Sunday, July 01, 2007

Western Samoa

This past week we have been vacationing from our AS vacation. Or, as Kiwis and some Samoans would say, we have been on a "holiday" in Western Samoa (real name is, simply, Samoa).

We arrived in Upolu, Western Samoa's main island, on Monday evening, June 25, 2007. We then took a taxi to the west end of the island and took a boat (reminiscent of the boat to Ainu'u) to the island of Manono (Manono is in the background of this picture):

In Manono, we stayed at the Vaotu'ua Beach Resort. The big draw to this place was that you stay in fales (pronounced "fa-lays") that have steps that go right down and into the ocean. The ocean literally crashed underneath us as we slept!

Fales are the Samoan's version of "camping out." More to the truth, fales, to some Samoans, ARE their homes. In fact, many Samoans live in fales very much like the one we stayed in (but not necessarily over the water). The fales have thin mattresses and pillows, and you let down mosquito netting over you while you sleep. For some strange reason, palagis think it's cool to sleep in these things instead of nice hotels. Go figure.

The sunrise the next morning was spectacular.

The beach was really nice (but small).

The food, however, wasn't that great. Our tour book said it was "excellent" food, but compared to the rest of our fales, it was probably the least desirable. Jessi called Vaotu'ua the "five piece swimming suit beach resort" because they required women to wear a shirt, shorts and a lava lava over their swimming suit if they were in the ocean. There are no vehicles and just dirt walkways in the village. Very traditional island.

I think the sunlight was a little too bright for Jessi and Jaydn.

But oh so fun to stay in this very quaint and unique locale!

On Tuesday, it was off to Savaii Island (you gotta love our marathon vacations). We crossed back to Upolu and took a taxi to Mulifanua Wharf where we boarded the ferry, which left on the dot at 12:00 pm (quoting Lonely Planet--"how very un-Samoan"). The ferry ride took about 1 hour 15 minutes.

Once on Savaii, we looked desperately for a bus. I don't mind taking a Samoan bus since we've done it many times before. But the cab drivers are plentiful; they literally line the walk from the wharf in Savaii to the street. And all of them, very conveniently, let me know that "you missed the buses. You have to take a taxi."

So, we took a very expensive taxi drive to our next destination--Satuiatua Beach (on the south side of Savaii). Upon arrival, our host questioned why we had not taken a bus, because, after all, they do come every half-hour and cost only 2 tala per person. Upon hearing all of this, our taxi driver very sheepishly hunkered back into his taxi, demanded his money and left. While he felt like a sheep, I was, regrettably, the dumb donkey who fell for this trick.

Anyway, Satuiatua was wonderful. We stayed in another beach fale (again, right on the beach). Satuiatua is a hot spot for surfers, but it's also a nice place to swim and snorkel. In fact, the snorkeling was fantastic here.

The beach is great, and the service is just as good. In fact, this was the only beach resort that actually had a menu of items to choose from for dinner. And the food was very well prepared. It was also one of the cheapest places we stayed. For anyone coming to Savaii, I would recommend Satuiatua.

Jaydn, our little shell collector, had by this point in our trip collected enough shells to keep us very busy. We had to put a shell quota on Jaydn's collecting just so we didn't have to buy another suitcase in order to haul them all back home.

On Wednesday, we were actually able to catch the bus back to the wharf. I thought I'd been on packed Samoan buses (or Korean buses, for that matter). But this was just crazy. Every mother had her children on her lap. Every seat was taken. All isle space was full. We crammed our bags in on the bus as the driver rolled his eyes at us. There were even three large men in the entryway of the bus; one of the men had to hang out the front door for lack of space. So, imagining this picture, let me add one more detail--the driver had on the loudest, most ridiculous Samoan rap music (including one to the tune of "Do-Re-Mi" of the Sound of Music), and he let it play over and over and over again, for the entire trip. It was a truly cultural experience.

While the ferry to Savaii was smooth, the ferry back to Upolu was quite rocky. Jessi sometimes gets motion sickness, so the fact that little kids were leaning over the trash cans on the ferry and letting go of their lunches didn't sit well with her.

Back on Upolu we met up with our Funway Rental car guy who brought us an exact replica of our car in American Samoa. We were on our way to the south beach of Upolu, to the Virgin Cove (not "Virgin Love") Beach Resort.

Virgin Cove is probably one of the newer beach fale resorts in Samoa. It's quite out-of-the-way; you have to drive down a long dirt road along the oceanside to get to it. It's quite a nice place. Our fale in Virgin Cove was the largest and most comfortable, I thought.

But what really makes this place stick out are its beaches (there are several). It really lives up to its name--I felt like I was one of the first to walk on these beaches. The water was the bluest of any beach we went to on our trip. And what endeared it to Jaydn was the rope swing.

A drawback was its snorkeling, however. Since the reef felt like it was millions of miles out, and it was sand all the way out to the end of the reef, there were only small pockets of coral and fish. But it was still a very fun beach to swim in.

The biggest drawback was dinner, which was supposed to be ready at 6:00 pm. It was, in fact, not ready until almost 8:30 pm. We sat and waited for so long, and then the chicken dish was gritty and knobby. We were very unimpressed by the food.

It was also sort of wierd that they used kerosene lamps for lighting in the fales instead of regular electricity. I guess they thought they could cut costs or something.

After leaving Virgin Cove on Thursday, we were told that all of the beach fales had been robbed the previous Sunday. Which didn't really surprise me; after all, the robbers just had to wait until dinner and then walk right into every unlocked fale. Thank goodness our valuables were on our person at all times!

Thursday we drove to our final beach fale, Taufua, which is on Lalomanu Beach on the east side of Upolu. The drive to Lalomanu is very beautiful, and this picture simply cannot do it justice.

Along the way, we crossed a very interesting street sign. This takes the cake for ambiguous, but it did at least alert me that something ahead was worth my attention.

Lalomanu Beach was, arguably, the most beautiful beach we have ever seen in Samoa (with competition coming from Ofu). The setting was gorgeous, the sand was wonderful, and the water was crystal clear.

We stayed right on the beach; our front door literally opened out onto the beach. It was very difficult not to stay in the water or on the beach for many hours on end. We had a marvelous time here (even if I did put my water shirt on inside-out and backwards).

Also, Taufua's food was the best of any place we stayed. They make everyone sit at a large table and they bring out all of the dishes Thanksgiving-dinner style. The food was very good and service was wonderful. If you are coming to Upolu, Lalomanu is a must, and Taufua is the place to stay.

There was only one uninvited guest on the beach, but he sneaks into every Samoan party.

Pictures just don't do it justice; you have to be there to understand how beautiful this beach really is. But as a substitute, here's a video of Jaydn showing us how fast he is (and how he can beat the waves).

On Friday, we headed into Apia. The drive there was stunning, especially as we drove along Le Mafa Pass.

I think it's probably at this point of the trip that I realized how many LDS Chapels there are in Samoa. Literally, if you didn't like your chapel, you could just drive a few miles down the road!

Once in Apia we met our friend Ed for pizza at Giordano's. Highly touted as the best pizza in Samoa, we were not going to miss it--even if it meant getting Jaydn McDonalds while we waited for several hours until Giordano's opened at 3:00 pm.

After pizza, I took Ed through the LDS Temple session for his very first time. For Mormons, this is a very important event. The Temple is a truly remarkable building in any country in which it exists; but it very well could be the most beautiful building in all of Western and American Samoa. Ed had a very memorable first trip through the Temple.

That night, we met up with James and Tia , friends of our good friends Steve and Fua in American Samoa. James and Tia were extremely gracious and took us into their home for the next two nights. They lived in a beautiful location up the mountainside overlooking Apia and right next to the 2007 South Pacific Games fields (and a huge pinapple patch owned by their family). Our time with the Elise's was wonderful.

This big banana spider certainly scared Jessi and Jaydn on Saturday night. It was bigger than Jaydn's hand.
On Saturday morning, we went first thing to Palolo Deep National Marine Reserve in Apia. This spot is known for having some of the best snorkeling in Samoa. We swam out to where the large drop-off was, but accidentally veered to the right a bit. Good thing that we did, because we swam right into two black-tip reef sharks. These sharks are not very big, and non-aggressive. This was the first time any of us had seen sharks in the ocean while snorkeling, so it was quite an experience.

After a while there, we decided to go left and into the snorkeling spot. A short ways off, we ran into a school of black-tip reef sharks--there had to have been about 20. It was amazing. We just sat there and watched, and they swam all around in front of us. We moved on and swam through them cautiously, and into the snorkeling spot. As you can imagine, Jaydn was ecstatic.

Palolo was amazing. It is a lot like Airport Beach in American Samoa, however, and is maybe just a tad bit better. Anyway, on our way back, Jaydn and I swam right past a much larger shark heading slowly the other direction.

I mentioned to the people running Palolo on the way out that the guide book doesn't mention that there are sharks at Palolo. An older man quickly quipped back at me, "It's you palagis who go off and tell people that there are sharks out here so people get afraid and don't come here." I assured him that I was not going to try and scare people away from Palolo. What I should have said was that if I did tell our palagi friends that Palolo has sharks, they would likely be coming here in droves. But that probably would have made no sense (the things palagis do for excitement!?).

After Palolo, we headed off to Papasee'a Sliding Rock. Unlike its American Samoan counterpart, this was a true "sliding rock" (the other is just slippery). At Papasee'a, the water comes down in waterfalls into consecutive deep pools of fresh water, so you can slide down the rock and into the water, kind of like a waterslide.

There were several of these slides, but none looked as enticing and truly mortifying as the middle slide (the one shown above). This slide was very steep and slippery, and it dropped you down about 20 or more feet into a pool. We saw others doing it, so we thought, "what the heck!" After Jessi and I had tried it (your heart goes up into your throat), Jaydn ventured he'd try while sitting on my lap. It didn't quite work the first time.

He did go down with me, but we caught it on the other video camera so I'm unable to put it on the blog at this time. We spent the rest of the time going down this slide several more times and jumping into the pool at the bottom. It was a blast. I recommend that anyone who comes to Apia go to Sliding Rock. If you have the guts, it is a really fun place.

On Saturday evening, we were pooped from an arduous vacation-holiday. We went out to eat with James and Tia at Italiano's Pizza that night. I don't think I could eat enough pizza after living on this rock where we only have Pizza Hut (which isn't that bad). James got me to try Samoan's Own hot sauce on the pizza, which is apparently a popular way to eat pizza here. I like hot food, but man, I couldn't handle this hot sauce. After Italiano's, I'm not sure whether Giordano's or Italiano's pizza is better.

We had our second (or third) helping of Scoops Ice Cream after the pizza, and went home.

The next day our SPX flight back to AS was cancelled and we had to take an earlier flight on Polynesian Airlines. This is really ironic because usually it's Polynesian that has to cancel everything, and SPX has to pick up their customers. This time it was SPX's turn to bail on its customers.

So, now we are home. What a trip! And after I put the pictures on this blog, I'm going off to my nice bed to enjoy a non-vacation night's sleep!


jane said...

Pictures are great! Sorry to have missed you all but we'll see you when we get back from NZ on the 26 July. Talia and Noah are missing Jadyn.

Fieldbug said...


I visited Samoa briefly in July 2008.
Planing to return.
Great posting and accurate recall.

A good trip review.


Fata said...

A wonderful travel document. It makes me very nostalgic for home. When I was a kid growing up in Falealili, we took all these things for granted. I snorkeled a couple of times at Palolo in the seventies and sharks were not seen then. The last time I went to Savai'i was 1976; I hope it hasn't changed much, but I like the idea of Samoan faleo'o as lodgings--lends the experience a bit of authenticity. Great job, thank you.