I am addicted to a couple TV shows. Actually, I am addicted to quite a few TV shows, but the one TV show I intend to participate in is The Amazing Race. No, it’s not necessarily the best way to travel because you are rushing from place to place trying to accomplish random tasks and often losing passports or money, but I am dying to be on this show. It will happen, I guarantee it (but that’s only an 80% guarantee because I’m in Samoa right now).
While my sister was visiting, we rented a car. This was the highlight of the trip for several reasons. First, it offers so much flexibility. We made our own schedule, stopped whenever we wanted to take pictures, and went through villages my bus never goes to in order to see waterfalls and other beautiful scenery. We couldn’t get the radio to work, and I don’t think it had a CD player, so we both brought our iPods, I brought my speakers, and we listened to all our favorite music. Don’t even get me started on the luxury of cushy seats and obscene amounts of personal space afforded by a car instead of the bus.
The funniest part about it was driving on the wrong side of the car on the wrong side of the road. Fortunately our car was automatic, so even though we both know how to drive stick, we didn’t have to attempt driving with the wrong hand, too. After being conditioned to the spacing of driving on the right side of the road, it is incredibly difficult to reorient yourself to the middle of the left lane on the road. The grass and the centerline aren’t where they are supposed to be, and it is almost impossible to remain in the middle of the lane. This is also made more difficult by the presence of general traffic on the road: pigs, dogs, cows, children, bikes, cars, buses and trucks. It is impossible to hit traffic in Samoa (except the one time my last bus on a Friday got caught in a funeral procession and it took us about 45 minutes instead of the normal 20 to get out of the suburbs), but when trying to do something so counter-intuitive, the presence of one on-coming vehicle is enough to constitute traffic.
Dana was a bit faster at picking up driving on the left side of the road. I attribute this to her having constantly driven since she was 16. I have not driven for the past year and a half, so being behind a steering wheel felt like I was starting all over again. The majority of our time driving was spent accompanied by shouts of “dog!” or “pig!” or “you’re driving off the side of the road!” and (when I was driving) “you’re so Samoan!” My sense of space has shifted drastically in my time here, and I never notice until I come in contact with other cultures. In Samoa, drivers tend to drive right down the middle of the road until another vehicle comes along. Then you scoot to your side, pass nicely, and move back to the middle. I was trying really hard to stick to my lane until we decided that I spent enough time with one set of wheels in the grass that it would be better to just drive in the middle. I also tended to pass really close to pedestrians, dogs, cows, or whatever happened to be on the side of the road, which is also very fa’a Samoa (as a pedestrian with plenty of experience being passed by cars in Samoa, I know what it’s like for a car to pass close enough to you for you to touch it without trying). I may have taken us a little too close to the cow parade – you all know what a goose parade is, right? Well, a cow parade is what happens in Samoa. The cows weren’t scared of the car, and I thought I had room and time to pass, but we waited until the road was completely clear before continuing. It took a while, cows don’t herd very easily in Samoa. I also know how to use my horn to indicate everything including telling the driver in front of me that I intend to pass, telling the driver that I am currently passing, telling the driver that I have finished passing, telling the person behind me that they can pass me, and acknowledging pedestrians in the village.
We really hit our stride when I was assigned to be navigator. I know this country pretty well, and even if you get lost, all roads eventually end up back in Apia. I was put in charge of the map for finding our way to sliding rock. Sliding Rock (a section of river with waterfalls that pass for “waterslides” if you are brave enough) is behind Apia. Once I get past the first two intersections in Apia, I have no idea where I am. I never get past the grocery stores. So we had to attempt to navigate on the second main road in Apia, figure out which intersection we needed to turn at, and which direction to turn at later intersections that would take us to where we wanted to go. We had a map with us, and I was in charge of the map. I am an excellent map reader because I got us right to Sliding Rock, and I got us right back out (maybe not exactly the same way, but the easier way) and on the second main road to the main cross island road (did you understand that? Because I did. That’s what happens when you live in Samoa – you can give directions in vagaries – I’m not sure if that’s the word I want, but I hope it gets my point across.)
We saw the entire experience as training for Amazing Race, and I’m pretty sure that made up about 75% of our conversation in the car. I am going to be the navigator (so I should have been sitting in back with a camera man) and Dana will drive, and eventually we will get back to Apia. Fortunately, this trip was not fraught with anxiety about getting somewhere on time (we also talked about that). And the few times we took taxis in town, we talked about how if we ended up in Samoa on the Amazing Race, we would definitely come in first on that episode because I know everybody, can speak the language, know how the buses work, and can give directions to taxi drivers so we’ll never get stuck if we have a taxi driver who doesn’t know where to go. We talked a lot about what would happen if we ended up in Samoa on the Amazing Race. And we also talked a lot about what quotes they would pull from us to name the episodes.
The sisters: She’s an RPCV (I will be by the time I get on Amazing Race), she’s a teacher and camp director, and they both know how to drive stick shift. Nothing will stop them except little fishies that bite their toes.
And maybe the eating challenges.