Sea, Sun, Sand and ... err... Samoans.
Howdy! Wow, it's been a while since I've been behind the old keyboard again! Feels like an eternity since I did that last blog entry in India, but here we are again. Today's topic, Samoa.
Wow, what a country this place is. I'm so glad we didn't opt for Fiji now that we're here. This place is an unspoilt paradise island, full of fantastic smiling Samoans, some of the most welcoming people I've met around the world. Our arrival at Samoa airport says it all about this cute little island, we walk off the plane right onto the only runway, and see arrivals and departures about 5 meters from each other! This place is tiny. I thought Mauritius was small but with a population of only 180,000, Mauritius' 1.2 million seems positively humoungous!
We are met by Richard, our driver who takes us on the 1 hour drive from the airport in Apia to Sinalei Reef Resort, a beautiful hotel plopped right in the middle of some lovely gardens and the cutest most perfect little beach you've ever seen. Richard is a wealth of information on all things Samoan and we get the reality of the small population in our minds when Richard tells us he was part of the 2006 Samoan World Cup team. He further impresses us when he tells us his talents extend to music. Richard's story seems to have a familiar ring with other sporting celebrities in Samoa which we discover when we hear that one of the players on the (winning) national rugby team will be coming back from Scotland to resume his job as a taxi driver!
Our room is a self contained Fale, complete with a living room and monstrously large verandah that looks right onto the ocean. Bliss! After the hustle and bustle of Hong Kong, which I must confess I didn't like very much at all, this place is heaven. I'm determined to do as little as humanly possible while we're here, we're going to need the rest before our monster road trip through New Zealand and 4 day hike up to Machu Pichu in Peru in July.
Our first day is spent in Apia town, milling about the market, buying beers to take back to our room (Samoa makes a mean brew called Vailima which easily rivals Mauritius' Phoenix) and chatting to locals. Samoans are really friendly, laid back people. They dont seem to have a care in the world and you'd never know the country has just begun to recover from a devastating Tsunami that destroyed most of the coastal villages in Upolu. Speaking of the Tsunami, you wont meet a single Samoan that doesn't know someone who was taken by the ocean that day. Even the manager of our hotel, Sosin, tells us the sad story of how she lost her sister in law and almost two guests from New Zealand. The devastation took most of the resort we are staying at in its wake and they've only just managed to get things back up and running.
The next few days are spent doing what we planned to do all along on this island... relax. And boy do we relax in style here! Travelling from our balcony to the pool to the beach to the restaurant to the bar, it's a hard life I must say, but someone's got to do it The weather is a little unpredicatable, but that doesn't dampen our spirits, I like to think that being in the water when its raining is like having a bath and shower at the same time! We take little walks around the resort, the tide gets so low here you can literally take a walk into the ocean, little fish swimming around your ankles. Unfortunately the Tsunami killed almost all of the coral here so it's a bit sad when you look at all the grey sticks, wondering how amazingly colourful it must have been once.
We've taken to snorkelling and kayaking here quite a bit, the sea is a little tricky to negotiate both with or without a boat as there are very strong rip tides about, but as long as you're careful you wont get swept out. Despite the lack of living coral remaining in the sea there are loads of fish about, I spot some lovely little angel fish and a few ugly sea snakes. The one fear I have here is the stone fish. They are reportedly around the area and are easily mistaken for dead coral or stones. If you tread on one, their sting is deadly and gives you a very short timeframe to get to a hospital. We get chatting to a couple of Kiwis, Jo and Mel, who've just been out with the Lifeguard and they saw two of the little buggers swim right past them. The danger is real, but as long as we're careful we are assured that we will be fine by the hotel staff. Speaking of kiwis, there are loads of them staying at the resort which is handy for us as we get some good tips for our road trip coming up next week.
One thing about Samoa that isn't so convenient for Neet is the lack of vegetarian catering. The chef at the restaurant, Ernest, has been flown in from Holland to set it up (its only been open a week) and he is an absolute star, sorting out lovely meals for Neet. He's a michelin star trained chef, he was sous-chef at Le Gavroche for a while, and travels from country to country with his wife Pim working in restaurants and trying to elevate their standards. The food here is certainly good but he's having trouble with the Samoan staff pilfering all the food all the time! So funny!
The next day we hook up with our new friends Daniel and Nicole who have come here from Oz to get married. We drive out to a couple of beaches, including the amazing Paradise beach where the water is so clear you would swear it was an illusion. The sand is like powder and you sink into it satisfyingly as you walk along the beach. I love this place, it's the most beautiful beach I've ever seen, and an added surprise is a Reef Shark that we spot not more than 20 meters away prowling the shallow waters for an easy meal! Amazing!
After the beaches we stop at a little pond reputed to have a family of turtles living in it. As soon as we arrive we spot them, there are loads of them, bobbing their heads up every now and again to take a breath. I love turtles, they're like the old grumpy men of the sea! Such a shame that they are still being poached for their shells. Stay strong fellas and keep laying them eggs!
On the drive back to the hotel we spot all the locals dressed up in white going to and from church. The british missionaries must hold Samoa as one of their most successful endeavours because religion is absolutely EVERYTHING here. I am shocked at how everything in Samoan life revolves around the church and saddened when I hear that it is compulsory for village dwellers to pay 65% of their salary to the local church. When you consider that the average samoan earns 2 Tala per hour (about 1 US dollar) it seems criminal that the church makes this requirement of them. Nonetheless they are devout people and have no ill-will towards the tax-collectors. They see it as their duty, even going to the extremes of taking out loans to make donations to the church! Madness in my eyes, but again another great experience of life outside the western world. This is why we are travelling after all.
The hotel organises a tour of the Island for us one day and it's really cool. We visit some villages and see how they make coconut milk and use the fruit for almost everything. It's so important to them and you can see why, it provides water, protein, fat and wood. Our driver, Sam, takes us to an amazing spot next. A lagoon with a little waterfall pouring into it where you can swim. Sam, the nutter, jumps in from the top of the cliff face, me and Neet walk in like sensible people. It's my first time swimming in fresh water and I love it! Bloody freezing though!
Lalomanu beach is the next stop and the most eye opening as to get there you have to pass through the spots most badly hit by the tsunami. I couldn't believe my eyes, it looked like these places just got hit yesterday. Cars upside down, houses squashed flat like they'd been stepped on by a giant. Unbelievable. Out of respect I decided not to take any photos but it will be hard to forget anyway. Samoans bury their family members outside their homes, there are no graveyards here, and the amount of graves we passed on the way to this beach was just shocking. I pray that they never get struck by something like that ever again...
Our last night in Samoa is the cultural night at the resort and we get a somewhat cheesy but all the same, fun demonstration of traditional Samoan dance and fire-eating. It's a nice way to finish off the trip and we can't say we're not rested up for our big trip to New Zealand. I'll really miss Samoa, the beautiful beaches, the wonderful people and the quality beer! It's just a warm and fuzzy place through and through, we love you mate... Alofa Samoa