We reached Apia, the capital of Samoa, on Friday afternoon. Like Fiji, Samoa is in the clutches of the rainy season, but I didn’t mind – it’s what makes it all so delightfully green! How the captain, the pilot and the helmsman managed to steer the ship into a parking space I’d have trouble getting into in a Ford Fiesta I’ll never know, but here we are, a ship with space for 1,080 containers squeezed into a dock just 40 metres wide. Eat your heart out, Doctor Who.
After customs had come and gone, Captain Andriy and I set out with the port agent, Richard, for a little bit of exploration. Taking us up along the narrow peninsular that separates Apia Harbour from Vaiusu Bay, we passed the promenade, the parliament building, the clock tower roundabout, the tombs of Malietoa Laupepa and Malietoa Tanumafili I (whoever they are) and ended up at the Metrological Station on the northern tip. There we met with the guys whose job it is to predict the weather, look out for cyclones and issue tsunami warnings. Is global warming a threat to Samoa? Of course it is. Are global weather trends becoming more extreme? An emphatic yes. Should we have set strong emission targets in Durban last month? What do you think?
After saying goodbye to the weathermen, we headed back down the peninsular and snapped a photo of your humble narrator standing in front of the ‘New Date Line’ sign on the middle of the clocktower roundabout. You see, Samoa didn’t have a Friday last week. In fact, today is their first Friday since December 23.
As Samoa is in the Western Hemisphere, just to the right of the International Date Line, it has always been lumped with a time zone of GMT -10. As most trade to and from Samoa goes via Fiji, Tonga, New Zealand and Australia, all of whom are on the left of the International Date Line, this creates the following dilemma: when it’s Friday in Samoa, it’s Saturday in New Zealand: no international trade is likely. When it’s Sunday in Samoa it’s Monday in New Zealand: again, unless the (deeply religious) Samoans are prepared to go into the office on Sunday (here’s a clue: they’re not), you lose another day of possible trade, leaving you with only three days a week in which anything can get done.
So, in keeping with the Samoan government’s policy of pushing for greater integration with the rest of Oceania (three years ago they switched from driving on the right to driving on the left, bringing them in line with Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, Tonga, Tuvalu, Kiribati, Vanuatu, Solomon Islands and PNG), last week they skipped a day – December 30 – and redrew the International Date Line in the process.
Samoa now officially stands at GMT+13, but as they are currently using daylight savings time, it’s effectively GMT+14: the last of the ‘plus’ time zones available. They took the New Zealand territory of Tokelau with them, leaving just American Samoa, Nuie and The Cook Islands on the ‘later’ side of the Date Line. Samoa is now one of the first places on Earth to see the sun rise at the start of a brand new day, and, perversely, American Samoa is the last to see the sun set. So if you want one day to last 48 hours, this is now the place to be.
The captain had told the owner of Paddles Bar and Restaurant that we would be dropping in, so we said goodbye to Richard and headed over to the road, running into Filipe, the ship’s Fijian steward, along on the way. Captain Andriy asked Filipe to join us for drinks and so began a great Friday night out in Apia. After getting trolleyed in Paddles, we moved next door for a few more bevies before moving on to the new-fangled Yacht Club just a stone’s throw from the port. We got chatting with locals, ex-pats, tourists and vagabonds and I have to admit that I’m getting a warm fuzzy feeling about Samoa.