"Can you eat these
worms?" asked Matthew as two little caterpillar like creatures
crawled up his arm and onto his T-shirt. I wondered if
Steve had been talking survival techniques with him.
"Well, you probably could if you really, really had to,"
I said trying to be honest without encouraging further
practical exploration, "but there's plenty of better things
here you could eat first."
"Like coconuts, breadfruit and tarot."
"I don't like those."
"Well what about fish or crabs or lobsters?"
"Don't like those either."
"Well how about bananas, pineapple and papaya? I know
you like those."
"I like the ones you get
The idea of living
off the land is an everyday reality here; Samoa really
is a blessed place in this respect. When you look at the
contorted volcanic rock that is so much a part of the
landscape here it seems amazing the land can be so productive,
but the volcanic soil is mineral rich and drains well
and there's no shortage of sunshine or rain. So something
like 75% of the population do some form of subsistence
farming, growing their own crops, keeping their own livestock
and catching their own fish. And it really shows in the
village shops that only sell things that don't grow on
trees; crisps, biscuits, sweeties, noodles, lavalavas,
washing powder and soap. The boys obviously love our visits
to these little kiosks but they haven't done much for
Living amongst the lava - hostile and yet fertile
Steve and his kids are
much better adapted to this environment. They feel as
comfortable living off the land as we do selecting a frozen
ready meal at a supermarket. They once went off on holiday
around the island, equipped with not much more than a
day-sack, and ate as they walked for seven days. "It was
great," said Steve recounting the story when we stopped
at a farmer's plantation, "catching fresh fish, crab and
octopus, drinking coconut milk, picking bananas and papaya."
There was no mention of visiting a kiosk. "Survival here
is easy," he continued as he opened a fresh cocoa pod
and passed it around for everyone to taste, "but that's
not what some of our clients expect at all."
Living off the land... Matthew tries the lemony custard
of a Samoan cocao pod
Some South Pacific Islands
have recently hosted "Survivor" style reality TV shows
like Survival Vanuatu. The marketeers have been quick
to use such global exposure to promote South Pacific destinations
to those looking for adventure as well as those after
a little R&R in paradise. But Steve's company has been
offering a guided survival experience for years, giving
people the chance to learn how to live a traditional subsistence
existence on an uninhabited island for up to thirty days.
"The trouble is it attracts some real hardnuts. Mostly
English you know," he laughed pointedly. "They come expecting
something hardcore, you know cutting their way through
overgrown jungle, fending off marauding lions and tigers,
sleeping with snakes and spiders, eating live grubs, drinking
muddy rainwater. Then they get all disappointed when you
pick a papaya off a tree or chop down and crack open a
coconut. They say it's too easy when fish jump onto their
lines and crabs come crawling out for dinner. And when
I tell them we're going to sleep under the stars on a
beautiful sandy beach well they say, hey this is too much
like camping. I tell them survival doesn't have to be
hard. I guess that's the bit that's tough for them eh?"
Fishing Samoan style - no nets,
trawlers or engines, just canoe, paddle and line.
Of course this kind of
easy living is fine if you're fit and healthy and like
papaya, coconuts and fish. But with our bouts of impetigo,
sickness, diarrhoea and the challenges of heat and the
kids pickiness over food, the going has not exactly been
easy. A few times in the past few days Kirstie and I have
wondered out loud whether we can survive a full month
in beautiful Samoa or whether we'd be better to cut things
"You guys will be
fine," said Steve as he left us at the end of nine days
on his eco tour, "you've got a good feel for the islands
now and can figure things out for yourselves. And if you
need any help just give the office a call and we'll sort
He high-fived both the boys, carefully avoiding Cameron's
sores, then headed for his bus.
"Why is Steve going now?" asked Cameron sadly as the man
who showed him where Father Christmas lived drove off
in the cool green turtle bus he'd become so fond of.
"Well sweetheart, the part of our holiday with Steve is
"So, what do we do now then?" asked Matthew.
"That's a very good question."