Swire’s good crew, and Samoa: first impressions
Day 3,242 since October 10th 2013: 198 countries out of 203. No flight, no return home, min 24 hrs in each country and 1 pandemic!
(The opinions expressed on this site are my own, and do not reflect the position or policies of the Danish Red Cross which I represent as a Goodwill Ambassador).
Reaching the cradle of Polynesia
To say a lot has happened since last Friday would be quite the understatement. I fear that I have already forgotten most. Anyway, here’s some of it.
Last week’s entry: MV “Vanuatu Chief” – passenger no. 1 (reaching Samoa)
Right out the gate we might as well make one thing clear: I did not reach 198 countries in an unbroken journey completely without flying on my own. I have stood on the shoulders of giants, I have been supported by people in every country, I have been lifted up by strangers, I have benefitted from countless connections, I’ve tens of thousands to thank for where we are today. There’s the basic underlying foundation of electricity which has been laid out, roads which were built, transport which exists, professionals which have been educated etc. But it should be abundantly clear that there is no way to reach far-flung Pacific Island nations without flying, unless you have the support of those with the means to get there. The Saga’s progress has benefitted greatly from the support of many shipping companies and most lately once more from our friends at Swire Shipping. Without Swire’s help we would be no closer to a successful completion than what we were in July.
Captain Vimar's cup :)
After about a day of looking across Tonga’s capital Nuku’alofa, the good ship Vanuatu Chief and her brave crew continued onwards to Samoa. It is strange to think back at how I have somehow been to Tonga and yet not? I was onboard a ship within Tonga’s territorial waters. Something which the USA has required I had a visa to do within US territorial waters. If I had fallen overboard on the starboard side then I would have landed in Tonga (and been in great pain). Yet, I have not officially been to Tonga. I was not cleared by immigration, customs, or any other Tongan authority. Meanwhile, the good ship Vanuatu Chief was moored next to a French naval vessel and their crew clearly had permission to go ashore. And anyone who flies into Tonga is also welcome. Quite often the Saga seems so unnecessary difficult. I truly would have thought the red carpet would have been rolled out everywhere by now.
Vanuatu Chief's hospital/sickbay. Rarely in use. But better safe than sorry.
It was a great pleasure to join the decorated Captain Vimar and his brave crew for eight days. The passion of some seafarers is admirable and there are many good stories to listen to if you cross paths with the right kind of seafarer. They work far more hours than a regular 9-5 job and the conditions can at times be rough. Afterall, when were you last asked to conduct a piece of work in an environment which constantly and slightly unpredictably moves in various directions? The good ship Vanuatu Chief was for the most part pitching all the way from Fiji to Tonga. And then she was mostly rolling all the way from Tonga to Samoa. There were a few good 20 degree rolls now and again. I find that the rolling can be fun at times. It is not uncommon that I lose my footing and end up gently walking into a wall. Rolling also makes me sleepy and I wonder if it traces back to when my beloved parents would gently rock me into sleep?
Apia straight ahead!
It was a short passage from Tonga to Samoa. As we left Tonga, we passed some impossibly tall islands which appeared to be rather small compared to their height. We passed by Tofua which is a circular island with a large lake in its center. And next to Tofua the much smaller Kao stretches 1,033m (3,389ft) into the air. And they were beautiful in their lush green colors against the blue ocean and blue sky. As we reached Samoa the authorities came onboard to ensure that all was in order. I was cleared by immigration and the ministry of health after I tested negative on a rapid COVID-19 test. This was also my first meeting with Swire’s agent Mrs. Tali. A kindhearted woman who’s worked with ships for several years.
I haven't worked out what to do with this photo yet? I just feel it has huge potential. Chief Officer Andriy Stetsenko (Ukraine) and I face to face. Viking style! He's a great and hardworking guy. Soon to become a viking captain :)
As we reached Samoa’s capital Apia in the afternoon, I asked Capt. Vimar if I could stay until the morning. This was no issue and I then went on to have my third run on the ship’s treadmill, a shower, and a delicious last dinner onboard. The next morning, we were all surprised to learn that the stevedores in Apia had nearly fished their work and that the ship was good to leave at 09:00am! Everyone had thought it would have taken at least another 10-12 hours but apparently a good stevedoring crew had been able to work with three cranes all night delivering great efficiency. Most of the crew joined me for a group photo and at 09:00am customs came onboard, checked my luggage, and cleared me to enter Samoa: country no. 198 in an unbroken journey completely without flying.
I actually used a similar image on social media which reached tens of thousands. But I misspelled "Talofa" as "Tolofa". Silly mistake. Talofa means hello and is rather similar to the Hawaiian aloha. Try saying the two out laud a few times.
I felt a little sad leaving the crew. They had been kind and the energy onboard was good. Vanuatu Chief is well designed and it had been a pleasant eight days. It is the nature of the Saga: always moving ahead and saying farewell as often as I say hello. Safety has high priority with Swire Shipping. They have spent many years improving on port safety and have seen solid progress as a result. I joined Mrs. Tali on the jetty while we watched the crew retract the gangway, while wearing high visibility clothing, hardhats, and safety shoes. Mrs. Tali told me that hadn’t always been the case amongst the stevedores. Beach sandals and baseball caps were more common back in the day. But with the introduction of more safety the number of injuries had also declined. Safety, safety, safety.
The crew is removing the safety net under the gangway and getting ready to retract it.
Finally in Samoa next to the kind Mrs. Tali and with the customs officer in the back.
My friend Zack lives in American Samoa which is a relatively short boat ride from the Independent State of Samoa which is celebrating 60-years of independence this year. American Samoa is a dependency of the USA and Samoa (previously Western Samoa) is a United Nations membership country. Zack connected me with my host in Samoa who is the first minister I have ever been hosted by: the Honorable Leatinu’u Wayne So’oiala. Colloquially he simply goes by Wayne. A great and easygoing guy who works a lot of hours and carries a lot of responsibility. Wayne has a great sense of humor though and has been extraordinary helpful and supportive. Samoa gained independence in 1962 and over the years there had been very little change within government. Wayne is a part of the new government which took office within the past few years and is lead by Samoa’s first female prime minister, Hon. Fiame Naomi Mata’afa, who also happens to be the daughter of Samoa’s very first prime mister, who hoisted the Samoan flag back in 1962. Exciting times for Samoa.
Wayne and Ramouner's home. A place full of love. Family is very important in Samoa.
Wayne and his lovely wife Ramouner have three sons and eight grandchildren. I have been installed in the room of one of their sons while he is abroad. The hospitality of the family is as if I myself was a part of the family. The household comprises of the extended family and Raumouner, who’s a busy business woman, is clearly also the “mother” of anyone younger than herself. I’m well taken care of and really well fed. I had barely met Wayne and Ramouner before I was invited to join them for dinner at Kokobanana where Wayne was meeting some serious “FAST” (political party) supporters. They had traveled all the way from Brisbane in Australia. You might find it interesting that Samoa is a country with about 200,000 beating hearts living within the countries borders and a diaspora of about 450,000 primarily living in the USA, New Zealand, and Australia.
The lovely Ramouner up front and Wayne can be seen on my left. I love how women decorate their hair with a flower. A good night out at Kokobanana.
The following day I went exploring and decided to walk into the center of Apia which was about 5km (3mi). I walked along Vaitele st. which follows the coast (although you can’t see the ocean) and took in a lot of impressions on my way. I figure I was the only one to walk that kind of distance as everyone appears to favor public transportation or their own vehicles. Yeah, driving is popular in Apia. It is both hot a humid and walking might provoke some of the usually dormant dogs which without warning can be viciously territorial. I can handle a single dog, but when they come in packs it becomes scary. And most of the dogs are so peaceful that you might drop your guard until the next monster jumps at you! It gets a lot worse at dusk and during the night. Some dogs even seem to think their territory involves the footpath along the road. It’s nothing a stick can’t handle though. People on the other hand are tremendously kind and have the kindest faces with smiles that will melt your heart. It’s ridiculously easy to strike up conversation with a stranger. If you dig into Samoan culture then you’ll find that they used to live in houses without walls which removed most privacy but encouraged a highly social behavior. I feel like that culture is still present today although the houses have long since gotten walls.
There are exceptionally many churches in Apia!! Noticeably many! But the Immaculate Conception Cathedral takes the prize! It is absolutely stunning!!
At the Museum of Samoa together with Na'i :)
All the buses look more or less like this one. Cool - huh?
I clocked up about 10km walking past the cultural village, the stunning Immaculate Conception Cathedral, and making my way out to the Museum of Samoa. I like visiting museums early on as it often gives a colorful introduction to a country’s history and culture. Samoa was originally settled by the Lapita people some 3,500 years ago. Astonishingly skillful navigators. You cannot picture how vast the Pacific Ocean is and these people navigated across all of it. Back in the day human sacrifice and cannibalism was a part of Samoan culture. So were intricate tattoos and a life lived in balance with nature. A Dutch seafarer passed by in 1722 and put Samoa on the map, but never sat foot on land. The French also passed by before the Brits arrived with missionaries and what not. It was the Germans that eventually took hold of the land and ended up colonizing Samoa. Rubber trees, pineapple, cacao plants and more were introduced and Chinese labor was brought over as a workforce. After WW1 the Germans lost Samoa which was taken over by New Zealand under the British crown. And then independence in 1962. Yeah – that’s a pretty simple rundown of things. I liked the museum as well as Na’i who guided me around. She actually recognized me from an article in the Samoan Observer.
The Saga rarely makes front page. But it is nice when it does! Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez were on page 24. Samoa has it's priorities right ;)
On my very first day in Samoa, I was interviewed twice! First by the Samoan Observer and then by Talamua Online News. Two good interviews but I would have kept the Red Cross as well as project partners Ross.DK and GEOOP in the story ;) Yeah, it has been an eventful first few days. I really like what I have seen so far. Apia looks really neat and tidy compared to many other countries in the Pacific. The islands hold great elevation with the highest mountain reaching 1,858m (6,070ft) which I find has a magnetic draw on me. I met with the Samoan Red Cross Society, who have an impressive compound and some very dedicated volunteers. They keep active in Samoa with WASH (Water, Sanitation, Health) trainings, dissemination of humanitarian work, first aid trainings, promoting blood drives, COVID-19 response and much more. Good to see how active and relevant they are in the local community.
Spotting the Samoan Red Cross Society in the street.
My friend Inger in Auckland introduced by e-mail to Claus who’s Danish and has lived 27 years in Samoa, married a Samoan woman and has two children. Claus and I got together one night, solved all the worlds problems and I was introduced to the local brew which is pretty good! The overall networking, problem solving, hardcore bureaucracy and logistics continues. It feels like mission impossible to get around the Pacific Ocean but I’m being helped by my Dutch friend Roel (whom I met in Palau) and Dr Unaloto Sili in Tonga, whom I have yet to meet. Oh yeah – and then there’s a lot of other people who are trying to help, forge connections, open doors, and make things happen. As I mentioned in the opening: this is a collaborative effort and not one man’s achievement. It is together that we are strong.
That morning Rocky and Vaotupo took over on the Saga's social media.
Oka! Fresh fish, coconut, and citrus :)
Working the flesh out of coconuts.
Having a good night out with Claus! This was ridiculously tasty!! :)
Across a lot of the Pacific, including Samoa, garbage is raised so dogs can't get to it.
Rounding up this entry I’d just like to say that Samoa is highly likable and you would be lucky to find yourself here. There are a lot of good things going for this country and as often it all begins with the people who inhabit the land. The food is good, people are nice, the country is beautiful, and yes – if I stay long enough then the sun will burn and the mosquitos will bite. But I’m still in my “honeymoon phase” and with my unique “I have seen 197 other countries googles” I believe I have seen something good in Samoa. No country is without its challenges but after meeting with the students at Robert Louis Stevenson Secondary School it was clear that the foundation of this nation is solid. All you need to do to see the beauty of a country is to head straight to the people. Such beauty I have found in Samoa during my very first days!
I had a great time with these students!! Thanks to Ms. Cassidy for inviting me. And thanks to the students for such great questions! :)
If you enjoyed this blog or find that I am doing a good job then you can support here below. The Saga welcomes funding. Thank you :)
Mr. Torbjørn C. Pedersen (Thor) - forging new memories.
"A stranger is a friend you've never met before"
Once Upon A Saga