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Bed and Breakfast accommodation on the edge of the Daintree Rainforest  at Cape Tribulationand white-lipped tree frog
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Stories articles and news abot Alison and Digby Gotts


The Samoan Experience
Three days in Tafua
EcoTour Samoa
The Samoan Election
Pruning the Mangoes
Climbing Mt SiliSili
Fourth week in Samoa

Samoan Observer Articles:

Why is there no fruit on my mango?
Want more mangoes next year?
Green oranges or orange oranges?
In search of a Samoan Orange
The Hardest Cut
Rambutan - hairy thing from the forest
Rambutan revisited
Abiu - the emporer's golden fruit
Avocado - fruit or vegetable?
Carambola - star of the rainforest
Durian - the extreme tropical fruit
Rollinia - lemon meringue pies growing in the garden
Sex and the single pawpaw
Soursop - a taste sensation
The mulch story
Do it yourself pest control
The joys of soapy water!
The hungry fruit tree
Positive insects



by Digby Gotts

In the first month after my arrival in Samoa, a trip was arranged for me to go to the island of Savaii with the senior bureaucrats in the Agriculture Dept to inspect two Extension Centre orchards as well as the Government Farm. It turned out that this was the cover story to get me to look at a mango block that had been planted in 1971.

The trees were now too big to harvest effectively and the Ag. Minister wanted something done.† The best thing would have been to cut the trees down and graft onto their suckers, but this would mean no fruit for some years and was not acceptable. Normal practice would have been to commence a routine 1/3 prune every year, starting 20 years ago. Of course, this has never happened and the trees now have a 1 meter diameter trunk with generally three 50 cm branches 1 to 3 m from the ground.† Silly me suggested that with pole-saws (small chainsaws mounted on extendible 4 m poles) it might be possible to still implement the 1/3 cutting without endangering men by having them work off the ground in such large trees. The bureaucrats immediately accepted this suggestion and the minister advised that work would begin soon.

I managed to find a website of a US company offering pole-saws, deliverable by air within 6 days from payment. Had I been buying them with my visa card, I have no doubt that I would have had them within the week. However, government process doesn’t quite work like that.† Written approval from Agriculture, FAO and UNDP who would be paying for them took the first 3 weeks. The order from UNDP another week, then negotiations about payment as UNDP will only pay on delivery, another two weeks. The saws arrived a week later in Apia airport only to languish in the Customs shed over Easter. Another two weeks went by while UNDP and Treasury worked out who would pay the customs duty and how much would be paid as UNDP are not liable for customs duties. So eventually I had my saws, by which time customs were threatening to start charging storage fees.

I planned this trip to Savaii so that I would have 2 nights by myself camping up on the mountain where the farm is located, while Nauma, Kamuta and Frank would be staying in the agriculture house down on the coast.† Each morning they would drive up the 5 miles of rough track to the farm and we would work on the mangos. The men would be due 25 tala a day as a living allowance, and Tu’ulima would organise to have that money and the ferry tickets ready for us before we left.†

However once again Treasury failed to get the money out and we had an unconfirmed ticket on the ferry out to Savaii, while I had to forward the money for the men.† Normally cars are required at the ferry an hour before departure, but without a confirmed ticket the only way to be sure of getting on board is to be first or second in the queue. This means arriving at least 2 hours before departure, or for us 6am at the ferry, leaving Apia at 5. As the men said, “this is sleep time” We did get on the ferry, but Nauma had to give the loading staff 10 tala to ensure that no-one else was allowed to queue jump. Only two of the unconfirmed tickets made it onto the ferry. This number varies according to how many trucks have booked places.

Somewhat sleepily we rolled off the ferry, drove around to Tafua to drop Alison off for her homestay and continued on around to Asau where the farm had its mango problem, arriving around midday.

Half way to Asau, Kamuta had arranged to visit an aunt who would “give” him some food. We were all ushered into a formal fale and sat down to be presented with morning tea - a plate each of 6 oatmeal biscuits and a glass of orange cordial. I was careful to not actually finish either of these to avoid refills. Kamuta’s bag of food consisted of several kilos of taro, three large grilled fish and several roasted chickens. Just enough for lunch for the three men, although I noticed that some taro was put aside for dinner.

Finally got into the mangos by one o’clock, deciding that two of them were heavily fruiting and shouldn’t be touched, one was diseased badly and needed burning, while about twenty others could be cut back. Kamuta and Frank started in with the pole-saws while Nauma and I took it in turns with the monster chainsaw cutting low branches and cutting up the logs. The pruning had some rather scary moments, as although the pole-saws allowed them to cut branches well off the ground, the temptation is to cut branches even higher.† The higher you reach with the saw, the more you are underneath the branch being cut. Mango has a tendency to hold itself together until it breaks with a sudden bang, this can happen at any time, not necessarily when cutting.† It took quite a while before I managed to stop Frank and Kamuta walking back and forth under the branch when changing sides.† Safety gear was also too readily ignored although hard hats and boots were quite ok. They must look cool or something. Had all but four of the trees lopped by 5, so we decided to do some pruning training on the citrus with the local staff in the morning, before finishing off the mangos.

The farm had a small cooking shelter that was dry enough for my campsite, but it still took some insistence before I was allowed to use it for the night, particularly once the evening downpour started.† Once the nightwatchman was located and advised of my presence, the team headed off down the hill.†

I settled back for a peaceful solitary evening, a rarity on Samoa.† By 6 o’clock, it was time to get the fire going for dinner – some noodles and chilli beans.† As soon as the dinner smell filled the shelter, the nightwatchman appeared on the step. Samoan hospitality requires that he share in available food, while I know that the chilli beans will be inedible for him. Fortunately I had a can of spaghetti in my kit for just this eventuality, so it was opened and set on the fire as well. Conversation during the cooking consisted of “Ostali?(Are you Australian)” “Yes”.† I only had the one plate and spoon so he was fed first and dutifully went out and washed them before bringing them back for me. We then shared a can of nectarines in juice, while I wondered what he thought they were. After dinner the conversation developed to “tankyu” and ď Thatís a pleasure”, before he headed off to his own dinner.

Darkness arrived along with hordes of mosquitos, reminding me of a friend who was driven out of his PhD and Canada by a related swarm. Not having a net, I had to spend the night inside my sleeping bag, with a cloth sheet (lavalava) spread over my head and arms. As the night had cooled down to around 25 C, this left the sleeping bag absolutely sodden by morning. The arrival of the dawn was a great moment both visually and aurally as the birds supplanted the sound of the mosquitos.

The Asau village citrus block consists of about 100 trees planted in the 1980’s.† No maintenance has been carried out since then apart from grass cutting and picking the fruit.† Heavy sucker growth from the rootstocks is dominating all the trees and needed to be cut away to allow the grafted tree to fruit properly.† With the 3 men from Nafanua and the 5 staff from Asau we assembled at one end of the grove to show them what wood to cut away.†

Some of the suckers are around 6 inches thick and my heart sank as I realized that the only tools that could actually do this job were the pole-saws again. The idea of pruning a hundred citrus as overgrown as these are with a hand-saw is nightmare material.† So we demonstrated on one tree and managed to re-establish a reasonable shape.

Looking at the next tree, I realized that the suckers were bearing fruit, mandarins! Normally root stock is grown from several species of disease resistant limes, and worthwhile buds grafted into the young seedling. The fruit produced from these rootstocks is extremely sour and generally worthless.† It appears that for these trees at Asau, local fruit tree seedlings were used including mandarins, samoan oranges and limes.† These orange and mandarins seedlings produce perfectly acceptable fruit for the local markets. Citrus pruning problem solved -don’t bother! Just tidy them up a little unless the rootstock is producing limes in which case it must be cut back. This proved to be only necessary on 3 of the 25 trees we pruned. The rest can now be pruned by the locals after the harvest is finished.† So most of the trees at Asau are each producing at least two varieties of citrus.

Back to the mangos after lunch and the only near miss accident for the work.† Nauma dropped a large branch that caught and bounced back towards him. As he leapt backwards down his escape path, Frank dropped a branch from another tree onto it, fortunately only brushing Nauma with its leaves as he sprang back towards his own branch.† Managed to get most of the downed timber sawn into smallish pieces for the Asau staff to tidy up before I finally ran the big chainsaw into a rock.

Since we had finished at the farm and we didn’t have to pick up Alison until 12 the following day, I decided to spend the Friday morning taking the men on a tourist’s view of Savaii. I also decided that one mosquito-dominated night was enough and that sharing the Ag. House with the men was much more acceptable. I still did my own cooking although Frank insisted that he build the fire and feed it while I tried to cook up my canned tuna with rice-a-riso. They were fascinated by the meal, as this was the first time they had seen what a palangi eats in his own environment!† Just as I was ready to eat, the head of the station turned up with the meal for them: Turkey tail stew with taro. So at least we were all able to eat together. They each had a spoonful of the highly spiced rice, declaring it quite good, (but not finishing their spoonful).

Friday morning after a mosquito free night and a sound sleep in my own room we all headed off for a protected rainforest area at Faleaoelupo where a tower and hanging walkway has been built for tourists. The loggers had moved into this forest with government support about 10 years ago and only the action of a botanical researcher in funding the nearby village for a new school gave the village chief the power to stop the logging. (The story is a riveting read: “Nafanua” by Paul Cox).

Sadly, just after all the success of stopping the logging and having the interpretive centre and walkway built, Cyclones Ofa and Val did major damage, followed up in later years by bushfires as all the fallen timber dried out. The worst of the fires was stopped literally at the walkway, so today the towers still stand but looking east is a view of regrowth with dead trunks, while west the forest is still largely intact. Softwood species and vines appear to dominate compared with the forest at home, so this is not a forest through which one can wander.

Nevertheless, tourist pay 20 tala each to climb the tower, cross the suspended bridge and continue climbing to the crown of a large fig. Locals only pay 5 tala for the experience but this is still not one that many Samoans would seek out.† The men convinced the supervisor that as I was a worker I should only pay the local rate, so for 20 tala we were all allowed in. Crossing the bridge became a point of pride so step by step each of the men shuffled his way slowly across, eyes bulging at the drop below. At the tower top, no-one was prepared to lean on the handrail, preferring instead to mill around in the middle of the platform before honour was considered to have been satisfied, and they started down again. Once safe on the down side of the swing bridge their jocularity started up again. (I had to show off the Nepali shuffle and ran across the bridge without holding on to the guide ropes, this performance also left them bug eyed).

On to the blowholes as the other major tourist activity. Here the main entertainment is to throw a coconut into a blowhole just as the wave is surging. The nut can be thrown a hundred meters up into the air, if the timing and wave are just right. Piles of nuts are beside the road for tourists to buy.

My problem was to convince the men that I wanted to buy some nuts to throw away. They first insisted that these nuts were no good, better to buy green ones for drinking. Then they were no good because they had not been husked, then because some were too old and were sprouting.† However I held my ground and eventually 10 nuts were dumped in the back for 2 tala.

Reaching the blowhole carpark, after paying a 10 tala entrance fee, I stripped off my shirt, picked up some nuts and told the men to do likewise. Still somewhat mystified, they did so and followed me out to the rock platform just as the main hole blew a spout around 30 meters high.† They began to understand as I waited for the next big wave and lobbed a nut into the hole. Great entertainment as another blowhole spurted its water all over me with a wind change, and the one after that broke across the platform, putting us knee deep in foam. Needless to say we were all drenched, and completely mistimed every nut we had. The blowhole occasionally returned them to us, so Frank and Kamuta kept running around (or accidentally through) the water blast to collect returned nuts. It’s very like playing on the old pinball machines, with a thrill factor built in.


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Last updated November 6, 2014