Saturday morning comes and we hopped on the first bus we saw. Thankfully the water had retreated quite a bit during the early morning hours and the bus was able to cross with no problems. I mentioned in on of my earlier blog entries (A River Runs Through It) that the designers of the Savaii roads thought it unnecessary to build a proper bridge over the Mali’oli’o River since the water only effects the road one or two days out of the year. Being that the river has flowed three times now in the past year, I would say their philosophy might need to be updated. Regardless, the concrete slab which serves as a bridge was built at river level, so when the river comes and it’s flow is strong enough, traffic comes to a complete stop on both sides of the road. Savaii only has one road circling the island, so one could argue that this creates a significant problem, especially for tourists trapped or prevented from reaching their touristy destinations at the top of the island. However, like I said, we were lucky this particular morning and got to town with no problems.
We did our shopping, did the typical afternoon chill session at Lucia’s Lagoon, and then it was time to head home. I loaded the bus not knowing what the river had in store for me and nervous as anything. I had texted Manuia, the guy who works the store right next to the river and he had told me that the river was flowing strong but was probably passable. I didn’t like that answer, however, I had to try my luck. Too soon, we reached what felt like judgment day. As we approached the river crossing, we were met by dozens of cars lined up on the side of the road, waiting for the river to retreat. We came to a stop just before the river and waited as a few people hopped off the bus and dozens hopped on. Starring out the river I wondered to myself if I qualified as stupid for staying on the bus and I had the impulse to jump off. Had we sat there a few minutes longer, I might have given in to my fear, but just as I was pondering my escape, the bus began to move forward. I turned to the man sitting next to me as I plotted my back up escape route through the window to his left and made a face implying, “do you think this is safe?” He just smiled at me and responded with, “This is the strongest river in Samoa, you know?” Some how his words did not help. The feeling you get in your stomach as you accent to the peak of a rollercoaster in nervous anticipation of the drop was the feeling that crept into me as we descended towards the riverbed. Then like a turtle who moves slow and steady both in and out of the water we began our progress across the short concrete bridge (completely hidden at this point). Water nearly reached the windows of the bus, but a man stood in the water showing the driver where the side of the bridge ended (and thus where to avoid!) Somehow, his calm presence in the gushing water was reassuring. If he wasn’t being swept down stream, chances we low that we would be. The bus creaked and moaned and then in a flash, we were out of the water and back on dry land. I think I breathed for the first time in about five minutes.
My river adventure over for the day and possible the year, I headed into my house, fixed a big bowl of cereal for dinner, and settled down to watch a movie. Who knows when the river will return again? Next time, I’m taking a canoe to town though!