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Two nutheads in search for a particular beach ended up in fail. Although a successful one, for we found something better! After several busrides across Tutuila Julian and I started to walk down a path that supposedly would lead us to the best snorkel spot on the island. The only people we met carried iron pipes or chains, for dogs apparently, which got us a bit worried. Grabbed a couple of rocks each and continued on, until we fourty minutes later reached an old big house. We knocked on the door to ask for direction and out came a tiny old lady who seemed utterly surpriced to see us. "OH darlings, don't go there! They have put up a gate and you might not get out if you go through." She looked at our snorkel gear and must have noticed our disappointment as she flung out "I have a better idea! Why don't you go down to my private beach? Just walk through this palmtree plantation and you will find it."
So we did and found the most lovely little spot. Cracked open some coconuts and snorkelled for too long, soon realized that the last bus was about to return to Pago Pago. Therefor we ran up the plantation and once again thanked the lady. She made us hop on her son's truck for him to take us to the bus stop, but we were yet too late. We felt like two absolute nutheads! However another man helped us out, let us get on to his truck and drove more than an hour for no other reason than being kind. As we flew through the island on the back of the truck I couln't keep myself from smiling at how general kindness makes people feel, both giving and taking. More of that!
Left main island Tutuila before I knew it, for Aunu'u. Located outside the eastern point of Tutuila Aunu'u stand as the smallest populated island of American Samoa, with around 470 people. Julian, Dennis and I were lucky to be invited as friends by Hobo who has family on the Island, as required when visiting. We crossed over in a small boat together with some locals returning from the morning market in Pago Pago.
A rough old house tattered by a tsunami in 2009 got to be our current home. Bamboo mats on the cement floor made our beds, open window frames our ocean view. Simple as life! From this little shack we explore the island by foot: walking through thick bush to reach the edge of a waterfilled crater, many hidden lagunes and untouched beaches. Hobo proudly showed off his pearls of beauty, repeatedly pointing out what a special occasion this was. For his family to let us, three palangis, on their land ment acceptance and trust.
Fishing on a coral reef next to a stranded wreck followed by beer and peanut butter toast in the sunset. Laughed to myself about the weird but wonderful bubbel I live in, here with a random collection of personalities in paradise Pacific. Cheers.
I woke up in a sunlit room somewhere outside Pago Pago. Gradually from a deep sleep, by the conversation of a bunch of people sittning on the floor next to my bed. The bunch that I was fortunate to call family for the week. Hobo and Tura opened up their home for us, the three random explorers with nowhere else to stay. So it was and there we were, all ready to experience normal life in American Samoa.
Starting with preparing the umu lunch as usual on a Sunday. Step by step I learned how to husk, crack open and grate the coconut, to further squeeze out the cream through coconut fiber. This was poured over taro leaf bundels to be cooked on hot rocks making polusami. Taro root, green banana and breadfruit was put on the hot rocks too, before layering it all with big leafs. After an hour in this natural kind of oven the umu was ready to be served. Earthy flavours, yuuuuum!
We spent the afternoon in a natural pool right next to the house. Had some more umu. Played card games until the candles burnt out.
One good kind of normal If you'd ask me.
"You have half an hour to pack your bag!" Just as I went through the door at Camp Samoa, returning from Savai'i, Dennis asked me to come on a trip that same evening. Destination American Samoa - transportation boat. 30 minutes later off to Apia harbour.
Another backpacker came too, Julian who had arrived to the camp while I was away. We found ourselves in the same situation: spontaneous and keen for some adventure! Perhaps too naive, thinking that crossing the Pacific at night would be allright. It was not.
As the only tourists on a jammed ferry, looking like it could fall apart any minute, we took off. Still in the harbour yet with an already fairly big swell my guttfeeling told this was going to end up in a nightmare. An hour later the boat lifted to crasch on enourmous waves, I had lost my two travel companions and the rocking of the ship made an effect to stand up impossible. Instead I stayed laying on the crammed upper floor amongst other poor souls, all scared and seasick to death. For 12 hours it went on, until we finally reached Pago Pago. By that time the storm had calmed and I could get out on deck. Never again I promised myself.
I found Julian hanging over the rail at the back of the ferry, like Dennis a bit further away. On weak legs we helped each other onto mainland, through a harsh american security check, before crasching in a park. Not until hours later we felt strong enough to catch a bus, the local one meaning an old truck base made into a pimped wooden bus.
Avatar-like surroundings swept by the window and I instantly forgot about the boat night.
On the first Monday in May a lady invited me to come join the celebrations of Mother's Day. She explained that this day is one of the most important ones throughout the year in samoan culture and that the whole villige would get together at church. As we drove there we passed people all dressed in white, the mothers in fancy hats and long necklaces decorated with wrapped sweets. They were all making their way to the ceremony which was about to take place from early morning to late afternoon. Singing, dancing, exchanging gifts and listening to the priest's talk.
Then I was invited to hold a little speech, by surprice! The whole church went silent as I walked up to the altar, curious eyes in plenty, they were all waiting. The pianist handed me a microphone and wished me good luck, big expectations... I can't remember what I actually talked about, but it musn't have been something too weird concidering the big applause and many high fives I got as I walked back down.
After the ceremony families strolled home in the afternoon light, to continue with dinner parties. The lady dropped me by my bungalow and I gave her the rest of my gifts, my samoan mum for the day.
Met a couple of spanish sisters who celebrated their retirement with a trip to Samoa. Mina and Maria 60 and 61, they needed a chauffeur to take them around Savai'i, Samoa's western island. "Ladies, I'll take you", I said somehow joking. But said words are true words, so off we went! Apia to Salelologa by boat, joined by playful dolphins flipping in the swell. Found a hidden lagoon where water bungalows made a perfect home base for the week ahead. We soon made good friends with the cheeky and fun staff, letting me help out in the bar and take their kayak out to explore the water. In a little green car me and the spanish sisters took off. Incredible nature was what we met: vulcano ground topped with rain forest, lined by dream beaches, closed in by coral reef, surrounded by crystal clear water...
Left my cool sisters for some days to adventure on my own. Starting with taking a bus to Lano beach where I met a devastated man, he kept a small family business of beach fales. Explaining how a big cyclone had hit a few weeks earlier to wash big parts of the beach away, including seven fales. The ones still standing now with 2 meters of its poles visable and scratched by the storm. Although this misfortune the man with his family kept the positive spirit up, inviting me and some other visitors for a big umu lunch on a Sunday. I decided to stay for two nights to support these kindhearted people. Sleeping in those fales was like meditation: with the breeze through open walls and waves reaching in underneth the floor. Waking up by sunbeams reflected by a light blue surface.
Had heard about this other beach, Falealupo. On the west end of the island making the spot in the world to see the last sunset of each day. The way to get there was awkward, but so worth it. A two hours bus ride until someone announced "Falealupo!". Got off, in the middle of the bush on a clay road with no coastline to be seen. Started to walk in one direction and eventually passed a house where a man chilled out in a sunchair. I explained where I was going and he looked at me with big eyes: "far far away". "How far?", I asked. "30 minutes by car". He offered to take me there in his "taxi". Too hot to bother trying to find my way I hopped in, unaware that the beach was hiding just a couple of kilometres further down the road. The 10 k/h we travelled in explained the "30 minutes ride", couldn't do anything but laugh and pay my private taxi driver.
What I expected to be a well visited beach turned out to be empty. Not a soul was to be caught sight of, so I put my bag down and stepped into the most clear water. When glancing out towards the reef I saw two snorkels, so I swam out. A french couple who got surpriced to see me, they explained that they were the only ones staying here and that a lady comes from the village every day to cook and take payments for her fales. They lend me their snorkel gear so I got to see this untouched coral with incredible colorful fish. Difted away in time and space and when I got back to the beach the sun started to go down. The lady had cooked fish and taro in coconut, which we all ate watching the last sunset. Fullfilled and in total harmony I fell asleep that night, to the sound of soothing swell.
Woke up to the sound of Fale preparing breakfast, wife to cheif Omasei of the village 9th Heaven. I was to stay with this family for the weekend, let them show me life at the most remote spot on Upolu. Right across the island I had travelled to get here, a spot hidden in between dark green mountain ranges and supplyed with water from several falls. As we stopped at the top of a range overlooking the sea big fruitbats crossed the sky like black shadows, crickets played loudly and the air smelled sweet rain. Just as we reached the village the night fell in, it had just past prayer time and people started making their way back to their home fales. In absolute darkness I was shown to Omasei and Fale's place, where them and their three daughters waited with evening tea. I was blessed with the cheif's prayer before we all went to sleep.
Coca samoa, pawpaw, and pancakes watched by intense and curious eyes of a bunch of children who came over to see the palangi, had never seen a white person before. The older daughter took my hand and led the way to another fale where a couple of ladies were busy making fans and mats out of flax. They showed me the tecnique and let me have a go, laughing away at my non existing skills. Then one fan was made especially for me, well needed in this humad heat!
Next stop got to be another craft making family. Here beautiful bowls carved out of palmtree, which seemed to be their income when sold at the market. While the younger generation had some english the elders and kids spoke little, instead used body language and laughed or just stared. Felt 100% accepted when the older ladies let me help them preparing fresh flax ready to be made into baskets and mats. A 90 year old man with no teeth made Coca samoa for everyone, including the school kids who had just finished and now joined the workshop.
In the afternoon a group of kids followed me up the hill to the sea view piont. A kilometre from home and as far as these children had ever been. With excitement and hints of fear they rambled up to me, before running down the hill to safe ground again. Down there the water hole quickly became next activiy: jumping into a pool the river from water falls create. Now this they had done before! A constant stream of kids from the whole village came flocking around to jump in, little ones to teenagers. As I copied they all went crazy, pulling my arms and legs, "again, again, again!". Until the bells for dinner time started ringing we jumped and jumped, youngsters centailnly have more fun!
A samoan language lesson at dinner, prayer time, bed. What a great first day in 9th Heaven.
Talofa - hello
Malo - hi
Oa maj ae? - how are you?
Fiafia vaai ae - nice to meet you
Faafetai fai meaai - thank you for food
Ma ona - I'm full
Suddenly I found myself on a flight to a tropical paradise in the heart of the South Pacific. With nothing but a phone number to a volonteer plantation I stepped into the world of Samoa. I had been told that this number would reach the so called Camp Samoa, run by someone named Dennis. And it did...
A taxi ride through lush green bush out of sight from Apia's city buzz got me there. What waited got my presumptions of this camp wrong in every way possible. Here were no other volonteers found, neighter any current work. Here was instead Dennis, a man originally from New Zealand living on the Island since 15 years. He excused for not having any duties to be done at the plantation, although he had someting else in mind. To pay off my rent I got challenged to act guineapig for his up coming tourism business, in other words go out to live in traditional villages to judge their possibility of hosting cultural visits in the future. If I would accept it!? But first, two nights in the bush camp...
I woke up around midnight by someone searching through the kitchen and living room, only a hung up sheet separating from the tiny room where I was lying in my bunkbed. Remembered Dennis telling that he never give his address away, experienced from earlier burglaries. My heart stopped, knowing that Dennis stayed in another hut further up the plantation. For 10 minutes I tried to breathe as little as possible while praying for this someone not to peek behind the sheet, which seemed to work. Puh! It went quiet and I fell back to sleep, too tired to worry about it.
The next morning Dennis just looked at me, shook his head, "wellcome to Samoa", shook his head again.
A dear friend, Karioitahi beach, a life on the opposite side of the Word. This dramatic peice of land covers South Auckland's west coast. A place to call second home, with people I love. I said see you later, never know when but always always will I want to return.