was even in the slightest bit interested in what I had been doing for the past two years. No “tell us some stories!”, no “what was it like backpacking through Afghanistan?”, not even a polite “so did you get bummed in that African jail or what?”.

Most people’s only (oft-repeated) question was “so when are you leaving?”. Yes, bugger off Graham, you’re spoiling the village green.

I consider myself somewhat of an interesting character, and I feel like I’ve done some interesting things in my life. But Melbourne, conspiring to be at once uninteresting and uninterested, left me feeling colourless and dull. A cog in a machine, a number clocking in and clocking out, just another one of the teeming masses. The fearless adventurer in me was withering away in a pit of apathy and wasted time.

The only ray of sunshine was my irrepressible girlfriend, Mandy, but as my visa didn’t allow me to work, financial issues and the lack of a definite plan for the future started putting something of a strain on our relationship.

The saddest thing was that I couldn’t even afford to get drunk. When it’s US$14 a pint in your local stinky flea-pit boozer, it’s time to dig your way out of Shawshank.

So with my visa expiry date looming, I went back to Plan A: Get around the Pacific on cargo ships. I knew this would take me an age, but it would mean I would take back the reigns of The Odyssey Expedition and I wouldn’t be waiting or relying on any other party to fulfil their end of any given bargain. So the emails, phone calls and all that jiggery-pokery commenced. Assisted by the delectable Lorna Brookes, the dependable Dino Deasha, the debonair Alex Zelenjak and of course the delightful Mandy Newland, Team Odyssey was back on the case and things started coming together.

Thanks to Swire and China Navigation I ticked off The Solomon Islands and Australia (officially!) and thanks to P&O Cruises I got to strut my funky stuff around New Caledonia, Vanuatu and Fiji. Thanks to Pacific Direct Line, Neptune Shipping, PIL and Reef Shipping I conquered Wallis and Futuna, Tuvalu, Kiribati and The Marshall Islands – the same companies are going to assist me in a few days time to leave for Samoa, Tonga and New Zealand. In less than three week’s time I will have been to 194 countries and only have 7 more to visit – the ones I missed out along the way: after all, in the original plan, New Zealand was my last port of call.

Let’s make no bones about it: 2011 was the worst year of my life. But look on the bright side (as I always do!)… 2012 heralds the discovery of the Higgs Boson, the re-election of President Obama and the end of The Odyssey Expedition. I’ll see you there.

Captain Toutai Moala Mafi 5 Aug 1956 – 31 Dec 2011

 



Day M96: Happy Last Year (Of The Odyssey)!

Day M96: Happy Last Year (Of The Odyssey)!

January 15, 2012 by  
Filed under Fiji, The Odyssey Expedition

Sun 01.01.12:

Hurrah! 2012 at last! And might I say GOOD RIDDANCE to all that horrible 2011 malarkey. Yuck. Never going back there again. I saw in the new year in Albert Park in Suva amongst a good few thousand revellers dancing in the mud. I then sneaked back into O’Reilly’s and burnt the midnight oil throwing shapes to terrible music which (when I rule the world) will be outlawed.

I woke up the next day in the South Seas Hotel with a bitching hangover and a load of random photos on my camera that I don’t recall taking.

Okay people, this is it… THE LAST YEAR OF THE ODYSSEY EXPEDITION!

I have just TEN countries left to go. Here’s how I intend to knock them pins down…

In a couple of days I will be leaving Suva on The Southern Lily 2, ready to go to Samoa (192), Tonga (193) and New Zealand (194). Mandy is going to be flying in to meet me and we’re going to enjoy a week or so holidaying around the North Island and generally stalking Sir Peter Jackson. I’m having a little holiday from my epic holiday, okay?!

Once I get to New Zealand I will have just SEVEN countries left to visit.

Princess Cruises have already agreed to give me free passage from New Zealand to Australia. Once there, my friends at Neptune Shipping will hopefully be happy to give me a ride on The Scarlet Lucy (great name!) to the isolated dot of a nation that is Nauru (195). That trip will bring me back to Australia for the beginning of March. Then I’m hoping my old chums in either Swire or PIL will be good enough to allow me to hitch a ride on one of their cargo ships leaving Australia for Taiwan.

The Mariana Shipping Company runs ships out of Taiwan which call into Micronesia (196) and Palau (197). Without their assistance, I may be sunk, so fingers crossed on that one. Then it’s back to PIL to ask if I can ride one of their ships from Hong Kong to Sri Lanka (198). Sri Lanka has a number of small carriers that go to The Maldives (199) and back, so that journey shouldn’t be too difficult to arrange. I reckon I could have all that done by May 2012.

Then we get to the hardest nut to crack. The Fort Knox of surface travel: The Seychelles (200). I can’t emphasise enough how difficult it’s going to be to get there without flying. It will require nothing short of a miracle, or at the very least a huge stroke of luck.

You can forget about cargo ships: there aren’t any that could take me even if they wanted to, not in the pirate infested waters of the Indian Ocean. Cruise ships are few and far between (like, a year between) so that leaves me with just one option: to hitch a ride on a yacht. The closest (and safest) place for me to do this from would be Nosy Be in Madagascar.

But even getting back to Madagascar may present difficulties: the pirate zone has grown year on year since 2006, and now even the waters around Madagascar are seen as areas of elevated risk. I may need to travel to Mauritius and make my own way from there. I may even have to go to Mozambique and then do the Comoros island-hop fiasco AGAIN that cost me so much time and money back in 2009.

One way or another, I will get back to Madagascar. But finding somebody willing to risk kidnap or death by sailing north out of Nosy Be… it ain’t going to be easy.

But let’s assume that I’m successful. I take a yacht up to one of the most southerly islands of The Seychelles and back to Nosy Be and don’t run into any trouble. Then it’s the dreaded Comoros island-hop back to the African mainland before I travel from Dar-Es-Salaam to Uganda and from there I march north into country number 201 of 201: South Sudan.

Cue fireworks, Juba beer and crazy dancing all night long.

I then intend to thunder overland back to the UK, through Sudan, Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Italy and France for one hell of a party once I return to Liverpool, hopefully around the end August, so clear your diaries people!

Then, and only then, will The Odyssey Expedition be over. Maybe.



Days M97-M98: The Last Nights of Suva

Days M97-M98: The Last Nights of Suva

January 15, 2012 by  
Filed under Fiji, The Odyssey Expedition

Mon 02.01.12 – Tue 03.01.12:

Last night I went to the cinema to watch Mission Impossible 4, which I have to say is by far the best in the series, and I would expect nothing less from the guy who directed my favourite Pixar flick, The Incredibles. Today I ran over to the suburb of Lami to pick up my gear that I left with Sandy while I toured the island.

With that done, I was left twiddling my thumbs somewhat. I spent my last few nights in Suva at the South Seas Hotel, sharing a dorm for about 8 quid a night. My partner in crime, Renato, has hooked up with a local chick so he’s not up for going out and getting into trouble. The ship that’s due to whisk me away to New Zealand (via Samoa and Tonga) leaves on Wednesday. I went out on Monday night seeking adventure and excitement and really wild things, but the only thing that was banging was my headache the following day.

So Tuesday I had a lazy day. I did some writing and watched a bit of telly while the rain poured down outside. Next time I come to Fiji, I’ll try to not make it the wet season! I really like this place, I wish I had more time (and money) to explore the other islands, but as I keep saying, these places aren’t going nowhere, I’ll come back when somebody else is picking up the tab.

So then, Fiji, my Pacific jewel. Farewell… for now.



Days M99-M100: The Southern Lily 2

Days M99-M100: The Southern Lily 2

January 15, 2012 by  
Filed under Fiji, The Odyssey Expedition

Wed 04.01.12 – Thu 05.01.12:

High noon in Suva saw me bundle myself out of the South Seas hostel and off to the Trans Am Shipping Agents opposite the north gate of Suva Port. There to meet Loslini, the lady who would be helping me onboard the Southern Lily 2. After explaining my mad plan to her, she handed me over into the capable hands of her number two and I was driven over to the port.

A-ha! The Southern Lily 2. Thanking my lucky stars, I clambered up the gangway and onto the ship that would be taking me to 3 out of my final 10 countries. Once aboard I met with Captain Andriy, the Ukrainian skipper who would subsequently go out of his way to ensure my time in Samoa, American Samoa and Tonga was a fun (and more importantly, hilarious) one.

Already he had organised stuff for us to do once we arrived in Samoa, including visiting the final resting place of the great Scottish author Robert Louis Stevenson. Even better, since the ship’s air conditioning wasn’t coming through to my cabin (I’m not being fussy, I’ve done without air con for the entire time I’ve been in Fiji, but in a little room on a metal ship in the tropics… eek!) the captain moved me to a spare cabin on Deck 5… one of the biggest on the ship! Hell yeah. 2012 is already looking good!

Unfortunately I had come down with a cold, one that I determined to rid myself of before we reached Samoa. After waving goodbye to Suva one last time I retired to my cabin with some cold medicine and a box of tissues and didn’t come out until we reached Apia on the afternoon of the 6th.



Day M101: Yo-Ho-Ho And A Bottle of Rum

Day M101: Yo-Ho-Ho And A Bottle of Rum

January 15, 2012 by  
Filed under Samoa, The Odyssey Expedition

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Fri 06.01.12:

We reached Apia, the capital of Samoa, on Friday afternoon. Like Fiji, Samoa is in the clutches of the rainy season, but I didn’t mind – it’s what makes it all so delightfully green! How the captain, the pilot and the helmsman managed to steer the ship into a parking space I’d have trouble getting into in a Ford Fiesta I’ll never know, but here we are, a ship with space for 1,080 containers squeezed into a dock just 40 metres wide. Eat your heart out, Doctor Who.

After customs had come and gone, Captain Andriy and I set out with the port agent, Richard, for a little bit of exploration. Taking us up along the narrow peninsular that separates Apia Harbour from Vaiusu Bay, we passed the promenade, the parliament building, the clock tower roundabout, the tombs of Malietoa Laupepa and Malietoa Tanumafili I (whoever they are) and ended up at the Metrological Station on the northern tip. There we met with the guys whose job it is to predict the weather, look out for cyclones and issue tsunami warnings. Is global warming a threat to Samoa? Of course it is. Are global weather trends becoming more extreme? An emphatic yes. Should we have set strong emission targets in Durban last month? What do you think?

After saying goodbye to the weathermen, we headed back down the peninsular and snapped a photo of your humble narrator standing in front of the ‘New Date Line’ sign on the middle of the clocktower roundabout. You see, Samoa didn’t have a Friday last week. In fact, today is their first Friday since December 23.

As Samoa is in the Western Hemisphere, just to the right of the International Date Line, it has always been lumped with a time zone of GMT -10. As most trade to and from Samoa goes via Fiji, Tonga, New Zealand and Australia, all of whom are on the left of the International Date Line, this creates the following dilemma: when it’s Friday in Samoa, it’s Saturday in New Zealand: no international trade is likely. When it’s Sunday in Samoa it’s Monday in New Zealand: again, unless the (deeply religious) Samoans are prepared to go into the office on Sunday (here’s a clue: they’re not), you lose another day of possible trade, leaving you with only three days a week in which anything can get done.

So, in keeping with the Samoan government’s policy of pushing for greater integration with the rest of Oceania (three years ago they switched from driving on the right to driving on the left, bringing them in line with Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, Tonga, Tuvalu, Kiribati, Vanuatu, Solomon Islands and PNG), last week they skipped a day – December 30 – and redrew the International Date Line in the process.

Samoa now officially stands at GMT+13, but as they are currently using daylight savings time, it’s effectively GMT+14: the last of the ‘plus’ time zones available. They took the New Zealand territory of Tokelau with them, leaving just American Samoa, Nuie and The Cook Islands on the ‘later’ side of the Date Line. Samoa is now one of the first places on Earth to see the sun rise at the start of a brand new day, and, perversely, American Samoa is the last to see the sun set. So if you want one day to last 48 hours, this is now the place to be.

The captain had told the owner of Paddles Bar and Restaurant that we would be dropping in, so we said goodbye to Richard and headed over to the road, running into Filipe, the ship’s Fijian steward, along on the way. Captain Andriy asked Filipe to join us for drinks and so began a great Friday night out in Apia. After getting trolleyed in Paddles, we moved next door for a few more bevies before moving on to the new-fangled Yacht Club just a stone’s throw from the port. We got chatting with locals, ex-pats, tourists and vagabonds and I have to admit that I’m getting a warm fuzzy feeling about Samoa.