The average tourist on a two week sojourn through Samoa usually only gets to Upolu…..well, we aren’t “average” and we like to think of ourselves as much more than tourists. This, I feel, is glaringly obvious to most of you by now! Being the culture fanatics that we are, we were going to try and see as much as we could (without cramming) in the short amount of time we had, so clearly, Savai’i, was on the agenda!
Getting there proved to be easy enough. It was a half an hour or so bus ride to Mulifanua Wharf, on the west side of the airport, and before we knew it, we were on a ferry going across. It’s only 20 kilometres to Savai’i, and the trip was supposed to take a little less than an hour and a half. The sea was crystal clear, and I was looking forward to kicking back and relaxing on the boat! I….don’t ….think…….so!!!!! I was about five minutes into reading my book, when my guts started up with the same kind of fire dance we had seen only nights before! Chucky was on his way, and I’m not talking about that little horror movie demon! I tried everything….Breathe in, breathe out; sniffing some cure all liquid I’d bought in Vietnam; focusing on the horizon! None of it was working, and so, in between belching constantly like I’d just downed a slab of VB, and hanging over the edge to dribble bile, I counted a very, very, very long 100 minutes or so! Can’t say that I was distressed when the trip was over. I have never been less interested in crystal waters! Give me some terra firma, please!
On the other side, I was a happy little camper in no time at all. OK, so it was scorching, there was no shade, there were no buses, and the taxis were trying to rip us off! Well, they were milking the fact that our next destination was 40 minutes away, and thus expensive….and that the next bus was not going to be around for hours! Alex and I eyed each other off a few times, giving each other that “do we, don’t we” kind of look? We figured that spending the remainder of the day frying in the sun whilst anxiously waiting for the next bus was not really high up on our list of options. We decided to hone in on our negotiation skills, and see if we could get a decent rate via taxi. After asking around and receiving some ludicrous prices, we finally got a really nice guy, who was willing to drive the 45 minutes or so to Manase, in the north, for a reasonable fare.
The drive was spectacular! Straight up, we could see that the island of Savai’i was going to offer us a much more rustic and wilder experience of Pacific life than Upolu. Apart from being the the largest island in Polynesia outside of New Zealand and Hawai’i, it’s also mostly uninhabited. The tropical terrain looked spectacular, and the fact that there were far fewer signs of modern life, made it feel like we were in a kind of Indiana Jones does Polynesia movie. There were fales interspersed everywhere, and it was really apparent that on this big island, this was where most of the people lived and slept. Everything seemed all that bit more traditional here. This was going to be exciting!
Upon arrival in Manase, we immediately started our search for accommodation. Manase is still one of Samoa’s better kept secrets with its palm-fringed beaches, lagoons filled with wildly coloured fish and jungle-covered hills, but its only slowly coming out of the shade of better known Samoan and South Pacific travel destinations. I say…..shhhhhhh, keep it a secret! Manase is predominantly made up of a gorgeous stretch of beach, and no more than five or six lots of accommodation, which consisted of fales on the beach front. For once, we ended up at the first one we visited, Tanu’s Beach Fales.
We were greeted by the fun loving and intensely friendly Peisi (pronounced Bay-C). She won us over before we even got to take a look at the fales. Her right hand person was the equally outgoing Scott, a teenager from Australia, who was here on an exchange. Peisi took us over to a fale right on the beach’s edge, and we were enthralled. Simple, clean, open, and we loved it! It was actually going to be our first night in a typical, thatched fale. No sooner had we dumped all of our stuff inside, than it began to pour. Well, I suppose it was the rainy season, and better rain than a monsoon, I say. It was actually lovely to hear the pitter-patter of rain on our roof as we sat inside and watched the sea through our thatched screening. OK, so I bitched about the rain a bit! Once the rain settled, we met our neighbour, Jaques from South Africa/ Holland/ New Zealand. I hope I have this right Jaques…born in South Africa to French parents, who then moved to Holland and who now lives in New Zealand ( I promise a correction in the next blog if I have stuffed this up!) Jaques would only be spending a week or so here, and he told us that whilst his luggage had not arrived yet (clearly it was supposed to arrive with him!), that it was on its way. Yeh, right! Pacific time that is!
Jaques was great fun, and we had a blast interacting with him. He was interesting, funny and knowledgeable – all the traits that I admire in people. He was also a tranquil and patient guy. I have the proof! That bag that was supposed to be “arriving soon” was taking an awfully long time. Alex is right, I would have lost it! Alex offered to lend Jaques some shorts and a t-shirt, but he declined at first……the bag was coming. After a few days of a “bag no show” (in my opinion, under the circumstances, worse than being stood up by a bloke), he readily accepted Alex’s offer. Yes the bag eventually resurfaced, but it was several days into Jaques stay at Tanu. Well done Jaques, you taught me a lesson in how to keep my cool!
Tanu fales proved to be lots of fun, and a place where we met lots of interesting people, including the gorgeous Heather, from Jamaica. There were certainly lots of times, and copious opportunities to chat about the meaning of life with Heather. Then there were all the people who had come for various reunions – mostly Samoans, or children of Samoans who were now living mostly in New Zealand. Day time was relaxing, and for me included a run on the beach in the morning, followed by a scrummy breakfast. Later we would snorkel, laze on the beach a bit, go for a walk and pull bananas directly off the trees, and deliver them directly into our mouths. What a life! By this time it would be nearing dinner time, whereby we would all sit around the communal benches, eating, chatting and generally getting to know people. It’s a good life, and ain’t nobody gonna convince me otherwise!
Night times at Tanu were lots of fun, with the inclusion of family run fia- fias. It really was a deal that involved the entire family, from grandpa, right down to a grandson who could have been no older than one and a half. In between were all the children, in-laws and their children. Again, the spectacular included dancing, fire-dancing and much, much more. It was both entertaining and enthralling. It’s amazing how families work so communally and cooperatively here in Samoa.
After a few days, we had to move as we were meeting Shivani and Debbie, and there was no room left in Tanu. With only a cluster of places offering accommodation, it wasn’t too difficult to find another place. We ended up at Jane’s Beach Fales, which although close to Tanu, felt a little less crowded and more serene. Both were great, offering excellent, but different experiences and vibes. Jane’s fales were on a grassy piece of land, and offered absolute waterfront. Each fale, unlike Tanu’s also had its own little balcony. It was a little piece of paradise. Bathrooms were shared, as is usually the case in Samoa. Now where Jane’s really let the party down was the food. I rarely, if ever see Alex turn his nose up at food, but when his first dinner there came out, (a big chunk of mutton replete with fat), he instantaneously lost his happy camper look. Needless to say, he didn’t eat it. My meal…..mixed veggies……cooked in the mutton juice! That certainly didn’t cut it for me either!
It was great to see Shivani and Debbie again, and we had a great time just kicking back and relaxing. After night one at Jane’s together, with a shocker of a meal, we negotiated next night’s dinner at Jane’s for a small fee. Well worth it in my opinion. That same night we were treated to yet another fia-fia, followed by lots of dancing. Do you know what it feels like to dance outside, in a tropical country? Perspiration turned into a sweat slide, but we were all in the same boat (no pun intended!), and we were all having so much fun that we didn’t care!
On our last day in Manase, a group of us went on an around-the-island bus trip. It was well worth it, as we got to see some sights that we wouldn’t have otherwise. Our first stop was in the Falealupo Rainforest Preserve, where we did a great canopy walk. OK, so the bridge was missing, but we were still able to walk up a set of stairs that had us looking well and truly above the top of the tree canopy. The stairs wound and were built around a 225 year old banyan tree, which was spectacular unto itself. The views were breathtaking. To name some of the other highlights: the Alofaaga Blowholes, the lava fields around Mt Matavanu and the Afu Aau Waterfall. Watching the white foam soaring up over the black rocks along the stretch of the coast which is home to the blowholes was impressive, but even more so was watching the locals demonstrate the power of the waves. They did this by tossing a coconut into the blowhole at just the right moment, to send it flying up some 60 metres into the air! The Mt Matavanu eruption between 1905 and 1911 created a moonscape in northeastern corner of Savai’i as a flow of hot lava rolled across plantations and villages, destroying everything in its path. What a sensation to not only be able to see this but to also walk over it! The waterfalls were a relaxing respite towards the end of the day, and a great place to people watch, as it was mostly filled with locals.
Alex and I had decided to make our way back to Apia for New Year’s Eve. We thus got up on the last day of the year, had breakfast with Shivani and Debbie and made our way back to Apia. I hoped that the sea was going to be calm, as I certainly was not looking forward to the ferry ride back. Luckily, it wasn’t so bad this time. No, I didn’t say good, but not quite as bad as the trip over. Having said that, I was glad when the ride was over. We were old hats by now, and knew exactly how to get back to Apia. We were on a bus in no time at all. And again, in no time at all, back at Valentine’s for our last night in Samoa, which would also be the last day of the year. Upon reflection, what a wonderful, varied and full -on year it had been! As Alex says, I only know one gear….5th!! (fast and furious).
We had decided that we would see the New Year out at Aggie Grey’s Hotel, an institution in Samoa. The original owner, Aggie Grey was an institution herself, and it’s well worth reading up about her and her life. We figured that on New Year’s there would have to be a bit of a party, but no….. another fia-fia, an excellent buffet, and it was all over by 11.00pm. The fia-fia was great; the dancers were so lively and passionate; the dances talk about their lives, their culture and their way of life. For me, it’s so amazing to be able to be a part of their world, even if only briefly, as it’s a constant reminder that, without all of this, we each and individually live in a microcosm……and our world is so very much more than this! We walked home, as we pondered the meaning of life. Another day, another year!
The next morning we got up early, and packed our bags. We had no intention of stuffing up the flight home! We weren’t going to play “three times un-lucky”! We said goodbye to all at Valentine’s, including the gorgeous Agnes, who was always so pleasant and affable, and told them all we’d be back. Samoa had touched our hearts. Such breathtaking beauty and such happy and friendly people. Our taxi arrived on time, as Debbie and Shivani had organised it for us, as they had passed by Valentine’s before meeting us in Savai’i. The guy was great, and as we drove to the airport he told us that his wife had just had a baby…..just as in the night before! He was stoked! And we were stoked for him! His happy-go-lucky demeanour left us feeling recharged. Just as we took off, the skies opened and it started raining elephants and giraffes. Glad we had not experienced this prior. Good timing! As we were dropped off at the airport, we paid our driver and gave him a bit extra…….after all, he had a great attitude to life, it was the New Year and he was a new Dad! Life was great for everyone!
In no time at all, we were on the plane, flying back to Melbourne. It seemed so long ago that we had flown over to Samoa, yet it had also gone so fast. I love what life has dished out and continues to dish out to me! I closed my eyes during take off, and pondered what I had just experienced. Wow!
Next: Alex does America!
“Our loyalties must transcend our race, our tribe, our class, and our nation; and this means we must develop a world perspective.” – Martin Luther King Jnr.
(Photos:1.- The ferry crossing from Upolu to Savai’i. 2.- Savai’i bus. 3.-Fales along the Savai’i coastline. 4.- The clear blue waters and sparkling white sand of Manase Beach, Savai’i. 5.-The view of Manase Beach from our fale at Tanu’s Beach Fales. 6.-New friends and happy times, from L to R: Jaques, Shivani, Alex and a Samoan friend. Front row: Debbie and Heather. 7.-Communal breakfast at tanu’s Beach Fales. 8.- Fire dancer, Tanu’s Beach Fales. 9.- Beach front fale at Jane’s Beach Fales, Manase Beach. 10.- Traditional dancers at Tanu Beach’s fia-fia. 11.-Coconut throwing at Alofaaga Blowholes. 12.- Traditional dancer at Aggie Grey’s Hotel New Year fia-fia. 13.-L to R: Ombi, Tine and Ray at Valentine’s Hotel, Apia. 14.-Ombi and Alex at Aggie Grey’s on New Year’s Eve.)