Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Surviving Samoa

Wow, I can't believe we spent 9 days in (Western) Samoa, and haven't made an update to the blog!

We were super-busy the whole time... between watching Rugby World Cup on TV, socializing, touring around, and a little 'touristas', the time just flew.

We arrived in time hang out with Dream Away and Quicksilver for 2 days until they left on Sunday. They gave Dave and I a cram course in Rubgy rules, as we watched the elimination rounds, including Samoa vs Fiji, Samoa vs South Africa, and England vs France. Avril from Dream Away also spent a lot of time with Dave giving him tips on where to go and what to do in Samoa.

s/v Shango (Roger and Amy) showed up on Sunday from Pago Pago, so we got together with them and rented a car for 4 days. Unfortunately, it took Shango all day Monday to get cleared in. So we set the rental car up for Tuesday morning. Then on Tuesday morning, both Dave and I came down with a pretty bad case of 'traveler's diarrhea'. We rented the car anyway, but I spent all day Tuesday very close to the 'head' on our boat. By Weds Dave and I were feeling better, so we set out with Roger and Amy to 'do' Samoa.

We headed west out of Apia on Wednesday morning to do a clockwise circumnavigation of the island, with planned stops at the major tourist attractions (about 4 or 5 in total). We also wanted to spend the night at a small place that rented 'Beach Fales', but had not made any concrete plans or reservations.

Upolu is a beautiful island, and much bigger than American Samoa. There are some nice low mountains and some pretty beaches. But (from a boater's perspective) there aren't many anchorages, even if you could get permission to go there. Unlike French Polynesia, the barrier reef is not far enough off the island to form a nice navigable lagoon.

The people outside of the the capital city of Apia are still living very traditionally, though not many of their fale's (traditional thatched houses) are not thatched anymore. Corrogated aluminum seems to be the norm, these days.

Unfortunately, driving by in a shiny rental car--we didn't get much chance to interact with the 'real people' of Samoa. And when we did (to ask directions, etc), it seemed they barely understood english. So we didn't get a great cultural experience on this island. The children, as always, were friendly. In one village, it was obvious that the children had been told to leave the ferangi alone. They stood wistfully 100 yards away and didn't bother us. In other villages, the children waved and shouted 'Bye Bye!' and in others, they boys ran alongside the car with their hands out yelling 'Money!'.

I don't know whether the children learned 'Bye Bye' because some adult wanted them to tell the foreigners to go away, or because of a general confusion about Hello and Good Bye. But the 'Bye Bye' seemed to be universal in the villages for the children, all over Samoa, all smiling and waving.

The people in the little villages seemed to very friendly, and as interested in us as we were of them. In the middle of the day, they were all hard at work--farming and keeping their houses and grounds neat and clean. Every house had breadfruit, mango, papaya, taro, and coconut trees. Sometimes a pig or two, and some chickens. Most fales had flowers ornamental shrubs planted, and the yard area kept swept of leaves and debris. We didn't see much evidence of fishing--without protected bays it would be difficult to get small boats out through the surf.

Though there are many buses in and around downtown Apia, we were surprised at the lack of buses out in the countryside in the middle of the day. This is in contrast to American Samoa, where there was nearly always a bus in sight, no matter where on the island you were.

Through a litte oversight, we left Apia with only a half a tank of gas. When we realized it, we were down to a quarter of a tank on the far end of the island from Apia. We called the rental car company on the cell phone, and asked them where the nearest gas station was. They told us there weren't any and we would have to return to Apia to get topped off (this turned out not to be true). Dave kept asking everyone we saw about where we could get gasoline (even people walking in remote villages who probably never owned a car in their life). We kept hearing that there was supposedly one in the SE corner, where we were headed. When we finally got to this small town, we found the gas station. It looked new. Roger and Dave (who should have topped the tank off before we left Apia), were relieved. But, alas, the shiny new pump was out of gas. 'Tomorrow' they said. But the nice attendant who spoke good (NZ-accented) English, told us where the next one was, and said we should have plenty of gas to get there (we did, barely).

But the rest of the afternoon was tainted by the fact that we needed to get to the gas station before it closed. We stopped at a couple of place on the south coast, but hurried past a couple more due to the time.

We did have a really nice lunch at a nice resort on a beautiful beach on the SE coast... Letia's. Another cruiser had told us she'd like to have spent the night there, and we considered it. But we still had half a day of sightseeing, and Letia's was a little more upscale than we had envisioned.

We finally reached the next gas station on the mid south coast about 5:30 pm. After filling our tank, we finally got serious about looking for a place to sleep for the night. We stopped at one or two likely places, but they were pretty pricey and not quite what we were looking for. Our search was complicated by the fact that to even see each place, we had to pay an 'access fee' to get into the beach area. The access fee was imposed by the village council who had leased the beach area to the resorts. We paid 5 tala ($2.00 USD) in one place, and 10 tala in another, and still hadn't found a place to sleep. The backseat drivers (me, mostly) were getting restless, and we decided "one more stop, and if that doesn't pan out, we'll go back to the boats (half hour away) to sleep."

But the last stop was golden. We stopped at a small grocery store, to ask the guy if he knew of any inexpensive beach fale's nearby. He directed us to the owner of another grocery store up the road, John Pasina, who's sister was running his 'resort', a small place place down on the beach. Dave and Roger negotiated a good price... 100 tala ($46 USD) per couple for the night, including dinner and breakfast (because there was no place to eat nearby). We ended up at John Pasina's Matavai Beach Resort, and loved it. (Resort is a bit of a stretch for this place). It wasn't mentioned in our Lonely Planet, or in the local tourist brochure, but it was in the Moon South Pacific guide, with not a very good writeup. They said you had to hike in 3 Km, and the water wasn't drinkable. But with our car, there was no hike required, and we had (and they also supplied) plenty of bottled drinking water. We did have to pay a 10 tala 'access fee' at the entry to the men guarding the beach road.

It turned out that Matavai Beach was recently the host for the main body of 'Survivor Samoa', which had just wrapped up a few weeks before. They had about 20 beach fales--little open air sleeping huts--right on the beach, and we were the only guests. We had our pick of the bunch, and they equipped each hut with a nice foam mattress, sheets, and mosquito netting.

We had a sunset swim in the warm water, a simple dinner, and crawled onto our sleeping platforms for a nice night's sleep. We slept well, with only the sounds of a gentle surf, and no dogs, and no roosters. It was pretty magical, overall.

On our way out, we stopped at the 'Survivor' huts on the adjacent beach, and took pictures.
At 10/03/2011 12:57 AM (utc) our position was 13°58.03'S 172°16.62'W

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