Blind Panic in Paradise


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Oceania » Samoa » Upolu
July 29th 1993
Published: October 25th 2020
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Next stop was the then Western Samoa (now just Samoa), and first cab off the rank was the legendary Aggie Grey's Hotel in the capital Apia. The hotel's been there since 1933. Its eponymous founder was a very well known local figure on whom the character Bloody Mary in the movie South Pacific is believed to have been based. She only passed away in 1988 at the ripe old age of 91. The ever reliable Wikipedia tells us that Marlon Brando, Gary Cooper, William Holden, Dorothy Lamour and Raymond Burr have all stayed at Aggies, and it housed the crew of the movie "Return to Paradise", starring Cooper, when it was filmed in Samoa in 1953. This all sounds impressive and romantic, and it probably is, but all I was after was a better experience than I'd had when I'd stayed there a decade earlier. And that wouldn't have been all that hard. On that fateful trip I ate some dodgy fish the night I arrived and spent the next three days on the bathroom floor with my head in the toilet. I'm not entirely sure what tempted me to go back.

We only stayed at Aggie's for one night and then headed off for a week on the beach at Coconuts Resort on the south side of the island. Our ever reliable travel agents had rung ahead to make sure that everything was in order. A cot for Scott was at the top of the priority list. It seems that something might have got a bit lost in translation, and when we arrived at the then newish establishment, we found that cots were not something that the staff seemed to be overly familiar with. I think the main function of a cot is probably to stop your toddler falling out of bed and hurting itself. Most Samoan toddlers probably sleep on mats on the floors of their single storey fales with the rest of the family, so we suspected that maybe cots weren't a necessity for your average Samoan parent. We got by by bedding Scott down on some cushions on the floor of our first floor room, aided by a healthy dose of paranoia about keeping all the doors and windows closed and firmly locked at all times.

The resort was built by three Californians who'd got a bit tired of the rat race, and came here in the early 1990s with the dream of setting up a simple hotel and restaurant on the beach. It's still there. We snuck in for a quick look when we went back in 2018. It was scarcely recognisable from the simple 1993 iteration - it's now a whole lot bigger and fancier, and is even home to the country's only overwater bungalows. Apparently it had to be virtually rebuilt after being wiped out by successive cyclones and the 2009 tsunami.

It was nice and sunny in Apia, which is on the north coast, but we couldn't help but notice that as soon as we crossed the range the clouds gathered, the rain started, and it was suddenly a lot cooler. "It'll burn off" we were told. It seems we forgot to ask when. By the time we left there, we'd been away from home for a total of twenty one days and it had been cool and rainy for eighteen of them. Just as well we came in the dry season or we might have drowned. We woke up every morning to the sound of more rain. Even more infuriating was that anytime we ventured over the range into Apia we drove into brilliant sunshine and a cloudless sky. This would have been great if there were any beaches there to lie on, but no, they're all in the rain soaked south.

Based on the small sample of mainstream Pacific Islands we've been to, Samoa is by far the most unspoilt, and has the most in-tact traditional culture. This has undoubtedly been helped by the relative lack of tourism, and tourists certainly seemed to be a rare commodity there back in 1993. We spent a lot of time wandering through the traditional villages near the resort, and if the attention we seemed to attract was anything to go by it was clear that the friendly locals weren't at all used to the sight of fair haired blue eyed western toddlers.

We hired a car and drove along the coast to "Return to Paradise Beach", where "Return to Paradise" was filmed. There's an excellent resort there now which we stayed at in 2018, but it was all very pristine back in 1993, with scarcely a shack in sight. The beach was as rugged and rocky then as it was in 2018, but no issues there for our fearless toddler who had no qualms about throwing himself fully clothed into the foaming surf.

They drive on the left side of the road (that's the "correct" side for us Aussies) in Samoa now, but not so back in 1993 - something to do with a previous German occupation apparently. No problem there I thought. There's not much traffic, so surely I can get used to driving on the other side. And indeed no problems at all, until our last day there when we found ourselves approaching the main roundabout in the middle of Apia and I suddenly forgot where I was. I think they probably lock you up and throw away the key if you drive around a busy roundabout in the wrong direction in most places we've been to. I went into a blind panic. And of course, as luck would have it, a lava lava clad member of the local constabulary just happened to be standing on the footpath and saw it all unfold. I was shaking so much I thought he might struggle to get the handcuffs on, but when I explained that I was just an idiot tourist he seemed more than content to let
Communing with the local kidsCommuning with the local kidsCommuning with the local kids

Scott was just a bit overly keen on getting a slice of whatever the boy on the right was holding.....
me off with a stern warning. Well either that or he was worried about setting off an international incident if he arrested a foreigner. We were left wondering what you had to do to get locked up here, or indeed whether the island even had a jail.

We packed for our late evening flight back home, but were then a bit concerned to discover that my passport wasn't where it should have been - in the room safe with Issy's and Scott's. We turned the room upside down, but all to no avail. I don't think there are too many things guaranteed to strike fear into the heart of a traveller more than the prospect of losing their passport. ...well aside perhaps from catching a rare disease or suddenly remembering that you forgot to turn the iron off when you left home. The taxi arrived, but we still didn't have the passport. We'd come to this island paradise for relaxation, yet blind panic now seemed to have become a theme of our trip. I told Issy that she'd better fly home with Scott, and I'd catch up with her in a few weeks when I'd managed to get a replacement. I wasn't sure exactly how I was going to do that, where I was going to stay, or whether I'd still have a job when I got home, but other options didn't seem to be jumping out at us with any great regularity. Just as the taxi was about to head off into the night without me I remembered that I had to show my passport at the bank in Apia when I went there to change some money, and that I'd stuffed it in a camera bag for safe keeping.....


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27th October 2020
Return to Paradise Beach

Amazing
Truly is Paradise. You have made me want to go to Samoa now.
31st October 2020

Pacific Islands
We would love to island hop this part of the world. My heart stopped as I read you had lost your passport..... glad you remembered when you did. I hate it when I put something someplace safe and forget. Thanks for taking us along.
2nd November 2020

Pacific Island Hopping
Pacific island hopping highly recommended!! A great part of the world. Many thanks for your comment.

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