Post 54 – Samoa Samoas (Part 2)

Jean stands behind a tikki in front of the pool at Aggie Greys.

Jean stands behind a tikki in front of the pool at Aggie Greys.

The Tofua docked in the harbor near the capital city of Apia the next morning, having traveled 137 miles in twelve hours. They probably could have swum there faster, but Larry and Jean were happy to have their snug little berths nearby after discovering that a double shot of scotch in the ship’s lounge was one shilling each. The change from dollars to pounds was a bit confusing, made even more so when they realized they were only paying fourteen cents per drink and might as well take advantage of the exchange rate. Although breakfast tea was included in the cruise cost, the idea of facing the judgemental steward again after a night of hanging out in the bar was more than Larry and Jean could handle. They tossed each girl a banana, said goodbye to their English roommate (who nearly dropped her cigar as she attempted to wave and eat a scone at the same time) and stepped off the gangplank to a new Samoa!

Which looked exactly like the old Samoa. The same palm trees, the same lava landscapes, the same hair-curling humidity – the islands were bigger, but disappointingly familiar. Yet there was a different energy in the damp air, a bustle in the streets of the larger city with more cars, more shops and a feeling of formality that seemed startlingly out-of-place after the casualness of Pago Pago. The Brits were gone but old habits die hard, and the family felt like they should immediately start drinking tea and stop brushing their teeth.

They were booked at Aggie Greys, a legendary hotel known throughout Polynesia for its friendliness and wide variety of guests. The proprietor Aggie was born in 1903, the child of an English chemist and a Samoan chief’s daughter. The hotel started as a sandwich stand that catered to American servicemen during World War II. A fabulous hostess, she was one of the inspirations for the character of Bloody Mary in Michener’s Tales of the South Pacific, a book that seemed to follow the family around where ever they went.

The main hotel was a sprawling, white wooden building, surrounded by individual bungalows that formed a square. Their cabin was just this side of seedy and came with the eau de mildew scent that was standard in the tropics but the girls didn’t care, because at the center of the compound was a half wall that contained freshwater heaven. A hotel swimming pool is universally thrilling to children no matter how many beautiful beaches they are allowed to roam, and the thought of unlimited access to this one during their stay made them squeal. As did the temperature of the water, which seemed to be piped in from the Arctic.

“The whole trip was dignified and gracious and very British. All the meals were included with many courses and silverware to match. The food wasn’t too hot but since we are all pretty picky eaters, that doesn’t mean much. After about four days of being lovely and gracious and making us very pleased with their behavior, Chrissie comes up with “Gee, won’t it be nice when we can go back to being slobs again!” We met a lot of really interesting people – tourists from New Zealand and California, and a very sober looking man from South Africa who wore the shortest shorts imaginable. This must be a British custom, because every man wears them, even those with the skinniest, whitest, hairiest legs.”


One of Jean’s co-workers from the library had family on the island and had invited them for lunch and a swim. Their home was right near Vaiala Beach and a large blue hole in the reef known as the Palolo Deep. Their hosts produced snorkels and masks and a loaf of stale bread and carefully led them out in the shallows. The girls grabbed handfuls of crusts and floated on the surface of the crystal clear water. Kathy and Carolyn were afraid this might be a repeat of the whole palolo disaster but instead of worms reproducing on them, they were suddenly surrounded by tiny fish of every color and shape rushing in to eat the bread right out of their hands. The minnows bumped and shoved each other to get to as many of the crumbs as possible, nibbling at their fingers and giving new meaning to the phrase “biting the hand that feeds you”. Larry swam out in deeper water to the drop off and was stunned by the piscean society that swam beneath and around him.

“I managed to fall and scrape my arm on the coral, but it healed nicely after the hotel manager told me the secret cure. I bought a double shot of scotch and rubbed it into the wound. I’ll admit it smarted for a while, but no infection resulted. Some people have had the experience of treating coral cuts with iodine and having them swell like mad. It seems that the tiny creatures which build coral thrive on the iodine in the sea water so instead of killing them, this actually feeds them. So remember, the next time you fall on a coral reef – no iodine!”

Between the swimming, shopping and complaining about the food, four days passed quickly, and soon it was time to head back to the other Samoa. Even Larry had succumbed to souvenir fever, and ended up with a four-foot long carved wooden pao pao (outrigger canoe) balanced across his knees on a bouncing ride to the airport.

“We flew home on the Polynesian Airlines single engine plane and took a Volkswagen bus out to the airfield. That in itself was a hair-raising experience. The driver drove like a crazy fool, honking his horn and scattering people right and left. I don’t think he knew what side he was supposed to be driving on. We finally came to the field – it was grass and as we drove by, a truck was on the strip putting out oil lamps. They were distributing the runway lights! Karen sat on the window side and said she was watching the propellers turn. Thank God. We were all very glad to see the lights of Tafuna and know we were home. “


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