Along the Ancestral Coastal Trail

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August 15th 2018
Published: August 15th 2018
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Today we have signed up for a gentle stroll along the coastal trail that the ancestors of the current villagers built to provide access to and from the next village along from the resort.

Along the way our guide, whose name is Fatu, stops regularly to identify some of the vegetation which was once used by the villagers for a diverse range of purposes including making fire and to use as toilet paper. He points out a pandanus plant and tells us that every Samoan house used to have many of these in its garden to use to make mats to sit on and to eat from. He bemoans the loss of the ancient traditions and tells us that these days if we pass a house that doesn’t have any pandanus plants in its garden then the mats inside it will have been made in China.

Fatu rubs the faces of most of the members of our twenty strong group with leaves from another plant, which he says is used for massages. He asks the group whether any of us have had massages at the resort, and Issy and I are the only ones who put our hands up. I’m suddenly feeling like a very sensitive new age husband, and not the Phillistine that I thought I was. Fatu says that the “half man half woman, the Fa’afafine” at the spa gives the best massage and next time we go we should specifically request a Fa’afafine massage. I was really hoping that there wouldn’t be a next time, but Issy nods enthusiastically, while I groan in anticipation of yet more possible agony to come.

I note that Fatu has stopped us directly under a very large coconut tree which is fully laden with fruit, and I suggest to Issy that it might be prudent to take a few steps backwards away from the tree. I came across a page in the ever reliable Wikipedia last night entitled “Death by Coconut”, which had extrapolated figures from a learned article in the Journal of Trauma and Acute Care Surgery to claim that falling coconuts kill around 150 people worldwide every year. The learned article was authored by a doctor in Papua New Guinea who noted that 2.5% of the injuries he treated each year were caused by falling coconuts, including on average two fatalities. Wikipedia did go on to point out that the article won an "Ig Nobel Award from the Annals of Improbable Research in recognition of research that "cannot or should not be replicated””, but still, you can’t be too careful. A number of articles in papers around the world have apparently claimed that you’re far more likely to be killed by a falling coconut than by a shark, and the world’s major travel insurers apparently concur. In light of all this evidence I’m pleased that we’ve moved away from the coconut palm under which the rest of the group is now standing in risk of their collective lives, even if we can no longer hear what Fatu is saying.

We move out of the jungle and onto a large rocky ledge next to some seaside cliffs. Fatu stands on top of a rock arch, which looks like it’s about to collapse into the pounding waves at any second, and holds onto brave volunteers who stand next to him while the not so brave among us take their photos. We then walk further out across the ledge to a blowhole. This is quite different to the blowholes that we saw in Savai’i which tossed coconut husks high into the air. It is a much larger hole in the rock ledge, and water surges into it as waves come in, such that it looks like a foaming mass of some violently boiling liquid. I suspect that if you fell into this the only thing that would come back out again would be a mangled corpse. Fatu tells us that he is now going to dive into the blowhole and we can watch on while it throws him back out again. One member of our group is clearly still affected by a massive overdose of last night’s cocktails and tells us that he thought that Fatu was really going to do it; at least I hope he’s still affected by a massive overdose of last night’s cocktails.

It starts to rain. At first it is only a drizzle, but then it gets steadily heavier. It’s not quite the biblical downpour of yesterday, but it’s not far off it either. We reach the cove where we will be having lunch. The staff from the resort have rigged up a small marquee which just covers the lunch table, and we take shelter under it as we eat. There’s no room under the marquee for any of the staff who are now all saturated.

It is still bucketing down, but it seems that nothing is going to stop the staff from trying to entertain us. When it comes to singing, the Samoans seem to be master improvisers. Fatu, who is standing in the pouring rain with all the other staff, introduces a small man who looks like he is probably in his sixties, and tells us that he will now demonstrate his unique voice to us. He describes it as “a keyboard in his mouth”. The man doesn’t sing as such, but provides a sort of falsetto accompaniment. Another staff member provides percussion by banging his hands on the back of a plastic chair, and he and Fatu both sing. The sound they produce is stunning.

The rain eases off a bit and we go for a dip.

Tonight is fiafia night at the resort and we are treated to a song and dance spectacular in the restaurant fale, while we munch away on a buffet feast. We are asked to go outside to witness the stunning finale which involves eight warriors twirling sticks lit at both ends and throwing them to each other from a long way away, whilst trying to dodge flames coming up from the kerosine soaked ground around them. I can see now why they wanted us to come outside for this; getting trampled in a stampede to escape the inferno of a flaming fale probably wouldn’t have been a great way to end the evening.

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