The Life and Times of Bruce Bramson


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Islands -  A. Samoa

The red arrow points to American Samoa

From Tonga I was booked to fly to Western Samoa: Peter was on the same DC-4, with just a few others. However, when we landed, we were in Pago Pago (American Samoa). It seems the Micronesian Airways plane needed fuel, which was cheaper  there than in W.Samoa. It further devolved that there were many passengers wishing to fly from PP to W. Samoa, so Micronesian Airways accommodated. We disembarked while the refueling took place, and when we re-boarded, the plane was full—every seat taken. Most of the passengers were women, on their way (I learned later) to a temperance meeting in W. Samoa. We seemed ready for takeoff, but the door was opened again, a man came in, went to the front and addressed us all in Samoan: there was a bit of discussion, and several ladies disembarked and we were on our way soon thereafter.

It’s a short flight to W. Samoa; once again we landed on a grass strip. The “airport” was a steel shed, and a bus awaited everyone for the trip to Apia. I found myself sitting next to the airplane’s Captain, so asked him what the reason was for the passengers who were left behind in Pago Pago: his answer amused me. Having taken on fuel, when loaded with all the ladies (most of them tres corpulent) the plane was overweight for landing successfully at W. Samoa’s grass field! To make the weight limit, they had jettisoned several passengers.

Celebration-W. Samoa

This was the event all the women flew in for

It is 30 miles or so to Apia, and one of the first things one passes after leaving the “airport” is the wreckage of a plane that didn’t quite make it: the Micronesian Airways logo was still visible, which gave us a lot of confidence! Nevertheless, we had made it to W. Samoa, so presumably we would make it back to Pago Pago in a few days.

Apia from the Air

What is that huge cathedral doing there?

The chief glory of Apia, besides a surprising number of christian churches (which somehow seem very out-of-place) is something called the Palolo Deep. This is a deep hole off-shore some distance but within a reef: one is safe snorkeling or diving there from predators—sharks in particular. One walks out on the reef, wearing foot-protection, in water up to your knees until standing right on the edge of the hole. Because of the air-water interface, nothing can be seen in the water, which appears black. But the instant one puts on a mask and gets even just that below the surface, a whole new world opens up.

Palolo Deep from Air 1

The bright blue patch surrounded by coral is the Palolo Deep

Palolo Deep from Air 2

A better view of the Palolo Deep

I managed to find a snorkel that was long enough to overcome my tendency to sink, and spent a number of hours out there over several days. It was spectacular, and after I developed the sense to wear a tee-shirt to protect my back from the sun, I enjoyed snorkeling a lot. Fish, large and small, of all sorts and colors are there and have to some extent become inured to the presence of people: they come right up and peer at you from just inches away!

Peter also did some snorkeling, but ignored the warning to wear something on his feet, so he got serious cuts and infections which (I heard later) landed him in the hospital when he reached the US. There were signs everywhere warning of the danger of walking on coral; the ramshackle bunkhouse inn I stayed in had a huge pile of old sneakers there for the taking, as long as they were returned for someone else to use later. I used them always, and had no problems.

Western Samoa $1

I had very little of this left over

Western Samoa $2

The $2 bill was more colorful

However, there was not a whole lot of anything else to do in Apia, so I moved on after just three days. Peter remained there, and I never saw him again. The flight back to Pago Pago was uneventful, except that I was allowed to sit in the “learner’s seat” of the DC-4 as it was landing. I’d never realized how absolutely blind the pilots are; they have to guess where the runway is and when to touch down upon it.

There was an eight-hour layover at Pago Pago: what to do? I took a little bus into the town, and quickly spied the Tramway (Cable Car) up to Mount Alava. It was a spectacular ride. I was bemused by a sign which read, “Cable does not operate in winds over 25 knots”. I was willing to bet a ride in a 24-knot wind was exciting, but on the day I rode it was dead calm. I wandered around town for a while, then took the little bus back to the Pago Pago Intercontinental Hotel, from which another bus would take us to the airport. There were signs everywhere explaining that the hotel was not a “waiting area for airplanes”, yet there was no other place to kill time between flights.

In the lobby was a teletype machine (remember those?): it was thrashing away and there were several yards of distinctive yellow paper out on the floor. I picked up the end to read, but found it filled with nonsense: something was wrong, and it was only printing out random characters in endless streams. As I leafed through the paper to see if there was any pattern, I realized someone was looking over my shoulder. So, I began exclaiming, grunting and so forth as if I was reading it. That sent the observer off for drink! Finally I gravitated to the swimming-pool, where at least there were some cute youngsters frolicking, and ordered a drink from a passing waiter. “Are you a guest of the hotel?” he asked, rather tartly. “I certainly AM”, I replied. And I certainly was “a guest of the hotel”: note that he didn’t say registered guest… Anyway, I got the drink.

Teletype machine

Totally obsolete now; state-of-the-art in 1968

Eventually, I got back to the airport, embarked on a flight to Los Angeles by way of Hawaii, and off we went. Some hours later, I returned to LAX, where my pilgrimage through Southeast Asia had begun eleven months previously.

For some reason, I grew a beard on the last part of this trip (after leaving Australia). Back at my folks’ house, I looked like this:

Back In The States

The only beard I ever grew

My brothers and I got together for a quick trip to Mexico over the Christmas holidays: that’s a subject for my next page.



Written by Editor

March 6th, 2010 at 3:56 pm

Posted in Uncategorized