SIZE=4>If you look at a world map, Samoa seems like such a tiny speck in in the Pacific Ocean. It would almost seem that you could walk across the islands. Although the actual distances from one place from another is Samoa are relatively short, the reality is it takes a ridiculously long time to travel anywhere in Samoa.
Since we are not allowed to drive we must travel by bus, like many of the Samoans do. Riding the busses is an interesting adventure. The first things you should know about the busses is that they are not actually busses. They are actually flatbed trucks that people have put wooden tops on, and attached wooden benches to. Samoans are very into making things look “nice,” and the busses are no exception. The outside of the busses are painted in bright colors and they usually bare murals or sayings, which sometimes don’t make sense. The bus we ride on most frequently is called “Beautiful Savaii.” The back of the bus reads “Love the Island.” The inside of the busses are also decked out to the max. Some busses have flags, lights, fuzzy dice, or even feathered boas covering the plain wood about the driver’s seat.
There is not a bus schedule exactly. Luckily for us, on our island the busses usually run in accord with the arrivals and departures of the ferries, so we usually have an idea of the approximant time the bus will come. Unfortunately, the time varies from 30 – 40 minutes each day, which can be very frustrating when you are trying to be somewhere at a specific time. There have been many times when we missed the buss because it came earlier, or it didn’t come at all. You can usually hear the bus far before it reaches you, because they are almost always blaring very loud music, even at the wee hours of the morning.
Once we successfully catch the bus, acquiring a seat is a whole other ordeal. There is a guy on each bus, called a “supokako,” whose sole job it is to arrange people’s bags and tell people where to sit. Since busses are the main method of transport for the Samoan people, they bring all kinds of things with them on the bus. Often boxes of tin fish, cases of corned beef, woven mats and bags of coconuts and taro are stashed in various places on the bus. Once a woven basket that had been placed at my feet began to move and i realized that a live pig was tied up inside of it. We ourselves have taken some very strange things on the bus. We have taken a mattress, a shower rod, a machete, my bike, and even our own live cat on the bus. Usually when we go shopping we bring a very large Rubbermade container to carry back all of our things back to the village. The supokako takes our container and everyone else’s possessions and arranges them expertly on the bus. I like to think that if the supokakos were to play “Tetris,” they would win every time. Our supokako knows us, and now all I have to do to stop the bus is raise my eyebrow in front of our house.
Busses are often very crowded. When all the seats are taken the supokako begins to instruct people to stand of sit on someone else’s lap. There is a hierarchy of who gets to sit, who gets to stand, and who has to sit on someone else’s laps. Josh and I have done all 3 on various trips. It is also not uncommon for someone to hand one of us a small child or ask one of us to hold their bags if someone else is sitting on their laps. Sometimes I am amazed at how many people they fit on these busses. Just when I think, “There is no possible way they can get more people on this bus,” they somehow make room for more. When the busses get really full, some of the young men hang out the side of the bus.
One a good day it takes us an hour and a half to get to Salealoga, the main town on our island. An hour and a half is a long time to sit on a stranger’s lap or stand smashed between sweaty Samoans. Sometimes the trip takes even longer than an hour and a half. Recently, I was on a bus very early in the morning to catch the first boat at 6:00am. I left my village around 3:30 am. Around 5 am our bus broke down, and all the people had to get off and wait in the road for another bus to come. We finally got on new bus, only to break down 20 minutes down the road. Luckily, they were able to get the bus going again, and I made it to the boat with only 4 minutes to spare.
On other occasions the bus arrived just minutes after the boat has left and we have to wait 2 hours for the next boat. Or even more frustrating, we arrive at the wharf on time for the boat only to find the boat has been cancelled from one reason or another. We have learned that when this happens we need to sit as close as we can and wait the two hours for the next boat, otherwise we will get lost in a pushing mob of people all trying to cram onto the boat. If we don’t push our way right to the front we may not get seats and we have to ride on the wet floor of the boat.
Our trip from our village to Apia, the capital, should only take 3 - 4 hours, but almost every time we travel it takes us between 6 – 10 hours from the time we leave our house to the time we step off the second bus that takes us from the wharf into Apia. Two crowded busses, and a boat each time we go into the capital makes for a very long traveling day.