Travel Stories: Bus Rescue in Samoa

On occasion, when travelling, I’ve come across some funny or strange things. I’ll share these every so often as I love to tell stories about my travels! This story is from a rainy day in Samoa, in October of 2005.

I was on a public bus, perched on the lap of a complete stranger.. actually, perhaps I’d better rewind a bit!

Samoan public transport is wildly different to that of the UK. Brightly coloured trucks with more garish paraphernalia attached to the windscreen than seats for passengers, the buses are owned by their drivers and so the timetable is dictated by whether the bus is full enough to leave. The drivers equip their buses with the most outrageous sound systems – all the better for attracting business – but this tends to be at the expense of fitting decent engines. Bus trips are therefore one of the more exciting and unpredictable tourist experiences on the islands! At least you can have a good old dance by the side of the road whilst you wait for the engine to be fixed.

The Samoan attitude is personal space is relaxed – if you are smaller than other people then you sit on someone’s lap. Sometimes I got children plonked onto my lap, but mostly I was the one balanced on the knee of a stranger.

On the day in question, I was travelling from the island of Upulu via ferry to the larger island of Savaii. I’d planned to hitch a ride with a Kiwi couple in their hire car, but the hire company refused to hire out the vehicle due to the heavy tropical rains. We got the bus instead.

I began to wonder if I should have stayed in Upulu when we started slowing down to drive across rivers swollen up and over the road. Our driver negotiated them well, but balked at attempting the last one we would need to cross before reaching our destination. We all got out to wait for the river levels to recede. Speaking with a young boy from the village, I learned this could take up to two days!

Head spinning from the knowledge, I was distracted by a commotion at the river’s edge – a bus driver on the other side was venturing into the rapids!

Within seconds, the flow of the river had caught the vehicle and all the passengers started to lean out of the windows to prevent the bus from toppling over. The village boy told me this was a common occurrence at this river, and several vehicles had been swept away.


Water swelled up into the bus, and the passengers clambered onto the roof. Their chances were beginning to look slim.

A rescue effort began, and once everyone except the driver was off, a rope was attached to the back. At first , the locals tried to use a truck to tow the bus to safety, but the rope snapped after a few metres so about 25 or 30 people grabbed the remaining rope and heaved the bus out, chanting as they did so.

As the bus left the water, they moved around to the front and pushed it out, to massive cheers from the spectators!

I decided I’d had enough excitement at the river, and together with eight other people, paid a minivan driver to take us around the long way to our destination. The rain stopped that evening and a few days later when I went back to the ferry it was as if the river had never swollen at all.

Sarah Jayne


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