There are few clocks, electronic scoreboards and monitors for departures and arrivals, but the simple fact that we were crossing the small Faleolo airport in Apia, proved to us that we had just crossed the International Data Line – LID to the east.
And flown back in time.
We were now in a mysterious tropical yesterday. After booking the tickets and making various contacts with the island's authorities, it was the program of activities in Samoa that required the last chronological adjustments, as they would later claim every phone call and contact with the rest of the world.
Anthony – our host – spot us among Auckland newcomers, New Zealand. greet us with a talofa expressive, similar to those we had also found in Tonga.
She wears traditional garments composed of a lava-lava type of long skirt, suitable for the often bulky Samoans, combined with a shirt with a flowered design.
Samoa's Always Special Hour
“Have you set the clocks yet? Don't forget that it's not just time. Delay us a day or else they'll always walk ahead of us and it only causes confusion.” assure us with good disposition.
“Don't laugh! Believe what I say: for me, this is almost mechanical now but when I started working in tourism I made several trips to Auckland and Sydney and I got fed up with having problems because of this damn imaginary line.”
The Samoan Islands – including, at the time, American Samoa, today a distinct territory belonging to the USA – kept to the west of the LID until 1892. In that year, American merchants convinced King Malietoa Laupepa to adopt the “American day”.
They aimed for the archipelago to be just three hours behind California, which was beneficial for commercial transactions at the time.
The change was implemented through the repetition of the 4th of July 1892, the day of the independence of the United States .
Although the islands were administered by Great Britain, USA e New Zealand and since Western Samoa became, in 1962, the first Pacific nation to declare independence, the territory remained 119 years east of the line.
The Old Problem of Temporal Incompatibility
It only takes a few tens of kilometers around Upolu to understand why a problem that had already proved obvious to the big “western” neighbors Australia e New Zealand, only much later did it provoke the intervention of the Samoan authorities.
We crossed small coastal villages organized around their fales (Polynesian shelter structures in an oval or round shape).
Every time the guide takes us to a place and leaves us on our own, Anthony gives us a reference time for the reunion but makes a point of adding that it is about “Samoan Time” which is to say that we are at ease and can show up much later.
We also interpreted this warning as something like: “if you Portuguese and other Latinos think you are relaxed, get used to the idea that we Samoans are ten times more”.
Samoa's Tropical Time, Almost Still,
You feel the usual heat of these tropical parts of the South Pacific. The humidity suffocates.
These are other valid reasons – in addition to geographic isolation and Polynesian resistance to change – for most natives to rest under the shade of trees, inside their simple houses or small domestic businesses.
The impression we are left with is that time has stopped in these parts.
If science prevents any such conclusion, we know that, at a certain point, its “delayed” passing almost only favored Samoa in terms of tourist promotion.
"The last country on the face of the Earth to see the sun set" was a concept well explored by those responsible for international marketing campaigns in Samoa, who took the opportunity to attract young newlyweds and those with purchasing power above all from Samoa. Australia and New Zealand but also from Europe, the United States and even the Japan.
With the change, instead of disappearing, the solar trump will be reversed to “the first country of the world watching the sun rise”.
In addition, the tourist activity gains two extra days of contact. As well as the operability with the kiwi and Aussie counterparts, countries with hundreds of thousands of inhabitants of Samoan origin.
Samoa was 23 hours behind the New Zealand. It is now 1 hour ahead. The change brought more than expected commercial advantages.
Day after Day, an Inevitable Controversy
As always in these cases, it is impossible to please Greeks and Trojans. Some resort owners complain that the appeal of the ultimate sunset was far more romantic than an early sunrise, albeit the first on the planet.
His dissatisfaction did not deter Prime Minister Tuila'epa Sailele Malielegaoi, who frequently complained about the current situation: “…when it's Friday, here, it's Saturday in New Zealand and when we are at church on Sunday, they are already doing business on Sydney and Brisbane. In every week that passes, there are two days of work lost”.
Rico Tupai, one of the most influential businessmen in the country, completed the reasoning in another statement to the press: “on Friday we send emails to Australia e New Zealand with questions and we never have answers because it's already the weekend there. When the answers arrive, we are away from the computers, living with the families…”
In practice, the decision implied an option to approach the sphere of these two countries and Asia, with whom Samoa began to have priority relations.
To the detriment of the North American sphere, including the “sister” American Samoa which, although situated just a few kilometers to the east, was 25 hours behind Samoa, while Los Angeles, almost 8000 km away, is now 22 hours behind Apia, the capital.
Finally, one day ahead
So, at local midnight on December 29 (Friday) Samoa went straight to 31. It did so with the company of the small neighboring nation Tokelau who took advantage of the ride.
Due to its historic content, the move was made official by a small ceremony presided over by the prime minister, followed by morning tea or coffee offered to everyone who had witnessed it.
Still, it was celebrated only by a few inhabitants. Under a sky lit by the burst of fireworks, adherent villagers circled and honked around the roundabout of the old white and yellow clock tower in the center of Apia (the capital),
The tower was erected in memory of those who fought and died in World War I, in the place where there was a stage where sailors already on land made serenades to welcome their compatriots who arrived on ships.
With the end of the war, one of Samoa's pioneering businessmen, Olaf Frederick Nelson, endowed it with a watch and bells. He offered them in memory of his only son Ta'isi, victim of an influenza epidemic brought to the islands by the New Zealand ship SS Talune in 1918.
The Touristic-Timeline Frenzy Around the International Date Line
94 years later, in times of peace and health, without anyone noticing, the hands of this watch were forced to make two complete turns forward.
Then, several well-heeled tourists took the opportunity to travel to Samoa. There they experienced the crossing from one side to the other of the LID and, later, they lived one of the first year passes on the face of the Earth.
Then they traveled to American Samoa and crossed the LID again in order to reach December 31 and celebrate again, in the last territory in the world to reach 2012.
Those who already had reservations made at hotels and resorts in Upolu and Savai'i – Samoa's two main islands – did not have to pay their December 30 stay. Officially that day did not exist.
As for us, the next morning we returned to Auckland. We're back across the International Date Line.
In the afternoon, we cross it back to the day before, on our way to the United States.
And a few months later, west and tomorrow. With the China as a destination.