"You know what Mum?
We aren't a Family on a Bike any more, we're a Family
In A Turtle," Matthew said happily, as he thrust his head
out of the window of the big Green Turtle minibus. He
gazed out at the villages, crying with delight when passing
wild pigs chose to cross the road in front of us, and
waved to the local children who waved back enthusiastically.
It was our last Sunday in Samoa, and from all corners
people were walking to Church in their white outfits,
with their starched lace collars, and flowing skirts.
On the washing lines, brightly coloured lavalava's added
splashes of colour to the rich green palette of plantations
that stretched in every direction. The sun was hot, and
Matthew was enjoying the sensation of cool air blowing
through his hair. This was his last ride on a turtle,
as we moved to Virgin Cove for our final couple of days
of island life.
Cameron was very fond of the green turtle van
As we look back at
our month in Samoa, Stuart and I are trying to make sense
of our feelings for the country. In some ways we will
really miss it. It's been a constant delight to meet the
cheerful, brightly dressed Samoan population who always
have time for a smile and a chat. We have enjoyed sleeping
in falé where throughout the night we were lulled to sleep
by the waves and the fresh sea breeze. Our eco tour was
a lot of fun, primarily due to the knowledgable and eccentric
Steve, who entertained us with his stories and introduced
us to the real Samoa. The sun is almost always hot, the
sea is always warm and dotted with darting tropical fish,
and the coconut trees provide a snoozy shady sanctuary
from the midday heat. If we were here on our own, we would
surely have wanted to stay forever. But being accompanied
by two small children with their many needs and moods
has taken its' toll. Matthew and Cameron like their routine,
and it's been hard to maintain one here. Mealtimes have
been a movable feast, making bedtimes haphazard, and the
children tired and cranky. They've both been regularly
overheated and when they get too hot they refuse to walk
and want to be carried. Their distrust of coconut, papaya,
breadfruit, tarot and all the staples of Samoan cooking
has made eating a strain for us all. And since we stepped
off the plane we have been plagued by illness. From tummy
bugs to impetigo, there hasn't been a day where I haven't
been worried about one of them. I've visited more doctors
in a month than I do in a year at home; and Stuart is
tired of attacking the kids with antibacterial soap.
kids are having the time of their life and tell us Samoa
is the best place they have ever visited. They love being
on the beach, playing in the sand, snorkelling with the
fishes, swimming in the surf. The fact that they don't
eat anything most of the time makes the things they do
like even more exciting. Visiting the country's only McDonalds
in Apia became a semi religious experience for them. And
on the rare times there is pasta or chips on the menu,
they believe they've died and gone to heaven. They love
changing resort every day or two, climbing into their
mosquito nets and snuggling up in their pyjamas with just
a thin sheet to cover their bodies. But most of all they
love the Green Turtle. The friendly white bus with its'
contented, cheery guides. It has become an emblem for
them of all things Samoan.
Indeed the turtle
is one of Samoa's mysterious and precious visitors. In
the past it was considered the most special gift you could
give a Samoan chief, and was hunted for meat and its'
valuable tortoise-shell. Now it's an endangered species
and only two out of seven species remain. One of these
is the green turtle. Matthew is particularly fond of them
after having fed some at a sanctuary on his third day
in Samoa. He sat perched on a rock, tense with excitement,
waving coconut and tarot leaves in the direction of the
river. Then after a few minutes, the water lapped against
the grass, and four huge shells floated to the surface.
Slowly, silently, the turtles came to join him. Trusting
the intentions of the small boy, they stared up out of
the water, opened their jaws and peacefully tugged on
the leaves. They disappeared as silently as they had arrived,
leaving two small children lost for words. Eventually
Cameron spoke, gripping my hand tightly from the safety
of the river bank. "Are turtles magic Mummy?" he asked
in awe, too fearful to go closer and feed them. "No, they're
just turtles Cam, just like our bus," said Matthew running
to climb back on to his favourite vehicle.
Steve shows Matthew how to feed a turtle
But in a sense Cameron
was right. There are many elements of magic that surround
these magnificent creatures. They lay up to a hundred
and twenty eggs on the beach in clockwork sixty day intervals.
Those that survive make for the sea, and wander the oceans
for thirty five years or more. No-one knows how they manage
to then navigate back, but they lay their own eggs on
the same beach as they were born, and the mystical cycle
Cameron has a plastic
green turtle toy that has now taken the place of Lamby.
He puts it on his head and gets down on all fours, pretending
to be a turtle. He no longer believes he's a dog, and
won't answer to the name of Clifford any more. We are
dreading the day he loses his new toy. Samoa is the land
of disappearing toys. Every time we enter a new resort
or village, the local children look longingly at the boys'
backpacks, with their colourful and intricate toys from
England and New Zealand. Then one by one, the toys disappear.
Squeaky headless duck became the latest casualty as I
watched it disappear around the corner with an unidentified
toddler. You have to accept a little of this since most
things are communally owned here and you don't mind since
they don't have much anyway. A few toys make it back to
us a few days later, having been well squeaked and played
with. But others choose to remain here; we encourage the
boys to think of them as a small gift. In one resort Matthew's
meccano appeared in a different falé every morning, each
time shaped into a new and more inventive creation, as
the off duty kitchen staff and village chiefs passed it
around amongst themselves and competed to outdo each other.
This sad boy loves his Samoan
plastic turtle toy
In our last few days
here we decided to do our own eco tour, swimming in freshwater
pools, and visiting a local turtle sanctuary. It was then
we realised how little we really know about this country
and its' customs. "Two tala each," demanded the guardian
of the sanctuary, a pinched looking woman in a red dress.
"The children need to pay too. Wait here and he will get
the turtles." A teenage boy appeared and stripped down
to a pair of shorts then dived into a murky pool. A minute
later he reappeared, dragging a flailing animal over the
rocks. Thrashing and squawking, the turtle was thrown
on its' back on a concrete path in the baking sun. It
struggled unsuccessfully to right itself and then gave
up flailing. Then the boy jumped back in the water, and
pulled out a second turtle . This one put up a bigger
fight, biting the boy before being dropped harshly onto
the path. Three small schoolchildren dressed in purple
and white uniforms gathered to watch the scene. They laughed
happily, then started to kick the turtles, which increased
the animals' distress and agitation. We stood there and
watched helplessly, feeling this was all wrong, but unsure
of how to stop it, or whether it was a normal way for
villagers to treat their pets. I turned to look at our
taxi driver for guidance. He was watching the scene and
shrugged at me, obviously unmoved.
"I'd like you to put the
turtles back in the water now." I said to the boy. He
picked the first one up and swung it around his head,
throwing it back into the pond. Then he did the same with
the second. We left in shock, ashamed to have funded this
"Why did the man kick that
turtle? "asked Cameron, trying to get a handle on the
situation. "I really have no idea Cam," I told him helplessly.
Despite a month touring the country, we were no more than
hopeless Westerners, relying on a guide to navigate us
through the intricacies of Samoan life.
"Will the green turtle
be taking us to the airport?" asked Matthew. Cameron looked
up hopefully to see if he'd get one last go on the bus.
"I think so," I replied, packing our stuff into a bulging
rucksack. I carefully laid out the hand painted tapa cloth
of two green turtles, one for each of the boys',bedrooms,
the only visible souvenir of our time here now that the
impetigo had all cleared up.
"I go on a green turtle
to Merica Mummy? Now I'm all better?" Cameron's sweet,
unblistered face appeared only inches from my nose. On
his own nose, there were little white patches where the
skin had grown back, but his freckles hadn't.
"No stupid. We're getting
a plane to Lost Angeles," piped up Matthew. "Turtles can't
"This one can," said Cameron,
placing his plastic green turtle on his head. "Whheeeeeee,"
he ran around the room enjoying one last piece of Samoan