I had the opportunity to spend about a month in Samoa, have just returned last night, and I'm already ready to go back.
My first accomodation was at the Airport Lodge. I'd booked two nights, because my flight was due to arrive at about 1 am, which meant I had to book for the whole night, and I wasn't sure how functional I'd be by check-out time. As it turned out, I was pretty okay by about 7 am, so just the one night would have been fine. The Airport Lodge is basic, the meals are extra, and pretty good, but the main benefit is that it's 15 minutes from the airport. The transfer driver was right outside the departures area, holding a sign with my name on it, and no waiting.
Eager to start seeing Samoa, I went to Apia, did a little walking tour of the harbor, then caught a taxi up to Vailima. My interest in Samoa started about 20 years ago, when the tourism board put on an exhibition commemorating the centenary of the death of Robert Louis Stevenson in Edinburgh, so it was nice to bring things full circle. I started up Mt. Vaea, but ran out of time, and realized that sandals weren't the best choice for the trail.
After two nights at the Airport Lodge, I went to the Faofao Beach Fales. This was my first experience with traditional, thatched fales, and I was hooked. The food was basic, but very well prepared, usually chicken and fish for dinner, and papayas and bread and/or pancakes for breakfast. Beautiful fales, beautiful beach, and some pretty good swimming spots.
Now for one of the major highlights of the trip. The "home stay" I'd mentioned in my "August in Samoa" thread was actually an invitation to go with a friend's family to their family reunion. Which seems to be a fairly common Samoan event. If you ever have the opportunity to attend a Samoan family reunion, I highly recommend it. The guys in the cooking fale were on the go nonstop, and produced meals that made anything else pale in comparison.
I missed the initial kava ceremony, but did get to see the village present the family with gifts of food. And the family fiafia night was truely wonderful. When I'd first arrived at the reunion, it was about an hour before the sa. I took maybe two steps into the main fale when one of the aunties grabbed my hand for an impromptu siva, much to the amusement of the rest of the family.
After the reunion, I went to Taufua Beach Fales. Beautiful, but I had an initial reverse culture shock at all the palagis speaking English. Quite a change after four days of hearing primarily Samoan. The food... well, meals at Taufua are an elegant dance of presentation. It's served family-style with each course put out on a different plate, for everyone to help themselves. The group seating made things easier for me, as a solo traveler, giving me a chance to get to know some of the other guests. One part of this that was pretty nice is that the beach fale tourism is so concentrated in different parts of Samoa, that you're bound to meet up with some of the same people further down the road.
After Taufua, it was up to the far end of the island for a ferry ride over to Manono Island, where I stayed at Sunset View. I got to meet Ewan, the caretaker/cultural liaison, and a very interesting individual. He relayed an invitation from one of the churches for the guest to attend a fiafia to raise money for a piano. I'm sure the other guests were expecting fire dancing and other sorts of performances, but at this point, I knew better. Sure enough, in this case, fiafia meant a social dance, and no one stayed in their seats for long.
The next day was Father's Day, which I started by watching the umu being prepared, then went with some of the other guests to church. During the service, the fathers were honored, and all the men were given flower leis, then at the conclusion, the children did a couple of adorable song and dance numbers, and post-church was commemorated with cake and fruit cocktail. I found that giving the fathers 'ie lavalava to be much more practical than the Western tradition of giving ties. I'm not a father, but was gifted with an 'ie that I really cherish.
Two days was just a little too short for Manono, particularly since on Sunday, it's a day of rest. The food was good, if somewhat basic, and the Sunday lunch was excellent. One more day would have been nice, though there was another guest who wound up spending 5 nights on the island.
After Manono, it was off to Savaii. My first stop was Tanu Beach Fales. Normally, I'm not one to just stay at a resort, but this time I spent a few days going no further than from the fale to the water, then up to the shop for a chilled coconut.
One real highlight of this part of the trip was my experience with Dive Savaii. Olaf and the rest of the crew do a great job. I did the introduction to scuba course, and it turned out to be a great place to do that. The initial "pool" dive was actually in a large tidal pool in front of the resort across the street from Dive Savaii. So, after learning a few technical details, I was looking at giant clams and fish swimming in the tidal pool. The next day was the boat dive, and I wound up doing a second dive on the same trip. The dive master was just fantastic, and encouraged me to look into getting fully dive certified when I get home. I could have gone for another few dives, I saw so many beautiful fish and so much coral. Highly recommend Dive Savaii.
After Tanu, I went to Va-i Moana. Nuu and Michelle were so welcoming, and so funny. Nuu took me on my own snorkelling tour at the offshore island, and when he realized I'd forgotten to take my reef shoes, he lent me his flipflops to get across the island to the snokelling lagoon.
Oh, and I met up with some of the group from Taufua, and went with them to the Dwarf's Cave. Hint: In an attraction called the Dwarf's Cave, it's a really good idea to mind your head as well as your footing.
The rest of the staff was also... welcoming. During my time in Samoa, the most common question I had from the female locals was "Where's your wife?" Often I got that almost before "Malo". This reached really entertaining proportions during my stay at Va-i Moana as the staff encouraged each other to go check on their "husband". At the end of my stay, the fiafia ended with an encouragement for me to come back and marry one of the staff. The food was great, though this was the one place where it was served at individual tables rather than in a communal family style.
On one of the days, I rented the car at Va-i Moana, and my very own guide was included in the rental, though I suspect that's not standard issue. Which came in handy in trying to find the waterfalls, and the coconut lady at the blowholes was more interested in a little teasing flirting than getting tala for putting coconuts into the blowhole. After a drive around the island (driving in Savaii is so wonderfully easy. I only forgot which side to drive on once or twice.),
I was ready for a nap, so I took my guide to his village, had lunch and a nap, then intended to go to the Falealupo Cape to watch the sunset. I was okay to go on my own, but Michelle thought it'd be better if I had one of the staff to go with me, so she called one of the girls in housekeeping. Which set off a minor dispute with the lady in charge of housekeeping. I wish my Samoan were further along, because as nearly every other word in the dispute was "palagi", I could have learned some really good stuff that you won't get in a classroom setting. And I wound up taking in the sunset on my own.
After Va-i Moana, it was back to Upolu, where I stayed at Manusina. I think I really saved the best for last there. I was the only guest staying there, and Leilani is really a great cook, and a real sweetheart. I mentioned wanting a traditional tattoo, so she called her husband, Teleo, who works in Apia. The next day, I caught a taxi into town, where I met Teleo, and he went with me to the Tourism Fale to set up an appointment with Suluape. After I'd gotten my tattoo (which didn't hurt all that much until it was finished), I met Teleo again, and he gave me a ride back to Manusina, picking up a friend and Teleo's kids along the way, with a little grocery shopping for good measure. His friend was so impressed with the tattoo that he bought me a couple of big Vailimas. Teleo also took me to church with his kids, and included me in their Sunday lunch.
Manusina was a great place to chill and reflect on the previous weeks, and after the tattoo, I was perfectly content to sit in the open fale and watch the ocean.
My last stop was to visit some of the friends from the reunion at their place outside Apia, and that was a fantastic way to end the trip.
I'd have to say one of my favorite places to eat in Apia was at the fish market. Deep-fried tuna, decent chips coated in mayonnaise makes for a pretty good lunch, and anyplace where I'm the only palagi in line has got to be great.
I know this has been a long report, but I was there for a month, and just loved it. It's been my experience that in any holiday, there's always that one point where things get a little frustrating, and you get a desire to just get home. Not so in Samoa. The country is visually beautiful, and the people are so warm and welcoming and friendly, and the time just flew by.
So... now I have to make Samoa 2015 work...