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Paradox on a Pacific island

by Catherine Marshall

One moment you are basking in a clear coral lagoon, the next you are bracing for a cyclone. This is life in Samoa, Catherine Marshall finds.

If I were to explain my circumstances to you, you might think I was writing from paradise. I’m sitting on a contained deck set upon a lava ledge that juts out above a clear coral lagoon. The water is a little choppy now, but earlier today I could spy from my perch cobalt blue starfish and tiny striped reef fish and curly-tipped seaweed floating by. Waves break on the reef a hundred or so metres from here. The small bay beside me is rimmed by a white beach; cabins topped with banana-leaf roofs are scattered neatly behind it.

I’m on the south-eastern coast of Samoa, that South Pacific Island to which the Scottish writer Robert Louis Stevenson decamped in 1889 in the hope that its climate would save him from the onslaught of tuberculosis. Unfortunately, it didn’t – he died here, in the capital city, Apia, just four-and-a-half years later. But the island must have had some good effect on him, for he was most prodigious in that time, producing another 13 books to add to the 20 he’d written before arriving here (including the somewhat prescient Treasure Island).

Samoa braces for a cyclone.

Samoa braces for a cyclone.

I’m sure he did think he’d landed in paradise, for this is a sublime island nation, afloat somewhere out there in that vast South Pacific Ocean. But he would have known well, too, its vagaries – as do I as I sit on this deck looking out at the lapping seas and the leaden skies pressing down upon them. This morning we took a swim in To Sua Trench in the pouring rain. Raindrops pocked the water, turned it a murky, milky turquoise as the sea rolled into the volcanic cave. Back at the resort, the wind had died down, then picked up again. Then news arrived: tomorrow’s flight home has been cancelled. Apia is bracing for a flood. Tonight we must batten down the hatches at Cyclone Amos rolls in. Samoa is not unfamiliar with such meteorological events – they can occur 10 or more times a year in such vulnerable Pacific locations. But it’s not often that they cause widespread destruction, as did the once-in-a-hundred-year cyclones that occurred in 1990 and again – you guessed it – the following year.

I’m hoping that Amos will skirt the island and veer off to some uninhabited swathe of sea. I can wait him out, for I understand the paradox that exists in places such as this. Paradise has always been temperamental: it’s the price it must pay for possessing such preternatural beauty. TTW

Catherine Marshall was a guest of Seabreeze Resort and the Samoa Tourism Authority. Photos © Catherine Marshall.

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