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Two Fridays in a Row?

2008 August 7
by rob

Friday July 18, 2008

Up at 7 AM and off to the airport. I wanted to make sure I got there bright and early so I could get myself into the Air New Zealand business class lounge as soon as possible. I didn’t have a shower or breakfast before leaving. I didn’t need them. Air New Zealand would be taking care of me today.

How did I score business class tickets to Samoa? Thank you Air Canada Aeroplan miles! Also, thank you Patrick McMorris and Joe Clancy who tutored me on the ways to get air miles faster and spend them to best effect. Joe Clancy is totally the air travel guru as far as I’m concerned and he told me that my business class tickets to Samoa and Tonga on Air New Zealand were among the best expenditures of 35,000 Aeroplan miles possible. Yippee!

Joe also SMSed me at 8:49 AM that morning to let me know that, according to him, “I don’t think it’s too early to try the vodka.” He meant, of course, the 42 Below premium vodka from New Zealand, which there was plenty to be found in the business class lounge. I didn’t start with vodka, though, I had myself some breakfast first. There was no one working at the bar, so I wasn’t quite sure what the protocol was. It was my first business class trip, after all! After asking one of the staff what the deal was, they informed me that the bar was completely self serve. Interesting. I had myself a shot of the kiwi flavoured vodka (which was quite nice!), then grabbed a beer from the fridge, asked for a shower kit and had myself a shower. The beer, of course, was drank in the shower. What luxury!

The rest of the morning was spent snacking, enjoying cappuccino, and sampling more vodka before boarding my first flight of the day: a three hour flight to New Zealand. I don’t think I’ve had this thought before, but I wish the flight was longer. So swanky!

Yes, my seat is diagonally-aligned and I’m holding a glass of champagne (though the New Zealander flight attendants just called it “bubbly”). My seat was so awesome, I could have laid down completely horizontally if I wanted to. Normally I don’t take pictures of planes since they’re usually the same as all others, but it was different this time. Also, check out the cool new Cooper’s rugby shirt!

The food was fantastic, too. For my appetizer, I had kaffir lime and coriander scented salmon with tropical mango chili salsa, micro greens and lemon oil. I selected the horopito braised venison with mustard seed spätzle, braised red cabbage, mushrooms and bacon lardons. My dessert was a dark chocolate marquis with roasted macadamia nuts and pinot poached pears with a fine regional cheese and preserved fruit plate. I don’t even know what half of that stuff is… duh.

I had a screen on a swivel stand for my entertainment system. I watched a couple episodes of Flight of the Conchords. It was only appropriate, after all, since I was flying to New Zealand. As I watched the show, I decided that I looked a lot like Jermaine Clement, though without the sideburns.

I got to spend about six hours in the Air New Zealand business class lounge in Auckland airport. I didn’t leave the airport at all. I just hung out in the business class lounge and snacked and drank the whole time. My flight to Samoa was delayed by an hour since the original scheduled plane was struck by lightning and a replacement plane had to be found. Yikes!

My seats on the next flight were not as fantastic. Sure they were super comfy and I had a huge amount of space, but I couldn’t lay down horizontally and there was no entertainment system. Oh well. It was late, so I ate my steak and went to sleep. It was only a three hour flight anyways.

Friday July 18,2008 … again?

New Zealand is just to the west of the International Date Line. Samoa, however, is immediately to the east of the same line. That meant that I arrived in Samoa on the same day, and an even earlier hour, then I left Melbourne. It was Friday all over again. Except this Friday would be in Samoa.

Just to prevent any confusion, there are really two places known as “Samoa”. I was in the independent nation of Samoa, formerly known as Western Samoa. The other Samoa was American Samoa, a territory of the U.S.A. American Samoa would not be one of my destinations on this trip.

I landed just before sunrise, cleared customs, got my pack, extracted local currency (the “Tala” — exchange rate CA$1=2.4 tala) from an ATM, waded past the crowd of taxi drivers, and boarded the shuttle bus to Apia (the capital of Samoa). Apparently the shuttle bus was brand new — the service had started only three days before. Good on you, Samoa! Eep… I think I’ve been in Australia too long — I’ve definitely picked up on too much of their speech patterns!

I checked into my accommodation, Valentine’s Motel, and immediately went to bed. I slept for three hours and went out to explore Apia.

Sadly, Apia is not a very interesting town. It is dirty, filled with stray dogs, had few sidewalks, and was filled with traffic. When most people dream of a romantic South Pacific getaway, Apia does not leap to mind. It’s a place to take care of business, then move on, as far as I’m concerned.

I walked into the city centre to find some lunch. I ended up getting a chicken curry that ended up being really bad. It made my stomach wonky. It was only the second time on my trip that I had food that made me feel ill. The only other time might have been at the vegetarian street buffet in Luang Prabang, Laos — and that could have been blamed on the large amount of beer I had that night.

After my crap lunch, I walked around the harbour area a bit. After a very short while a shoddy looking Samoan attached himself to me and started following me around, making the pretense of acting like a tour guide or being friendly and chatty. It was clear to me though that the dodgy character was looking for a handout. Before very long, I feigned exhaustion, said I was going back to my motel to take a nap, and gave him five tala, implying that I didn’t want him following me anymore. Thankfully the bum took the hint and left me along after that. It was pretty obvious that the guy was going to blow the cash on beer.

I didn’t go back to sleep though. There was a pretty peninsula in Apia with several tombs and monuments, the parliament house, the yacht club, and lots of trees. I walked down to the end and back. I ran across the tomb of the previous king, whom died only last year. It was still covered with flowers from devoted subjects.

After a few hours of walking, though, I really was tired and went back to Valentine’s to have a rest. There was an Argentinean guy there named Mattias and I talked to him for a bit. Rumour had it that there was another Canadian staying there (we do pop up in lots of places!). After running into her (her name was Jasmine), the three of us decided to go for dinner together. I had the option to go to a traditional Samoan feast and dance (a “fia fia”) that night, but I much rather go hang out with fun people. Hopefully I would be able to catch a fia fia some other time.

That night, Jasmine commented that I looked very similar to Jermaine Clement from Flight of the Conchords, just without the sideburns. How crazy is that?! I was thinking the same thing the day before (even though the day before was also the same day as today, which is also kind of unusual).

Saturday July 19, 2008

The day of the week actually matters in Samoa (as you will see later), so I’ll be putting them in for my blog entries here.

Today was Saturday. In Samoa, that meant that businesses and offices would only be open until noon. I originally had wanted to go to the Robert Louis Stevenson Estate outside of Apia (open to noon on Saturday, of course). However, I hadn’t really planned out the rest of my stay in Samoa and didn’t really even know where to go. I had read my Lonely Planet a bit and realized I was spoiled for choice. I wanted to stay on the beach and see cool stuff, and I could do that in a dozen different places. Instead of going to the pretty house in the mountains, I decided to go to the tourist office (also only open to noon, of course) to get information. I made a plan and booked myself into some different beach fales (I’ll explain what a “fale” is when I get to the blog entry where I get to stay in one) on a few different beaches around Samoa.

By the time I got out of the tourist office, it was almost noon. I rushed to the post office to buy stamps before they closed their doors on me forever. Once that was taken care of I was free to walk around Apia some more. Today I walked around the other side of the harbour, which was more scenic than the part of the harbour I had explored the day before. This side of the harbour was somewhat more picturesque, featuring a pretty Catholic cathedral:

The harbour itself was somewhat pretty, too.

After having pizza and ice cream for lunch, I wandered into the Central Market to take a look around. Of course, there were souvenir vendors hawking the standard tacky tourist merchandise. I asked if someone knew where to buy postcards. One guy said he didn’t know, but pointed at some really ugly earrings that he thought I might want instead. Yeah, you don’t have the post cards I want so I’d settle for earrings instead? Oh please!

The produce section of the market was more interesting, however.

Bananas and breadfruit and coconuts and taro, oh my! I would get well acquainted with these foods before I left Samoa.

After the market, I returned to my motel where I proceeded to do very little for the rest of the day. I heard that there was a rugby match going on in Apia, but I didn’t feel like going. I disliked Apia and my motivation was at an all-time low. The owners of the motel had some small children that were holy terrors. They’d run around, shout, and cry all day long. I didn’t want to hang out in the lounge of the motel and put up with them, so I locked myself in my private room and hid from the world. Was I afraid of kids? Not really. I just didn’t want to bother.

It wasn’t all doom and gloom, though. When I emerged from my room to find dinner in town, I was offered leftovers by the owner. Their kids may be brats, but the owners are really nice people. I had my first real Samoan food there, including baked taro, baked bananas, and “palusami.” Taro is a root vegetable (similar to potatoes) and is pretty bland and tasteless. Palusami is quite interesting, though. It’s made from coconut cream, salt, and onions wrapped and baked in taro leaves. I’d have this treat a few times in Samoa. Free from my obligation to venture back into Apia, I retreated back to my room.

Sunday July 20, 2008

It was Sunday in Samoa. Being a conservative and traditional Christian nation, the locals went to church in the morning and almost every shop, office, and restaurant was closed. There was nothing for me to do today. I couldn’t even go to the Robert Louis Stevenson Estate since it was closed. It would have been better if I had left Apia that day, but many of the transportation options are limited on Sunday. In hindsight, I should have seen if I could have gone on a one-day tour of the island that day, but they probably wouldn’t have been operating on Sunday either.

I spent almost the whole day in my room using my computer. I didn’t have internet, so the time was spent watching anime, Dead Like Me, podcasts and trying to learn how to use Objective-C and Cocoa (the programming paradigms on Macs). I intended to write some blog entries, but I didn’t even feel like doing that… keeping it up to date was starting to feel like a real chore.

My motel had free breakfast, so that took care of that meal. I snagged a couple pieces of toast from breakfast which I had for lunch. For dinner, I decided I would get it together and walk to one of the nice restaurants on the harbour for a good meal. Rumour had it that SOME of those restaurants were open at least. As I ventured out, it started raining on me and I lost all my motivation to walk the twenty or thirty minutes to the harbour and search for a nice restaurant (also, I’m too cheap to pay for a taxi unless there are no other options). There was still some activity in the Central Market so I bought some greasy fish and chips for dinner. I tried to buy beer for my meal, but they wouldn’t sell it to me since it’s illegal to sell alcohol on a Sunday in Samoa.

So, my experience in Apia seems to be a low point in my trip. I think that the unending cycle of packing, going somewhere different, unpacking, figuring out what’s going on, figuring out where to go, trying to make friends, and losing them a few days later was beginning to get very tiring for me. I had been gone for almost six months now and had six weeks left. I was looking forward to going home, but wanted to stay determined to make the best of my remaining time. Mustering the motivation to make that happen was getting more challenging, though.

I don’t want to end this blog post on a low note. Thankfully, the rest of my time in Samoa wasn’t as dreary was my stay in Apia was. I’ll write about that in my next post…

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