There's two schools of thought on visiting Samoa on a Sunday:
Either – Everyone is in church, so the shops are shut, the town is deserted, and nothing is going on.
Or – There's no better day to visit this deeply religious country, taking the opportunity to go to church and experience the wonderful singing and warm welcome of the lovely Samoan people.
I went for the latter option, and had a fantastic day. So, in the morning, we went to Mass at the beautiful Catholic Cathedral – the singing and harmonies were amazing (even though the people who also went to the Wesleyan Church thought that their singing was even better). Our time in church gave us a real feeling to the profound sense of community in Samoa, of a people who've resolutely hung onto their Polynesian traditions and their Christian faith.
After Mass, we went over to the "Cultural Village" at the Tourist Information Centre, where the demonstrations of traditional crafts, food, song and dance were excellent. What made it even better was that this was all being put on for free – I can't think of many countries around the world that would put on all this for cruise passengers. Another sign of the pride in their traditions and the warmth of the people.
Just as we were thinking that we should move to Samoa to set up a new life, a walk around the utterly deserted, sun-baked streets of Apia, the sweat pouring off us, did remind us that this was not quite paradise. If it weren't for the people coming out of the many different churches on the waterfront as services ended (most of them dressed in gleaming white, in their Sunday best), it was like someone had stolen the city's population.
Whilst the city's mostly modern architecture hardly made Apia a thing of beauty, the tropical setting, with waves crashing in, made it a pleasant environment; while everyone we passed wished us a cheery "Talofa", or "hello".
After getting back to the ship for a change of clothes (we had sweated through our first outfits), we joined the ship's tour to Robert Louis Stevenson's grand colonial mansion, Vailima, where we were treated to a fabulous performance by a hugely energetic Church choir with a cast of more than 60 singers. The harmonies were wonderful, the dancing exuberant, and the enthusiasm simply infectious – it was impossible not to have a smile on your face as you watched it.
This was one of those days that you didn't want to end – there's so much more to Samoa that we didn't get a chance to see (waterfalls, crater lakes, gorgeous beaches, great snorkelling, and an increasing number of high class resorts); but, what little we did get to sample was just great. What a fantastic little country.