Over the Christmas break Cat and I took a vacation from our small island to visit the independent nation of Samoa. Back before the explorers arrived to the Samoan islands there were roughly 8-10 inhabited islands with a few uninhabited islands. Colonization came and the Western few were split from the Eastern few. There are technically 7 of those Eastern islands that are now a part of American Samoa (Tutuila, Aunu’u, Ofu, Olosega, Ta’u, Swains island, and Rose Atoll). The Western few were colonized for a while by different countries, but gained their independence in 1963. They just celebrated 50 years of independence last year; UB40 played the event. Anyways, we headed to Independent Samoa, A.K.A. “Western,” over the break and had a great time.
I’ll will start by telling you that, in a rare breach of protocol, we did not plan this vacation. The day we left, we literally had nothing planned; not even airfare. The primary reason is because our local airline, Interisland air, which holds a air travel monopoly in Ta’u, is extremely unreliable, and there was a very real chance that a perfectly planned and paid for vacation could just not happen. Thankfully though, the plane flew, and so did we. The minute we touched down in Tutulia, we booked our flights to Western, and sent a few emails to get a feel for accommodation availability. We spent a day on the big island and did some grocery shopping for our return. The next day we headed to Upolu (the main Western Samoan island). We took a cab to the western most side of the island in anticipation of finding a room for the night, and catching the ferry the next morning to Savai’i (the largest of all Samoan islands), but on the way our cab driver pointed out that the ferry would be making it’s last trip of the day in an hour or so. Since this vacation had no plans, we diverted to the ferry station and waited it out.
When we loaded this boat, my jaw dropped. This boat was amazing compared to the boat we are used to for travel from our island. It was huge, clean, air conditioned, had a cargo bay for vehicles, TV & even ferry attendants with snacks.
Once we arrived in Savai’i it was starting to get dark, so we walked, a bit apprehensively, in the direction that we thought we could find a place to stay based on a local “Jason’s” guide. About 1/4 mile and 4 pigs later we came upon Lusia’s. They had availability and we scored a lagoon chalet for the night.
The next day was Christmas eve and everything was crazy busy. Well OK, not black Friday busy, not even your average Tuesday rush hour busy, but definitely island of 50,000 people buying their final Christmas gifts busy. We knew we had to find a nice place to hunker down for a few days because Christmas was upon us and everything would be closed. We took a cab into town to try and score a rental car only to find that the one place that had cars didn’t offer insurance and we would be liable for $3000 tala (Samoan money) if anything happened. After considering the not so logical traffic jam we had just witnessed and the fact that they drive on the opposite side of the road in Western, we investigated other options. In the end we took a cab to the northern side of the island to a village called Manase, and stayed at a place called “Tanu’s beach fales.”
Our stay there was great. They treat all their guests to complimentary breakfast and dinner every day. We caught sight of these guys carrying a freshly roasted pig, and were served pig that night, so I am pretty sure we ate this guy.
We spent most of Christmas relaxing by the beach and reading.
The day after Christmas we took a bus back down south and cabbed westward to check out the Taga blowholes. Along the way I noticed a difference between Western Samoa and American Samoa: the presence of horses. In Western people use horses to travel to and from their plantations. I will avoid going on a rant here about how some of the impact of America’s influence on it’s Samoan territory is detrimental, and leave that to be discussed in person where the depth necessary to adequately navigate those issues can be attained.
On to Taga!
The property where the blowholes were located was gorgeous; desolate lava fields laced with tall coconut trees. We were met at a fale by a woman, a kid, and an old man named Tofa (means “Goodbye” in Samoan). After we paid our $5 tala, they told us to walk down and throw the coconuts into the hole. A bit confused, I asked if there were coconuts just laying there waiting to be thrown. Tofa took that as a request to walk with us and throw the coconuts in the hole for us. After a nice show I thanked him for showing us how to do it, and he promptly charged us $20 tala for doing so. When I told him I only had a $50, he very kindly said that $50 would be fine too. He was very nice. I told him I would have to walk to the store to get change. He insisted that he would take my $50 and come back with change, but having already fallen for the first ruse to the tune of $20 I was a bit skeptical. Tofa stayed no farther than 5 feet from me the entire trip to the store where he promptly exchanged his $20 for Vailima (the locally brewed beer). The show however was worth the $20, and if you have never seen a coconut expertly thrown into a blowhole, feast your eyes.
After the blowholes we cabbed back to Lusia’s where we splurged on a room with hot water and A/C and lounged for the night. The next day we took the ferry back to Upolu where we took a bus into Western Samoa’s capitol and largest city: Apia. It was a pretty full boat.
Once in Apia, we hit up the markets to score our last souvenirs and gifts.
We took a cab up to To Sua Trench on the north side. The trench is comprised of two ancient lava tubes that have eroded away to make two ginormous holes in the ground. They are connected to the ocean and each other so they make for some pretty great swimming.
There is a bit of a cave underneath where you can swim between the holes.
When I think about gallivanting around the island where Robert Louis Stevenson wrote “Treasure Island,” and swimming in underground caves one thought from my childhood comes to mind: “Goonies never say die!”
Click here to check out a 360 view from inside the swimming hole.
Beyond the swimming holes were more beautiful views.
We flew back to Tutuila in time for new years where we hung out with all of this year’s Worldteach volunteers. We spent 2 or 3 days there and caught the last flight back to Ta’u before the interisland airplane stopped working. Most of the teachers were stuck off island when school started. They all made it back and this week we are taking finals for the first semester (the semester got pushed back 2 weeks because most of the schools failed the health inspection at the beginning of the year).
I am a bit unsure how I feel about this being our last semester here in Samoa. I am really excited to spend some time with our friends and family, get back to some of my old hobbies (remember when I used to play the drums?), and start the next chapter in our lives, but I would be lying if I said I wasn’t a bit apprehensive about the whole thing. I prefer being “off the grid” a bit; a lot actually. And the passing thought of moving back “home” isn’t really what it seems. After 3 years in Faleasao we will be leaving “home,” and starting over again. Though this time we have a head start because we have awesome parents and great friends waiting for us. For my own sanity I have to keep the door open in my mind for a possible return down the road, or I may enter a severe state of depression when we leave. In the end, I just trust God & keep moving forward. He will sort out the rest.
In other news, my beard has become a bit of a liability. I am quite serious. I roll over on it while I sleep (ouch!), I can’t eat meals in a bowl without a few beard dips, and when I go snorkeling it becomes a sea monster floating around my face. It’s no joke, but I am committed to no shaving until I get home.