Samoa: beautiful, but unconnected

After Hawaii, we headed to another Polynesian island: Samoa. It’s never been on our list of must-visits—more out of ignorance than anything else—but we managed to find a ridiculously cheap stopover flight on our way to New Zealand, so decided to spend a week there. Apart from the flight, and booking our first three nights’ accommodation on the south-eastern tip of the island, we had nothing else planned before we arrived. So, it would be fair to say that we arrived in Samoa not knowing what to expect.

After landing at Faleolo International, we found a place (random person—no joke) to rent a car from and drove for a couple of hours to the opposite corner of Upolo to set up camp for the next few days at Taufua Beach Fales. We couldn’t have asked for a more idyllic location: golden sand beach, palm trees, calm coral-reef waters, and a few islands strutting out just off the coast. We spent the first half of our week on Samoa here, using it as a base to explore the south and south-east corner of the island. This is an area that many consider to be one of Samoa’s prettiest parts—and we can certainly see why people would say this. The land is staggeringly green, while the sea is so clear and blue!

Little did we realise, however, that Samoa didn’t have the widespread, “free” internet access we westerners have become massively accustomed to. It turned out that pretty much nowhere offered free WiFi, and where it did—our more upmarket hotel for the second half of the week—it was really poor quality. And this led us to realise just how addicted to on-demand, fast internet we are. I should point out at this point that I’m the person who before this trip would have told you that I’m not an obsessively connected person; that at home I actively seek to put down connected devices and do things only weirdos do, like playing sport or talking to friends face-to-face.

Anyway, it turned out that the first place we stayed at offered WiFi for 30 WST (about £9) for two precious hours. We could also have bought a local sim card plan to use the local 4G network. Being the non-addicts we thought we were though, we decided that it would be interesting to go without any of the things we have day-to-day—WhatsApp, checking up on the news, mindlessly flicking through Instagram, and so on—until we got to our hotel in Apia three days later. “A digital detox,” we said, “it’ll be easy for three days.”

However, after a few days we soon realised how being totally disconnected was different to choosing to not look at your phone for a few hours. This got the two of us thinking about being online and how each and every one of us has evolved to be addicted to connectivity in one way or another, even if we don’t realise it. The main example that comes to my mind is that we all mostly communicate on WhatsApp, Messenger, or by email now, not by old-fashioned text messages, so when you can’t check either of these services, you feel like you’re cut off from the world. For example, Poppy, one of my family’s dogs, had a really bad turn a few days before we got to Samoa and I was left wondering if when I got back online I’d have a message telling me the worst, or that she’d started to get better. Thankfully, the latter was the case, but I realised in this example that I’m totally dependent on WhatsApp or email for much of my day-to-day communication.

When we got to our hotel in Apia for the second half of the week, we were excited to get online and catch up with everything we’d missed. However, it turned out that the hotel’s WiFi was restricted to a mindbogglingly slow 0.2mbps, which only incensed us further. This showed us that our frustration wasn’t totally about not having access to our messaging apps, but that it was also about not having access to fast internet that lets us productively scour the internet for whatever we’re looking for—whether it’s reading about what damage Donald Trump wreaked in our few days offline or trying to upload pictures from our travels so far.

Long story short, we absolutely loved Samoa for its natural beauty, a completely different way of life, and its very friendly people—95% of people smiled and waved at us when we drove past them—but we also begrudged it for its lack of “free” or cheap, not to mention fast, connectivity that we’re now so used to. See the pictures below for what we got up to; I really don’t think we have any reason to complain too much…

Full gallery of our Samoa pics is here.

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