"Watch out, there's a crocodile,
behind us," screamed Matthew.
Cameron almost jumped out of his seat. "Where Matt, where?"
he shouted, a look of sheer terror on his face. A moment
later he was pacified. Even a two year old could spot the
difference between a plastic decoy and the real thing. Mind
you, there wasn't much in this Indiana Jones rainforest
that was real. As we drifted down the man-made current,
plastic tropical flowers competed for our attention with
unconvincing model elephants. I glanced up at the Lara Croft
look alike who was driving our boat, commentating slickly
through a lip mike. Her teeth gleamed in the sunlight. They
were definitely fake and I had my suspicions about her breasts.
Within a couple of days we'd
swapped the jungles of Samoa for the jungle of Disneyland
The last thirty six hours had been
surreal. We ended our month in Samoa in a bizarre mirror
image of how we had begun. We had no cash, and were totally
out of sync with Samoan custom. It was our final transfer
around the island and by the time the Green Turtle bus picked
us up it was packed with people on a day tour of Upolo.
By this time, there wasn't much of Upolo we hadn't seen,
stayed in or visited. Ten minutes into the trip the driver
announced that we would all have lunch in a local village.
He then drove up a familiar road.
"He's got to be kidding," I whispered to Stuart. "It's the
village where you got food poisoning during the eco tour."
Stuart went slightly green, memories of dodgy coconut cream
obviously flooding back. "Let's stay in the bus," he suggested.
"You can't stay in the bus. It is very impolite. Come in,
come in," said Skip our driver.
"But we already came here on our eco tour, with Steve and
his kids." I told him desperately.
"Oh. Right. I'll have a word." He went off to speak to the
village chief. A moment later he was back again. "The chief
says you must come in. You will offend the family if you
stay in the bus. It's not a possibility."
We reluctantly trouped in and the chief began his demonstration
of basket weaving. We watched appreciatively. Then the bus
driver retold the legend behind the coconut. We listened
patiently. A man came to show us again how to make a fire
with two sticks. We clapped politely. Then coconut cream
was made and passed around. We pretended to sip, concerned
more about a repeat bout of food poisoning than the feelings
of the village chief, who had now finished making his basket.
He grinned widely as he passed it around for inspection.
His teeth were definitely real; and he hadn't many left.
When lunch began to arrive in bowls made out of leaves,
Stuart nudged me. "Remind Skip that we won't be eating."
Skip looked at me in disbelief when I told him. "You can't
do that. It is very impolite to Samoan people to refuse
their hospitality," he said in a rather loud voice, "you
must have lunch."
I leaned over towards him, and confessed one of our problems
with the meal. "We have no money. We ran out of cash two
"We will sort it. Eat," he said sternly.
The bowls appeared in front of us and the boys started picking
through them. "Don't like tarot," said Cameron, lifting
three massive slabs of the starchy food and dumping them
in Stuart's bowl.
"Don't like papaya, or chicken, or tarot leaves," said Matthew,
pushing his plate aside. Stuart and I munched through the
unpalatable pieces of tarot, picking our way around the
parcels of palusami.
"Come on now everyone, we must make up some time. We have
to drop people off at the ferry," said Skip as we drank
our Samoan cocoa out of coconut halves. "Can everyone hand
their fifty tala to the chief?" Fifty tala a head? Stuart
and I looked at each other in alarm. It was twice the price
of any meal we had been served throughout the month. "You
two, get in the bus, quickly," Skip instructed us, shuffling
our family out to the van while the others queued to pay
their fee. Obviously non payment was less offensive to the
family than refusing to eat their tarot leaves.
"Please save me from another round of tarot, at any point
in my life." said Stuart climbing into the bus.
Twenty four hours later, and we
stood in front of two enormous tables, piled high with food.
Muffins, cinnamon rolls, eggs, bagels, cream cheese, jam,
toast, yoghurts, juices, coffee, cereals, cakes, and fresh
fruit of every kind except papaya. It was breakfast time
and breakfast was free. "God Bless America," said Stuart
as he forced another bagel onto his plate, "and I never
thought I'd hear myself say that." We had to pinch ourselves
to make sure this wasn't a dream. Surely there were no two
places on earth more different than Samoa and Los Angeles?
And just to make this contrast even more stark, we were
off to Disneyland for Cameron's birthday.
Welcome to the American Dream
Getting into Disneyland took almost
as much of our time as L.A. immigration officials had demanded
the day before. Nine lanes of traffic wound around the Disney
dream factory, high walls and hedges keeping out anyone
who wasn't willing to fork out the hundred dollars per person,
or stand in the winding queue that bought you a day or two
in the 'happiest place on earth.' After a full bag search,
followed by a queue through the toll gates and a further
queue to the monorail, it was time to live the American
dream. We wandered around shops stuffed with toys and gifts,
past obese people stuffing themselves with buckets of popcorn,
through the crowds surrounding Tigger and Mickey, being
escorted around the site by minders in case anyone jumped
the queue for a photograph. Fixed smiles adorned the faces
of the staff and cartoon characters, and only the punters
in the queues were glum. The grown ups looked bored, families
bickered, and children complained about the sun, the walking,
the lack of stimulation in the endless queues. Where was
Mickey when you needed him? As we stood for an hour in a
queue for the kind of ride the kids had been on a millions
times in Morecambe, I longed for a genuine Samoan smile
and thought how different life was there. The old men playing
draughts all day in the sun with their coloured lava lavas
and laid back grins, the curvy women with flowers in their
hair beating the washing to a pulp with a stick in the river,
and the curious children who never wore shoes.
"I'm cold again," said Matthew, pulling on his jumper. It
was a warm summer L.A. day, but he was accustomed to tropical
Every tigger needs a good minder
By three o clock there
was a six hour wait for anyone lucky enough to hold fast
track tickets for a ride and we had only managed to get
on three attractions; our Indiana Jones Jungle Cruise, accompanied
by a manufactured swing bridge experience; a trip around
a model world in a boat, to the incessant tune of 'it's
a small world,' and an interactive intergalactic Buzz Lightyear
experience. Accustomed to fun parks like Alton Towers and
Blackpool Pleasure Beach, much of the low-tech nature of
Disneyland had taken me by surprise. Many of the rides were
quite ordinary, and some seemed very out of date. But the
park had been built up over fifty years, and quite a few
of the attractions were products of the different decades
within this half a century, preserved in their original
form for modern children to enjoy. After half an hour queuing
for a luke warm coffee we sat on a plastic bench to rest.
"Welcome back to the real world." I flipped the lid off
"Is this the real world?" Stuart asked. "It must be very
confusing for the children then. I can't find much here
that relates to reality."
"Buzz Lightyear and the Evil Emperor Zurg are real though
Dad," said Matthew.
"Don't like Zurg," Cameron wailed, trying to climb onto
my knee. He might have been a day off being three, but he
was still young enough to be scared by real life.
"Anyone hungry?" asked Stuart, pulling out of his rucksack
a pile of jam sandwiches and four packs of Samoan Twisties
I had bought at the airport. We opened a pack, each took
one and spat them back out in unison. Time and distance
had not improved the taste of Polynesian food.
"We need some proper junk food," said Stuart, reaching into
his pocket for some all American dollars. The Samoans could
keep their tarot and their breadfruit; nothing in the real
world could compare to the temporary but satisfying pleasures
of a plastic vat of popcorn and a polystyrene bucket of
Is this our new reality?