"Palangi" goes for a run
Updated: Feb 3
There is one main road in American Samoa and I’m running along it at 6.30am. My flight landed less than 7 hours ago. The first thing I notice – apart from the brain-numbing humidity - is the number of open backed trucks, many carrying people sat in the back. That’s aircon I guess. One or two shouted at me, enthusiastically. The word “palangi” became familiar as they whizzed by. I later asked in the hotel bar and the word means “white man”. After a few days I realise I might be the only white guy on the island.
I was running from my hotel, there are only two hotels, towards Fagatogo the capital and port. It’s here that once a month a cruise liner moors up and tourists come for a mooch for a few hours – one of the island’s biggest earners.
The hotel had a sign “snorkels and flippers for hire” and I began to dwell on it as I pounded the non-existent pavement in this giant sauna of an island. I was here for work so I was sneaking in a short run ahead of a long day. The port was growing closer when I suddenly noticed some ghoulish-looking angry dogs running behind me. A few got so close their heads were knocking my knees. My mind went back 3 or 4 weeks to an appointment at the travel clinic when I was asked about rabies, “no thanks, I won’t be going near any animals”. Thankfully the dogs lost interest, but as this was an out and back, I knew I’d see the frothy bastards again. My turning point was the Government HQ not far from the harbour. It is a striking open walled circular building called a malae. There is no need for walls round here - they just trap the hot hair and you melt even more quickly.
Every day the island’s governor Lolo Matalasi Moliga would have breakfast in my hotel overlooking a beautiful coral bay. We would nod politely. The island also has a representative in Washington as they’ve been an American outpost since the early 1900s, the natural deep port is handy for US navy ships, keeping an eye on potential invaders from the east. The Pacific islanders have fully embraced American culture. Pizzas, McDonalds, beer and American football. The people have a natural large frame, I felt out of scale. One of their proudest exports is a constant supply of AFL players to the USA. Back here, I was the only white guy in a land of giants.
Even though American Samoa is a speck in the middle of the Pacific, it’s so easy to spot on a map. It’s on the kink of the International Date Line. The kink separates Samoa, (formerly Western Samoa) by a small stretch of water but the line means that it’s a whole 24 hours ahead of American Samoa. If you want to skip work hire a boat and have two Sundays back to back.
It took me three days of three long haul flights - I tell myself that the discipline of running helps the air travel seem more bearable. I went for a run again the next day, and after a couple more friendly shouts of “palangi” I spotted the group of psychotic dogs. I turned straight back and hired the flippers. I’ve never snorkelled before and it was amazing, I swear I could hear David Attenborough narrating. Back at work an hour or so later and as photogenic as this place is, the humidity was too much for my camera. You hear about cameras not working in the Arctic but not the intense heat. At one point, it shut down in a key emotional moment during an interview about a terrible personal tragedy. I felt like shutting down too.
I am going back at some point, I hope it’s cooler in the winter.
Running with dogs
Pago Pago Airport – no walls