Samoan Eco Touring – Part 2
Date: 13th May 2005
Subject: Finding Farter Crispmas – Eco touring part 2
Place: Sa’anapu Mangrove Swamps, Upolu, Samoa
Samoan Eco Touring – Part 2
We paddled quietly up into the mangrove swamps, wrinkled hands and fingers clutching our kayak paddles, rain soaked shirts sticking to our backs, hot tropical rain pummelling down then splashing back up off the cool river. But the weather did not matter. We were on a mission to find Father Christmas and according to Steve, this was his territory.
“Look, look a lemon,” shouted Matthew excitedly, pointing to a yellow orb drifting past, “it must be this way.” Steve steered towards it, Nuanua grabbed it, Sosy peeled it and we all ate it. The search for the elusive source of the lemons continued.
“Now, I want you to watch for little bubbles,” said Steve as we headed further and further upstream and deeper into the swamp. He had a beautiful way of engaging the kids, sometimes gently educating them about the natural world, other times weaving entrancing tales of fantasy. “Do you know when the reindeer swim underwater they leave little trails of bubbles?” The kids peered over the side.
“Like a fart?” asked Matthew. The other kids sniggered.
“Perhaps,” replied Steve straight faced.
The rain stopped and a silence descended on the kayaks as everyone concentrated on the serious business of looking for bubbles. Suddenly a fish splashed in the water nearby.
“Hey, Father Christmas did a fart,” giggled Sosy.
“No that’s a reindeer fart,” said Matthew.
A ripple of laughter broke the silence.”We must be getting close,” said Steve.
“Hey look, what’s that?” said Kirstie pointing to three lemons floating down a tiny creek.
“More lemons, more lemons,” said Stevie.
“And a lemon tree, a lemon tree,” squealed Sosy, spotting the citrus tree at the top of the creek.
“Go that way Steve, that way,” shouted Matthew pointing to the tree.
Steve steered his crew of Santa spotters towards the magic grotto. “Can anyone see Father Christmas or his reindeer?”
“No, no, but look, what’s that on the tree?” cried Nuanua, scrambling to get off the boat and investigate silvery looking bags balancing on the tree.
“Crips, it’s crips,” said Cameron eagerly, his whole being now finely tuned to quickly recognise any familiar food.
Nuanua was ashore and up the tree before you could say reindeer fart. “It’s twisties,” she announced with amazement, “Father Christmas has left five packets of twisties for us in the tree.” The kids fizzed with excitement as she threw the five bags of crisps we had secretly planted there earlier down into eight outstretched hands.
“Well, I think we’ve really found Father Christmas this time,” said Steve as the booty was shared out.
“No, I think we’ve found Farter Crispmas,” said Kirstie.
The kids giggled as they crunched noisily on their twisties.
A meeting with the Chief
An hour after Christmas and we approached the wharf for our appointment with the chief.
“Well this will be interesting,” said Steve as we approached, “We’ll see if he’s fixed his walkway like he said he has.”
He sounded doubtful but ever hopeful. We tied up the kayaks and clambered up onto the wooden structure where the chief had been waiting since our last meeting.
“We’ve just been to see Father Christmas in your swamps,” said Steve as he greeted the chief, “Did you know he was living in there?” The chief shook his head.
“He lives by the lemon tree,” said Nuanua.
“And he gave us all twisties,” said Sosy.
“And his reindeer did a fart,” said Stevie.
The chief looked a little confused by all this news.
“Interesting eh? Maybe you could charge a little extra for people to see that?” said Steve. The chief smiled at the prospect. “So, how about we have a look at your beautiful mangrove walkway? See if it’s all fixed and safe for visitors now?”
“Sure,” said the chief looking relieved to hear some sense.
“Great. Because we don’t want any tourists falling down holes where planks are missing or going through rotten planks again do we?”
“No Steve,” said the chief smiling a little at the thought of it.
“Good. And if it’s all fine we can sign off your certificate of fitness eh? So how about you lead the way then? And shall we say you owe me ten tala for each missing or rotten plank?”
The chief smiled a little more uncertainly, unsure whether Steve was joking or serious.
“OK kids, perhaps you can count for me.”
We walked carefully along about fifty metres or so of walkway, stepping over missing planks and avoiding the odd obviously rotten one. Steve stopped at a gap in the handrail. “What’s happened to the handrail here?” he asked.
“I used that to replace a rotten plank back there,” replied the chief.
“OK. So how many missing planks is that so far kids?
“That’s twenty Dad,” replied Sosy, “that makes…” She paused, “um…two hundred tala.”
“Well, I guess that deals with the fine then eh?” said Steve cheekily.
The chief looked unimpressed.
“Right. Well, I think I’ve seen enough for now,” said Steve more diplomatically, “perhaps we can meet again soon for cocoa and talk some more eh?” The chief nodded and I wondered from the look on his face if he thought he’d passed his inspection.
Eco tourism will catch on
“It really will be a great little project there you know one day,” said Steve as we waved the chief goodbye. His belief in community based conservation was commendably unwavering.
“Do you really think they can do it?” I asked.
He paused and thought for a moment. “Well, you know, I’m not sure the experts are much better at it. There’s so much we all don’t understand about how to manage these places.”
Then, like a true Samoan, he recounted a story about conservation experts brought in to advise on sustainable crab harvesting in another mangrove swamp.
“These guys came in to tell us how to do it, with their fancy nets and equipment, trapping every crab they could and collecting them in pools to establish the population size. Sure they knew a lot about crabs and mangroves but you know what they didn’t know? How enterprising villagers would empty their pools each night and sell the crabs at market. It took just a few days to seriously damage the whole ecosystem.” Steve paused as he seemed to contemplate the tragic ending to the story.
He sat in his bright red kayak, stroking his pointy grey beard, while five little elves splashed water all around him.
“You know,” he continued after a long pause, “This whole conservation business is as much of a mystery as Father Christmas really.”