Experiencing Samoa

It’s been a while since my last post. Apologies. School holidays tend to put the brakes on any writing urges (and opportunities). I’m back with a vengeance now though, teaming with new ideas. You’ll be sick of me before too long.

Another reason behind the writing hiatus was a trip to Samoa. I had wanted to go to Samoa for some time as I had been told it was stunningly beautiful but not as glaringly touristy as, say, Fiji or Rarotonga. Before leaving I made the conscious decision to remain “tech free” for the duration of the holiday. No laptop, no mobile phone, no access to emails or Facebook. I wanted to simply experience this adventure without the constant pressure to record it. Sometimes I look at tourists with their cameras and phones and video cameras whirring busily, their minds already forming tweets and Facebook captions, and I think: We have turned into a generation that observes the process of observing. We are no longer experiencers just for experience’s sake. We are so desperate to record a moment that we often miss out on simply…living that moment.

As any writer would though, I dutifully packed my writing notebook and pens. Know what? I didn’t write a word. Not a single solitary letter. I felt vaguely guilty about that, thinking I may be missing a golden opportunity to write my next (ummm, make that my first) best seller under a different sky. I have to admit I carried that guilt like a nagging arthritic little ache for the rest of the holiday. But I also got on with experiencing. I read, swam, snorkelled, explored, ate, drank, slept, played with my daughter and enjoyed quiet companionship with my partner (and no, that’s not necessarily a metaphor…). It was rejuvenating and simple and by the end of the holiday I was so relaxed they practically had to pour me onto the plane.

It wasn’t until we were in the departures lounge that I got my notebook out and started making notes about the things I would carry home with me along with my luggage and souvenirs. Here are those barely edited thoughts:

  • The stars, impossible bright and numerous, lighting the coconut trees dancing above the crab-burrowed sand.
  • The sound of the waves outside our ranch slider, gently whispering across the few metres from their bed to ours.
  • Heat. Unbearable in the city, gorgeous at night by the sea. Revealed skin, delighted to be free.
  • Bright fales. Smiling faces. Ubiquitous signs for Protex soap.
  • Bad bar music. Kenny Rogers and G&T.
  • After a few days, smiling indulgently at the newbies fresh off the plane, with their socked feet and flushed faces. Smug in our familiarity.
  • Samoan slap dancing. Fast, frantic, sweaty and thumping. Gifted with such pride, passion and generosity to ignorant Aucklanders.
  • Feeling slightly culture-less, separated, and poorer for it.
  • Desperate embarrassment at the “humorous” finale involving pasty white, shirtless, uncoordinated guests. I wish our gracious and dignified Samoan hosts did not consider this necessary. I wonder – do they laugh at us afterwards? I would.
  • Impossible tall and gorgeous waterfalls.
  • The glorious hidden universe of the coral reef. The silent wonder of observing that world for an hour, and dreaming about it for days afterwards. There, just out there…metres from my lounger…
  • Inland, an unknown jungle. Robert Louis Stevenson’s stomping ground. Great Tusitala; RIP.
  • Geckos and centipedes, crabs tipsily scurrying towards nowhere in particular under the sheltering weight of home. For the first time, hearing the gecko’s mating call.
  • Colourful villages. Fales like bright children worshipping at the feet of enormous white stone churches, all the money on the island jealously guarded in their pillars and steps and bells.
  • Toast as thick as church steps. Too-sweet juice. Taro chips. Coconut. Lime ice cream and store-bought fruit salad.
  • Apia: Heat, heat and more heat. The underfloor heating turned to full, enveloping us from below, pasting shirts to backs, faces glowing, breath short and huffing, squinted eyes searching for the next strip of shade and lukewarm Shasta Cola.
  • The shabby, colonial beauty of Aggie Grey’s hotel. Tired now.
  • Water like a bath, coloured by a jeweller.
  • Small Vailima, strawberry marguerita, G&T. Bliss.
  • Gorgeous women. Beautiful men. Talofa.

For my money Samoa is more beautiful, more welcoming and more peaceful than Fiji or Rarotonga. It is, in my mind, an island of treasures only half-discovered.

As writers I don’t think it does us any harm to forget about writing now and then. When is the last time you went for a trip, attended a festival, travelled to a new country or embarked on a new love affair without consciously or subconsciously searching for the perfect phrase with which to capture it? How would it feel to simply…experience?

Bloody marvellous, if you ask me. And who knows? The memories of Samoa stored away in my mind and heart may one day form the basis for that elusive best seller.

But not today.

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