Samoa: Blissed out in island cocoon

By Maureen Marriner

You sleep in your own small cocoon, safe from the elements and the insects. Woken by the rustling of coconut palms and lapping water, you roll over, lift a woven shutter and watch the sunrise over the lagoon.

Welcome to a fale holiday in Samoa.

On the big island of Savaii there's a beach strip in the top right-hand corner called Manase where local people run beach fale "hotels" ... but not hotels as you know them.

Forget "hot-and-cold running service". There is no internet, no TV, no radio. In fact forget hot-running anything.

These fales, the Samoan word for house, offer little in palagi comforts, but they do provide a unique experience and a great way to relax. Samoan businesspeople come over from Apia on the main island of Upolo at the weekend, so that's no mean recommendation.

The swimming is excellent, although currents inside the reefs make the water in Samoa cooler than the bathwater of the Cook Islands. But the refreshment factor is bliss.

I stayed at Tanu Beach Fales where the whole Tanu family pitches in to run the business they set up seven years ago. There are 25 fales and mine was one of a line right above the beach - from "door" to water's edge took 30 seconds.

There is a toilet and shower block on the other side of the compound and the cold water doesn't come out of a shower head, it's from a pipe with chrome sleeve.

Each fale has a mattress, two pillows, a mosquito net, a length of fabric to use as a cover, an electric light bulb, woven mats on the floor and a section of coconut husk, frayed at one end for brushing sand off feet.

For an afternoon zizz you just drop down the net - it's mattress-shaped, not one of those little round things - tuck it in on all sides and Bob's your uncle, no flies. Having said that, I didn't notice many flies. There were no cockroaches, not even a gecko, but perhaps I was too blissed out to notice.

Lying there under my net I counted the fale's 12 wooden support poles. There are no walls but between each pole hang woven pandanas shutters that can all be pulled up, or down for privacy. Late in the afternoon things start to heat up in the open kitchen as the evening meal is prepared. Dining is communal and a gong is sounded at 7pm.

The prepared tourists are the ones who bought duty-free drink on the way in, and there's a scattering of gin, Bacardi and whisky down the tables.

Wine is prohibitively priced in Samoa, but Vailima beer is cheap and excellent.

Saturday night is fiafia night at Tanu and after a meal of chicken, fish, palusami, breadfruit, cabbage salad and rice, washed down with lemon-leaf tea, the dancing begins.

This is family entertainment. The grandfather, Taito Muese Tanu, and his wife watch from the sidelines but everyone else takes part, even the 2-year-old who toddles around copying his sisters and brothers, parents and cousins.

The fire dancer is a 12-year-old. He had just returned from a competition in Apia where he won his age-group title and was about to leave for a competition in Hawaii. Hot stuff.

Floral gifts were presented to an Italian couple on the fifth day of their stay and who didn't look as if they were in any hurry to leave. And then the watchers became part of the show. There was none of the embarrassment of having to "do a turn" but the music turned to disco and everyone got up and shook what they had.

The young men in the family homed in on the young female tourists, but they must have been under instruction because they got the oldies up too.

Then it was over and time for bed. I thought the light bulb would be a mozzie invitation so made do with the moonlight - such a hardship with the reflection off the lagoon - and there I was tucked in with my kapok pillows.

Speaking of which, on the drive around the coast from the ferry at Salelologa, there are strange trees decked with large hanging pods.

These are kapok pods, the contents of which are used to stuff pillows. Depending on the size of the pods and the case, it takes between 200 and 300 to make one pillow. The husks and the seeds have to be removed and the remaining fibres inside are soft and silky. The makers have to be careful because if they inhale the strands they risk pneumonia.

Meanwhile, back in the cocoon, the last thing I remember of the night was the sound of a freight train coming straight at me across the water. It was the mother and father of all tropical downpours; inside I was out for the count.

Next morning, I rolled over, pulled up one shutter and watched the sunrise.

CHECKLIST Getting there Polynesian Blue flies from Auckland to Upolo's Faleolo Airport four times a week. Return fares from $568.69. See www.polynesianblue.com. On inter-island ferries passengers pay ST$5-ST$10 ($2.60-$5.20); vehicles cost ST$50-ST$100. Accommodation See www.samoa-experience.com/tanu_beach_fales.htm ST$60 for fale, dinner and breakfast. What to do Swim, read and relax, silly. There are day tours run out of Safua Hotel runs day tours. Savaii is largely lava and geologist Warren Joplin provides informative takes tours that focus on points of culture and nature. See www.samoa-hotels.ws. * Maureen Marriner travelled to Samoa with Polynesian Blue and was a guest of Tanu Beach Fales.

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