Best of 2019: James Agombar

Is this the End of the World?

Savai’i, Western Samoa

I knew it would be memorable part of my trip, but this underestimation made me question a few things.

The boat from Upolu was soothing and people mostly kept their heads down to thwart the sea-sickness. At the dock I checked the map and started walking what I thought was north to the hostel to check for vacancies, but I had lost all sense of direction by then. A man in a truck gave me a ride before I got one hundred paces down the crumbly road.

He dropped me off at Lusia’s, which had been recommended. The fale’ was luxury; a small bamboo shelter with shutters for windows and private mosquito net. Even better was that the other bed was vacant. The sun went down, the ocean lapped small crabs and fish into the cove by my fale’, and the bar was open; paradise had been found.

The next day paradise took a chicane or two, as did I. I had taken a walk through Salelologa to a local car hire garage in order to get to the far side of the island and reach my destination. Unfortunately, businesses, houses and sometimes derelicts can look deceptively similar. I found the sign for the car rental place which was on the far side of the forecourt and I walked down the grass alley near the sign. I ended up in front of someone’s house. It didn’t look like anyone was home, but the five dogs were, and they were raging that I had intruded as far as I had. Realizing my mistake, I turned and started walking away, briskly. I heard the huff of the approaching dogs behind me and the pack leader wrapped its jaws around my right ankle and slipped off as I pulled it forward. My leg went numb and I went down to one knee. As I looked up, the dogs had me surrounded, and all I could think was to clench my fists to try and fight them off. Then a saviour came in the form of a rock. A small boy was home, no older than nine, who started pelting them with rocks and shouting. The boy ran over to me and helped me up as the dogs retreated to the house. He didn’t speak a word of English but I could tell he was very sympathetic toward me. Sometimes heroes came in the most unexpected form.

By then the man from the car rental place had seen what happened and ran over. He helped me limp to his office. He sat me down and put my bloody foot into a ice cream tub full of dirty salt water and the feeling came back in the form of a sting.

He hired me a car and I drove myself to hospital in a 1.2 automatic Toyota as the only ambulance on the island had been out of service for some time. I pulled up outside after eleven kilometers and tried not to bleed over the footwell. I limped in and signed up. An old lady with an eye-patch stood up to let me sit down on one of the stone benches. I felt terrible. After an hour I was patched up by a Samoan nurse and a doctor from New Zealand. My tendon was actually hanging out the back of the knick in my ankle. Luckily, Rabies hadn’t been introduced to the island and he prescribed me some painkillers after covering it with antiseptic. He told me to take it easy, that I was very lucky and let the nurse patch me up. I tilted my head back in pain as she placed the bandages which caused my sunglasses to slip off my bandana straight into a bin full of bloody rags. I said she could keep them.

Common sense told me I should go back to the fale’ and rest. Determination said I should soldier on and reach my goal. Guess which one I listened to?

I continued along the road to the other side of the island, going easy on the accelerator. After civilisation became more basic, it became more beautiful.

The trees to my left were strewn amongst the chasms and curves in the landscape. They appeared so thick with flora it was like they had been draped with pond weed. To my right was the coast line, reflecting a beautiful glow in my wing mirrors. The road was thin and damaged in so many places that it became a task of full concentration. The tendon at the back of my ankle didn’t help the journey. It started to bleed through the bandage, and the smell of the iodine patch underneath reminded me of the dog racing up to bite it. Despite being eager to reach my destination, I eased off the accelerator even more, knowing it was very close. The morning rain had caused steam to rise from the trees when the intense sun just started to peak. As I drove slowly on, the thick jungle started to fray and the lava fields of western Savai’i came into view. The greenery started to increase in terms of hue and texture whilst the branches of more scattered trees became sparse. A wire fence caught my eye where someone had erected a sign saying “NO TRESPASSING — RESTRICTED AREA — KEEP OUT,” in large letters. I pulled over and hung out of the car door for a moment to feel the thick atmosphere on me like a blanket of sweat. To stay in an air conditioned vehicle for this journey seemed to nullify the whole attraction of this holy area. I climbed back in, cancelled the air-con and opened the windows fully. A few miles meandered through quiet villages of traditional bamboo and fishing territory before I reached an opening to Falealupo Peninsula, otherwise known as “the end of the world.”

The coastline sand started to turn black, producing smooth rocks. Seeing a woman in the distance on the road, I slowed to ask her how close I was. She wore a bright red and orange lava-lava (sarong) and carried a basket of fruit.

“Talofa! Excuse me, can you tell me if the end of the world is close?” I asked, slowly.

She smiled in reply and surprised me with fluent English, “Ah, not long now, maybe another kilometer or so for you,” she gestured down the road.

The road meandered, and a burnt out vehicle appeared to the far left. It had been caught in the lava fields; left to rust as a relic of nature’s power over man and machinery.

It was when the radio in the car began to transmit white noise that I knew I was close. Radio transmissions didn’t reach out this far from the mainland.

The coastline soon became solid rock, but the colours developed a contrast. Pulling over, I stepped out inspecting the rocks more closely to greet the sound of the crashing ocean, the taste of salty air and the cushion of golden, spongy sand. I limped forward with my right leg now dragging. The pain enhanced as the blood circulated. The nerves in my ankle itched and writhed across the skin like snakes on a lake. With a creased brow and clenched fists I carried on, knowing I was too close to stop.

A tattoo-covered Samoan man in a traditional lavalava came to my aid on the beach and introduced himself to me as David.

“Is this the end of the world?” I asked him, as he put his arm around my waist to support me.

“Yes. You are here,” he replied in his best English. “Do you need help to cross?”

“Please,” I assented, and he walked me across to the rocks.

We stepped onto the volcanic rock, dark and smooth as before, but now scattered with white pebbles. The pebbles were then dashed with crimson specks of coral, much like bloodstains. The wind grew stronger here, relieving the sweaty blanket of salty air, and the tide splashed against the formation I stood on with ethereal effect.

David helped me to where the ocean sprayed us as it bounded off the rocks. In front of us there was a large X in white, possibly chalk, on a large surface of rock. It marked the end of the world and the last piece of land on Earth to see the sun. To cross the date line on the Pacific would throw you twenty-seven hours ahead in time. On the edge of the last time zone, I stood with David and gazed upon the endless, refreshing ocean. Taking a deep lungful of frenetic air, I smiled, knowing I had made it to where the spirits of Samoa gathered: Falealupo Peninsula, the end of the world.

BIO: James Agombar resides near the east coast of the UK. He is an author of speculative fiction, but has been equally inspired by many travels around the world. Read more.

Essay taken from the Best of Wanderlust 2019 Anthology.

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