My tour of the Samoas was the second stop on the Pacific Island Nations tour scheduled with Advantage Travel & Tours, Poway, California to complete my visits to all the countries in the UN. The trip was a set tour by Advantage Travel; they called South Pacific Islands Explorer. I was traveling with Lynn Bishop, Mary Warren and Bob Ihsen with whom I just had visited Tarawa.
The Independent State of Samoa, formerly known as Western Samoa was the last UN country for me to visit to complete my goal of visiting every member country of the United Nations.
This journal starts as I arrive in Apia, Samoa, from Fiji.
Tuesday, June, 17, 2014: Arrive Apia and take a ferry to and tour Savaii Island, Samoa
We landed in Apia, Samoa at 01:40. I had accomplished my goal of visiting every country in the UN!
Apia had a little larger airport than Suva but not as large as Nadi. Immigration processing was fast since we were the only passengers in the building. When we entered the baggage claim I was surprised to see and hear a band welcoming us to the country at the late hour and the small flight. My bag was the first off and Customs selected it for inspection so I ended up being the last of our group to exit baggage claim. We were met by a representative of the local tour agency and loaded in a bus for a forty five minute ride to our hotel.
It was 03:40 before I got to bed. We had a 06:15 scheduled departure by ferry to Savaii Island, so I only got ninety minutes sleep. The hotel restaurant was not scheduled to start until 06:30 but the desk staff gave us a full ‘English Breakfast’ (eggs, bacon, sausage, baked beans and toast) on a tray which were able to eat before the tour bus arrived. The ferry terminal was near the airport so it was another forty five minute ride including a stop to pick up additional tourists at a hotel near the Mulifanua Wharf ferry terminal.
The ferry was large with over three decks. The walk on passengers had to sit on the top deck. Our scheduled departure was listed as 08:00 but they departed early and arrived at the Salelologa, Savaii Island ferry terminal a few minutes after 09:00. Salelologa is the only township on the island.
Savaii is the largest of the Samoan Islands and ranks the largest Polynesian island outside of Hawaii or New Zealand. It was also the highest with Mt. Sikisili in the Samoa chain of islands. The island is home to 43,142 people (2006 Census) who make up 24% of the country's population. The island has the largest shield volcano in the South Pacific with recent eruptions in the early 1900s. The central region forms the largest continuous patch of rainforest in Polynesia. It is dotted with more than 100 volcanic craters.
As we were disembarking I saw three school buses with no side widows and painted bright colors like a Philippine bus would be decorated. They served as the public transportation on the island. We rode in a more conventional Toyota HIACS van.
Our first stop was at an ANZ Bank so some of the group could exchange money. From there we rode past what used to be the market to a new market on the other side of the wharf road. It was a very large building with open sides and I would estimate at least 100 stalls. We were given time to tour the stalls. Many were selling colorful clothes and wraps. Others were selling makeup and household items. There were a few selling handicrafts which were made of wood or sea shells. A few of the group bought table mats weaved from coconut leaves. The more unusual items included items made of tapa cloth. Across the parking lot was another market which specialized in fish. I guess they don’t want the fish smell to get in the clothes sold in the main market.
We left the market and headed north along the cost but first we had to stop at the one traffic light on the island. The coastal drive was very picturesque with many churches, houses and meeting houses called fale tele set back from the road with green lawns.
We stopped to tour one of the fale tele. Our guide told us the the fale tele means big house, is the most important house in the settlement. It was usually round in shape, and served as a meeting house for chief council meetings, family gatherings, funerals or chief title investitures. The fale tele is always situated at the front of all other houses in an extended family complex. The houses behind it serve as living quarters, with an outdoor cooking area at the rear of the compound. At the front of the fale tele was an open area, called a malae. The malae, was usually a well-kept, grassy lawn or sandy area. The malae is an important cultural space where interactions between visitors and hosts or outdoor formal gatherings take place.
Our guide went to great lengths to describe the construction of the fale tele.
The main supporting posts, erected first, vary in number, size and length depending on the shape and dimensions of the house. Usually they are between 16 and 25 feet in length and six to 12 inches in diameter, and are buried about four feet in the ground. The term for these posts is poutu (standing posts); they are erected in the middle of the house, forming central pillars.
Attached to the poutu are cross pieces of wood of a substantial size called so'a. The so'a extend from the poutu to the outside circumference of the fale and their ends are fastened to further supporting pieces called la'au fa'alava.
The la'au fa'alava, placed horizontally, are attached at their ends to wide strips of wood continuing from the faulalo to the auau. These wide strips are called ivi'ivi. The faulalo is a tubular piece (or pieces) of wood about four inches in diameter running around the circumference of the house at the lower extremity of the roof, and is supported on the poulalo. The auau is one or more pieces of wood of substantial size resting on the top of the poutu. At a distance of about two feet between each are circular pieces of wood running around the house and extending from the faulalo to the top of the building. They are similar to the faulalo.
The poulalo are spaced about three to four feet apart and are sunk about two feet in the ground. They average three to four inches in diameter, and extend about five feet above the floor of the fale. The height of the poulalo above the floor determines the height of the lower extremity of the roof from the ground.
On the framework are attached innumerable aso, thin strips of timber (about half an inch by a quarter by 12 to 25 feet in length). They extend from the faulalo to the ivi'ivi, and are spaced from one to two inches apart. Attached to these strips at right angles are further strips, paeaso, the same size as aso. As a result, the roof of the fale is divided into an enormous number of small squares.
Across the road from the fale tele we toured was the entrance to the Savaiian Hotel where we were scheduled to have lunch. We stopped briefly to give them the head count and then returned riding north along the coast. We passed several fancy two store mansions built with commanding views of the sea.
Our next stop was at the monument marking the landing of John Williams the pioneer missionary of the London Missionary Society in the Pacific on August 24, 1830.. He was the first to really convert the Samoans to Christianity. Across the road from the monument was a London Missionary Society Congregational Church high on a hill. John Williams was commissioned by the London Missionary Society to perform missionary work in the South Pacific. Although he was very successful in Samoa he and fellow missionary James Harris were killed and eaten by cannibals on the island of Erromango during an attempt to bring them the Gospel.
Our next stop was down a gravel road off the highway to the Satioalepai Wetland with its large concrete sided pond full of turtles. Several of us changed into swimming suits and swam with the turtles. The water was very refreshing and was interesting in that it had bands of warm water in between cooler waters. I swam handing on to turtles and had fish come right up to me. I was the only one of the group wearing googles so I saw many fish in addition to the turtles. The pond was not very deep and had a rocky base where in places it was only waist deep. One of the men in our group kept picking up the turtles so his wife could take pictures of the turtle struggling to get free. Although I grabbed the turtles under the water I let them drag me along and didn’t attempt to lift the out of the water or hold them so they struggled to shake me off. It was a fun experience.
Unfortunately both Bob and Lynn slipped and fell on the slippery group leading to the swimming hole. One of the ladies dropped her camera in the water but it was retrieved.
We returned to the main road and started back south. We stopped at the Saleaula village lava fields and walked over the lava to the “Virgins Grave”. It was a spot were a young girl was buried and when the lava flowed through the area it formed a cave around her burial site and didn’t flow over her grave. In the area was also a Catholic church that the lava flowed into and burned the roof and windows so all that is left is the walls and a floor of lava. The lava was very slippery and a gentleman from Italy slipped and fell on the walk and scrapping his skin so it bled. Our guide was a Samoan who grew up in Bell Gardens, Los Angeles. After graduation from high school she visited her relatives in Samoa and stayed.
Where we parked the van for the walk there was a fale tele with ladies making tapa cloth from the bark of the mulberry tree. A process very like what I had seen in Myanmar. There was also a woman weaving mats from the coconut leafs. She was a delight to watch how quickly she wove the strips of leaves.
Our next stop was back at the Savaiian Hotel for a buffet lunch. They served BBQ chicken, rice and cold slaw. Our original itinerary had time to swim at the hotel but the Tour Guide told us the ferry schedule had changed and we had to leave right after the lunch to catch the ferry back.
When we dropped off the other members of our tour group at their hotel I realized it was the Aggie Grey Resort which was one of the fanciest resorts in the country. It had a large golf course and was situated close to both the ferry terminal and the International Airport.
It took us forty five minutes to ride back to our hotel. That drive was in day light and provided good views of the country side which we hadn’t seen at the ride in from the airport or the ride to the ferry because I slept most of that trip.
We were very tired and met for dinner in the bar before 19:00 and all ordered their pizza. It wasn’t bad. After dinner we arranged with the hotel to get us a taxi to the Domestic Airport and to provide an early breakfast. They said that we didn’t need to get to the airport until 90 minutes before our scheduled 07:30 flight because the terminal would not open before then. So we agreed to have the taxi pick us up at 05:30.
We then returned to our room and retired early since we had another early morning departure scheduled to fly to American Samoa.
Wednesday, June, 18, 2014: Fly Apia, Samoa to Pago Pago, American Samoa and fly back
I woke to my alarm at 04:00 to shower and packed a day pack for a flight to American Samoa. The hotel provided us with a hot English breakfast again before our taxi arrived at 05:15. We started out traveling the same route we had taken the day before to go to the ferry. It didn’t seem right to me so I took out my smart phone and called up a GPS map of our location. I was right the taxi was headed in the wrong direction planning on driving us to the Faleolo International Airport forty five minutes away. I asked him to stop and told him we needed to go to the Domestic Airport. He was confused since there were Domestic flights from the Faleolo International Airport. We showed him a copy of our ticket which spelled out the name of the airport as the Fagali’I Airport which Google Maps showed was only a 9 minute drive from our hotel. The taxi turned around and I started to track his progress on my smart phone GPS. He wandered all around back streets instead of taking what looked like would be a more direct route but eventually he delivered us to the small terminal which was still closed.
I couldn’t determine if it was the hotel’s fault or the Taxi companies fault. I know the hotel receptionist knew were we were going and described that the terminal was small and would not open until ninety minutes before the flight. She had estimated that it would cost 15 Samoan Tala. I had used the ATM to withdraw 50 tala the night before to pay for the taxi. The taxi driver tried to charge me 50 Tala and I was at a disadvantage since I only had a 50 Tala bill. We argued and finally settled on 20 Tala since he was driving a van. He admitted a smaller taxi would charge 15 Tala but since he was driving a van he charged more. He didn’t have change and had to get it from one of the taxis that were being to arrive.
The check-in counter opened at 06:00 and we were weighted with our hand carry and got our boarding pass. We had to fill out a departure card and get our passport stamped but didn’t have to go through a security check.
The plane flew in at 07:00. It was a 19-passenger STOL utility de Havilland Canada DHC-6 Twin Otter. We were assigned seats and I had a row 4 window seat. When I boarded the plane a very, very large Samoan was sitting in row 4 and I panic thinking I was going to be squashed against the side of the aircraft until I realized I had the window across the aisle from him.
We took off on Wednesday the 18th at 07:35 and landed in Pago Pago at 08:10 on Tuesday the 17th. We were met on landing by Rory West, a very interesting guide. He was American from Oklahoma and moved to the island in 1980 to marry a local girl he met in college in San Francisco. He had a wealth of knowledge that he passed on to us.
In 1898 Germany, the United Kingdom, and the United States were locked in dispute over who should have control over the Samoa Islands which resulted in the Samoa Tripartite Convention. The Convention gave control of the islands west of 171 degrees west longitude to Germany, (later known as Western Samoa), containing Upolu and Savaii (the current Samoa) and other adjoining islands. These islands became known as German Samoa. The United States accepted the eastern islands of Tutuila and Manu'a, (present-day American Samoa). In exchange for United Kingdom ceding claims in Samoa, Germany transferred their protectorates in the North Solomon Islands and other territories in West Africa.
During World War I New Zealand took control over German Samoa and after the war Germany gave up claims to the islands. The International Date Line should sit on the 180º line of longitude but it bends to include all of Kiribati, Samoa, Tonga and Tokelau in the Eastern Hemisphere to align with Fiji, New Zealand and Australia which those islands have close ties. Thus American Samoa is in the Western Hemisphere is a day earlier than Samoa although the time is the same. Very confusing to people traveling between the two and GPS based location devices in smart cameras, cell phones and watches. The dates on my camera were very confused by the shift.
Pago Pago was on Tutuila is the largest of the seven islands that comprise American Samoa. The harbor considered one of the finest in the South Pacific, was the main reason for American interest at the turn of the century. During many years it was administered by the US Navy and during WWII served as a training base for US Army and Marines.
Physically the island is beautiful and entirely South Pacific. The entire eastern half is crowded with rugged jungle-clad mountains that continue westward into a high broken plateau. It is pitted with lush green craters of extinct volcanoes. Fjord like Pago Pago harbor, nearly bisecting the island is a submerged crater. Tutuila is at the eastern end of the Samoa archipelago, about midway between the larger islands of Samoa and the smaller Manu'a group. In 1988 the US Congress created the National Park of American Samoa, (the most remote of the U.S. Park Service locations), which includes part of Tutuila, and Ofu and Tau in the Manu'a group. Its population was estimated at a little fewer than 200,000 in the last census.
Rory drove us along the coast from the airport to the center of Pago Pago. The coast had some stunning small islands which we stopped to photograph and I then noticed they were the symbol on the license plates. When we reached town we stopped at the Tauese P.F. Sunia Ocean Center for presentations and displays of the reef and coral formations throughout the islands. The Center provided outstanding displays and presentations. It rained very hard while we were in the Center but it stopped before we exited.
Leaving the Center Rory drove us over a mountain range to an inlet. Along the way he described the damage that occurred on the island by the 2009 earthquake and resulting tsunami. Thirty four people lost their life. He showed us areas that were still damaged and described the problems and corruption that took place in rebuilding the destroyed and damaged areas. Throughout our tour we saw new buildings and homes mixed with abandoned buildings. Many of the islands schools were on the low level and were hit by the waves.
One of the places we stopped to take pictures was near a new hotel that had no customers. It was built with FEMA money under the provision it would be low cost houses but was manipulated to build the hotel.
We rode past the tuna canneries and saw a large statue of Charlie Tuna. They are the major employer on the island. One of the canneries is now owned by a Korean firm.
The US Army has a Reserve unit on the island and Rory said there was talked that the US military presence was going to increase for jungle training.
Our next stop was the National Park of American Samoa Visitor Center. It was up a flight of stairs and had some great displays of the park’s scenery and exhibits. Bob got a stamp to put in his National Park Passport.
It was then time for lunch and we stopped at the Goat Island Café where I had a delicious fish and chips lunch. After lunch we visited the museum. It had some nice displays and descriptions of the islands history.
Driving back to the airport we stopped at a memorial for a crew that crash in April 1980. In the 1970's American Samoa operated a cable car from Solo Hill above Utulei Beach Park to the top of Mount Alava to supply a research station on Mount Alava. The cable car was the scene of a horrific accident on April 17, 1980 when seven American military servicemen and one civilian were killed during an airshow for the 80th anniversary of American Samoa as a US territory. Their aircraft involved in the airshow clipped the cable for the tram and crashed into the Rainmaker Hotel. Two tourists staying in the hotel also died in the crash on Pago Pago Harbor.
Our next stop was at Tia Seu Lupe (pigeon catching mound). A plaque describes the mounds as follows:
Tia (mounds) were once scattered across the Tafuna plain and today are found on many ridge tops throughout Samoa. The often have a star like shape with rays or ‘arms’ projecting from a central mound area. Many people believe that star mounds were used for the chiefly sport of pigeon catching as recently as 100 to 250 years ago.
We continued on to the airport. There we were told we were supposed to be on the 15:00 back to Samoa and the staff at Samoa had neglected to inform us when we checked in. There was room on the next flight and we departed at 16:40 and landed back in Samoa on the 18th at 17:10.
When we exited the terminal after clearing Immigration and Customs (same guy doing both jobs) I was greeted by a taxi coordinator. I told him we were a party of four and he assigned a van driver to take us back to the hotel. He took a more direct route and we were at the hotel in less than 15 minutes. I paid him 20 Tala.
We had dinner at 19:00 and retired early to catch up on our sleep.
Thursday, June, 19, 2014: Tour Apia, Samoa and then fly to Auckland, New Zealand
We slept a little later since our tour was not scheduled until 09:30. After sleeping eight hours I got up and took a shower and then Bob got up. We went to breakfast at 07:30. It was a buffet but I had pretty much the same breakfast as every morning on the trip: Eggs, bacon, beans, toast, fruit, juice and tea.
As we were leaving the dining room Lynn and Mary arrived. Bob and I returned to our room, packed and wrote in our journals. Lynn and Mary moved their luggage to our room. Hotel check out was 10:00 but we paid extra to extend the room to 18:00 so the four of us could share the room and the cost after our tour.
At 09:15 we went to the lobby and Lynn and Mary checked out. When 09:30 passed and the tour bus had not arrived I checked the voucher and discovered it was for a 10:30 pick up. We returned to the room and I continued writing. Lynn and Mary joined us in our room. About 10:10 Bob left to wait in the lobby and soon returned to inform us the bus had arrived. I shut down the laptop and proceeded to the lobby.
The tour started along the same route we had ridden to the ferry and the airport. This time the driver/guide named Tom told us a little about the buildings we were passing including the Parliament House. One of the most impressive buildings was the new Catholic Cathedral which was just completed the previous month. It was a massive white with blue trim structure and was built is 18 months to replace the cathedral that had been damaged in the 2009 tsunami.
We turned off the highway and rode up the mountain past the area of Embassies, and wealthy people’s homes to Vailima, the Robert Louis Stevenson Museum. There we turned up a long driveway lined with flowering trees and bushes to large area of grass with an imposing two story poached mansion at the back of the green lawn area. The bus stopped at the front stairs. The landscaping had been very cleaver with small square stones embedded in the lawn so the vehicle tire marks don’t kill the grass and until you look very close there is no trace of vehicles driving across the lawn. It was a beautiful setting.
At the top of the stairs was a gift shop where we could purchase tickets to take a guided tour of the house. Bob and I bought the tour and had to remove our shoes. Lynn and Mary decided to skip the tour.
We had an enthusiastic guide. She started out describing a wood panel room with a fire place that was designed as the parlor. The museum had attempted to furnish the room as it looked in photographs but only the fireplace was original although never used because of the warm climate it was built to remind the family of their Scotland and Northern California background. The room had photographs taken on Stevenson’s birthday with his family and servants gathered on the front steps of the house. Robert Louis Stevenson never had any children but his wife had a son and daughter from a previous marriage and a grandson living in Samoa. The step son had his own cottage in back of the main house. The daughter, son and Robert Louis Stevenson’s mother lived in the house. The daughter’s husband left Samoa after a short period and divorced the step daughter.
We then moved to the dining room with more pictures on the walls documenting his life, portraits of Robert Louis Stevenson, and a piano his mother played. The stairs to the second floor was at the end of the room and at the head of the stairs was Robert Louis Stevenson’s sick room with a bed and cabinet of medicines. Our guide sang a song with the words from Robert Louis Stevenson’s poem about death. She had a beautiful voice but got very emotional singing and taking about his sickness and his death. Next to his room were rooms for his wife, grandson, step-daughter and a suite for his mother. She had a sitting room with a view of the harbor. Trees have grown up to block the view.
His study with a bed, his desk, and library were next to his wife’s room. In the study were more pictures documenting his life a museum collection of his books printed in various foreign language. One of the pictures I liked was Robert Louis Stevenson sitting on a park bench with Mark Twain in Washington Square, New York City.
The tour took almost an hour so we left as soon as it was over although we could have tour the house on our own once we had taken the official tour. Not very many locals take the tour. After Robert Louis Stevenson died his wife sold the home to a German merchant who added a wing on the right side to balance the look of the building. When the Germans ruled the island the German High Commissioner lived in the house. Later other High Commissioners and leaders lived in the house. One leader forbade anyone to set foot on the grounds without permission or they would be fined a $1,000. So even today locals are not sure they can visit the museum.
The house was in disrepair when a wealthy Mormon ex-missionary who was a big Robert Louis Stevenson fan decided to fund the museum. Three Mormon Missionaries form the museum’s oversight. It was in excellent condition when we were there and there was even a crew repainting parts of the balcony.
From the museum we rode up a hill to the Shrine of the Three Hearts Church where we stopped to see the panoramic view of the town below and toured the interior of the church which had beautiful stained glass windows. From that church and view point we rode even further up the hill to stop at Moamoa Theological College. There we toured their St. Anthony Church which had even more beautiful stained glass windows than the Three Hearts Church. The outside of the windows were protected from Cyclone weather by heavy screens. The church ceiling had an interesting blue and white design.
Our next stop was to be at the University of the South Pacific Agricultural Campus where cross breeding of varieties of crops are experimented with. When we arrived on the Campus we encountered a ‘No Entrance Exams In Progress’ sign and had to turn around.
We returned to the township passing the large Mormon Temple and stopped for pictures at the Parliament House, Independence Monument, and Lands & Titles Court, to finish our tour.
Back at the hotel we ate lunch and returned to our room. Bob and I wrote in our journals while Lynn and Mary watched TV and snoozed.
We had to check out at 18:00. Just as I had done in Kiribati I had to analyze each line item in the bill to determine a fair split with Bob. My calculations balanced and everyone was happy. We had to sit in the open sided reception area to wait for our transfer to the airport which was scheduled for 19:10. The bus arrived early and we were on our way. The driver was also a tour guide and he asked us if Tom had told us much about village life on our tour earlier in the day. When we told him Tom hadn’t told us very much about village life, he proceeded to describe the village structure in greater detail than Tom had told us during the morning tour. It killed the time during the forty five minute drive to the airport.
He told us there were three structures in each village:
- · The chiefs’ council which is comprised of the village chief and a chief from each family in the village. They met to discuss and decide issues affecting the village. They can hand out punishment including banishing a resident from the village for life. When that happens the offender’s family has to leave with him. The Police are only called in when it is a capital crime and the chiefs can still handout rulings in addition or instead of the court system.
- · The women’s council which are usually the chief’s wives. They establish a lot of the organization in the village. Our driver told us he could tell by visiting a village if the woman got along or back stabbed each other by just the look of the village.
- · The workers. He had a name for it but I didn’t understand what he said. He included himself in that group. He said they did all the heavy lifting, the farming and gathering of food for their families. What surprised me is they also do the cooking (not the women) and serve themselves last.
When we reached the airport I helped the driver unload the bags through a window in the back of the bus. I had the group’s revised ticket numbers in an email from Cathy on my cell phone so we all checked in together. When we got our boarding pass Mary handed out tags for our carry-ons. I asked for two and put one on my laptop carry on and then looked around to put one on my day pack. It wasn’t there and I realized that I had left it on the bus. I panicked and went around the terminal to find a representative from the tour company. As I was looking in the arrival end of the terminal Bob called out that Mary had found a representative. Across from the terminal there was a row of buses from the company and one of the drivers was the one that had picked us up when we had flown in on the 17th. I walked over and he called the driver but got no answer. He told me that he was at Aggie Grey’s Resort near the airport waiting to transport the crew to the airport. After a few minutes they connected and the driver reported he had found my bag. They then had me get in a van and I was driven out to the resort and retrieved my bag and returned to the airport. It was a close call!
Our aircraft was a little late arriving so we were late boarding. I was in row 19 and they had rows 1 to 15 board using the front stairs and the rest the back stairs. I was the first one to board the rear stairs. I settled in after a woman sat in the window seat. I wanted to take my evening pills and needed water so I was waiting for the aisle to clear when a flight attendant came down the aisle with large bottles of water and handed some to a couple of flight attendants that were dead heading on the flight. As she approached me I asked her if I could have a bottle and she said “sure Happy Birthday” and gave me one. I took my pills and put on my sun glasses and tried to sleep.
We took off at 23:00 and when we reached altitude a flight attendant came down the aisle with a cart full of iPads. Virgin Australia B-737-800 aircraft are configured with Wi-Fi and transmit the inflight entertainment via Wi-Fi. I had thought of using my smart phone to watch a movie but when I saw the list I didn’t see a movie I really wanted to see so I shut my smart phone off. When the flight attendant got to my seat she handed me an iPad I told her I didn’t need it and she said it was free for me and put it on my tray. I turned in on and decided to watch a TV comedy before the service. When they wheeled the service cart down the aisle they handed me a sandwich but didn’t give one to the others in the group. I think they had me mixed up with one of their Frequent Flyers. It was a ham and cheese wrap. They then wanted to give me a drink but I already had the large bottle of water and stuck with that. I watched another TV show as I ate and then when they picked up the trash I shut down the iPad and went to sleep.
I had achieved my goal of visiting every UN country but there was a lot more places in the world to visit and experience so I continued on to visit two islands rarely visited b Americans: Niue and Wallis & Futuna.