It’s Christmas Day down here in the Southern Hemisphere and I’m enjoying it in Auckland, New Zealand. In The States, it’s still Christmas Eve. Every day during this past week has been hot and sunny but I’m now looking out of the dining room window at a very persistent and windy suitor which has followed me to my new city: Hurricane/Tropical Storm/Cyclone Evan. By now this monster storm has lost all of its titles…. other than Remnant Weather Pattern, perhaps.
He has stalked me for two weeks all the way from the South Pacific ever since he slammed into the island of Savaai in Western Samoa. A day later, the storm hit the main island of Upolu and its capital, Apia, was badly hit. Even the pricey Aggie Grey’s Hotel, where I went for fancy Sunday dinners in early October, had been flooded out by the swollen river running alongside. Ouch! I could imagine the swishy restaurant and the lovely swimming pool as it must look now.
By the time Evan arrived , I was sixty miles across the ocean on the island of Tutuila, American Samoa, living in an upgraded palm, beach-fale type of open-air bedroom right on the pacific ocean. All of Pago Pago and American Samoa braced for the inevitable onslaught of this monster storm, which was growing stronger by the hour. I decided to take the route of prudence and move to a much higher-on-the-mountainside bed and breakfast so that I could watch the storm from a safe verandah instead of from underneath the predicted twenty-foot waves.
My original flight to Auckland, New Zealand, was scheduled for the day the storm hit Western Samoa and, naturally, airports on all the islands were promptly closed. No one knew when they would reopen since everyone expected that our island would be next. All night, I listened for the increase in wind. Nothing! In fact, the air was so still and the waves so non-existent, that the weather wasn’t even behaving like the normal tropical rainstorms we’d experienced from time to time. Spooky quiet, it was. I’ve lived in Florida for many years and any time a hurricane had come that close, we always felt lashing rain and great bands of wind, even if it never made landfall. This odd Category 4/5 storm didn’t behave like that, at all. It made an abrupt turn and headed south to Fiji.
Two days later, the airport opened and I scrambled to make my plane to New Zealand. Meanwhile, Hurricane Evan barreled towards my Fijian friends. Sure enough, he wrecked havoc on the towns of Suva, Nadi and Lautoka. One paper described them as a “war zone.” I had been there less than four months ago.
Now, Evan is still messing with us, though in such a weakened state that he’s simply a mushy cloud cover with gusty wind and spurts of rain. I doubt if it’s capable of any damage…..except to the outdoor Christmas vacation plans of thousands of New Zealanders in their December summertime. Many families were surely going beaching and boating today and some had probably reserved rooms in five-star South Pacific Samoan or Fijian resorts that are now closed indefinately for restoration. What are my local friends in both of those countries going to do to make a living now?
So, I haven’t really met this persistent and ravaging fellow, other than the present view from my dining room window, but I certainly could have, if either he, or I, had taken a slightly different turn in the dance we both did across the vast Pacific Ocean. I shall hope that my luck and timing in these matters always runs like this in the future.
Speaking of that future, these are the days of guidebooks and maps, trying to divine what cities and small towns to aim for next. January is the month when all the locals are on the move, so it’s not going to be easy. It might be a matter of finding an available bed somewhere and then seeing where I have now bestowed myself. That’s how I wound up in some pretty interesting villages in Eastern Europe on my last trip around the world so I already approve of it. This country abounds in very interesting towns.
One week from today I will fly to Auckland, New Zealand, leaving behind the beautiful Polynesian islands – Fiji, Western Samoa and American Samoa, which I have enjoyed for the past three months. But, I take with me many lovely pieces of gorgeous clothing in flower designs and one original and traditional Samoan tattoo, circling my right ankle.
I’d never thought of a tattoo before. It just wasn’t a part of my generation and I had absolutely no reason to desire one. However, body art is elevated to a very high status in the South Pacific and I have learned to respect it since I came into this culture. Samoan practices go back 3200 years and they are dignified and spiritual people. Their tattoos are actually very beautiful.
Soon after I arrived, Tisa’s Tattoo Fest was held at the property where I was staying and I watched many peope reclining on the woven grass mat while a very special tattoist used bone implements and small hammers to tap, tap, tap their special ink into the skins of legs and shoulders, making meaningful patterns to the wearer. Well, why not? I drew up a series of designs containing elements that apply to this time in my life.
I woke up last Sunday morning, not knowing that this would be the day. Then I found Wilson and his assistant all set up at Tisa’s Barefoot Bar, where I am spending my final week in American Samoa. We talked about my design ideas; about whether it hurt; about cost, and when it became clear that his scheduled appointment was not coming, I just went ahead and let him work his magic on my right ankle. He created a beautiful inked anklet depicting waves, sea birds, a small ship and a tall ship, a Samoan outrigger paddle and symbols of my traveling life.
He was correct. The pain was not so bad. In fact, a few flies which took advantage of my immobilization were much more distressing than the pricks that went on at the bottom of my leg. He said that women always managed the tattoo pain much better than men. We’re made to endure childbirth, after all.
Now, three days later, there is no pain at all and the skin is a wee bit rough as the lines heal but it’s a beautiful and proud addition to my ever-youthening body. And it’s a real ice-breaker and a Join-The-Club status symbol among the guys. So, I’d recommend to go ahead and Just Do It! But, first come to Samoa and be authentic.