Hang Loose

Ipolu Island Samoa

The siren sounded at exactly 6am on December 8th 2009. The islanders had been expecting it and dreading it. But nobody was dreading it more than the officials who had planned it. They knew that it would sound the beginning of chaos on the islands. Chaos caused not by an approaching tsunami, but by the fact that at that precise moment everyone on the islands of Samoa had to stop driving on the right hand side of the road and begin driving on the left .

The authorities were so concerned about what would happen that they introduced a law demanding that all bars would close at 10pm. The law has never been repealed because the Samoans are terrible drivers regardless of which side of the road they are on.

Nobody warned us of this when we decided to have a rental car for the day on the island of Ipolu in Samoa. There are few roads on the island, but we take the one across the middle of the island and round the eastern coastline. We see very few cars, but those we do see still seem very unsure of which side of the road they should be on. There is a speed limit of 25 mph in any town, even in the smallest of villages, and a limit of 40 mph anywhere else on the island, both of which seem totally unnecessary as no one ever seems to reach those dizzying speeds. No one on the island of Ipolu needs, or indeed wants to go anywhere. Going somewhere involves expending energy which the Samoans seem reluctant to do. The sole purpose of driving appears to be social curb crawling. They dawdle along at a speed that allows them to chat with their friends sitting on the side of the street, as they go by. A car coming in the opposite direction seems to terrify them and they slow even more, and pull as far over to the side of the road as they can. It makes for a painstakingly slow journey.

Other than the few curb crawling drivers, no one seems motivated to move at all. And why should they.  All around them there is incredible beauty, lush green tropical mountains and idyllic beaches lined with palm trees

Apia Samoa 19

Why spoil it with work, or driving, or stress of any kind. Why not just hang out at home all day, where the design of your house makes leaving it entirely unnecessary. In the villages, away from the bustle of Appia, the one main town on the island, the traditional houses, called fales, have no sides to them. They are merely roofs made of coconut cord ( or more recently of tin) held up by rough hewn wooden posts:

Apia Samoa 10

They recognise that a roof is nice, but putting up walls is just too much effort

It is an unusual way to live, always completely visible to the outside world. Modesty goes out the window, or it would if there was a window. As far as we can see there is no kitchen and no toilet, no power and no water. We try not to let our minds linger on how that works.

Having no walls is a labour saving device in more ways than one. It also eliminates the need for decorating. But the one disadvantage is that your neighbors see exactly how you live. You would think that however reluctant they are to work, this would, at the very least encourage good housekeeping. But if the neighbours pay no attention to your house, or indeed to theirs, then housekeeping is another job that can be discarded. And discard it they do

Apia Samoa 12

Some fales are more modern in design and structure, but inside they are still a dump:

Apia Samoa 17

And if you are thinking that maybe they are too busy to do the chores, then you would be mistaken. Work does not seem to intrude in any way into their daily schedule. Hanging out is what they do, and they do it well. Groups of them sit outside their houses or by the road. The only real exertion is expended when the occasional tourist drives by. Then they wave quite energetically and do the hang loose thing with their thumb and little finger before sinking back to the ground exhausted.

Occasionally an important task needs to be taken care of, and when this happens the entire family pulls together. Something as strenuous as drying leaves requires the involvement of several members of the family, plus the cow and the dog. It is tiring work:

Apia Samoa 18

The more energetic families collect coconuts and string them up on tall poles, by the street.

Apia Samoa 22

although for what purpose, we are not quite sure. It looks as if they are for sale, but coconut palms are everywhere so who would buy them?

This young man has gone to a lot of trouble and a great deal of effort to collect them, so there has to be a demand:

Apia Samoa 21

How far has he walked with those coconuts? It makes me want to buy him a truck or at least cheer him up by bursting into song with a resounding rendition of “You’ve got a lovely bunch of coconuts”

We don’t see a lot of children. Maybe making babies is too much like hard work. Or maybe the children are all hiding in the bushes

Apia Samoa 36

Ipolu feels and looks like paradise. It is one huge lush green garden full of the most amazing colours. The Samoans clearly love their gardens and their flowers:

Apia Samoa 28


Even the roads are lined for miles with flowers on both sides:

Apia Samoa 30


If there are no flowers lining the road then there is an amazing hedgerow

Apia Samoa - road to Robert Louis Ss house

And it is not just the Samoans who live in paradise. Even the cows have the most beautiful fields to graze in:

Apia Samoa 8

No work, beautiful weather, lovely beaches. If it wasn’t for their open sided houses I would think it was an idyllic life.

Two days later we are on the tiny island of Yasawa-i-Rara in Fiji, and the idyllic quotient has increased and somehow, unbelievably, the pace has slowed.

Yasawao-i-Rara, fiji 7

All there is on this fabulously beautiful island is a giant hermit crab

Yasawao-i-Rara, fiji 3


a  black crane

Yasawao-i-Rara, fiji 9

a cluster of tin shacks

Yasawao-i-Rara, fiji 25

the ed,  and MOI !


Yasawao-i-Rara, fiji 4

If that doesn’t get the fabulosity meter going, then nothing will

Finally, as a little post script, I have had requests for the “passenger of the week” photos to return, so always anxious not to disappoint my readers  I give you



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1 Response to Hang Loose

  1. Colette says:

    so what’s the dirt on the “passenger of the week”??
    I LOVE the garden – and beaches of course – all so beautiful
    nobody else from that yuge ship rented a car?

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