Pimp my bus ride: Samoan buses are a unique experience

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Samoan buses are uncomfortable, noisy and won’t run on time. But that’s the fun of it! Even if you have nowhere to go in Samoa, take a bus somewhere. 

We wanted to get out of Apia and head to the south coast. We’d heard the waters were incredible and there were some great natural sights to see. Taxis are expensive and as we are on a budget the bus was the answer. We’ve taken plenty of buses across the Pacific islands now, but this one was a little bit different.

For a starter, Samoan buses are decorated brightly in whatever style the driver desires. We saw a Bon Jovi and Guns ‘n’ Roses themed one, a lottery themed one and several that appear to be named after the driver’s mother. The drivers appear to make their own rules and leave whenever they’re ready or when the bus is full, and if they want to knock off early and go and watch the rugby, they will.

The Colourful Samoan buses

Atlas & BOots

Climbing aboard ours we found the driver asleep.

“Excuse me, does the bus go to Vaiula Beach?” Kia asked. No response. She tapped him on the shoulder and he stirred rather grumpily as Kia asked again. He nodded, still clearly irritated. “And, when does it leave?” A fairly reasonable question we felt.

“10.30,” he growled. It was just gone 10.

At 11, after sitting in our sweltering seats for what felt like an age, he finally turned the engine over and slowly pulled the vehicle into the next parking bay, then turned the engine off again and waited. One local man got off and got on another bus instead. After a few more minutes the driver again turned the engine on, this time pulling out onto the main road, circling the roundabout before returning to the same bay in the bus station again. Kia and I just looked at each other.

At about 11.15 we finally left the bus station and pulled into the first petrol station 10 minutes later where the driver and nearly all the passengers got off to buy snacks for the journey ahead. Once everyone had boarded again we left and pulled into the next petrol station where the driver’s friend got off and filled up a jerry can with petrol. We looked on with concern as he stashed it under the bus where the luggage should go!

Finally, we left Apia. The driver flicked on the radio and found his favourite station which seemed to specialise in some form of hybrid Euro-techno-reggae. He had rigged up his own amplifier and speaker at the front which made it impossible to hold a conversation. There’s also a rather strange hierarchy on Samoan buses where foreigners and older people sit near the front, so they can “enjoy” the full blast of the driver’s favourite sounds.

In 2009, the Samoan government changed the law from driving on the right to left side of the road. It doesn’t seem to have been completely taken on board. Our bus was a right-hand-drive vehicle, but the driver just powered down the middle of the road at times. Luckily for us there’s not much traffic outside of Apia so there weren’t too many see-your-own-death moments.

The road journey itself should only take about an hour, but we’d been on the bus for nearly three. Our budget dictates we’ll have to take more Samoan buses while we’re here. I just hope our next driver prefers a spot of easy listening instead!

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