I wasn’t sure how either of us felt about the situation, but the casual demeanor and relaxed smile of the 7 year old Samoan school girl took me out of my Canadian need for personal space and let me enjoy the humor in our current predicament. As we pulled out of the gravel parking lot, I was sure the creaking, teetering wooden structure of the bus would emancipate itself from the rusting metal chassis below my feet, sliding slowly into the jungle at our current top speed of 20 km/h.
I thought I had seen some packed public transit in my time, but no Kuala Lumpur bus, Indonesian scooter (piled 7 high once!), or London tube at rush hour could beat the Samoans. Jumping on a bus from the capital ‘city’ Apia to my treehouse on the South Coast of Upola seemed like a civilized enough endeavor. The driver said we wouldn’t be leaving until the bus was full which is pretty standard practice in tropical paradises such as Samoa, so I struck up a conversation with a grandmother sitting across the aisle from me who agreed to let me snap a few photos of her.
As the bus began to fill, I sensed we would be leaving at any moment, so I settled in, as best I could, to the cushionless wooden bench seat with a 90 degree back which was slowly turning my legs numb. In a few short minutes, all feeling from below the waist was gone as the bus driver systematically perched children on everyone’s lap (including the grandma) starting at the back and slowly working his way forward. Some Samoan youngsters have the physique of a fully grown wild boar, so I was lucky, I guess, to have a slim young girl who sat sideways so she could talk to her friend who was standing in the aisle pressed against my shoulder.
We trundled up the narrow road into the mountains at a snails pace stopping every so often at obscure points (to actually pick more people up!) before descending once again to the palm fringed coast. The sweaty mass of humanity trickled off and without yet seeing the gate to my village, it was slowly becoming apparent that I had gotten on the wrong bus and being the last one left confirmed this fact. I walked up to the driver and asked: “How far to Sa’anapu?”
To which he replied with a laugh: “Sa’anapu? You on the wrong bus matey boy. Lucky for you I live on the road to Sa’anapu, I’ll take you there.”
Thankful for my good fortune, I sat back and enjoyed the wind on my face. I thanked my new friend for his generosity and began the 2km walk back from the highway. Only a few minutes down the road, a muscular middle aged man with a sweat soaked camo-green tank top and deeply set dark eyes holding a rifle hastily walked up and asked me where I was going. I replied that I was staying with Tausa’afia, to which he replied with a smile that she was his cousin. He then went on to tell me of the wild pig he had just shot and invited me over for dinner with his family. I accepted and with a smile and a handshake we parted ways for the time being. With the Samoans living up to their legendary hospitality, I was stopped multiple times on my short walk home and invited for yet another dinner and a volleyball game.