I grab a coffee and join the journalists who've gathered for the opening of Teuila, Samoa's cultural festival and one that celebrates the country's 50 years of independence. There's a semi-circle of market stalls selling barbecued chicken, the local Tapa cloth and T-shirts advertising Vailima, a local beer. The smoke of just-lit barbecues is trapped under canvases.
I look for a T-shirt and from the stalls scan a raised platform of dignitaries: the Prime Minister, beside him commissioners; in the second row, the finalist of the Miss Samoa competition. We watch with the rest of the small crowd as a dance troupe in navy blue dresses adorned with red hibiscuses sings a welcome song.
It's the most lovely performance, full of warmth and respect. I wish there were more people to watch it, but the crowds will pour in tonight.
The rain has eased. The women dancers wear garlands of teuila flowers, the red ginger plant that gives its name to the festival.
I'm told that the name of the flower was once pronounced differently, and that the present version is how it was said by Isobel Field, Robert Louis Stevenson's stepdaughter.
It's a good story, and you have to like the spirit that lies behind remembering her in a mistake.
But this is Samoa all over, an intensely friendly country that makes visitors feel welcome. In particular, the islands have a long history of accepting religious influence from abroad. Traditional buildings (or fales) and churches make surprisingly sympathetic neighbours, even if, like me, you find yourself wishing that less money was being poured into grand places of worship.
And in the late 19th century, the community clearly adopted not only Isobel's pronunciation but the Stevensons as a family. Isobel was given the name she mispronounced. Stevenson, who by the time he arrived in 1889 was already famous, was Tusitala, "the teller of tales".
He endeared himself to Samoans by criticising the colonial administrators and by building a grand house at Vailima - the same name as now graces the local beer. It means "water in the hand" but also, depending on your source, "five streams". In either case, it fitted the house and its chief occupant very well, for Stevenson was never far from water.
He spent years travelling in the South Pacific, and reportedly came to Samoa on the recommendation of the king of Hawaii, no less. One of his last works, aptly named The Ebb-Tide, tells the story of three down-and-outers who find themselves in charge of a shipload of champagne. An enviable situation, you might think.
But alas it's a trick, and the cargo turns out to be nothing more than water. Fortune runs through their hands, and the vagabonds' situation goes from bad to worse.
There is little of this bleakness in the beautiful grounds of Stevenson's old home. With the sun streaming in, even the sick bed in which he wrote seems part of the idyll. Our guide says that Stevenson particularly liked being on the veranda. It overlooks a lawn bordered by a high, tropical hedge of palms. Once, you could see the ocean, but now the best views are from Mt Vaea, where Stevenson is buried.
It's a good half-hour trek, and I'm sure there are better times to make it than now, at noon with the sun edging its way through a canopy of broad leaves. But at the summit you rejoin the sea breeze of the morning, and in the company of the great writer you look out to the villages that line the ocean road as it makes its way into Apia. The sea is a thin, light blue.
The inscription on the tomb is from a requiem he'd written earlier; it says, "Home is the sailor, home from the sea".
Back at sea level, I rejoin the festival, which includes an open-air display of local arts. Our guide through them is Chris Solomona, who begins his tour with a display of himself, or rather the tattoo that runs as a block of intricate patterns from his lower back to his legs.
This is the Pe'a, a form that represents aspects of Samoan life traditionally needed in order to survive, such as boats and spears.
The tattooing process is lengthy and indescribably painful. It is also in progress in one of the festival displays. A young man lies on his back.
On his left sits the "tufuga ta tatau", or tattoo artist, while three others perform support tasks: one fans the young man, who is enduring this ordeal in the noon heat, while two others stretch his skin, keep him still and wipe blood and excess ink from his leg.It's a shock to see it being done, and I find myself turning away. But of course that's the point: the tattoo is a mark of endurance and respect, like tradition itself.
And like Stevenson's mark on the island, made during his decline, the inscription seems richer for the commitment to Samoa that it witnesses.
-- The writer was a guest of the Samoa Tourism AuthoritySource: news.com.au 13 January, 2013 permalink
Over the years I have had the pleasure of fishing in Samoa many times, and generally the results have been good.
On some of those occasions I've fished the more exposed south side of Upolo Island with some great catches. Unfortunately, most of my trips to Samoa have been based out of the main port of Apia, where getting around to the south side in a day has been something of a 'mission impossible'.
The good news is New Zealand Fishing News, in conjunction with Dive, Fish and Snow Travel, have put together a 'Fish Samoa's South Side' package for 2013.
Last September, accompanied by my wife Faith and anglers Mike Wessels, Geoff Peake, Paul Davies and Bill Cavanagh (with the latter two accompanied by wives Donna and Trish), we did a test run.
Our plan was to have four days' fishing: two aboard the Ian Moroney-skippered 10.7m (35ft) Bertram Pure Indulgence, and the remaining two with Chris Donato and Southern Destiny. It was to be a mix of gamefishing, jigging and casting for giant trevally and dogtooth. However, a blown turbo saw Chris unfortunately eliminated from the gig at the last minute, leaving us to do four days with Ian.
Our base for the week was the delightful Aggie Grey's Lagoon Beach Resort and Spa, located just 10 minutes from the international airport on the shores of a calm lagoon. It's also close to the south side, providing access to some great fishing opportunities, making it an ideal base for what we were hoping to achieve.
On board Pure Indulgence Ian had two crew for this trip - his regular Samoan deckie Sally Asafo and an 'Aussie import' in photographer Dan Young-Whitforde.
Ian knows this area well, with Pure Indulgence often bringing live-aboard charters to this part of the coast.
It would be fair to say the majority of the anglers were keen to tangle with the GTs and dogtooth in particular, and this fishing is something of a speciality for Ian.
Over the four days we saw some good action, both on jigs and surface lures - and while the GTs were not especially big (twenty kilos stopped the best of them), as anyone who has fished for them knows, even fish of this size will put up a tremendous and exciting scrap.
We also caught dogtooth up to 15kg on jigs in 40-80 metres of water; fortunately the weather gods smiled on us for most of the trip, enabling us to fish the handy grounds with relative ease.
The billfish were less co-operative. A couple of sailfish shots and the attention of one marlin was all we managed, and none stuck. (Typically, the following week Ian told me it was 'all on', with a number of fish raised and caught on the south side, as well as a couple of respectable tuna - as they say, timing is everything!)
I must say it was great to come home to the comforts and luxury of a resort at day's end; Aggie's staff could not have been more helpful, and certainly played their part to ensure the success of the fact-finding mission. Early breakfasts and lunches were not a problem, and the executive chef Horace Evans and his team went out of their way to prepare our freshly-caught mahimahi and wahoo on several occasions.
Similarly, general manager Theresa Sing and function and events manager Greg Meredith smoothed the way, whether it was organising late checkouts and rental cars or other special requests.
Join us in Samoa in 2013
Over the week of September 21-28, 2013, Faith and I will be hosting the Mr and Mrs Fishing News 'Fish Samoa's South Side' readers' trip.
This angling adventure is suitable for both experienced and novice anglers alike, and can be shared with non-fishing partners. It will involve five days' fishing with five very different charter operations, targeting a range of tropical species from giant trevally, bluefin trevally, red bass, Maori wrasse and dogtooth tuna, through to marlin, yellowfin, sailfish, wahoo and mahimahi. And if you haven't fished for GTs before, there will be casting tuition available.
Fishing will be done by crews of four, so you'll either need to make up your own team or we will place individuals with other 'unattached' anglers.
Accommodation is on a share-twin basis; we can also arrange single-room accommodation for individuals, but this would be at an added cost.
For non-fishing partners, there is plenty to see and do on a user-pays basis. Adjacent to the resort is an 18-hole golf course with clubs and carts for hire. We played nine holes one afternoon and it was good fun - a great way to work up a thirst to slake with a couple of pre-dinner tropical cocktails!
Aggie Grey's Lagoon Resort boasts five dining venues and bars, from a 'swim-up' bar as part of the pool area, to an Asian restaurant. The main Fale Apolima Restaurant features different dining themes each night, including the traditional Samoan feast and a fiafia cultural and fire dance show.
For the ladies the Manaia Polynesian spa can add an extra element to a relaxing stay with a variety of therapies available. For more information on the full range of facilities on offer, check out the website ww.aggiegreys.com.
The boats and skippers for the Fish Samoa's South Side trip are all well-presented and experienced.
Alfred Schwalger is the skipper of the smallest boat of the five, an eight-metre New Zealand built Kingfisher monohull. I've had the pleasure of fishing with Alfred on a number of occasions and enjoyed some good action.
Another Kingfisher, this time a nine-metre catamaran owned by Kevin Kohlhase, is in the mix too, with an experienced local skipper on board. As for the three big boats, these are: Reel Indulgence, skippered by Ian Moroney and operated under the Troppo Sportfishing banner; Chris Donato's Southern Destiny; and recent arrival Jonathan Barlow's big Bladerunner catamaran, Extreme Measures.
Between the five operators there is a wealth of experience to ensure a successful trip for all.
Included in the escorted package is: return airfares ex-Auckland flying Virgin Samoa; seven nights' accommodation on a twin-share basis with late check-out for half the rooms; five days' fishing quarter-share with lunches provided; full buffet breakfast; trip polo shirt; nine holes of golf and 15 minute massage - one per room; use of the resort's non-powered water activities and snorkelling equipment; use of sauna, gym, volleyball and tennis courts; as well as airport transfers in Samoa; and the shuttle bus to Apia every day, except Sundays.
The cost is $4195 for anglers paying by direct debit, cheque or cash, and $2250 for non-fishing partners paying the same way.
For more details, Grant Dixon, email@example.com, (09) 634 9851 or Markus Wunderlich at Dive, Fish, Snow Travel firstname.lastname@example.org
(09) 918 5518.