I had hardly been asleep a few minutes or so
I thought when I felt a nudge on my back. My wife whispered “Wake Up! There’s
someone at the door”.
My eyes opened reluctantly, I glanced at my
watch. It was 9 o’clock in the morning and we were in a hotel room. The gentle
tap came again and so I wrapped myself up and went to the door and opened it.
There smiling happily at me was a young Samoan girl all ready to clean the
room. I apologised and explained we had only arrived a few hours ago at 5am in
the morning after a night flight from Sydney.
“Could you come back a little later?”
She nodded reluctantly as the girls clearly
worked to a routine. We were visiting Western Samoa in the Pacific and
having done some research had chosen to stay at “Aggie Grey’s Hotel” on the
In the heady days of colonisation of little
nations by the world’s powers the Samoan
Island’s were disputed by Britain, Germany
and the USA
keeping their gun ships handy to stake their claim. In this case it was decided
that Germany was to be lucky
superpower and the two main islands Savaii and Upolu became their colony in
1899, while the United States
took over the smaller islands and much of the Pacific
Ocean waters in the vicinity. Robert Louis Stevenson the author of
several adventure books lived there with his extended family until his death in
1889. Western Samoa finally
gained it’s independence in 1962 after having New Zealand as its colonial master
So now we were in this warm paradise of
“South Pacific” fame staying in the timber framed hotel owned by the aging
Aggie Grey who had made her money trading with the occupying allied forces
during WW2. She now employed the young men and women from her home village in
the hotel and who were also the fia fia dancers at the evening’s entertainment.
We loved the place. At the swimming pool my wife found herself swimming with
the film star Robert Morley. The walkways had bunches of bananas hanging down
for the staff to eat as they worked (and also tempting the guests) and there
was all invading tropical perfume of exotic flowers and coconut oil. Needless
to say I was entranced by the shy smile of the girls plaiting flowers to
decorate the bedrooms as they sat in the walkways speaking to each other with a
sound like the gentle murmuring of the ocean.
We explored the capital Apia with it German colonial timbered
building and sat quietly in the numerous churches but kept clear of the
children who with machetes busily cut the lawns with skilful swipes.
It was humid and the first few days the walks
were short with frequent rests and long drinks and a cool off in the pool. We
explored the island on day trips and discovered waterfalls and swimming holes
and exotic beaches and so many churches that were told were built with building
material meant to mend the roads, which clearly never were.
Mind you it could have been the pigs that dug
up the road. They wandered about freely and wherever they wanted eating
whatever they could find.
The bus transport was mainly converted trucks
with seats and no windows. It was too humid for that. These plied their way to
villages collected the locals to take them to the market and to return later in
the afternoon with all their purchases in huge baskets or even building
materials tied to the roof or in the aisles so access was an adventure.
On one trip we boarded the crowded tourist
bus last and I had to sit next to the driver with the pretty young guide wedged
in beside me. She chatted about everything under the sun and told me her surname
was Schmidt which clearly came from the German colonial era. As the bus rattled
along her bare leg and mine frequently touched and at one time she looked at me
and said you are browner that I am, proudly placing her arm against mine to
Later we took a trip to the larger but lesser
of Savaii and walked over
the lava fields from an old volcano eruption and shown the “Virgin’s Grave”
where a young girl died in a lava flow. Later we nodded thanks at a refreshment
stop when the owner proudly showed us her husband's grave in the garden outside
the back door as we made to leave.
On the short flight back to Apia’s
airport only we were weighed not the luggage before we boarded the light plane
as there are some very big people in Samoa!
The flight was delayed a little as a mother and her young child boarded late to
be taken to the hospital on the main island. As she nursed her child I held the
bottle of saline drip attached to his arm while my wife sat next to the pilot
Another night at the hotel the staff also
performed in the Fia Fia nights entertaining guests with their seductive
dancing and singing and the girl that had served me in the hotel shop earlier
now danced enticingly before me. The lights were turned down and the men
juggled with their flaming brands.
When we returned I said I really wanted to go
again but my better half shook her head and said “Wake up, the first time is
magical but it would never be the same again.” Yet even she had been entranced
with one of the male dancers!
It is nearly thirty
years since we went there and I still remember the eyes the girl that danced
before me and who looked only at me.