Western Samoa, Upolu Island


August 27, 2011

 
We departed Pago Pago on Sunday morning with the sound of church bells ringing along the shore as we slowly sailed along the western shore of the island. The winds were again light and the sails were doing little more than providing shade on the deck. We trolled lines along the drop off with out much success other than one 8 inch long skip jack tuna which we threw back. We saw whales blowing on the horizon but never really got close to enjoy the great creatures.

It took all day to cover the 65 miles to Upolu and just before dark we anchored in Fagola Bay on the NE side of the island in a bay all to our selves. There was a small village along the rocky bay and no place to land SD so we raised the anchor the next morning and set sail for the main harbor of Apia just 15 miles to the west.

Apia is the nicest harbor we have seen in the whole South pacific. The marina is fairly new and has modern floating docks with free water and power when you pay a nominal fee to tie up here. We were assisted by a crew of 4 guys that helped take our lines and get us securely tied to the dock. They no sooner tied us up and then asked “ hey Cap you have a soda pop?” sorry we do not drink pop but I offered a beer which they all accepted along with a Downtime cap for everyone. The customs and immigration agents took their time coming to the boat but handled clearing you in a very professional way and all of this for free without running all over town!! There is a departure fee of only $33 tala which is very reasonable and the dock is just over $130 US for the week.

Tuesday night there was a fire dance show at a little bar just a short walk from the marina. We met several other cruisers at the “Gourmet Seafood Restaurant” that served only fish and chips, after dinner we were entertained by the local talent next door. The fire dancers were performing so close to us close that we felt the heat and heard the roar from the torches spinning in their hands. The kids start training when they are very young and by the time they are in their teens have some real talent.

The island is very clean and the people are friendly and helpful. Everyone speaks good English and seem to enjoy their island lives. Prices here are just a little higher than American Samoa and the selection just OK. The local bus system appears to be overloaded with far fewer busses running the routs and most busses were crammed full of passengers at rush hour. The taxis here are all painted white and the fleet is made up of modern Toyota’s that charge a fair fee for their services. We hired a car for the day and it was $80 US for the trip around the island, not bad.

Our trip started with a quick stop at the cash machine money here is $2.19 Tala to one Us dollar. Then we were off across the island with our first stop at Robert Lewis Stevenson’s Museum.

The 100 year old home and plantation have been restored to the original splendor. The two story home is built of a Australian design with imported redwood from California lining the interior walls. Huge porches wrap around the west side of the home and it even has two fireplaces build just for show to make the place feel more like home in Scotland. The plantation sits at 2500 feet above the sea and it is noticeably cooler up here. First we took the steep and winding trail up the mountain behind the house up to his tomb. The 40 minute accent left us dripping wet and wishing we took our water bottles along. Robert died at just 44 years old from a stroke and was laid to rest next to his wife on top of the mountain with a beautiful view of his plantation and the sea below.

We continued across the island and our next point of interest brought us to a Baha’I temple of which there are only nine built in the world. They all have very unique architecture and this one in particular was surrounded with beautiful landscaping that keeps 8 gardeners busy all week. Apparently the former king was a follower of this religion and supported the building of this place. He is no longer king and recently was voted out of power, so this was definitely not the right road to be on….Nice gardens though.

There are many waterfalls on the island but now being the dry season is not the best time to see them. We stopped at a few along the way and they were just so-so. Arriving at the south shore we took a break for lunch at a beach resort and paid way too much for a crab special but enjoyed our brief stay there, you will recognize the place be seeing the cooks and waiters wearing Downtime hats.

We gave this little girl a tee shirt and toys, she was so shy but after a while we got a smile out of her.

This would be a fun island to spend a week traveling around, since there is way too much to see in just a day. You can rent a inexpensive rooms and bungalows just mere small roadside structures at many places along the shore. We stopped at a few more places along the coast and took pictures of the shoreline and had some refreshments (beer) at beachside cafes.

The south coast was devastated by a tsunami just two years ago and the ruins of many homes are still evidence of the wave that killed over 130 people that sad day. Entire villages were wiped out and were later relocated to higher ground. The only people left live in makeshift raised huts that have blue tarps for walls with all their worldly positions in the middle of the small structures covered with scraps of tin for a roof. The lifestyle here is a simple one.

There are 250,000 Samoan people and I would guess most live on less in a year than one US family lives on in a month. There are very few cars here and the kids walk to school in bare feet. The dress code for school is a simple one, everyone wears the same thing, a white shirt and wrap around knee length skirt like cloth. Some schools have different color bottoms but all have the white shirts. We gave out a dozen Downtime tee shirts to some of the kids we saw walking along the way, they were timid accepting the gift but showed true appreciation with a big smile when they understood it was just a gift. We saw kids hauling bananas and coco nuts along the road as well as others hauling water. It is a lot of work in life if you have to haul all the water you use any distance. Most of the island has water provided by a PVC pipe that lays along the roadway. In a few places the pipe is buried in the rocky soil, but most places it is exposed with smaller lines running up to the homes with a single faucet outside.

The lush island is covered in coco nut trees, millions of coco nut trees!! Sadly it has been years since coco nuts have had any value to them and now the fruits just fall into piles under the trees. Each tree bears 40 to 60 nuts a year and in places hundreds of new trees grow in clumps creating chaos. The only use they have for them now is to drink the occasional green one and to pick up the brown dried out ones and use the oily meat inside to feed pigs. We saw piles stacked along the roadside that a big truck would come by and pick them up hauling them to where the pigs were being raised. Men would then have to husk them, break out the meat and feed the pigs. Other pigs seemed perfectly happy walking around free in small villages or wallowing in roadside ditches rooting in the cool mud as we drove by.

In another village we drove through there was a bingo game going on with people lounging in any shade they could find within ears reach of the announcer.

We returned back to the boat by 5:00 and got cleaned up for another night out at Aggie Grays a hotel with lots of history for a traditional dance show and buffet. The show had 40 local dancers and musicians that put on a great show. The buffet was loaded with local delicacies that included roasted suckling pig, coconut cream tuna, stuffed sea urchins, taro leaf salad, coconut cream octopus and many other tasty dishes and salads. All this was only $35 US per person and was a good value in my opinion.

The next day we did some shopping around town and cleared out. Clearing out was not quite as easy as clearing in but we found the immigration office and filled out the wrong form, then filled out the right forms, got our passport stamped by a very large and happy Samoan lady and were on our way to the prime ministers office within 30 minutes. The prime ministers office is where you can get permission to go to Savaii the island just to the west, the less populated sister island of Western Samoa. I was told the office was on the 5th floor. I went to the 5th floor and was told it was on the 3rd floor and went there to be told to go to the tourism office on the 1st floor who told me to go to the 5th floor…..Back to the 5th floor the security guy had a weird look as I walked past to the office on the left. The letter was printed and passports scanned and we were allowed to visit. Then it was off to the port captains office to pay $33 tala departure fee. I arrived at 2:45 just in time to see them all leaving early for the day, than goodness one guy had a cell phone and called his boss to help me out. I am sure they all got overtime for collecting the $33 tala and filling out my clearance papers. Next step we had to pay for the dock and wouldn’t you know it I was $20 short!! Another mile of walking back to the boat and we were all set.

That night we went out to a nice Italian restaurant Paddles and had some of the best food and service we have had in quite a while. After dinner we had a few drinks at a little bar called Y-Not and swapped fishing stories with a local charter captain. Too bad we would not be here when the big fish come up in the summer months.

From all the stories we heard this is no place to be in the summer time. It rains continuously and they get something like 300 inches of rain!! And if that is not bad enough they are located right where the major typhoons come through.. I guess that would explain all the rain.. Several have caused serious damage in the past decade.

Every morning while we were here woke to the sound of drums beating to a rhythm at 5:00 am!! What’s going on? When the sun finally rose we could see the huge canoes out practicing, each had 40 men rowing and one helmsman at the stern and a guy banging the drum up front. The boats are over 70 feet long and move right along when everyone is pulling on the oars.

Having driven around the island and spent almost a week here I still always wonder how and island can survive let alone be it’s own country. They do not worry about the things big countries do, like defense, what is to defend? They have zero military and the police force is minimal compared to most countries we visited. We never seen the fire trucks leave the firehouse or ever heard a sirens blair. While we were in Pago Pago and American island the ambulances and fire trucks were screaming at all hours of the day. It seems that if the services are there the people get used to calling them out. If they are not, well they just take care of it on their own. It is amazing of what we are used to in the states but at what cost? Like most countries in the world over half work for the government. There was a 24 hr guard at the docks to guard 12 boats that paid an average of $20 per day to be there, no profit there….All the departments we went to were well staffed and helpful but you have to ask, where does all the money come from? This country has no real exports or manufacturing to trade with. The local hills are full of dense jungle but could be covered in hardwood tree farms. The plantations that thrived in the turn of the century are all but overgrown now and pastures have a fraction of the livestock they could sustain. There is some tourism but no main resorts just small 20 to 30 room locations. We did see a lot of New Zealanders traveling here, they have just a short 4 hour flight to paradise. Having said all that Western Samoa is still a place I would definitely come back to, next time for a month not a week!
 

Our next adventure will be Savaii the sister island to Upolu

Until then, Live your dreams!!
 

Peace!! Capt Pete and Daria
 


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