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Stories from Independent Samoa

Apia, Independent Samoa Internet Cafe

tim"Need sleep" I think, stumbling through Samoan customs at 7 a.m. The night flight was not kind to me; I fought hard to fall asleep and lost.

But outside the airport, the bright light of morning wakes me up. The sky is unusual. Pillar-like clouds build the horizon into a puffy cityscape. It is winter here in the South Pacific and the low sun produces long shadows and casts a warm golden color to the landscape.

We hop a bus and ramble down the coast to our budget guesthouse in the capital of Apia.

Passing through several communities along the way, I'm impressed by how clean everything is. Neatly trimmed hedges, colorful flowers, and painted rocks surround lawns tidy enough to impress any homeowner in middle suburbia. The architecture of countryside homes opens a small window into the Samoan community. Traditionally, families live in thatched roof shelters without walls called fales. Several families' fales surround a large communal fale and make a village. We pass by the newer style fales, some with tin roofs and some with private walled areas. Once in the town of Apia, nearly all the homes we pass are western-style with four walls and regular windows.

We arrive at the guesthouse, stow our bags, and head out for a walk. Samoa seems about as laid back as any place can get. We walk slowly. Men and women pass by us wearing light sandals and colorful lavalavas (wrap-around skirts). Most of them say hello and smile. In the center of town, we walk through the maketi fou market area. It's a busy place. Samoan vendors sell taro root, bananas, baked goods, koko (cocoa Samoa), crafts, and many vegetables that I can't identify. Over in one corner of the market, a large group of men alternatively laugh and moan over an excited game of dominoes.

We buy bread and walk home to nap. top

Beach Tour

timThe Samoan Outrigger Hotel is an enjoyable place, by backpacker travel standards. The large white house was voted one of the best budget hotels in the South Pacific - but that was a few years ago. The windows of the large open room in front face towards the ocean and let in a nice breeze. The casual furniture laying about invite you to sit down and read. Like every hotel in Apia, the Outrigger is very busy now. The coup in Fiji has scared many travelers out of Fiji and towards Samoa. After all, that is why I am here with Michelle.

Today we took a tour to the south beaches of Upolu. While the weather was beautiful all day in Apia, heavy rain and wind followed us through two different beaches. We moved on to a two-tiered waterfall where, on nice days, one could jump from pool to pool. Today the rough water would have sucked us under faster than a turd in an aircraft toilet. So we moved on to another waterfall. This one was said to have a spectacular view, but the fog prevented us from seeing.

Not to be defeated, we ended the day attending a fiafia at a local hotel. Although this celebration of song, dance, and food has roots in traditional Samoan life, what we attended was definately a product of the tourist trade. Nevertheless, I enjoyed the chance to hear wonderful Samoan voices singing together. Like the young Christians singing through the streets of Apia trying to attract youth to prayer meetings, the performers' harmony just made me happy to listen.

After the show, we dined on traditional Samoan food for the first time. I bit into a pile of seaweed. Though it looked like a miniature bunch of sweet grapes, my mouth cringed to the incredibly salty taste. I didn't care for the the sea slug either. I have a hard time describing what it was like, though the thought of it still makes my mouth water in a really unpleasant way. But I was thrilled to try the rest of the food. I had to go back for seconds on taro leaves filled with coconut and breadfruit. All the while we sat next to a head chief's birthday celebration. The performers sat near our table singing happy birthday in Samoan and other Samoan songs.

It was a great way to end the day. top

Cindy's Caberet

timTonight we attended what I must call the "Best Drag Show in the South Pacific."

Cindy's Caberet is the last thing I expected to see in this otherwise conservative country. Men in drag with glittery costumes danced with shirtless buff men in lavalavas. The crowd loved the old showtunes, the Polynesian music, the mannish Tina Turner, and the disco dancing at the end of the show.


Faga, Independent Samoa


michelleBrillant turquoise water lay before me as white spray splashed my face. Tim and I had been graciously invited by the owner of the hotel we were staying at to spend Sunday afternoon on his catamaran.

As we flew along the reef I was struck by the beauty of the island Savai'i. Although less developed than Upolu, it is equal in charm. The coast was covered by a sparkling white sand beach and lined with swaying palm trees.

Along the reef, a fair distance from shore, we tied the boat to a large rock and jumped in the clear water to snorkel. The fish were small but brilliant in color. Blue, orange, and yellow colors swam by. As a bright blue school of fish passed me, they changed direction and suddenly became a glowing green. Purple blue star fish dotted the sand below.

Heading back to shore I thought, "This is what paradise is all about!" top


timWe've had the opportunity to listen to music all over Samoa. Tonight at Si 'ufaga, a few men were playing at the restaurant. Lolani Solitua, Isaia Akoa, and Liae Talamaifuga were nice enough to let me record a few songs. View the Sounds page under "Samoan Trio" to listen. top


timThe last five days have been rejuvinating. Our cabin by the water at Si'ufaga Beach sports a small kitchen, so I've been experimenting with coconut rice, fresh bananas, Samoan cocoa, and canned food. My eyes are blurry from reading too many books. My only real excitement turned out to be the huge tarantula I found next to the toilet. Needless to say, Michelle wasn't as excited as I was.

But it is a good day to leave the house and look around the island of Suvai'i. So we rented a car from a guy named Otto.

Suvai'i is one of the largest islands in Polynesia, but circling the island's well paved coastal highway only takes 3 1/2 hours at a slow pace. The style of our Korean-made diesel 4 wheel drive was similar to a classic jeep. Although the car itself was not old, the spongy brakes, broken windshield, fishy steering, and bald tires made me feel like I was driving a true classic. At least it ran well.

Samoa ChurchWe headed up the east coast of the island looking to complete a counter-clockwise loop. The eastern coast of the 50 000 person island is the most heavily populated, so we passed through village after village of colorful fales. After the lava fields of the north side, we entered the Falealupo Peninsula. An old Catholic church lay there in ruins, destroyed by a terrible cyclone almost 10 years ago. Continuing down the west coast, we passed tall rocky sea arches and stop in the Taga Blowholes.

The Taga Blowholes shoot a huge blast of misty air and water every minute or so. It is said to propel coconuts hundreds of feet into the sea. I couldn't help thinking of myself shooting up through it like a human cannonball. I wasn't equipped with a crash helmet and jumpsuit, so I decided not to try it out. Maybe on my next visit.

Our circle complete, we returned the car, hitched a ride from Otto, and made some strange stew with canned mackerel. top

Bright yellow plants against the blue South Pacific Ocean, Samoa. Beautiful Samoan smiles.

Manase, Independent Samoa


timIt is fiafia night at Tanu's Beach Fales where the whole family comes out to dance and sing. Listen to them sing in the Sounds page under Samoa.

Fiafia Night


timFrom the north side of the island, south of the equator, we can see both sunrise and sunset from our little beach fale.


A Bus Ride

michelleAs the colorful wooden bus makes its way down the road, the sights out the window will be the memories I keep of Samoa. Manicured lawns dotted with chickens, pigs, dogs and an occasional cow. Brown bottoms of toddlers as they play in the dirt. Fales painted brightly with reclining figures inside. Blue ocean, coconut groves and green hills whiz by.

As the bus rumbles along, it passes through one village after another. Each village has a large white cement church in its center. The churches are by far the largest buildings on the islands and a focal point of life in the village. Children wave and adults smile as we pass and I am struck at the friendly and open lifestyle these people lead. top

Salelolga, Independent Samoa


timPhoto check-in. top

The colorful wooden buses of Samoa - where it is not uncommon for passengers to sit on each other's laps on a crowded bus.

Apia, Independent Samoa


timWe walked around the vegetable market on our last full day in Samoa. On a whim, I purchased a carved multi-legged wooden kava bowl. Once I bought that, I decided to buy some kava to match. I picked up something that I found out later was definitely NOT kava and asked the quiet man behind the counter, "Is this kava?" In the true Samoan way of pleasing he simply answered, "Yes."

I brought it back to the hotel, held it in the air, and asked the Samoan woman that worked there how to make it. She choked and almost laughed herself to death at what I thought was kava - apparently the straw-like substance is used to make coconut cream and is used as a loofa. I'm quite sure her whole village knew the story about the stupid American by nightfall.

The drink made from ground kava root, or 'ava as they say here, is used in Samoan kava ceremonies. In a traditional ceremony, men seat themselves in an oval and place the specially made bowl at one end. A ceremonial virgin then filters the ground cumin-looking powder with water until the chief signals that the brew has reached its proper strength. At that time, the chief dips half a coconut shell into the muddy looking water and passes it to each participant. The ceremony can be a brief ritual before a government meeting or an hours-long ritual of a boy meeting his future father-in-law.

Kava has several active ingredients and according to the Lonely Planet guide, " both an anaesthetic and analgesic, high in fibre, low in calories, and serves as a mild tranquilizer, an antobacterial and antifungal agent, a painkiller, a diuretic, and appetite suppressant." In case you are wondering, it is legal to use in both North America and Europe.

I eventually bought the "right" kava in the market and hosted a makeshift kava ceremony at the Outrigger. Unfortunately, the wood stain on my kava bowl ran down the sink when I washed it. The bowl still looked fine, but we decided the neon yellow plastic salad bowl might make a safer alternative. Of course, we filled it with bottled water! After our Samoan friend at the hotel stopped laughing, she helped us prepare the rest.

We poured the kava powder into a cloth and wrapped it into a golf ball sized tea bag. After repeatedly dunking and wringing the kava by hand, the clear water became muddy enough to drink.

We gathered around the white picnic table in the kitchen and placed the yellow bowl in the center. Using a coffee cup I found in the sink, I solemnly filled five wine glasses full of the brackish brew. We all yelled cheers and drank the bitter root down.

In a good faith effort to explore and describe the effects of kava, we had a few more glasses. Well, many more. And how did I feel? I had a slightly numb mouth and I felt a little spacey, but the effect was short lived and was no stronger than the effect of drinking a beer.

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