By Melanie Dugan
On leaving for Samoa I would have thought the meaning of life (or my life anyway) was to get on a plane destined for an exotic tropical island to escape, with the help of equally exotic cocktails, my not-so-exotic existence. But as I left Samoa to return home I realised my visit had changed my perspective not just on my life but the meaning of life. The authentic beauty of the Samoan people and landscape were a revitalising tonic for my weary and cynical take on life.
Samoa is made up of two large islands and several small islands and is relatively new to tourism and so it has been isolated from commercialism and over-development. (I wished I could say that is why I chose to go but it wasn’t – it was because it was cheap!) The main island, Upolu, is the most developed island and it does have a few high-rise luxury resorts and of course the international airport. This is where I arrived but I soon found myself on a ferry (along with beer trucks and crates of piglets and chickens) to Savaii the largest but more remote island of Samoa (you pronounce it as you would Hawaii but with an ‘S’). Savaii is one of the largest islands in Polynesia but one of its least populated.
On the hour long ferry trip I began to feel something I hadn’t for some time (and it wasn’t seasickness luckily) it was an excitement and aliveness about life. My Samoan adventure had begun and as I drove my little hire car off the ferry I felt I bit like an explorer discovering a new world. I was advised to hire a car and I would definitely recommend it if you are staying on Savaii as the main town Salelologa is basic and there are few taxis and public transport is scarce. You will need to get a temporary Samoan driver’s licence which I got from the hire car company for a small fee. Also Samoans drive on the left hand side of the road which just adds to the adventure if you are used to driving on the right.
There is one main road that follows the coast of the entire island which made my exploring very carefree as I didn’t have to be concerned with navigating and I could just relax and absorb the wonder of what was before me. Savaii is truly an island of immense beauty and variety – it will astonish you with its stunning beaches and reefs with turquoise water which are perfect for snorkelling, lush rainforest, fresh water springs, dramatically rugged stretches of lava coast studded with caves and blowholes and the interior of the island is just as impressive because of its towering volcanic peaks. It is breathtakingly beautiful. Traditional villages line the coast and because Savaii is relatively untouched by western influences the people have maintained an innocence and happiness that is even more beautiful and impacting than the landscape. This is the true wonder of the island – its people and as I travelled through the villages with their great colour and simplicity I began to thaw out from my selfish and competitive mindset. As I absorbed the warmth and authenticity of the people and the children in particular and saw what is meaningful to them I began to reconnect to what is real and true in my life and the world – to the real meaning of life which I think is trying to look after our spiritual wellbeing rather than our financial wellbeing – to connect with a true sense of family and humanity. Normally for me to try and think about such a profound subject as the meaning of life would be very confronting and a no go zone but in this warm Samoan wonderland I could actually get some perspective which has been lasting and produced quite a transformation in my life. Thank you – or fa’afetai Samoa.