Tuesday, October 13, 2009
60: Do Not Attempt Travel on White Sunday Weekend
In the hold.
It's Friday. This Sunday is White Sunday, quite possibly the biggest holiday in Samoa. We would like to travel to Savaii. So would the rest of the people on Upolu.
Cale and I traveled to Savaii with our couchsurfer, Lindsey. We were going to catch the 2pm boat after school ended early for a rugby tournament. On my way out of school I mentioned to a student I was going to Savaii. A student-teacher from NUS overheard the conversation. She too was going to Savaii, a taxi was on the way to pick her up and take her to the wharf. In halting and strangely formal English told me, "It would be my pleasure to share my taxi with you."
This was our lucky day! This cab ride would get us to the wharf in time for the 12 pm ferry. So we get to the wharf and it is 11:50 am. There is no boat. This is strange. We go over to the little shops and have a cup of noodles.
12:10 pm. No boat
12:30 pm. No boat
1:00 pm. No boat.
Filling the waiting room of the wharf in a cramped, haphazard complete lack of organization that is a line in Samoa is the holiday rush of people for two ferries, the 12 pm and the 2 pm.
The small boat arrives. We all look around. We calculate how many of the hundreds of people in these rooms can possibly fit on this small ferry. We look outside at the ever-growing line of cars waiting to also board this ferry. We get anxious.
Then the big boat arrives too. We look around. We calculate how many of the hundreds of people in these rooms can possibly fit on both ferries. We look outside at the ever-growing line of cars waiting. Our anxiety is not abated. In addition, we know that with both ferries here now, there will be no 4 pm boat as usual (as the round trip to Savaii is three hours). The 4pm boat is usually the last boat of the day. We are determined to get to Savaii today.
We are in the waiting room that leads to the ferries. In this room there is a double door way that is opened onto the dock. Leading away from the doors is a metal guard rail that creates a short corral like in an amusement park that is supposed to indicate how to form the line and keep people from mad-rushing the doors. People are laying on the floor inside the guard rail. Surprisingly, an actual line has sort of formed behind them outside the guard rail. However, this line quickly disintegrates into a room amassed with bodies.
The police arrive. We are told to that if you do not have a seat on a waiting room bench, you must move to the back of the room. A mad dash is made for all miniscule or imagined space left on the waiting room benches. However, the people without seats do not budge and the cops must slowly walk the standing crowd to the back of the room, away from the door.
It appears that all people currently in the guard rail area and the sort of line will be allowed to board the boat. Everyone else is to sit tight. The doors are opened, the people rush forward. Every time the cop turns his back someone who is not in the line slips forward and rushes in. Eventually everyone is through and they shut the doors.
We are now told that everyone on the four benches closest to the line should stand and move to the line. The people in the next four benches will move forward and take the first benches. The people in the last benches will move to take the middle benches. The people waiting in the back must now find a seat in the open benches in the back.
It doesn't even seem like a good plan in theory. The minute the people in the second row of benches get up they don't stop at the first row and sit calmly. Instead they surge forward trying to join those who were allowed into the line. This causes a domino-effect and all the groups surge forward ignoring the elaborate sitting/movement instructions.
The cops yell out for everyone to sit and that those without seats will be sent to the back. Like a giant, disturbing game of musical chairs, there is a mad scramble for butt space on a bench.
The process is repeated. The doors are opened. The line is moved on to the ferry. The people in the seats are all told to move forward one. Instead everyone surges forward in a mad panic. The cops yell. And we all play musical chairs.
Somehow, though we had been at the wharf since noon and had managed to find a seat at every game of musical chairs, we found ourselves in the last group of people waiting for the boat. I think we just had too much of our American adherence to proper line etiquette to surge forward or to disobey the cops instructions. When we were told to move forward one bench, we moved forward one bench while everyone around us ran desperately for the door.
It was taking an unusually long time for them to open the door for our group. We watched as they loaded all the cars into the belly of the ferry. Typically the cars are emptied of passengers, who walk onto the ferry and up to the passenger area. The driver parks the car and also leaves the vehicle and goes to the passenger area. These cars were being loaded filled to capacity with people. Flat-bed trucks over filled with people and luggage.
We started to worry that they weren't going to let us on this boat. We started to wonder if we even wanted to get on this boat.
In the hold
Finally the doors were opened and we were instructed to find space between the parked cars in the belly of the ferry. We road to Savaii sitting on the ground between a maroon sedan and a large white van.
"Passengers are strictly prohibited in the vehicle deck."
More on our time on Savaii tomorrow.
Posted by Cale