Aside from our little episode with the marina and Port Authority…Samoa is a very beautiful place with lots to offer tourists. They are really making an effort to put themselves on the map and get more tourists to their islands.
There are two islands in the Samoa group. The most inhabited island is Upolu where the capital, Apia, is located. The larger island, Savai’i is more rural and rarely visited by cruising boats due to the difficulty in getting there and returning to the Capital island where you have to check out.
The Samoa Tourism Center is very involved in the islands culture and has a huge interest in keeping it alive and sharing it with tourists….for free. The center hosts a show Monday-Thursday sharing examples of the Fa’a, or Samoan way of life. Fa’a is based around family, religion and communal living. Samoans, as well as most pacific island cultures, depend on the entire family to contribute to the village life to make it work. This can be seen in the way the Samoans live with many smaller homes surrounding a large raised lanai where everyone eats and sits around for socializing.
The show starts with some palm weaving where we all made plates for the feast at the end. The colorful host is decked out in Samoan traditional dress and displays his hard earned marks of the full body tattoo that many young men undergo. He explained the cooking ritual as a man’s task as it involves hard work and heavy lifting. The food is prepared and cooked in an Umu or underground oven. Traditional dancing followed and CB was brought up to the stage to strut his stuff….I think that other guy may be grabbing his booty! There is a wood working shop where villagers come to carry on the art of carving kava bowls too.
Traditionally, women raised the kids, kept them in line and taught the Fa’a. The village centers were where the women gathered during the day to make Tapa (click here for more info.) and traditional Samoan printed cloth for clothing. The making of Tapa cloth was demonstrated for us. Wheeew, that is no small feat. There are many steps involved, but the beating of the bark to turn it into cloth, as shown here, is a sweat inducing practice. These tapas range from wall sized to small sheet size and all involve the same process. In the end, we all got to sit around and eat a sample of a Samoan meal from our personally woven plates…CB is a bit dubious about the breadfruit.
We only spent a week in Samoa, but manager to see quite a lot. We rented a car with the Brits and took off on what can only be described as a hysterical adventure. But they travel like we do…and we saw a ton of shit!!!
Samoa is your typical tropical paradise. Dark and light green forest backdrops give way to amazing waterfalls and stunning flowers. A hike down to the falls always ended in a cool swim in a fresh water pool. The villages and grounds around the island were strikingly clean and well kept. Word has it there is a competition with a monetary prize awarded at the end of each year that pits village against village for who has the cleanest and most beautiful grounds. The competition must be stiff, because all of the villages were alight with carefully manicured lawns and gardens.
This is the To Sua Ocean Trench. Set inland some 1/4 mile from the ocean, a large sink hole opens up into a clean saltwater pool that is filled from a hole in the back of the cave where ocean swell fills in to form this swimming hole. Apparently at high tide people jump off the ladder into the pool. I find this daunting as we were there at lowish tide and you could not even jump off the platform as you would hit bottom…with only a 3-4 foot tidal range…I am not sure I would attempt the jump!
Like I said…absolutely a breath taking place!
With jungle rivers, rainbow clad shores and fresh and salt water swimming holes, there is not much more you could ask for in an island paradise.
With only one week to spend here, we feel we still got a good dose of the Fa’a! There is lot to love about Samoa, and a place I would have liked to explore more. Oh well, you can’t see and do everything…although we sure do try our best.
We left out of Apia, Samoa en route to Fiji and had what may have been one of our best passages yet….definitely our fastest!!!
After hearing numerous other cruisers opinions about filthy, disgusting American Samoa…we followed our usual tactic of ignoring what other cruisers said, and decided to go there. Thank goodness we did! We arrived with vision of an oil slicked bay with oil drums floating around and were greeted with a clean bay with visible coral reefs on the outer perimeters. Sure there is the Charlie the tuna factory at the head of the bay that, if the wind was just right, would belch out a stinky tuna stank every so often…but seriously, it was not that bad. The holding was shit…but eventually 2 anchors settled that problem. Hmmm, I am not making this out to be so great am I….
Okay, the best bits:
Since we had just spent 9 months in Tonga, where the food selection was lets just say “minimal” at best, the highlight of American Samoa was the shopping. Good cuts of meat that I recognized, sour cream and dairy products for days….not to mention wine and alcohol. This was our first meal. Not that we base our cruising around grocery stores…but this was a real treat and one we indulged in several times :-)
Transportation here is a cinch. There is really only a perimeter island road and a few inner island roads to get lost on. So pick a bus…most of them go the same direction…and head to where ever you want to go. The drivers are super nice, just let them know where you are going and they will stop…or a local Samoan who overheard your conversation will make sure that driver stops. The buses are built on F-250 frames with the back half constructed of plywood. They are lavishly decorated in Polynesian style, and like this one, the pelt of Sully. Music is pumped out of huge thumping speakers and is all a Polynesian version of any American song you can imagine. I loved the buses…and no matter where you went…one dollah!
There is a lot of history in American Samoa…you just have to search for it. There is a World Heritage Trail that leads up to several of the still standing gun turrets put in place during the battle of the Pacific. There was only one incident of enemy fire in American Samoa; a Japanese sub fired one missile that hit and destroyed one of the only Japanese homes and businesses on the island. Shortly after that, the US reinforced it troops and numerous gun turrets like this one were installed on the high peaks of the island. Many are still there to this day. Click here for more history on American Samoa’s role in the Battle of the Pacific.
As I said, American Samoa has some high mountains surrounding it. The trail systems are well maintained, yet steep. This one had a rope to guide you down the steepest bits. The trail meandered up and down and around the inner bay of Pago Pago (pronounced Pango Pango).
But the views were fantastic and well worth the hike. This is the inner harbor of Pago Pago. Tuna ships from all over the world use this port to unload their bounty to not only the famous Charlie Tuna, but two other factories that between them, employee 3/4 of the islanders. The other high employment here are the US Government jobs.
Unfortunately my light metering was off in this shot. But these are cable cars. In the 60’s the longest stretch of unsupported cable in the world was stretched across the bay from the 2nd highest peak down to the port of Pago Pago. During its heyday the cable cars would make several trips per day to the fabulous look out on the opposite peak. When cruise ships came in, locals would stop the car mid-span and throw baskets of flower petals down on the cruise ships as they arrived. Unfortunately in the 80’s a plane performing in the name day airshow crashed into the cable killing several people and it has never ran again…although there are rumors of rebuilding it. You can read up about the cable cars here.
The flowers around the island were beautiful and filled the air with amazing smells.
We took another hike out to a bay where there is supposedly a big crater to snorkel around in. The views were amazing.
Unfortunately for us, that day the winds were high and the seas were blowing directly into the bay. We tried to swim out past the break only to be washed onto the shore once again…it doesn’t look like it here…but some of those sets were huge…damn cameras always making us look like wusses.
This little tiny puppy followed us all the way from the owner of this properties home out to the snorkeling beach. She promptly fell asleep in a pile of leaves and we had to carry her out.
American Samoa has an awesome National Park Office with great people ready to show you how and where to hike on their many trails. The maps are great and the staff tells you which bus to catch to get to the trail head. While CB was working on an engine issue :-o I decided to hike the cross island ropes and ladders trail which started on the north side of the island. There is only one bus every several hours, so I hitched a ride in the back of a truck. The trail starts at the back of a really cool village; you have to ask permission to go on through.
The upper right picture has the lady who gave me a ride in it :-) Thank you random Palangi lady!
The views from the trail were amazing. The northern shore is far more exposed with sea stacks and jagged rocks.
The trail went straight up from the village. Thank the gods the parks department installed ropes and ladders…Not so long ago, before the road, villagers on this side of the island had to take this footpath in order to get over to Pago Pago for trade…uffdah!
This is an embarrassing video of my out of shape ass huffing and puffing up the last ladder to the 1680 foot peak above Pago Pago. No, I am not having a heart attack…it is steep….and hotter than hell….leave me alone!
The views were worth every minute I lost off my life dragging my fat out of shape body to the top :-)
Palarran far below anchored n Pago Pago harbor…I tried calling CB on the radio….but he was at the McDonald’s rewarding himself after realigning the entire engine…yikes…glad I was up here!
More views of the very populated bay area.
The next night we went to Tisa’s Barefoot Bar &Resort, a very nice tourist trap, with our new British friends Paul & Liz…they are actually from Whales…apparently this is a distinguishing factor :-) We had beers overlooking the bay and were invited to the overpriced Umu feast that was being prepared for the US Coast Guard. An umu is the traditional form of cooking food underground and used throughout the Pacific islands. The price was well worth it though, as the food was spectacular…and the entertainment came in the form of over served Coasties.
Overall, American Samoa is phenomenally under rated. There is plenty to do and an amazing amount of history here…plus, you will never find a more friendly people. When we first got there we thought there was something wrong with us because people were stopping on the street to welcome us and telling us where to go to see sights and where the best shopping was…turns out, they are that friendly to everyone. Loved this place!
Now that we have internet that doesn’t cost a boat buck a gig, I can get some posts I have written up on the blog.
SAYING GOODBYE TO TONGA…
How do you say goodbye to a place where you spent 9 months and became locals. It was with trepidation that we hauled our boat out into the protected rock quarry of Boatyard Vava’u to spend 6 months living on land. It had been 10 years since we had been dirt dwellers and we were worried that the flatness and solidity of the dirt would drive us mad…and it did. But the great people we met and became friends with in Vava’u were worth every bit of it.
As cruisers, you eventually get used to being detached from long term friendships. You always seem to be saying goodbye to someone who you wish you could hang out with forever. But this is the way of sailors, and a way we have gotten used to. But during our 9 months in Tonga we developed relationships with people that we have not had in a long time and when we went to leave…it was hard. However, after the boat went back in the water, we felt the sea calling us to discover new waters and we had to say goodbye. There were several departures….and reappearances…as Palarran shook out her rustiness and let us know a few things needed attention. But as we sailed away from the Vava’u group one evening, it was with tears in our eyes. We know we will return some day, but it was like leaving home a little.
Thanks to all who became our friends and shared their lives with us. You all will forever be in our memories.
Here are some memorable moments of our time in Tonga.
The sunsets were amazing and got better each day as we progressed into the austral summer. The top one to the right was the view from our apartment…about the only thing that was good about it :-)
The Tongans are a deeply religious people and most of their social structure is based around the Church and Church activities. On Sunday the local island boats are packed full of people coming from the outer islands to attend Church and the family feast that follows. Lots of the original culture such as hand woven mats (as seen in the funeral procession above) have been blended with western religion. Men dress in Tuvelu or a lavalava with grass woven Ta’ovala over the top and women wear conservative dresses with either a Ta’ovala or KeiKei (a lighter belt version of the woven mat). No amount of extravagance or money is spared when it comes to funerals, weddings or baptisms…which sometimes is a burden on the family monetarily while they try to one up their neighbors. The Church has its positives and negatives on the Tongan way of life. On one hand, they are an extremely tight knit peoples with good morals, family values and dignity. But on the other hand, the Church has a very strong influence on government and the decision making process as a whole, which ends up hurting tourism, progress and in the end it is the individual families that suffer.
Long hot summer days were filled with Ladies Lunches (an event organized by the amazing Sandy, getting women from all over the town together to socialize and have a rip roarin’ good time), floating off the dock to keep cool and of course…dragging the famous swan around the harbor behind our dinghy. Above are photos of a few of the friends we made while in Tonga. Julie, Nikki and Charles….we had some damn good times eh?
Aside from working on the boat, flying home for work and hiding from the sun, we also managed to relax a little :-) Summer time is off season, and the locals both expat and Tongan let loose after a season of hectic tourism. Local bands play at bars filled with towns people cooling off from the hot summer days with a few Fosters or Papaus. And every now and again a little culture from distant lands appear…like the whale pinata my friend Nikki made (probably the first and only pinata that anyone had ever seen on the island). We also found time for a new pastime of making hooch!
The Tongan lifestyle is slow and relaxed, although it may seem a little tough from the outside. Fish is the main protein source and long fish fences are set up to trap fish at high tide while the villagers go out and pick out the keepers. For those living outside of town…or in the bush…hot walks down red dirt trails are often the only way to get supplies from town. Tonga is in the middle of beyond and all food imported must arrive on The Big Red Boat or the sporadic freighter from New Zealand. If weather is bad or a ferry breaks down, the town will run out of food. Which happens more than you would think. While we were there we witnessed the great potato famine of Christmas 2015, a sugar embargo crisis lending to shaky sugar addicts begging for even a spoonful of sugar and the weekly egg, bottled water and chicken shortages. But over all, Tongans are prideful happy people, who may not seem rich in wealth, but are rich in life quality. You will never meet a stronger family unit or a more welcoming people.
Dogs and pigs rule the streets and you should not be surprised to see pigs wandering through town or dogs making off with a fish bit every now and then. The water is clear and teeming with sea life among its brilliant reefs. And of course….the never ending hermit crab…that has been prevalent since we left the states…these little guys are very prolific!
The Vava’u group is a series of protected islands with a large outer reef that protects the inland waters from swell. The highest point in Tonga is in Vava’u and one of the reasons it is a natural cyclone hole. The lower right photo is of the boatyard where we stored our boat. You can see the high hills surrounding the masts. The shallow flat waters are perfect for kite boarding and where we both got up on our kite board for the first time…albeit for a very brief moment.
The island group just south of Vava’u is Ha’apai which is more exposed, but sports long white sand beaches and bommie filled waters that are great for snorkeling, diving and spear fishing. We spent our last month here and enjoyed every minute of it…as well as making some new friends at the Ovalau Yacht Club. But for us, the Vava’u group was where it was at and our favorite place during our time in Tonga.
As you can see, Tonga has everything that goes into the perfect recipe for paradise. We will forever remember the aqua blue water, flat calm anchorages and friendly people. We left a little bit of ourselves in Tonga and will someday be back to find them again.