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Cruise Diary: Apia, Samoa

Although HAL blogger Gary Frink is home from his Oosterdam cruise, he still had a few wonderful posts to share. Enjoy!

By a geographic quirk of fate, the international dateline splits the nation of Samoa from American Samoa. By the Oosterdam passing through the dateline, the passengers and crew were rewarded with two Sundays, April 21, 2013, one in Apia Samoa and one in Pago Pago, American Samoa. We shall begin with Apia, our first Sunday.

The day broke bright and hot; sea breeze or not, 90 degrees (F) is beyond warm. Jeanne and I began our late morning and ambled into the capital of Samoa, absent a trace of urgency. We had been told that Sunday brings on Apia slowdown, falling to a grinding halt; except, of course, in the churches; there holy energy abounds.

Jeanne and I were each raised in the Congregational Church, I in Michigan and she in Iowa. Before returning ourselves to our Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia cabin in 1990, we lived on the bank of the St. Clair River and belonged to the First Congregational Church of St. Clair Mi.

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The Congregational Church of Jesus in Samoa was the first Apian church we encountered. Sunday services were in full swing. We approached the square, white building, with a widow’s walk instead of a steeple at the top, gingerly. The church was stuffed with Samoan worshipers, some sitting on plastic chairs near the open entrance. The pastor was preaching in Samoan and we stood respectfully at the back. Soon, a young man in white shirt and tie, wearing the South Pacific wrap around, silently offered us chairs.

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The pastor concluded his remarks and the choir director raised his arms to give the downbeat. It is difficult to describe the beauty of the uplifted voices of the entire congregation. It was if every man and woman had received extensive vocal training. The power of the voices, the harmony; it was heavenly. Before taking our leave, Jeanne and I quietly remarked about how attractive the ladies were, turned out in pure white, broad brimmed hats and white blouses. The men were also in white shirts and they all sat erect in pews facing the alter, below seriously whirling ceiling fans.

The Beach Road curves gently, creating a horseshoe extending from the dock well into the center of the town and on the first Sunday, it framed the Oosterdam sitting serenely at dock, swathed in a bright tropical sun. We walked the Beach Road sidewalk, along a small seawall. Falani was standing beside a shaded bench when we came upon him.

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“I’m back from Japan after six months. I’m an entertainer: hot coal walker, guitar player,” then he made a strumming motion with his right hand. “I work there, then I come home.” (It is not for me to tie walking hot coals and guitar playing together.) “I have a house around the corner.” Falani explained the social structure of Samoan society: “First, there is ‘Aiga’, the family; it is very strong. The there is the ‘matai’, the leader of the clan; every village has at least one ‘matai’. The most important ‘matai’ has the largest ‘fale’, clan home. Families own most all real property in Samoa, though I own my house ‘free-hold.’” He didn’t explain how that came about.

I was curious that we were standing across the street from a New Zealand Immigration Office, attached to the New Zealand High Commission building; at the curb, a large black and white sign bellowed out: NZ POLICE CARPARK. Tow Away. “Falani, what is the deal with the New Zealanders?” I asked. “We consider New Zealand our Big Island. They ran Samoa from 1914 until 1961, first for the League of Nations, then the U.N. We became independent in ’61, but we are still very close to them.” I didn’t say anything, but having another countries’ cops openly hangin’ around and claiming curb space on your capital main drag is very close, indeed.

Jeanne and I continued our stroll; we were now in search of a drink. We had ignored the suggestion from Cruise Director staff to take water with us and dehydration was setting in. We asked more than one idle taxi driver: “Do you know where we can buy something to drink?” The answer was usually, “I think there is a place open further downtown. Want to take a taxi?” We kept walking. We walked past the building housing the Samoa Police Band, which conducts a parade down Beach Road each business day, to give all notice that the day has begun. We passed the town fire hall; and on to the center of town, where sits a (functioning) clock tower.

“I believe I see an open cafe down the street,” Jeanne said, and crossed the street toward it. She came back quickly. “I told them I wanted to buy a drink. ‘We’re closed,’ the girl said. But I only want to buy a drink. ‘We’re closed.’ And that is that.” “Whoa,” said I. I tried the door of a restaurant nearby; locked solid. “They really mean it when that say this town closes down on Sunday,” I said to myself.

Then the gods of Dehydrated Travelers smiled down upon us. A security guard was sitting in front of a Toyota dealership. “Do you know where we might be able to buy some water,” I asked. You see that old building across the street, with the white car beside it?” “Yes.” On the corner of the building, where the car is, there’s a little store in there.”

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The owner of what I would call a “cantina” was a jolly fellow and more than happy to sell me, for four Yankee Dollars, two .6 liter bottles of cool water. Now, we had to get out of the scorching sun to drink it. We had begun retracing our steps toward the Oosterdam, and shortly came upon the Nelson Memorial Public Library. It possessed a shallow stoop at the front door; it was shaded. Jeanne and I sat. Similar to the work an illusionist who entertained us on the ship, we quickly made our .6 liters of cool water vanish.

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One of the many idle taxi drivers we passed on our first Sunday would take us to the ship for five Yankee Dollars. I did not have the heart nor stamina to bargain. Five dollars it was, and off we went to the Oosterdam and its unlimited supply of potable liquids.

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