Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Wanting Some Mo' of SAMOA!

Sometimes in the absence of elaborate pre planning and those all too common pre conceived travel expectations one could be pleasantly surprised with the exposure to new culture and a foreign land.  This is just what happened with us on our recent trip to Western Samoa.  The surprise we had at discovering such an idyllic island paradise is tough to justify with words.  In this land of robust, sturdy people their size is only equalled by their hearts and love for their community.   Their kind and soft voices stand as a stark contrast to their stature and their tattooed bodies. This Samoan land is the most beautiful and untouched place that is drenched in the most vibrant shades of green that you could ever lay eyes on.  You have to understand that Amy and I are hesitant on writing about Samoa and sharing our experiences since this island paradise has somehow been able to keep itself free from overpopulated beaches, overabundance of commerce and polluted countryside.  So long as our readers keep these details a secret between us we can ensure that this country will not become another over processed tourist hot spot.
Amy waving from the porch at our hotel in Apia.
The chef and one of the hosts at the hotel serving up a nice buffet for their typical sunday family feast.
Amy and I typically take a little time before visiting each new country to learn a bit about the culture, reserve some accommodations, work out the transportation logistics and set up a rough itinerary.  For Western Samoa we had the luxury of having our own Samoan tour guide ('Misa') who planned and made all arrangements for us.  Here is some back story for you...Amy met Misa at our good friends' Mike and Andy's house in Nebraska during a holiday party.  Amy tells the story as basically inviting ourselves along when a discussion popped up about a Samoan excursion to include Mike, Andy and friends and had some space still available.  In any event, I am glad for Amy's potential imposition as the country and the company we had on this trip were amazing.

Amy and I had a short jump from Fiji over to Samoa and arrived a couple of days prior to the rest of the group.  We stayed in a small hotel in Apia called Lynn's Get a Way.  There was a pool to relax and take refuge from the heat in as well as a home cooked Samoan meal that the owners prepared for a small fee.  We were happy that the place was clean, had nice amenities and friendly hosts.  Although this Samoa is not governed by its American sister island  'American Samoa', the locals still speak English making us feel just that much more at home.  Luckily, the hotel did have internet access so we were able to catch up on some emails and with family/friends back at home.
Some fales scattered about in a small community just outside of Apia.
A typical roadside convenient store.
Cannot see it too well, but these two are selling some dried fish that are hanging on the yellow stand.
To paint you a picture (along with the help of the photos included), the island is densely wooded with patches of beautiful green, flowering plants and trees.  The only road around the island passes mainly close to the oceanfront. There is a mountain range in the center of the island of Upolu (where the capital, Apia is) offering the landscape some dramatic cliffs, pointy skyscraper like summits that diminutizes one of the biggest waterfall drops I have ever seen.  The roads are pretty well maintained with an occasional pot hole to distract you from the beautiful sights around you.  The ocean is very calm and the land bordering it often forms itself into small coves and bays that are perfect to entertain the amphibious samoan kids on a hot day or to spend an endless summer day fishing in.  The native life is quite different and takes minimalism to an extreme.  Many Samoans live without running water and electricity.  If they are lucky to have these conveniences then they are sharing them with much of their community.  Either you live in a small and simply appointed, cinder block home with four walls or you live in a traditional 'fale' with no walls.  Either way you are sleeping on the floor on traditional mats or in a hammock.  The fales have a roof that is supported by pillars on a cement floor.  These fales were not only homes to sleep in, but covered locations for community/family gatherings.  The larger more ornate ones you saw scattered about were used mainly for chiefly business.  Driving around town you would see fales in front of houses for use during special occasions and sometimes see fales that were the family's primary shelter .  In between these fales every mile or so you would have a simply built structure that would house either a small convenient store or the local tire store/gas station (or 'tyre' and 'petrol' station).  Every now and then you might also find someone selling dried fish and many other local, curious looking delicacies.  Needless to say, we never stopped to try some, but enjoyed them from afar and even took some pictures to share with you.

Before the others arrived Amy and I spent some time on foot looking around the town of Apia and seeing what there was to be seen around our hotel.  The walk to downtown was about 1/2 hour in the blazing sun.  Right before heading home (while we were watching a cultural show at a fair) it poured allowing us an opportunity to walk home in some cooler temperatures.  The city was pretty small and had some brightly colored colonial looking buildings.  There were a couple of main streets in town that had large markets and various stores.  I would imagine that as a result of the heat many stay indoors and out of the main center of town since there were not too many people in our restaurant enjoying a pizza with us or around the shops in town.  We did a quick peruse of the town, took a walk along the seawall to watch a cruise ship dock and spent some time with a pack of mormons at a Samoan cultural fair.
The street we walked down to go to the downtown area.
In the center of town a block away from the ocean.
A nicely decorated local bus.  Typically these are overflowing with people.  We have heard that they often sit on top of each other too when there are no seats available.  
Amy taking a walk on the seawall looking for a palm big enough to shade us.
At the cultural fair they wrapped up some fish to roast and to serve us at a feast later on. 
Our feast before the show: taro root, fish and a wonderful side dish of coconut milk with spinach.
Our upbeat lunch show.
Braving the heat while all the local Samoans were in their sunday whites we set out for a long hike up the mountain just outside of town and past the Robert Louis Stevenson home and museum.
Amy in front of some taro plants on our way to the trail head.
Luckily it didn't rain until our way down as this would have been even more of a challenge.
After a couple days touring around the town by ourselves the rest of the group finally arrived.  We were now a group of 8 (5 airline employees and 3 family members).  Amy and I were joined by our friends Mike and Andy from Nebraska, their United Airlines co workers Shy and Kate and our wonderful hosts/tour guides, the Samoan brothers Misa and Tongi (Misa works with the group at United in Nebraska).  All 8 of us plus a heap of luggage piled into the mighty, rented mini van.  Our tour the first day took us from one side of the island of Upolu to the other.  After passing over the mountain and through the beautiful green, tropical landscape we arrived in Lalomanu Beach.  The resort we stayed at was owned by Misa and Tongi's family member.  The resort was Litia Sini Beach resort and although wiped out by a tsunami a little while back it was newly reconstructed and well maintained for our arrival.
Near the top of the mountain looking down to the ocean.
The island in the background was used at one time as a leper colony.  Unfortunately the coral in the area was killed by the tsunami so snorkeling wasn't as colorful and exciting as we heard it once was.
Amy in front of our fale.
Beachfront at Litia Sini Resort.
A local brew with some local food to get our night started.
Misa, excited to get the party started.
Our first night's sunset.
After the group split up into our two 'fales' overlooking the pristine beach and the great blue we were served a local meal in the restaurant.  Washing it all down with a couple of local beers we all decided that we didn't want the party to end.  We ordered up some mixers that were delivered to us on the beach and Misa (doubling not only as our tour guide, but our bar tender extraordinaire) served us up some drinks from monster vodka bottles that Mike and Andy smuggled in from a Nebraska Costco.  With drinks in hand we plunged into the crystal clear waters, watched multi colored sea life floating by our feet and gazed with fascination at the light show the setting sun was displaying for us.  There were barely any waves, so the night of wading in the warm waters and socializing with some great friends (old and new) was quite pleasant.  We were shocked with the realization that it was past midnight and the drinking and floating in the water had been going on since just after dinner.

While we were in the water the slight breeze we had died off and left us emerging from the sea with  salty bodies that were sticky with sweat.  After cooling off with a cold shower we laid down on our beds (too hot to be tucked in) and caged ourselves in with the mosquito net.  It was a hot night and the heat in combination with the noise of the ocean we weren't used to made for a rough night of sleep. The morning and its intense sun came quick and we were happily awaken to a beautiful day with plenty of sightseeing in store for us.
Just another day at the beach in Lalomanu, Samoa.
Hey look...a rainbow assortment of fish with men swatting flies away with palm leaves.  Fish and chips was on the lunch menu that day.
Even the policemen wear the traditional lava lavas in Samoa.
The biggest waterfall we had ever seen.
Our group shot in front of the waterfall (Misa taking the photo).
Amy after her first jump into a different waterfall we visited.  
Amy (on her second jump) with Andy.
Another group shot before heading off.
Back on the main road kids were just getting out of school.  We were told that some kids walk up to 2 hours just to go to school.  
Getting some fresh fruit at a stand on the side of the road.
One deep crater and one long climb down for a swim.
The water was a pretty turquoise color.  You could hear the water gurgling in from the underground tunnels leading to the ocean.
Amy and me after a swim.
Stopped to smell some flowers...
Back home for another awesome sunset.
After a couple more days at the Litia Sini Resort we packed our bags and headed to the other island of Western Samoa called Savai'i.  Crossing over to the other side of the island of Upolu to get our ferry we passed some beautiful countryside.  Just before we arrived at the ferry terminal we all heard a strange noise and started to feel the unleveled contours of the road.  We all knew that the combination of the noise and the up and down motion of the mini van could only mean one thing.  Unfortunately, with our scheduled departure time quickly drawing near we all hoped out, unloaded the bags and started to search for the tire and the tools to change it.  After some foraging around in the back of the van and underneath we managed to do some pulling and cranking of levers to locate the spare tire.  Faster than you can say NASCAR pit crew five times we had that big mini van back on route again to the ferry terminal.

Our ferry ride was short and uneventful.  Upon our arrival we settled into a couple more days of sun on the island of Savai'i.  One morning the group set out to explore in our now '3 wheeled' mini van.  Amy and I decided to stick around at the resort to do some swimming and catch up on some blogging.  Unfortunately, their excursion was short lived and some ventured back reporting that they hitch hiked back and that our mighty mini van was not so mighty anymore.  Sadly the mini van now lost the use of yet another tire and may or may not have ended up in a ditch somewhere.  The rest of the group eventually came back, the tire was fixed and the car didn't look as bad as initially thought.  All feeling a little deflated (no pun intended) we assured ourselves that this wouldn't get us down and spoil our vacation.  After some liquid medication/cheer we enjoyed a group dinner and a wonderful Samoan dance show put on by some locals.
A high speed view of a fale with the beautiful Samoan countryside.
Another high speed look at a lake with the mountains in the background on our way to the ferry station.
Our view just minutes before our roadside pit stop.
Driver and pit crew fast at work.
This little boy was selling banana chips so Tongi and I had to buy some before we boarded the ferry.
You know they say when in Rome...  Believe it or not the lava lava is quite cool and if you tie it off correctly you won't find yourself in public with it around your ankles.
On our way to the island of Savai'i.
Our home for the next 3 nights.
Our bed...,but check out that roof.
Our little fale by the beach.
Enjoying the pool before dinner.
The beach in front of the resort.
Our delicious meal before the show.
The locals strutting their stuff.
...Amy joining in
Another license plate shot
Bye bye Samoa!
Hello New Zealand!

Thank you Mike, Andy, Shy, Kate, Misa and Tongi for allowing us to tag along for this unforgettable Samoan vacation.  We cannot wait to hang out with you guys again.