I’ve left this post a little late as I was indulging in my latest obsession of watching The Daily Show’s Lewis Black segments. He rants, I get addicted.
But this week, I’m revisiting my character building experience on a bus in Samoa, in which my friend and I took the simple decision of taking a bus to the nearest town on the island on which we were staying. We consulted the staff our the fale (beach hut) resort, and waited patiently at the roadside for an hour in the midday sun. Finally, after a bus had already ignored our flailing hands, our salvation arrived and we boarded the brightly painted and WOODEN army-style truck, and took a seat on one of the childsize benches. We got some inquisitive looks from the other passengers, but in our eyes, we were being intrepid travellers getting to grips with the true culture. Our mistake. For after a short while, it became painfully apparent that we had chosen to be adventurous just as every single school on the island finished for the day, and the already cramped space began to fill up pretty quickly.
As the only non-islanders, we had been given our own bench, which was barely enough space for two adults as it is, but as more people boarded there seemed to be a trend beginning, in which four people sat on one bench – two people sitting on laps. Now, I don’t know if you’re familiar with the average Samoan body shape, but they are known for being rather Rubenesque, as well as statuesque. Put simply, it seemed physically impossible to fit four people of the larger persuasion onto one tiny bench, and yet it was happening in front of our very eyes. Eventually, it was made clear to us that we were expected to follow suit, so I took up my place on my friend’s lap (thankfully by the open window) and our journey continued.
After about 30 minutes of trying to ignore the tingling sensation in my legs, I made the mistake of trying to move them, trapped as they were between three other pairs of legs, and pain blossomed from my toes upwards. I tried, I really tried, to be content with gazing out of the window at the island paradise streaming by – the azure ocean, palm trees heaving with coconuts, and the idyllic fale homes – but I couldn’t pretend that I was comfortable any longer. It was at this point that my friend decided to tell me that she gets carsick. Fabulous. I was trapped on the lap of a nauseated person, encased by curious locals who seemed to enjoy our discomfort, and I wasn’t sure if I would ever walk again.
It turned out that, after another hour on a neverending but beautiful coastal road, we finally reached our destination – a town which housed the island’s only ATM – and we gratefully disembarked amidst the locals’ goodnatured staring. That’s when we discovered that, no, we would not be able to walk without each others’ assistance for quite some time, so completely dead were our legs. Bereft of life they rested in peace, if we hadn’t been attempting to walk they would’ve been pushing up the daisies. It was painful and humiliating, yet (as my friend loves to say) purely character building. Once we had looked around and used the ATM (the sole purpose for the visit, as we had neglected to factor the beguiling cocktails at the hotel bar and scuba excursions into our budget), we considered getting a bus back. And then, like a ‘Hallelujah’ moment, with shafts of light directing our vision, our eyes alighted upon our saviour – the taxi rank. The car may not have had door handles, the radio may have played Christian music for the entire journey, and the driver may have picked up one of his friends along the way, but the important thing is that we each got our seat and the use of our legs. And we arrived back at the hotel just as the bar was opening, crazy blue cocktails – complete with umbrellas- all round.
In looking for a suitable photograph to go with this post (the ones I took do not do the buses justice) I stumbled upon many other accounts of travellers in similar situations. And we all share the same sentiments – yes, the journey itself can be pretty hellish, but it’s all part of the experience of being a traveller who engages with culture rather than ignores it. Would I do it all over again? Sure, it was another interesting story to add to the others that you seem to collect when backpacking – it’s all part of the experience.
[Image via blog.travelpod.com]