*Saturday 6th August, 2005. Sydney (2.45pm Polynesian Airlines 6 hours) to Apia (‘Upolu Island)
*Saturday 6th August, 2005. Apia (‘Upolu Island)
*Sunday 7th August, 2005 Apia (‘Upolu Island)
*Monday 8th August, 2005. Apia (by bus 2hours) to Lalomanu (‘Upolu Island)
*Tuesday 9th August, 2005. Lalomanu (‘Upolu Island)
*Wednesday 10th August, 2005. Lalomanu (by bus 2 hours) to Apia (by launch 0.5 hours) to Manono Island
*Thursday 11th August, 2005. Manono Island (by launch) to ‘Upolu (by car ferry 1 hour) to Savai’i Island (by bus 1 hour) Manase
* Friday 12th August, 2005. Manase (Savai’i Island)
*Saturday 13th August, 2005. Manase (by bus 1 hour) to
*Sunday 14th August, 2005. Safua (Savai’i Island)
*Monday 15th August, 2005. Safua (by air 10 minutes) to
*Tuesday 16th August, 2005. Samoa (by Polynesian
Airlines 6 hours) to Sydney
Saturday 6th August, 2005.
Sydney to Apia (‘Upolu Island)
Yesterday we caught the 3.40pm train from Hamilton to Central Station in Sydney. After booking into the Royal Exhibition Hotel in Surry Hills, we had dinner and a few drinks then bed by 8pm.
Now this morning we wake at 9am and after a quick pack, catch the 10am train to the airport. The weather is clear and sunny so we sit out in the open-air courtyard off the bar for a drink. Passing through immigration we buy perfume, alcohol and an underwater camera then have a baileys and milk before boarding Polynesian Airlines at 2.45pm – an hour and a quarter late.
The passengers are a colourful lot. There’s some daggy families and a few tourists already dressed in flowered shirts and flouro holiday clothes. Hopefully they’ll be heading for the resorts and we’ll never have to see them again. The rest of the plane is taken up with very excited Samoans returning home after competing in the mini South Pacific Games. We sit next to a friendly young girl called Christine who competed in the outrigging event.
The plane is a 737 so it’s only three seats on either side of the aisle and, being totally full, feels very claustrophobic. And with no personal TV screens, it feels a long cramped three and a half hours to Tonga where we stop to refuel. Because we’re running late we have to stay on board but everyone stands up and the Samoan passengers are having a great time. Mark and I talk to an Australian couple behind us who’ve been to Samoa eleven times – get a life! For the next one and a half hours to Apia, all we can hear is laughing and singing coming from the Samoans. I love the atmosphere as the air hostess says ‘God Bless’ over the speaker and beautiful Samoan music is playing as we make our descent. As we land someone gives a loud ‘whoop’ which sets them all off into hysterics again.
We’re landing on the island of ‘Upolu where Samoa’s international airport is not far from the capital, Apia. We plan to spend some time here but we also want to get to the other main island of Savai’i and the very small Manono Island that lies in between.
ven though we left on Saturday afternoon we’ve gone backwards in time so far that we arrive yesterday – Friday night at 11.30pm. The airport is lively even at this time of night. A small band welcomes us with ukuleles, guitars and beautiful happy singing and a huge crowd is here to meet relatives and friends. We can’t help but like it already. The night air is warm and humid and it definitely feels like we’re on a tropical island. Outside the terminal, we find a taxi to take us into Apia. It’s a forty minute drive along the coastline and passing through small villages each with their own imposing church. I don’t know how many we pass but it’s a weird slight. Most of the people seem to live in open sided thatched structures called fales (pronounced ‘fah-lays’) although quite a few live in simple homes. Even in the dark we can see that it’s very tropical and picturesque.
We ask our driver to stop at a roadside shop to buy water and a couple of bottles of coke to mix with our duty free Bacardi. Our driver is obviously in a hurry out on the open road but he slows down to the 35kph speed limit as we come to each village. As we reach the outskirts of Apia all is quiet except for a tarty looking transvestite standing on the side of the road. We pull up at the Outrigger Hotel where we hope to get a room after reading about it in the Lonely Planet. We haven’t booked any accommodation at all which is out favourite way to travel even though we might miss out sometimes. Mark races in to see if they have a room but it’s booked out so off we go again. Our driver takes us to the other side of town to the Tatiana which is a few simple wooden buildings painted white and set back off the road. A man is sitting on the verandah and shows us to a tiny plain room with no windows, a ceiling fan and two single beds. It’s a strange place with no frills and for 50ST we like it. After throwing our gear onto the beds, we sit out on the verandah to have a drink even though it’s almost 2am by now. A few more taxis arrive and Mark realises that Tatiana is probably a brothel.
In bed at last, we sleep well with earplugs in but I wake some time later to find myself being guided back to our room by a nice Samoan man. I’d been wandering around in the dining room and the next corridor in my see-through lacy undies and a singlet top – think I must have been looking for the loo.
Saturday 6th August, 2005.
Apia (‘Upolu Island)
Breakfast comes with the cost of the room. It’s in the dining/television room which is big and airy with a lino floor, a couple of plastic covered battered lounges and a few tables. We make our own toast and cornflakes, eat coconut from the shell but don’t bother with the over-ripe bananas. The room is bright with warmth and sunshine so we can’t wait to get moving.
We decide to walk to Maketi Fou which is only a few hundred metres away towards the water. I think we’ll be able to walk anywhere in Apia because it’s more like a group of small villages than a capital city. Outside the sun is scorching in a deep blue sky and the hills behind the town are a brilliant green. The road is busy and becomes even busier as we get closer to the market. Lots of people are milling around and everyone is wearing floral – the men wear lavalavas which are a Samoan type of sarong and the women wear a long skirt and tunic called a puletasi.
Maketi Fou is the main central market next to the bus station and sells all kinds of fruit and vegetables and even a few tacky souvenirs. It’s a huge open-air place with rows and rows of green bananas and coconuts – very Samoan. Fat smiling ladies are sitting at low tables covered with potatoes, tomatoes, egg plant, bok choy, bread fruit and herbs. Some sell sea slugs in old soft drink bottles and almost every stall sells clumps of hairy stuff that they use to squeeze the milk from the coconut. Everything is carried around in baskets made from freshly woven palm leaves and music is coming from all directions. What a lovely, happy place.
In one corner of the market, about a dozen men are sitting around a massive table drinking ava from a bowl in the centre. Ava is a very narcotic local drink made from the root of the pepper plant but Mark and I settle for water and a Pluto pup looking thing. The ‘take-away’ food area seems to be selling really fatty greasy food but it’s probably no worse than what we sell at home. Mark actually manages to find two t-shirts to fit him and I buy a pair of coconut earrings. The souvenirs, though, are really too awful to buy – straw bags, hats, shells covering mirrors, jewellery, etc and everything with ‘Welcome to Samoa’ stuck on it.
From here we walk to the more commercial part of town and then to the water along Main Beach Road. Big colorful buses fly past us with funny names painted on their side like Princess Nora and Queen Maggie. Past the Clock Tower we stop for a coke at Sails Restaurant. This is set upstairs in a ‘slightly disheveled but charming 140 year old colonial building that was the first Samoan home of Robert Louis Stevenson’ as quoted by Lonely Planet. From its wooden balcony we look out over the harbour and get some relief from the heat from the soft breeze coming in off the water.
From Sails we walk to Aggie Grey’s Hotel further around the waters edge. Aggie’s is classed as one of the ‘Most Famous Hotels in the World’ and named after the daughter of an English immigrant and a Samoan woman. She started the hotel in the 1940’s and it’s now an upmarket, high class place where we can’t afford to stay but where we’ll definitely come for Happy Hour cocktails some time in the next few days. Crossing the bridge over the Vaisigano River, we find the Pasefika Inn which I fall in love with and where we decide to stay tonight.
It’s a three storey place with louvered shutters and doors, hanging plants, a verandah on the second floor and four multi-paned hexagonal bay windows on the top floor. Inside is cool and we like its understated tropical feel. This is no tourist hotel and the only guests are locals.
After booking a room we find a taxi outside and ask to be taken to Seipepa. Hopefully this is where we’ll stay tomorrow night – being terribly organized today. Seipepa is described as a travel home and it’s probably one of the best places to stay we’ve ever seen. Off the road, a narrow dirt track leads past a few village houses and fales to an overgrown gateway which is the entrance. Chickens are running around and there’s the usual dogs and cats lying about. About ten cute fales are scattered among the shrubs and palms and luckily we can book in for tomorrow. We choose one built on stilts which might be a bit more private and looks more fun anyway.
From Seipepa we head back to Tatiana, pack, book out and find another taxi out on the main road to take us back to Pasefika Inn. Ben is our driver and we strike up a friendship with him from the start. We decide to have lunch and then get him to take us out to Papasee’a at one o’clock. After checking in, we walk around to the Internet Café to send off some emails, then make the long trek in the sun to the pizza cafe near Sails. This is a casual wooden place with lots of atmosphere and interesting customers. The only trouble is the usual unhurried service and we end up having to get our pizza take away.
Outside we hail down one of the many taxis going past. These are wonderful – all old, white and decrepit with windows that don’t work and fat, happy drivers. The fares are also incredibly cheap and the taxis definitely not in short supply. At Pasefika, Ben is waiting at the door. He’d asked the girl on the desk to ring our room because she told him we were still there. When we didn’t answer they decided that we were having ‘jiggy jiggy’. We grab our swimmers then speed off with Ben to Papasee’a Sliding Rock.
This is only fifteen minutes out of Apia through pretty villages and green, green countryside. Ben happily continues on with the jiggy jiggy thing and tells us how his wife only ever wants to make love in the morning. All this is described with raucous laughter so it’s a fun trip to the Rock. The last couple of kilometres is a steady climb to a small house and carpark where Ben says he’ll have a sleep while he waits for us. The two hundred steps down to the waterfall are steep and a bit slippery and I’m not looking forward to the walk back up. The foliage on either side of the path is dense and very lovely and we can soon hear the sounds of water splashing and kids squealing. At last at the bottom, we find rock pools and a few local teenagers having turns of sliding down the main rock.
This is a five metre slide from the top of a waterfall into a small deep pool at the bottom. The kids show us the best way to slide – it looks scary so Mark has the first turn. He climbs to the top of the falls then sits on the edge where the water isn’t running as fast. He pushes off for the almost vertical fall into the rock pool below. Now my turn and I love it except that I manage to get a head full of water when I shoot feet first into the pool.
Three lower pools also have slides where a couple of teenagers are sliding down standing up – think we’ll give that one a miss. Besides the kids and us, there are only a few young travelers so it feels very peaceful. Ben has walked down to watch and is having a wonderful time perving on the young girls.
The walk back up is as hard as I expected and we take a while so I can have lots of rests. From Papasee’a we head back to Apia and the Pasefika where we sleep till six o’clock after a drink on the verandah. Before dinner we set off for Aggie Grey’s for Happy Hour cocktails. The hotel is beautifully restored inside but the gardens and pool areas are the best. After a wander around Mark orders us strawberry daiquiris at the Kionasina Bar which is open to the gardens on two sides. We really love these old hotels in the tropics with their overhead fans and palms. Another strawberry daiquiri each and we head off on foot for Sails Restaurant.
Tonight we order the very expensive seafood platter while we sit on the balcony again overlooking the port. The air is still and warm as we eat by candlelight – very romantic. Afterwards, though, Mark is feeling overly tired – jetlagged or too much sun, we don’t know, but we decide to catch a taxi back to the hotel so he can sleep. I have a couple of drinks on the verandah before crashing out myself after a fabulous first day in Samoa.
Sunday 7th August, 2005.
Apia (‘Upolu Island)
At 6.30am we wake to another gorgeous day. From our bed we can see the sun rising above the palm trees through the glass slats of our window. Smoke is hanging in the still air as people prepare for their Sunday umu. This is a way of cooking that involves hours of preparation and hours of cooking. It’s actually a Polynesian earth oven where the food is cooked over hot rocks covered in mountains of dried palm leaves. This is a Samoan tradition that still remains endemic across the islands.
Mark and I want to have our own umu so we jump out of bed to find a taxi to take us to the fish market. As we walk around to Beach Road we pass a family who’s selling fresh fish suspended on strings while the ladies wave fans to keep the flies off. A taxi soon arrives even though they seem very scarce this morning probably because it’s Sunday. Apparently nearly everything is closed today.
At the market we wander around looking at all the beautiful coloured fish – all shades of deep turquoise, some with orange stripes and some with spots. A friendly man asks us where we come from and tells us about his travels in Australia – he’s seen more than us which is usually the way. Mark picks two big schnapper for our lunch then in the market outside, we buy tiny tomatoes, shallots, rocket and lemons for a salad. Another taxi now back to Pasefika where we have breakfast of bananas, papaya(yuk), toast and tea on the second floor. The view is so lovely – banana and palm trees, the bend of the river and the mountains beyond. People are walking along tracks to their houses with bags of fresh food for lunch while soft smoke from hundreds of village houses rests over it all.
At 9.30 we walk to the Presbyterian Church near Aggie Grey’s. It’s a real cutie with a white picket fence and coconut palms, gables and a spire. Inside is packed with locals who all look like they’re trapped in another century. Most of the ladies are in white and they all wear straw hats and fan themselves with woven hand fans. Even the minister is dressed in a white suit and a red tie. He’s a big enthusiastic man with stacks of charisma as he delivers his sermon more like a friendly chat. He talks about family and flowers with not a hint of anything less than positive. The best part, though, is the choir – sung in the Samoan language, the songs are incredibly beautiful. The congregation sings too and it feels very special to be sitting here with the doors and all the windows open to the tropical gardens outside.
Back at Pasefika we pack our gear and get a taxi to Seipepa. Our driver waits while we throw our packs in our fale and get changed into our swimmers. This morning we’re off to Palalo Deep Marine Reserve to do some snorkeling. The reserve is right off the point in Apia so we’re there in minutes. We’re dropped off at a small shack on the beach where we pay an entrance fee to the family who own the land. They also have snorkeling gear for hire which all looks a bit dodgy but it’ll have to do. The small beach has a pretty area of trees and vines where tiny shelters have been built out of tree trunks and bits of corrugated iron. Quite a few travelers are baking themselves red raw (must be Pommies) on the white sand but we can’t wait to get into the water. It’s a painful walk to the shore as the beach is covered with broken shells and coral.
We swim out across the shallows of the reef till the bottom drops away into a deep blue hole filled with fish and purple and orange coral. We see schools of fish in the most amazing colours like luminous yellow and electric blue. On the reef we even see a bright blue starfish the size of a dinner plate. Mark teaches me to dive deep with my snorkel and I just love it. After half an hour we lie around near the shore and just float in the warm shallows.
Again because it’s Sunday we have to walk almost all the way back to Aggie Grey’s before we see a taxi and we’re hotter than ever by now. At Seipepa we have time to take in just how magic it is here. Our fale is on stilts so that we feel like we’re living in a beautiful tree house. The fale has a pitched thatched roof with rough wooden stairs and bamboo mats on the floor. A thin mattress, a mosquito net and a mosquito coil make up the furnishings. We’re surrounded by thick gardens and below us are two graves with large headstones. Apparently the Samoans bury their dead family members as close to them as possible to keep them part of the family.
As well as the fales, Seipepa consists of two small wooden houses, a few toilets and showers and an open-air sitting area. All this is squashed into a small family yard so it has a very intimate, friendly feel. Quite a few backpackers are staying here but as usual we’re the oldest. Mark goes for a walk along the dirt track to pick banana leaves for our lunch. He finds the kitchen in the back of the house where he starts scaling the fish. He soon has an audience – a baby cat (Skinny Minny) and Skinny Minny’s Mother. They have a feed of fish guts while the lady who owns the house takes the fish heads to make a fish soup. At the moment she’s happily making a coconut jam.
Mark shows me how to prepare the banana leaves by moving them over a hot flame. This releases the oils and makes them easy to fold so they won’t split. He covers the fish with sliced lemon pieces then wraps it all in the banana leaves. The fish are about half way cooked when the gas bottle runs out. ‘No problem, it will come soon’ we’re promised but since it’s Sunday and things will run on ‘Samoan time’ anyway, we know there’ll be a long wait.
To pass the time we walk back along the main road where we saw a shop this morning. It’s a long hot walk with no shade. The shop seems to be shut but then someone inside the house attached to it, sees us and opens up for us. Both of them are males but one is a fa’afafine. Fa’afafines are like transvestites as they wear women’s clothes and behave very effeminately. Apparently they’re a common site in Samoa. They’re widely accepted and seen as a valuable part of the family and society. Walking back toward Seipepa we meet a couple of young men who’ve obviously had a few too many avas. They introduce themselves as Bard and En and Bard is happy to tell us that his parents own Seipepa.
The gas still hasn’t arrived when we get back so we hang out with the young people. A friendly Australian surfer called Stace tells us about a great place to stay at Lalomanu in the Aleipata District where we’ll be heading tomorrow. He has a fale at Tafua already booked but now can’t get there for some reason. The word is that it’s usually booked out so he rings them to cancel and rebook it in our name. He’s one of those ‘people people’ and now comes out with a tray of breadfruit and taro for everyone to share. By now I’ve had more than my share of Bacardis and head for our fale for a sleep. At five o’clock the gas bottle arrives so finally we can finish cooking our fish. Mark makes up a big salad and we have our umu on the floor of our fale. Skinny Minny and Skinny Minny’s Mother end up with another huge feed – probably more food than they’d get in a month.
I’m ready for bed by now but Mark sits up drinking Valima beer with Baird. We both sleep with earplugs in but the noise of the roosters still comes through loud and clear. There must be hundreds of the bloody things. Besides the roosters, we have barking dogs, some noisy neighbours and geckos.
Monday 8th August, 2005.
Apia to Lalomanu (‘Upolu Island)
Another gorgeous morning and the roosters are still crowing. After cold showers we have breakfast in the grandparent’s house. It’s wonderful with the sun filtering in through the slatted glass windows and through the plants outside. The windows are decorated with red and white Hawaiian print curtains and the floor has mats of woven grass.
The floor is even decorated with fresh flowers. It’s all very basic and very lovely. Grass place mats are set up on the floor all around the outside of the room. We sit cross legged with a few other travelers for a breakfast of bread, hard boiled eggs, coconut, pawpaw, tomato and a slice of cheese. The best bit is drinking hot tea out of coconut shells.
At 9.30am, after packing and paying the bill, we call a taxi to take us to the bus station near the Flea Market. It’s Monday today so everything is back to normal and town is busy this morning. The bus station is just a spot where the buses hang out next to the water. There’s five of them parked here now and all painted in the brightest of colours. We ask someone which is the bus to Lalomanu. The one that’s here is apparently the two o’clock bus and the ten o’clock bus will come later (?). I realise that I left my sunglasses in the taxi so while Mark stays with the bags I race over to the market to buy a new pair. The selection is pretty limited and I end up with the ugliest ones imaginable. The souvenirs are just as horrible here but I do buy us a coconut necklace each.
The ten o’clock Lalomanu bus arrives but it flies straight past us. We’re told not to worry because it will do one more lap of the town and come back to get us. It already looks full to bursting so I don’t know why they’re looking for more people let alone be able to squeeze us in as well. Finally here it comes in all its bright yellow and pink glory with music blaring and overflowing with passengers. As we squash ourselves and our backpacks into the bus, the other passengers do a quick shuffle around and make two seats available for us. As the bus continues to take on more people everyone just happily nurses someone else and some men have to sit on the floor when there’s no spare laps available.
Amazingly, at ten o’clock the ten o’clock bus leaves Apia headed for the other side of the island to the village of Lalomanu. All the buses in Samoa are actually owned by the villages so there’s no definite service and you can’t get to all parts of the island by bus. The Lalomanu village bus goes back and forward between Apia and Lalomanu only twice a day so naturally it’s packed to the rafters. We head east out of town but stop at a shop on the outskirts for everyone to pick up supplies. Mark gets off to buy a coke, waters and big pink ice creams in cones. Off again, the Main East Coast Road hugs the north coast so we see blue water on one side and pretty villages on the other. At the village of Falefa we turn right onto Le Mafa Pass Road and head towards the mountainous interior. There aren’t any villages up here but the scenery is quite spectacular.
This really is a lovely experience with the breeze coming in through all the open windows. The buses are made completely of wood with a curved roof which is painted on the outside but polished on the inside. I love the Samoan music which is lucky because it’s pumping. We must look so funny flying past – like a psychedelic bubble of sound. I also love how the Samoan women wear fresh flowers in their hair and I’m going to do the same. All of them have long hair but wear it either tied back or twisted up in a bun which is a shame really.
Within an hour or so we can see the waters off the south side of the island. At Lotafaga village we turn left to follow the shoreline along the Main South Coast Road. Now and again we pass a few fale homestays till we finally arrive at Tafua Fales on the edge of Lalomanu village. We’re met by Tai and Sili, a husband and wife team who own Tafua. They’re both larger than life in dimensions and personality. They give us the rundown on meals and snorkeling then show us to our fale which is two along from the café. It’s actually right on the sand facing the water – a million dollar view of calm blue water, white sand and palm trees. The fale is made of rough tree trunks and a thatched roof with two wooden steps leading up from the sand. A dish of water sits on the top step to wash the sand off our feet before walking on the floor – can’t possibly have a dirty fale.
Across the road behind us is the toilet and shower (cold) block. This is a pretty area with a verdant cliff behind the few village houses. The biggest one is owned by Tai’s family. Her grandfather is the matai or village leader of Lalomanu and spends his day sitting in a huge chair like the chief that he is. At ninety three years old, he’s also blind and nearly deaf so he plays music at full throttle all day.
Lunch is in the open air café. It’s also built on the sand facing the beach. I suppose it’s just a bigger replica of the fales but with a verandah built out the front. Lunch is fresh fish, chips and salad – all good. We’re served by a fa’afafine wearing earrings and a woman’s hairdo – parted on the side and boofed out over both ears. Lonely Planet writes that sometimes the fa’afafines are sort of ‘created’ when families without daughters raise the last son as a girl so there’s someone to do the woman’s work around the house.
After lunch we hire snorkeling gear which isn’t any better than what we’d hired at Palolo. Most of the reef right in front of Tafua was partly destroyed in a cyclone that hit the island in1990. There’s still lots to see, though, and once again I’m amazed at how lovely it is below the surface. The fish are so pretty – bright blue ones and flat yellow ones that look like they have a light inside them. We come across schools of cheeky fish who challenge us by turning around to face us when we come near them. Later we have a late afternoon nap – kept cool by the soft sea breeze. Before dinner we go for a walk along the road where we see a fat mother pig with her cute baby that runs away from us when we try to catch it. A little boy is sitting in a fale with his grandmother. He calls out ‘hello’ but when we start to walk over to him he starts screaming.
After cold showers we sit on the café verandah for drinks. We watch the local boys playing football on the beach while the sun sets in a purple and mauve sky. Dinner is at a long communal table decorated with fresh flowers. Samoan music is playing which is nice except it’s the same CD over and over – maybe they only have one. The food comes out and we help ourselves from big plates of chops in gravy, fish, rice, papaya, and coleslaw. A middle aged New Zealand couple called Penny and Clyde sit next to us with Lucy and Miles from New Zealand opposite. Penny and Clyde have skin like leather after too many years in the sun and they’re sunburnt again today. Two women, more New Zealanders, (lesbians, actually) arrive in a van about ten o’clock – they look like fun. At ten thirty we’re ready for bed and after weewees down on the water’s edge we settle in under our mosquito net. We go to sleep to the sound of the surf out on the reef and the tiniest of waves on the shore.
Tuesday 9th August, 2005.
Lalomanu (‘Upolu Island)
This morning I don’t stir till 8.30am. Mark is already swimming out the front and girls are sunbaking. Breakfast is at nine o’clock at the communal table where we sit with Penny and Clyde again and a lovely old German couple and the lesbians. There’s more food than we can eat – scrambled eggs, toast, spaghetti jaffles, pancakes, jam, pawpaw and coconut. Tea and coffee is free all day.
We spend the morning snorkeling again then make a phonecall home from Tai’s office. We can see rain coming across the water so Mark pulls down the tarps around our fale. We spend a lazy time reading and sleeping till lunch at two o’clock. Lunch is buy-your-own so we choose chicken/chips and sausages/chips to have on the verandah of the café. The rain has stopped by now so we sit here reading and diary writing for a couple of hours.
At four o’clock we decide to walk around the point to Lalomanu village. The people are friendly but seem very shy. This part of the village consists of lots of pigs running all over the place, a big church, two tiny shops and the village houses. Past the school we walk up the hill towards the hospital. In front of us are a group of ladies carrying scythes and straw brooms.
We follow them to the hospital where they sweep the mown grass. It’s a communal thing that everyone helps out with. They spend most of the time giggling and posing for our photos. It’s very pretty up here looking back towards the village through coconut palms to the ocean beyond. On our way back to Tafua the rain starts coming down hard and we have to shelter under the awning of one of the shops.
At six o’clock we wander over to the café for drinks and sit with the German couple (Helga and Bernie) and the lesbians (Pat and Dee). We give Penny a wide berth tonight – she’s becoming a bit of a pain – thinks she owns the place and loves sucking up to Tai and Sili. Tonight dinner is magnificent – corn on the cob, salads, whole fish, calamari, lobster and rice. After a couple of nightcaps we pay up our bill and get ready for an early start in the morning.
Wednesday 10th August, 2005.
Lalomanu to Apia to Manono Island
Today we’re leaving Lalomanu so we’re awake at 6.30am to catch the seven o’clock bus to Apia. It’s still raining so it’s good that we’re on the move. We wait out on the road and we’re soon on the bus picking up kids at the far end of the village then turn around to go the other way and pass Tafua Fales once again. No-one bothers with bus-stops. The bus pulls up in front of each house and the kids wander out – nobody is in a hurry and nobody else seems to mind. Now we drive up to the hospital and do a u-ey before heading back into the village. From Lalomanu we head up the north-west coast stopping at the villages of Ulutogia and Satitoa where the bus is finally full to the roof.
I sit on Mark’s knee and most people are nursing someone else. There’s a definite protocol when it comes to who sits where. The back is always packed with young men while the older ladies get the seats at the front but they’re usually given a child to nurse. People just grab a child as a family gets on. Each time we stop, the conductor gets off to help people get up the stairs. The front of the inside of the bus is decorated with plastic flowers and tiny Chinese lanterns while the driver is playing his favourite CD’s at full blast. The Samoan music is great but he also plays some awful English stuff. It seems so funny to be flying through the Samoan countryside with a bus full of very traditional people listening to ‘If I said you had a beautiful body would you hold it against me’.
At Samusu village we turn left away from the coast along Richardson Road. The rain is heavy by now so we all have to pull up the perspex windows. A lady with a chubby baby girl is sitting next to us. The baby stares at us the whole way until she finally falls asleep. After two hours the sun is out and we’re back in Apia. We get off at the Traveller’s Café where we order hamburgers and hot tea while we use the internet and confirm our flight back to Sydney. We also ring Leota at Sunset View Fales on Manono Island. A young Israeli guy at Tafua gave us the number. Leota is a bit hard to understand but he tells us that he’ll send a boat to pick us up – I think.
Outside we meet a taxi driver called Bati who takes us to Maketi Fou to pick up some food. Now we go to Polynesian Airlines to book a flight from Savai’i back to ‘Upolu on Monday morning. It takes a while but it’s interesting people watching. Afterwards, Bati drives us to the ferry wharf at the west end of the island. On the way I ask him a million questions. He tells us about community land that’s owned by families and can never be sold and about freehold land that foreigners can buy but luckily it’s in short supply. This should stop too much development but the problem is that, although community land can’t be sold, it can be leased to foreigners to build hotels or fales.
The ferry wharf for Manono Island is a rough wooden building painted red and white. A fat local men wearing a colourful lavalava and no shirt talks to Bati while we grab our packs. A couple of young men are hanging around and help us onto the boat that Leota has sent over for us.
The boat is actually a small launch and we have a driver, the driver’s friend and another man. As usual, they’re all wearing bright flowered print shirts and lavalavas. The weather is perfect now and not a cloud in the sky. The water is a brilliant aqua blue and very calm. It can’t get much better than this. We pass the tiniest island that even has a couple of coconut palms on it. After half an hour we pull into shore to drop off our passenger then head for Sunset View Fales around the south western side of the island.
From the water we can see Leota waiting for us at the end of the jetty. He’s a big smiling man with graying hair and kind eyes. He’s wearing a bright blue shirt covered in palm tress and a brown lavalava. Behind him is a yellow and blue painted fale with tiny thatched fales on either side. He helps us off the boat then takes us to sit in his fale. This has an enclosed kitchen at the back with the front open-sided room doubling as a bedroom/dining room. By the look of Leota, we think he probably spends most of his day on the bed.
We sit around chatting and not really knowing what we’re supposed to be doing. We’re the only guests so apparently there’s no rush but after a while he shows us to our fale. We love it – so cute. We have a verandah right over the water and inside, a bed that Leota has made, a mosquito net, straw mats on the floor, slatted windows and curtains made by Leota’s wife from scraps of material. Leota sets up chairs under the trees behind us where I notice great holes all over the ground – the crabs must be the size of cats. Soon he brings us out a tray with two cold glasses, a two litre bottle of coke and a plate of biscuity cakes. He asks us if we’d like to go snorkeling so we arrange to leave at three o’clock.
After a read on the bed we meet Leota at the boat. His brother-in-law is coming too. The boat is very basic and the snorkeling gear consists of one snorkel and goggles, one pair of swimming goggles and one pair of flippers that don’t fit either of us. We set off for the eastern side of Manono Island where we can see the small volcanic Apolima Island and the large island of Savai’i in the distance behind it.
Leota steers us towards the reef then makes anchor for us to climb overboard. The reef is nice but Mark swims out past it to the deeper water. I’m not brave enough to go with him – feel a bit out-in-the-middle-of-nowhere. As we head back and turn the point, we see that it’s raining heavily on ‘Upolu Island and a beautiful rainbow ends on the tiny island. Of all times, we didn’t bring a camera. Storm clouds, that look a dark blue from here, are gathering over Manono and, by the time we get back to Sunset Fales, it’s starting to sprinkle. Now we can’t see ‘Upolu at all.
Before dinner, we have cold showers in the little wooden shack out the back. Leota, who now wants us to call him Sili for some reason, comes to get us and we follow him back to his house for drinks. He introduces us to his wife Sau who looks exactly what we’d expected Sili’s wife to look like. They have five children who live in Apia with Sau’s parents so they can go to school. Sili and Sau have to live here because he’s the matai of his ‘aiga or extended family and is duty bound to look after them. He tells us that he doesn’t want the responsibility but doesn’t have a choice. Now Mark walks around to the shop in the village to buy some beer. It’s dark by now and still raining and he has a long wet walk tripping over plant roots. Meanwhile Sau and her sister are cooking in the kitchen. I ask if I can help but they scream laughing at the thought of it. Their niece called Misella shows me some kittens behind the kitchen and we spend ages trying to catch them in the dark till I trip on a piece of coral and cut the top of my foot.
Meanwhile Sili has brought out his guitar and a ukulele made from a tin can and a piece of wood. He sings sweet Samoan songs which we clap after he finishes each one. Sau now brings out dinner on trays. First is a chicken soup then spinach noodles and vegetables, two pork sausages, chop suey, rice and bananas. It’s a filling homemade meal. Drinks after dinner while Sili sings a few more songs and tells us of Samoan life. He gets the government to improve things on the island and he’s trying to get visitors to come to Sunset View Fales so we promise to tell Lonely Planet about it. Mark gives him a few pointers about marketing. They get on really well and Mark sits up late with him when I go to bed.
Thursday 11th August, 2005.
Manono Island to Manase (Savai’i Island)
Manono Island has no dogs or vehicles of any kind (not even bicycles) so the only sound we can hear is the soft lapping of the water almost beneath us. This means that we have one of the best sleeps ever – Mark didn’t wear earplugs for once. At 7.30am, Sau makes us breakfast of toast, two fried eggs, pawpaw and tea. We eat with Sili who tells us we should walk around the edge of the island. With a total area of three square kilometers, it should only take us a couple of hours.
There’s been a bit of rain during the night so Sili makes us take umbrellas even though the sun is out by now. We set off at eight o’clock going clockwise around the island. We see family graves, churches, beautiful white sandy coves and picture perfect fales that everyone here lives in. The island is apparently semi-subsistence and probably as close as you could get to basic Polynesian life.
We meet a young fa’afafine wearing a gold spangled scarf and later three cheeky little boys about five years old. In one village we see one of the long boats that holds forty two rowers. Later a tiny blonde haired girl follows us along the track until her older brother comes to fetch her.
The track around the island is only for foot traffic and is edged with flowering plants. In fact even the roads in Samoa are all lined with shrubs planted by the village people.
The only other accommodation on Manono is Vaotu’ua Fales which is around this side of the island. It’s looks nice but it’s too windy around here. By now we’re dying of thirst as we’ve forgotten to bring any water.
A tiny shop looks promising but doesn’t sell drinks of any kind. Soon, though, we find a bigger shop and buy two litres of water which we down on the spot.
Back at Sunset View, we pack then give Sili 200ST instead of the 180ST that he’s asked for. It’s only about $10 AUD and worth it for the lovely t ime he’s given us. We board the launch to take us back to ‘Upolu. Sau is coming with us as she needs to do some shopping in Apia and she can see her kids as well. We also take the household rubbish. The crossing today is a bit rough but neither of us feel sick and actually it’s lots of fun.
At the wharf, Sau puts us in her waiting van then goes off to buy us bottles of coke and banana chips – such a sweetie. She now drives us the short distance to the main wharf where the car ferry to Savai’i is boarding. After hugs and ‘thank you’s, we wave goodbye to Sau and buy our tickets. We climb to the passenger section at the top of the boat where I immediately stretch out and fall asleep. Mark amuses himself by taking photos of my ugly sleep-induced hangdog face but is then punished by feeling sea sick. After an hour, he wakes me as we make our approach to Savai’i Island.
At the ferry terminal, a line of village buses are parked outside the entrance and we easily find the bus to Manase. For a change it’s only half full and we soon take off for the market at Salelologa. This is the only real town on Savai’i Island and can barely be called a town itself. It’s a straggly ugly place with a few shops and small businesses. We pull into the market where a few more people get on and then for some reason we go back to the ferry wharf, sit for a while then head back to the market.
Finally we’re off and flying up the west coast road. We pass through lots of villages and pick school children up and drop them off along the way. A young fat girl opens a large bottle of Fanta with her teeth and proceeds to drink it all. We see so many people drinking large bottles of soft drink and is probably one reason that obesity is a huge problem here in Samoa.
As usual the bus has loud reggae-style Samoan music and with all the windows open, it’s a lovely hour long drive to Manase village on the north coast. Here we jump out at Tanu Fales which we’ve picked out of the Lonely Planet. We’re given a fale on the beach but all the ones facing the water are already taken.
About thirty fales are spread out around a bare sandy area with a couple of toilet/shower blocks and a big communal eating area. Our fale has a thatched roof with bamboo screens to pull down for privacy or shelter. We have the usual mattress and mosquito met and after Mark goes for a swim, we settle down for a read and a nap.
We can hear a tap-tapping noise behind us and Mark says it’s probably a tattooist at work – how he knows these things I’ll never know. I go out to investigate and of course he’s right. I’m really excited because this is something I really hoped to see in Samoa. Traditional Samoan tattoos are famous for their simplistic beauty and the area of the body that they cover. I find the tattooist working in the next fale where a group of people are watching a young guy getting an armband tattoo. The tattoo artist, or tufuga, is Samoa’s best. His name is about a foot long but he’s called Suluape for short. He has an apprentice, actually his son, who stretches the ‘victim’s’ skin to keep the lines straight. Meanwhile, Suluape dips a metal comb with needle-sharp teeth and a pig’s tusk in a bowl of ink then taps it into the skin. Apparently he’s been here at Tanu for two days tattooing a continual stream of locals. Most are just getting armbands or ankle bands unlike the traditional Samoan tattoos that start at the upper torso and end at the knees. Some of the older men have them here. We’re told it’s part of the Samoan identity and a mark of bravery – not surprising because it looks damned painful.
Back at our fale we have a visitor. It’s Stace, the young Australian guy we met at Seipepa in Apia. He’s picked up with a Dutch girl called Nina and we plan to sit with them at dinner. About five o’clock, Mark and I walk down the road to the petrol station where Mark rings Andrew, I ring Mum and Dad then email at a small place next door run by a German guy. We buy ice creams and fresh muffins at the shop then check out a few other places across the road – Regina’s Fales, Vacation’s Fales and Jane’s Fales. We decide to move to Jane’s tomorrow as we can get a lovely fale facing the beach.
At Tanu, we have cold showers and I meet a pretty young Samoan girl running cold water over her new armband tattoo to try and ease the pain. Her arm is swollen and red but the tattoo looks great. At seven o’clock we walk over to the eating area where we sit with Stace and Nina. The tables are set out in a u-shape with a big open area in the middle. Food is brought out on trays by an endless team of ladies. We have chicken, fish, potatoes, cabbage, taro and vegetable soup. Afterwards hot lemon tea is brought around. By now it’s very dark and very lovely with a soft breeze coming in off the water to keep us cool.
Nina tells us that the family who owns Tanu is putting on the traditional fiafia dance for us tonight. Apparently one of the young girls is leaving tomorrow to go to school in New Zealand and this is part of her farewell. Seeing a fiafia dance is another fabulous bonus and another thing we wanted to see. Suddenly the power goes out so everyone is running around climbing poles to fix the wires and lighting candles which of course blow out as soon as they light them. Finally the power returns, applause and the dance begins. The fiafia is a mixture of joyous dancing and singing accompanied by traditional instruments. The dancers oil their bodies and we can see that most of them have bruised, newly tattooed arms and ankles.
The loveliest part of the fiafia is the slow sensual siva dance performed by the women – beautiful hand movements and slow shuffling feet. The whole group does the sasa dance while wonderful Samoan music engulfs us all. The finale is a ten year old boy performing the fire dance – unreal! The whole thing takes about an hour and we love every minute. It’s all so magical – I could feel my heart almost burst.
After the dance, the music keeps playing and we watch them dancing with each other. One especially cool guy is one of those rare people who move so amazingly that you can’t take your eyes off him.
Bed at last after a fabulous day.
Friday 12th August, 2005.
Manase (Savai’i Island)
We wake at 7.30am to another gorgeous sunny day. Breakfast is at eight o’clock at the communal table with Stace and Nina. This morning we have yoghurt, toast, jam, coconut jam and tea. While we’re eating, a ute slowly does a couple of laps of the yard. Inside are the matai and his wife in the front seat waving like royalty, and the girl who is leaving and her family in the back. Friends and family follow the truck then wave goodbye but she’s so upset she can’t lift her head.
After breakfast we go back to our fale for a read on the mattress then Stace comes over to say goodbye. He and Nina are off to Salelologa on the bus and he knows we’re moving down to Jane’s Fales this morning. Mark and I pack then pay our bill of 100ST for accommodation, two meals, beers and the fiafia dance.
We walk along the beach with our packs on till we come to Jane’s Fales. This is a much nicer spot, green and shaded by coconut palms and a very elaborate fale. We still have the thatched roof but we also have a bed, wooden walls to waist high with bamboo screens above and a big verandah out front, we even have a table and chairs on the verandah to relax and look at the beach – love it!
At midday we walk down to Vacations for lunch in the open air café on the beach – beers, hamburgers, fish and chips. We spend the afternoon reading and sleeping then have cold showers at 6.30pm ready for dinner.
We wander over to the kitchen which is a simple hut with chickens, baby chicks and cats running around outside. Dinner is in the café next to the water. The only other people here are two German couples who speak German to each other and basically ignore us – good, have no problem keeping to our selves. The food is only just okay- fish, chicken, coleslaw, potatoes and rice. We all feed the poor starving cats – breaks my heart!
Afterwards we decide to sit out in the warm night air on our verandah. Mark spends ten minutes looking for the light switch which is up in the rafters for some unknown reason. No need for earplugs tonight.
Saturday 13th August, 2005.
Manase to Safua (Savai’i Island)
Once again today is clear blue skies and warm and humid even at 7.30am. At eight we have breakfast with the Germans. This morning we have pancakes, pawpaw, tomatoes, crackers and cheese – a bit strange but nice.
After packing and paying up we wait out on the road for the bus to take us back along the coast. We’ve been told that there’s a nine o’clock bus and a ten o’clock bus but the nine o’clock bus will come between nine and nine thirty (or something like that). We sit with a young local girl from Janes. She’s off to Salelologa and picks a flower to put in her hair. A fa’afafine comes out to sit with us too and have a chat.
The Tanu Beach bus comes at 9.30 but flies past us down to Vacations then turns around to pick us up. We seem to be going in the wrong direction but we’ll probably go up the road a bit and turn back. Now with music on full volume we head along the top main East Coast Road. We drive for twenty minutes through villages picking people up till we’re full once again. As usual all the women have fresh flowers in their hair and, like the other day, Mark has a baby girl stare at him for the whole trip.
We finally do a u-turn and end up back at Manase at 10.15am. As we roar past Tanu Fales we realise that the nine o’clock bus and the ten o’clock bus are one and the same. Couldn’t someone have told us? No matter, we’ve had an extra tour of the island. Half an hour later we come to the village of Fago where we jump off with our packs to find Silufaga Beach Resort. They only have expensive rooms left and we don’t like the look of it anyway. Back out on the road we soon see a taxi that takes us along the water’s edge till we come to Lalomalava village. We jump out again and easily find the lovely Safua Hotel.
It’s on the opposite side of the road to the beach and set in lush flowering gardens with chickens running around. A friendly thirtyish guy meets us. His name is Chris and is the son of Moelagi Jackson who owns the hotel. He introduces a pretty young girl called Sisi who will look after us. While we sit in the open sided communal room, she brings us the usual large bottle of coke and two glasses. Everything is at a relaxed pace and it’s hard to get used to. Finally she takes us to our fale – a bungalow really, though the same oval shape. We have a big bed draped with a mosquito net, a table and chairs, our own bathroom (cold water, still) and a verandah surrounded by a low picket fence to keep the chickens out.
At lunch we meet Warren Jopling. He’s seventy five, Australian and has lived here at Safua for the last thirteen years. Once a geologist, he’s worked and lived all over the world and hasn’t lived in Sydney since 1952. He tells us that he’ll take us on an island tour tomorrow – excellent! Lunch is very basic – vegetable soup and thick tuna and cucumber sandwiches with lemon water.
Afterwards Mark and I walk down to the main road with Chris to catch a bus to Salelologa. Warren passes us going back to Safua. He’s just picked up a woman from the hospital who had a baby last night and he’s dropping her back home.
His van is the only one in the village. Moelagi had one once but she lent it to her grandson against Warren’s warning and sure enough he crashed it and that was the end of that. He’s full of these funny stories – his motto is ‘Every day is a new day in Samoa’.
He stops and says he’ll take us to Salelologa if we wait a few minutes. He drives us into town where Mark and I get dropped off at the market. We wander around for a while looking at all the local fruit and vegetables and try to find somewhere to buy a CD of Samoan music. No luck here so we walk over to the ‘mall’ – nothing. Mark tries to get money out of an ATM but naturally it’s broken.
We soon jump back on the Safua bus which goes down to the ferry wharf then ends up back at the market. We always seem to be going backwards in this country – symbolic? The bus is full to bursting with everyone nursing someone else. In fifteen minutes we’re ‘home’ and jump out at the Safua Hotel gate. Inside, we buy beers from Sisi to take back to our room then read, sleep, etc.
Later we use Moelagi’s internet which is slow as the rest of the pace around here. Dinner is with Warren and Moelagi and we learn a lot about both of them. Moelagi is the apparent ‘queen of Savai’i’ and has been married twice and most of her children are studying overseas. She does lots of campaigning for her people and has recently returned from Europe where she attended the Small Islands conference. Strangely she has a six inch thumbnail.
Back in our fale we can hear choir practice for tomorrow’s service coming from the church next door.
Sunday 14th August, 2005.
Safua (Savai’i Island)
This morning we wake early as today is Sunday and ‘umu’ day. Mark goes off to look for Chris who was apparently getting up at 5am to start the umu. At eight o’clock we find him outside at the back of the kitchen near a rundown shack. While he’s working he explains everything he’s doing and what it all means. He’s already grated the coconuts by hand and is now peeling he skin off taro with the lid from a tin can He’s also placed four thick pieces of bamboo in a square of about two feet wide. In the middle are river rocks which will be heated up to cook the umu. He covers the rocks with coconut husks and dry leaves from coconut palms and sets it alight. Meanwhile he squeezes the milk from the gated coconut with matted coconut fibre. He saves the milk then throws the rest on the ground for the chickens and the pigs.
He then goes off to climb trees to collect banana leaves and leaves from the breadfruit tree. By now he’s really built up a sweat and takes off his shirt to reveal the full Samoan tattoo – very impressive but I think he’s a bit of a poser. Mark helps to prepare all the leaves for the next step. Making a sort of cup with four sago leaves, Chris pours in some of the coconut milk to which he’s added chopped onion and sugar. He wraps this with a banana leaf then the whole thing with a breadfruit leaf to make a little parcel. At this stage a young girl from the kitchen brings us out cups of hot tea then Chris and a handsome young boy chop up a huge leg of pork ready to go on the umu.
When the stones are hot, Chris takes away the bamboo frame and spreads the rocks out evenly. On top goes the taro, the coconut milk packages, the pork, fish, other vegetables, more hot stones then a three foot high mass of dried banana and coconut leaves. It will only take half and hour so Mark and I go back to our fale to get ready for our trip with Warren.
Lunch is supposed to be at 10.30am but not surprisingly ends up at 11.30am -Samoan time – so we chat with Warren. Warren often arranges lunches for visitors before they head off on one of his excursions. He says that even though the kitchen staff know well ahead of time, something always goes wrong. ‘Warren, we have no eggs’, ‘Warren we have no bread’, etc, etc He’s one of those gruff, abrupt men with a kind and compassionate heart. I laugh to myself when I ask him if we should bring our swimmers – ‘no, do that in your own time’. We also suspect that this will be no tourist jaunt but a serious geological expedition. Lunch arrives at last and is a bit of a disappointment really considering all the work that went into it. Besides the umu food, there’s chicken and glass noodles, over ripe bananas and the dreaded pawpaw.
At twelve o’clock we jump into Warren’s van and pick up Hati next door. He’s a young local who Warren gets to help with his tours. Just out of Salelologa we stop at Hati’s parent’s house to give them a blasting for not being ready when Warren came to pick them up for church this morning. They’re always late so Warren just left them behind. Meanwhile Hati has curled up on the back seat. We pass the 1912 church which is the oldest in Samoa since most of the original ones have been destroyed by the continual small earthquakes. Past the airport we stop to pick up Samisari on the road. He’s another of Warren’s protégés and like Hati immediately falls asleep – don’t think they’re going to be much help.
Every now and again we stop for Warren to show us different geological features. We see a fresh water pool surrounded by rocks on the edge of the ocean. It’s caused when rain falling on the mountains seeps into the earth quicker than it can run off because the volcanic rock is so porous. This also means that the salt water from the sea seeps sideways and because the fresh water is not as dense as the sea water, it floats on the top and seeps out into the beaches.
At Puleia village we stop to see a river that flows straight into the ocean over a wide waterfall called Mu Pagoa. All the features Warren shows us have been caused by lava flows from the many volcanic eruptions. To get to the waterfall we have to pass through land owned by a family who Warren knows well and he has even sponsored one of the sons to go to school overseas.
He takes us to the family house which is little more that a series of very rundown fales. The ‘kitchen’ has a black sand/dirt floor with an open fire. The mother is sitting crosslegged nearby threading hibiscus flowers onto metal stems for the church while four snotty nosed kids want their photos taken and are so happy when we give them a little toy koala each.
Further on Warren shows us how much of the rainforest is being overtaken by a vine which really took hold after the 1990 cyclone. It covers everything like a motley green blanket. It’s quite pretty but destroys the smaller trees which means it’s difficult for the rainforest to regenerate itself. He also points out the shady tropical almond tree and the noni tree. The noni buds are used to make a medicinal drink high in antioxidants and so supposedly stops the ageing process. Warren has it twice a day – he says he was seventy six last year and now he’s only seventy five.
He tells us that there are hundreds of volcanic cones all over the island and explains techtonic plates etc which Mark understands from his uni studies but it’s a bit too much for me – interesting though. He takes us to Alafaaga Blowholes which is Savai’i’s big tourist attraction – sad but true. Here Hati and Samisari are finally coaxed out of the van to carry a bag of coconut husks across the black lava-made rocks to the blowholes. They throw them in just as they’re about to blow and the husks shoot thirty feet up into the air.
Further up the west coast we pass lots of people coming and going to church. There are ninety two villages on Savai’i and all of them have at least one, usually two, churches. The main religions are Congregational, then the Catholics then the Methodists and some Mormons. Everyone is carrying a bible and decked out in their Sunday best – all-white usually and the women must wear hats. Warren hates how the church keeps the people poor. Donations are read out so that people would rather give money that they can’t afford than to lose face. The churches are ridiculously huge and so much grander than any house in the village.
We drive up the coast as far as Lovers Leap at Fagafau where we stop for an afternoon tea of arrowroot biscuits and, what else, coke. On the way back we drop Samasari at his house then get back to Safua at 4.30pm. Before going to our room, we try to confirm tomorrow’s flight to ‘Upolo with Polynesian Airlines. When we finally get to talk to someone (the cleaner, we think) we’re told that the airline person ‘has gone to church’. We lie around till seven o’clock then have another nice dinner with Warren and Moelagi. Tonight is a banquet even though we’re still the only guests. We have lobster, vegetable soup, bananas, pawpaw, rice noodles with pork, chicken curry, taro, pumpkin and potato.
After dinner, Moelagi has organized for her brother and four young men to sing and play music for us. They have two guitars, spoons, a piece of wood hit with a rock, a wooden pole with a long string attached to it and the bongos. They’re wonderful but we feel a bit embarrassed sitting up there in big chairs in front of them like royalty. Moelagi sits in the middle like a queen.
Finally bed at 9.30pm – an amazing day.
Monday 15th August, 2005.
Safua (Savai’i Island) to ‘Upolu Island
Another glorious day greets us. By six thirty we’re up and packed. Warren is driving us to the airport so he’s waiting for us near the office. We need to pay the bill but Moelagi locked the keys inside last night so Warren goes off to find Chris who turns up with a hammer to break the lock – apparently there’s no spare key. Now there’s no pen in the office so Warren lends it to Chris – says he loses three a week this way. He says the office has no system whatsoever. Moelagi couldn’t let us pay last night because she doesn’t know how to use ‘the card’. Warren says that they’ve hired a girl to run the office but she can’t speak a word of English which isn’t a great idea when she’ll be dealing with tourists every day. The fax machine beeps and Warren is very impressed but then says ‘I hope it’s not more than one page long’ because there’s only one sheet in the fax.
At last we’ve paid and off to the airport. Warren has to go there anyway to pick up a couple who are coming in on the plane from ‘Upolu. Moelagi arranged this yesterday and we can see that Warren is already suspicious. Of course they’re not on the plane. He shrugs, says ‘c’est la vie’ and waves us goodbye.
Our plane is a baby with no aisle, just ten seats, and the captain is a tall handsome man with a beaming smile. Before we head towards ‘Upolu, he flies us over Savai’i like we’re on a little tour. Between the two islands we pass over the extinct volcanic island of Apolima that is still the shape of a perfect crater. Passing over Manono Island we can see Sunset View Fales then the airstrip on ‘Upolu up ahead. Coming in to land is a scream – we must look like a mosquito.
From the airport, we grab a taxi to take us to the very new Aggie Grey’s Resort just ten minutes away. We hate it on sight. Because it’s so new there’s hardly any grass and the trees are no bigger than shrubs. It has none of the lushness than most island resorts have – not that we’ve been to any – but we’ve seen pictures. Anyway, it’s somewhere to have breakfast while we wait for our one o’clock flight to Sydney. The buffet-style breakfast is in a nice big open-sided room and we stuff ourselves stupid – as you do. Afterwards we have a look around and I dance with joy that we’re not staying here.
Back at the airport we buy a Samoan CD from a fa’afafine then take off in the rain at one o’clock. In Tonga we disembark for forty minutes. Mark and I spend the time in the gift shop where Mark finds two more t-shirts that fit him. The flight back to Sydney is not too bad as we have three seats and I stretch out. Another fa’afafine is sitting in front of us and we both put on our makeup as we come into Sydney. Although we left on Monday at 1pm, after a six hour flight we land in Sydney at 5.30pm on Tuesday.
Tuesday 16th August, 2005.
We decide to hire a car instead of catching the train home. Stop in to see Mum and Dad but Mum in a bad way. Will sort things out now that I’m home.