In 1968 I was granted a semester’s sabbatical leave from Columbia College. The
meaning of this “sabbatical” was “a rest, with pay.” After completing a
study of artificial respiration, I wanted to observe the recreation of
children in less well-developed areas. I planned to do this in Hawaii, Samoa,
New Zealand and Australia.
I had often asked my students in recreational leadership, “What do people
enjoy spontaneously when they’re not directed, not organized into teams, have
no special equipment or rules?” I chose a four-day stopover in American Samoa
to help me answer that question. My local travel agent said, “The children
are taught in English and Samoans use American money; you’ll have nothing to
Before claiming my luggage at Samoa’s airport, I was directed to a short line
of people waiting at the Hotel International desk. When I suggested that I
wanted to wait until I arrived in Pago Pago to choose a place to stay, the
information clerk smiled and explained that there was no choice. I got in line
with about six other travelers.
The price seemed rather steep for one person, but there were no single rooms,
so I paid, of course. The lady put a lei of beautiful fresh flowers around my
neck and directed me to the hotel limousine with the others. “Oh, I have my
bicycle!” I said, “I’ll just ride out.” She thought it was about six miles
from the airport to the town. Looking back on that, I wonder why I didn’t
verify this, and why I didn’t send my 20 pounds of luggage on the limo. I did,
however ask for directions.
The lady said. “Oh, you won’t get lost. Samoa is an island, and the road
winds along between the mountain and the ocean. The hotel is right on the
road.” Good! I claimed my bike and bags, carried them outside and began to
reassemble the bike. The handlebars had to be turned, the front wheel mounted,
the chain mounted and the brake cables hooked up. This took about 30 minutes,
and I had done it many times.
Three fellows watched and asked questions about the bike as I did this. “You
can’t ride out to ‘Pango Pango’ tonight,” one said with a strong native
accent. “Why not?” I asked as the limo pulled away and drove out of sight.
“Because it’s going to be dark,” he replied. “Well then, I’d better
hurry,” I said, thinking he was kidding. I mounted the bike, smiled, and
glanced at the sun, high in the sky.
The scene was beautiful. Children were out in small homemade boats. One seemed
to have a bent sheet of corrugated metal roofing for a hull. A middle-aged
woman was wading in a wrap-around garment, groping for something. A few people
were paddling around in the clear blue water. Waves rolled in on the gravel
and left their foam on sandy beaches. There was an occasional truck on the
blacktop road, which had no shoulder except loose, rounded pebbles. Bike tires
would have no business getting off the pavement, I noted. I passed several
native huts with a bit of light laundry hanging on lines in the sun. The huts
seemed to have no outside walls, and I could see stacks of mats. Sleeping
pads, I guessed. I wondered why all of the laundry was flat. Where are their
jeans, pajamas, underwear? It didn’t matter, but I was curious. The light
changed somewhat because the sun was going behind the mountain.
Ten minutes later I knew that the man at the airport wasn’t kidding! It was
getting dark fast. I pedaled faster. If the hotel was six miles from the
airport, I’d still have more than half of that to do. There was almost no
traffic now. Sometimes there were no homes in sight. Just the mountain, the
road and the ocean, as the hotel lady had said. Light spray blew against the
right side of my face when the big waves rolled in. I was riding farther away
from the edge of the blacktop, now, so as not to have a mishap. A sprung wheel
or a spill on those rocks would really set me back.
It quickly became pitch dark. No street lights. No yard lights. The few homes
I was passing had only one bare bulb hanging in the middle of the open room.
The fellow was right. It was too dark to ride! I slowed my pedaling and pulled
toward the road edge when the lights a vehicle came up behind me. It passed,
and I was glad. I had mostly traveler’s checks, but someone might want my
Peugeot PX-10 or the two $20 bills in my hip pocket.