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travelogue
 PAST ISSUES

INT. TRAVEL ARCHIVE:
677: The Little Island
Escape the late-winter blues with a tropical blast from the past
675: Scenic Spirituality
Commune with religion and nature in an ancient land
673: Aoni Onsen
Return to a forgotten time at one of Honshu’s most remote getaways
671: The Golden Rock
One of Burma’s many splendid attractions hangs by a hair
669: Hida Takayama
For personal trips gentle to the soul, seek out the old-time charm of Hida Takayama
665: Okayama
A serene stroll through history awaits at this seaside retreat
663: Cruising the Bay
Ha Long Bay offers a breath of calm away from Vietnam’s urban rush
661: Agamachi
Fox fires and bar codes help a rural Niigata town reinvent itself
535: Hotel California
Mark Parren Taylor kicks up the desert dust in Palm Springs, the perennial Hollywood star retreat.
531: Race through time
The Xterra Saipan triathlon journeys through tropical jungle, up steep mountain paths and across the sands of history. Tama M. Lung joins the chase.
527: Bohemian rhapsody
No visit to Paris would be complete without taking in the Montmartre district. Bon vivant Simon Rowe dusts off his French to go exploring.
523: Slow Motion
Mark Parren Taylor touches down in the timeless former seaport of Lukang, Taiwan.
519: Rock of ages
From ancient times to the present, Gibraltar has always been an island of legends. Stephen Mansfield sifts through its history.
515: Go west, young man
Simon Rowe takes in the big skies and dust trails of Western Australia's East Kimberley region.
511: All mixed up
Mark Parren Taylor makes land on Macau and finds an enigmatic blend of cultures, cuisine and heated competition.
505: Earth, wind and fire
A historically imperiled town in Papua New Guinea holds the keys to a magical getaway. Carlo Niederberger splashes ashore.
501: Off the rails
Braving the 2,010 kilometers of Vietnam's Reunification Express from Ho Chi Minh City to Hanoi is quite the adventure. Simon Rowe goes along for the ride.
493: Rites of passage
From firecrackers and cheek piercing to divinations and buffalo races, Thailand's most colorful customs come alive at two annual festivals. Mark Parren Taylor joins the crowds.
489: Paradise found
Beaches, battlefields and a colossal casino provide tropical pleasures on the Pacific isle of Tinian. Carlo Niederberger touches down.
485: Through the grapevine
Stephen Mansfield drinks up the delights of the Château Monbazillac in southwest France.
481: Pleasure island
Saipan awaits the young and young at heart with its pristine beaches, pointy peaks, and perfect amount of entertainment. Carlo Niederberger checks in.
477: Reservoir of dogs
Simon Rowe visits the Kingdom of Tonga, where storms burst without warning and wild canines rule the night.
473: Into the bat cave
Sarawak’s Niah Caves are home to hairless bats, birds on the brink of extinction, and lots of bugs, according to Simon Rowe.
469: A fork in the river
Laos’ ethnic minorities battle the forces of time. Stephen Mansfield goes upriver in search of them.
465: Action scene
Sick of the short, humid Japanese summer? Tired of the winter? In NZ it’s summertime and the living is easy, the food and drink inexpensive, and the evenings long and lazy. Mark Devlin heads south to explore and party.
457/458: In living color
Simon Rowe soaks in the glow of Samoa's kaleidoscopic streets.
454: From Jamaica with love
Michael McDonagh soaks up the atmosphere in James Bond's balmy birthplace
449: See worthy
Dan Grunebaum drops oar in the stunning caves of Thailand's Phang Nga Bay
445: Great heights
Simon Rowe packs his hiking boots and sets out for Malaysia's Mount Kinabalu
441: Split personality
There are few cities with such an exacting dividing line between past and present as Lijiang in China's southwestern province of Yunnan
438: Fierce creatures
Simon Rowe introduces us to the untamed charms of Australia's Kangaroo Island
434: Leap of Faith
Simon Rowe dives into a tropical island paradise of waterfalls, reefs and bush rugby on the Fijian archipelago
430: A week in Provence
Stephen Mansfield explores the historic festival city of Avignon, a medieval diamond in the south of France
426: Outer space
Surreal sites, lunar landscapes and UFO sightings go with the territory in Chile
422: The Big Easy
The Moorish streets of Granada, Spain are alive with a new Bohemian rhapsody
418: Small awakening
Japan's microbrewers
414: Fowl play
The animal kingdom comes alive in the Galapagos
410: The river of spirits
Wading through soulful waters in Varanasi, India
406: Heading north
Marching to the beat of a modern drum in North Korea
403: Santa's lap
Santa's lap - enjoy saunas, Santa and sightseeing in Finland’s Lapland
399: Shanghaied
Seeking the past in China's megacity
395: Rising from the ashes
Mary King explores the rich history, culture and art of Croatia’s phoenix city, Dubrovnik.
391: The betels and the stones
Simon Rowe rolls with the tropical exotica on the obscure island of Yap
387: Prague
World heritage site
383: South Africa
Land of hope
381: Hawaii
Pearl Harbor
377: Salt of the earth
Tour the Uyuni Salt Pan
374: China
Suzhou and Hangzhou
370: The Nile
The river mild
367: Tibet
Top of the world
363: Laos
Memo from the Lower Mekong
360: Cuzco, Peru
Lost cities
357: Namibia
Call of the wild
354: Southern India
Mad about Madurai

ISSUES 349-   
ISSUES 299-

In living color

Simon Rowe soaks in the glow of Samoa's kaleidoscopic streets.

Beach Street, Apia. It's 8:05am but already the air is as hot as the inside of an umu earthen oven. A dozen big-bosomed ladies carrying colored parasols drift between the shade of the banyan trees lining Apia's main thoroughfare, while a policeman, wrapped in his traditional lava-lava skirt uniform, takes time out from directing traffic to wipe the sweat from under his egg-shaped helmet.

Samoa might be small on surface area and short on public telephones, but when it comes to local color its streets runneth over. From its cosmic pink and yellow public buses to the blinding Hawaiian shirts worn by Apia's taxi drivers, strolling the streets of the nation's capital is like running smack into Carnivale, South Seas-style. On this tiny Pacific island nation of 160,000 people, however, you quickly realize that while wild fashion statements are mode de jour, life itself bustles to a rhythm even more subdued than its sun-dazed neighbors, Fiji and Tonga.

 

First gear
At 9am, I find myself sitting on a bus bound for Lalomanu, a tiny village nestled on the rain-soaked south coast of Upolu, Samoa's most populated island. On my lap is a bottle of water and a canvas duffle bag. The old man seated next to me nurses a box of frozen chicken giblets while his sack of salt and two hairy torpedo-sized taro roots lie wedged between our legs.

An Apia woman in traditional Samoan headdress

Traveling the blistering highways of Upolu, I later learn, is all about cheating logistics. Any savvy bus traveler who hails from a far-flung coastal village or a highland hamlet knows there is no such thing as "baggage allowance," hence the tendency for Samoans to carry aboard every commodity a small Pacific Island nation can possibly produce. I lost count of the times my seat was replaced by a crate of coconuts, a bunch of bananas or a sweating sack of taro leaves. Now and again it was a live porker, bundled into a pandanas basket, bound for some funeral or wedding feast upcountry, which nuzzled the back of my legs.

To the chagrin of most palangis (foreigners), comprehending Samoa's public bus system is tricky at best; there is no official bus timetable and no ticketing system and its barefoot drivers drive too fast and smoke too much. But what the buses lack in comfort, they make up for in flamboyance and friendliness. With their gaudy paint jobs and names like Peacemaker, Roadmaster, Jungle Boy and Queen Poto daubed in bright colors across the side panels, Samoa's buses have become a national icon.

Meanwhile, the bus to Lalomanu fills slowly. Old men wearing blinding red and blue Hawaiian shirts hobble in with walking canes and strange-smelling packages tucked underarm. At 10am, in a pall of hot greasy fumes, we finally depart Apia. Or so I reckon. On the outskirts of town, our barefoot driver swerves into a service station, whereupon all the passengers who have just spent two hours embarking, now disembark in one wild surge to buy up every bag of banana chips, peanuts, sticky cakes and bottles of Coca-Cola the poor Chinese shop owner can toss over the counter.

Ready and waiting at the intervillage bus stop

Hopelessly overloaded and with the chassis groaning to the point of popping its rivets, we speed out onto the coastal highway. Through the window, I glimpse the black volcanic sand beaches of Letogo and Luatuanu'u village, which form dark brooding lines between the roughly jungled mountains and the turquoise waters of the inner reef. Great white rollers thunder across the outer reef, just out of reach of two tiny paopaos (traditional one-man canoes) that drift lazily across the lagoon and past a lone fisherman treading quietly between the corals, poised to cast his net.

Rounding one bend, the driver guns the engine into a long stretch of coastal road, pushing the bus's rattling hulk to a speed just shy of airborne until the woodwork creaks and groans uncontrollably.

 

Road warriors
Apia's bus drivers are a shrewd bunch. Most know their bus's limits and that once they leave the capital Apia, they also leave behind the Police Department's five Harley Davidson patrol motorcycles. It's common knowledge they intentionally break speed limits in order to be the first to the passengers.

"Running a bus is big business," said one driver, "Without a full bus, we can't survive." Competition, thus, remains fierce. There was a time when the loud soulful tunes of Bob Marley and Marvin Gaye advertised buses long before their arrival in the villages. However, only weeks before I arrived in Apia, a law was passed prohibiting the installing of "musical devices for the purpose of entertainment" in buses. Surprisingly, it listed amplifiers, equalizers, woofers and "heavy duty" speakers-items one might normally associate with an industrial-strength reggae party in downtown Montego Bay.

A whitewashed island church overlooking a cave pond

At the village of Solosolo, 35km from Apia, an old man wearing a baseball cap ingeniously woven from dried coconut leaves, boards the bus and I offer him my seat. In appreciation he allows me to sit on his lap. This is not unusual in Samoa, where a fully loaded bus is not necessarily a "full" bus. When there are no more seats, passengers sit on each other. The old timer introduces himself as Tausisi, then proceeds to light up a Samoan-sized cigarette, almost igniting his hat in the process. Anxious moments follow as I wait for his handicraft to burst into a fireball.

Higher into the hills we climb, crossing Lemafa Pass, the halfway mark to Lalomanu, until the air becomes cool and a light shower passes overhead, dampening the highway. It's not long before I feel a strange prickly sensation against my back. Mr Baseball Cap, whom I'd noticed was in bad need of a shave, has fallen asleep on me and his four-day growth is now rasping through my T-shirt.

My itchy predicament was an obvious joke to my fellow passengers, since it was not everyday they were witness to a tall, big-nosed palangi riding across Samoa on the lap of chain-smoking old-timer with cactus whiskers. I, too, managed to smile wryly at the joke, even though it later meant having to apply a small tub of antihistamine to rid myself of the spotty pink rash-courtesy of Mr Baseball Cap.

 

Getting there
Samoa is 4,355km southwest of Hawaii and 3,000km north of New Zealand. Airlines serving the island include Air New Zealand (www.airnz.co.nz) Air Pacific (www.airpacific.com) and Polynesian Airlines (www.polynesianairlines.co.nz). Polynesian Airlines also offers a 45-day PolyPass, good for island hopping (including Samoa, Hawaii, Fiji, Tonga, NZ, Australia and Tahiti) which costs from US$1,099.

 

Where to stay
Recommended is the Samoan Outrigger Hotel, the former residence of the American consul-general, located in Motootua (Apia) and a comfortable, breezy place popular with budget travelers. For bookings and rates contact tel/fax: +685 20042; email: outrigger@samoa.ws;
web: www.samoahotels.ws/outrigger. Additional lodging options can be found through the Samoa Visitors Bureau at www.samoa.ws.

 

More information
Samoa's climate is tropical, with year-round temperatures between 22-30C. May through November are cooler months, while December to April are hot, rainy and humid. See www.samoa.ws for more information.

Photo credit: Simon Rowe

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