Return to Paradise


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Oceania » Samoa » Upolu
August 9th 2018
Published: August 10th 2018
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Today we travel back to the main island of Upolu where we’re booked to stay at a hotel on the south coast for the rest of our time here in Samoa.

A few minutes after leaving our hotel we see a police road block up ahead. My blood turns to ice. I wrack my brains to try to remember what we might have done wrong. Standing up while you’re eating is a big no no here, and I think I remember Issy standing up for a few seconds while we were eating lunch at the blowholes yesterday. She says that she was only changing seats, but I’m not sure that this will be a valid defence. I hope that they don’t arrest her; I don’t want to have to pay someone to iron my shirts. The policemen ask Asu to show him his licence, and we are quickly waved on. We breathe again.

It seems that the long distance swimming event series finished in Savai’i yesterday, and the ferry is packed with fifty and sixty something New Zealanders and Aussies who competed in it. None of them look nearly capable of swimming ten kilometres through the open ocean, but clearly they are. The one exception is a thirty something gentlemen who has biceps on his biceps and looks like Tarzan. Issy says she didn’t notice him, but she’s fooling no one. A lot of the swimmers are unaccompanied ladies, and I think a few of them might have their eyes on Tarzan, which might at least partly explain their enthusiasm for their chosen sport.

Our hotel is called the Return to Paradise Resort, and it is built around Return to Paradise Beach. We came to this beach when we were in Samoa in 1993 and there was absolutely nothing here. Life has clearly moved on since then. The setting is stunning. It’s a lot more rugged than the peaceful lagoons of northern Savai’i and we’re very conscious of the constant background roar of the waves crashing into the beach.

Return to Paradise Beach has been named for the classic 1953 movie of the same name starring Gary Cooper and Roberta Haynes. It was filmed entirely in Samoa, and mostly on this beach. We book in for a Gold Class dinner session of the movie in the lounge at the resort. The session starts with a video on the background to the hotel. Construction started in 2012, and it’s only been open since 2014. It’s the only resort in Samoa that is wholly owned by the locals, and most of the owners and staff are part of the same extended family. The owners had a lot of trouble getting finance for the project due to lack of corporate backing. At one stage they ran out of funds to pay their local construction workers, so they told them not to come to work, but such was the local enthusiasm for the project that they came anyway. One of the resort’s staff members tells us that her two sisters played roles as children in the movie, and many other members of the staff’s extended families appeared in it as well. Roberta Haynes returned to Samoa in 2014, aged 85, at the invitation of the government, and has subsequently bequeathed her entire estate to the resort.

Dinner and drinks are served as we watch the movie, and it feels slightly spooky to see some clearly recognisable features of the beach knowing it’s only a few metres away. The recliner seats might be missing, but other than that it feels like a real Gold Class experience, complete with packets of popcorn.

We retreat to the bar and get chatting to a New Zealand couple who’ve been here for ten days and go home tomorrow. A dozen or so of the staff appear out of nowhere to sing the Kiwi couple a farewell song, and they then launch into a haka. The song is haunting, but the haka is just plain scary. I’ve seen hakas performed on TV before, but never in the flesh. If this one‘s supposed to intimidate it’s doing an excellent job, and we’re not even the target audience. From what I can see the two main things you need to try to do while you’re performing the haka are to lick the floor from a standing position, and to get your eyeballs to dislodge themselves from their sockets without using your hands. I wonder if anyone’s eyeballs have ever actually come out of their sockets while they were doing the haka.

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