Saturday, August 8, 2009
Now all I have to do is figure out how to adjust my body to the 7-hour time difference...
Friday, August 7, 2009
The last 36 hours seems like a blur. I am writing from the airport in Los Angeles, where I am patiently awaiting the third leg of my travels home. So far, both of my flights have gone over without a hitch, so I'm cautiously optimistic that the next few will as well.
It feels very surreal to have left the island, especially because 4 hosuemates are still there. I felt like the last few days were very rushed, especially since we spent Wednesday hiking Matafau, but I think everything that needed to got done. I wish I had more time for good-byes, but I'm not really a fan of good-byes anyway, so I'll just keep in touch with people via Facebook.
Even upon landing in Honolulu, I noticed how big the island was. Don't even get me started on how big LA looked from the plane. I guess that's just a consequence of living on a 20-mile-long island for over 2 months. I guess since I'm back in the northern hemisphere, today is my first day of summer. Weird.
I'll post again once I complete my journey home, and I'll try to come up with some closing thoughts on the summer. For now, I'll sip my beer from the airport bar and eventually grab some grub for dinner before my next flight.
Thursday, August 6, 2009
Wow! It’s my last day. I fly out later tonight and spend the next 26 hours traveling home to Vermont. Add the seven hour time difference, and I don’t get back until Saturday morning. I’m spending much of today packing (which is boring), so this post will be about yesterday’s hike up Matafau.
Looming 2,142 feet above sea level, Matafau is Tutuila’s tallest peak (in American Samoa, it is only surpassed by Lata Mountain on the island of Tau). The trail to the top of Matafau is rigorous and steep, and even Professor McGarvey has never made it to the top in his 30 years researching here. But we were up for the challenge, and yesterday morning, Katy, Dana, Gabe, and I drove up to Fagasa pass to tackle the climb.
The trail begins with a 20 foot ladder (behind us in the picture to the right), followed by a muddy incline up into the forest. Already muddy after the first 50 feet of the trail, we continued into the woods, where we ascended the steep muddy and rocky trail. At many points, we had to grab onto roots to hoist ourselves up and avoid slipping downhill, but this part of the trail (which lasted for about 1.5 hours) was the easiest. Eventually, the forest environment turned into a thick jungle, and at some points we were walking on suspended mats of roots and grass rather than actual ground.
Eventually, we reached the final portion of the hike, where the trees all but disappeared and we were left surrounded by tall grass and shrubbery. At this point, we began to see some breathtaking views of the Tafuna plain and the airport on our right and Pago Pago harbor on our left. At times we could see the summit still towering in front of us. We hiked along the continually narrowing ridge, following it up and down as it approached the mountain. Eventually, the ridge was only 5 feet wide, dropping off hundreds of feet on both sides. The final ascent was the steepest yet, and due to the mud, we found ourselves grabbing at any plants we could to help pull ourselves up. We persisted upwards, and, after 3 hours of hiking, we reached the peak.
Unfortunately, just as we arrived at the summit, clouds rolled in and turned our view into an endless sea of white. We ate our PB&J and crackers and etched our names into the metal structure marking the peak as we waited patiently for the clouds to retreat, but even an hour and twenty minutes later, we were stuck in the clouds. We decided that we had waited long enough, and it was time to head down.
The steep, muddy trail made it difficult to maintain footing, so we spent the better part of the next two and a half hours sliding down the mountain on our butts. Hiking downhill is always tough, but it’s even tougher when you need to maintain enough control to keep from sliding or stepping off a ridge hundreds of feet tall. We also had to be sure to pay attention to the pink ribbons marking the trail, since it was easy to take a wrong turn once we reached the woods. We made it back to the car with smiles on our faces and dirt everywhere else, and, after a few pictures, headed back toward home.
We stopped twice along the way, once to take a dip in the ocean at the beach near Fatu ma Fut (see photo to the right)i. I’m not sure if I’ve ever mentioned it in my past posts, but Fatu ma Futi is a stunning rock formation jutting out of the ocean just off the main road. It is fabled for its Romeo and Juliet style story, where two lovers, Fatu and (ma) Futi, jumped to their death from the top. Even after swimming around for a few minutes, I was still coated in a thick layer of dirt. After a quick stop at Carl’s Junior for a take-out dinner (we were all starving), we made it home and finally got to shower. Now, all that remains are numerous scratches on my hands and arms from the hours of climbing.
It feels great to have conquered Matafau, a mountain that very few people, Samoans or Palagis, ever even attempt. It was also an epic way to spend my last full day on the island.
Wednesday, August 5, 2009
Sunday, August 2, 2009
Thursday, July 30, 2009
All six "Brownies" before Kirstin boards the plane home
Sunday, July 26, 2009
Wednesday, July 22, 2009
Sunday, July 19, 2009
Wednesday, July 15, 2009
To make up for it, on Monday afternoon, we embarked on one of the island's more difficult hikes. The trail spans from the top of the mountains (a village called A'olaufou) down to Massacre Bay on the northern coast. The bay is named after the brutal interaction between French explorers and Samoans that occurred on December 11, 1787. After the skirmish, the French retreated and remained petrified of the "barbaric" native Samoans for an entire century. A monument commemorates the 12 Frenchmen who died in the battle, but there is no memory of the 39 Samoans who perished. Someone told us that Napoleon Bonaparte had tried to get on the expedition to Samoa -- imagine how history could have changed.
But enough history lesson. The point is, wielding our newly purchased machetes, we parked at the Church in A'olaufou, and began descending the mountains. The machetes proved not that useful, as the trail was already pretty clear (despite some warnings we had received). After an hour and a half of steep downhill trekking, we passed through an abandoned village and out onto the beach at Massacre Bay. I feel like I’ve spewed out the “and then we exited the woods onto a beautiful secluded beach” line so many times this summer, but it applies here yet again. The only notable difference on this beach was the size of the hermit crabs – they were humongous!
After resting up and munching on some granola bars, we began searching for the famed French monument. We first looked around the recently abandoned house, the last remains of the village of A’asu, which has now relocated to the top of the mountain (which is accessible by road as opposed to hiking trail). We then tried wading up the freshwater river that flows into Massacre Bay. Here, my camera almost became the next massacred victim, as it plopped into the water. Though I was not able to take pictures for the rest of the hike, after a night drying out, the camera is incredibly almost 100 percent functional (I can’t seem to take videos anymore, though the photo function works perfectly).
We finally did find the French monument, tucked in the woods just behind the beach. Nothing impressive (it’s made of cement), but it was a good way to finalize our time at the bay before heading back up the mountain. As we raced against the sun (it was already late in the afternoon), we discovered that the trail seemed much steeper on the way up than it had on the way down. We stopped often and exhausted all of our water, but we did make it back to the car well before sunset.
On the way home, for the first time we experienced evening prayers (6pm every day). Young men, all dressed in matching lava lavas, lined the road to patrol and ensure that everyone from the village was inside praying. Three bells (actually old SCUBA tanks hanging on ropes) mark when people are supposed to go inside, the start of prayers, and the end of prayers. Since we pulled of the road to see if a Mexican restaurant was open (unfortunately, it wasn’t), one of the villagers asked us to turn off the car and wait 10 minutes for prayers to be over. Though a bit frustrating, on the bright side we did get to experience a new part of Samoan (or Christian, as the case may be) culture. Anyway, once we did get moving again, because the Mexican place was closed, we settled for Pizza Hut.
Yesterday (Tuesday) was not very eventful. We did some data entry work during the day, and at 4pm we headed down to the Yacht club for paddling (which we are now doing every Tuesday and Thursday). Today, we are following a similar schedule, but instead of paddling we are heading up toward the National Park to camp out with a big crew of Palagis at some beach fales.
Sunday, July 12, 2009
Wednesday, July 8, 2009
Tuesday, July 7, 2009
Monday, June 29, 2009
Friday, June 26, 2009
Monday, June 22, 2009
Thursday, June 18, 2009
Wednesday, June 17, 2009
On Monday, we decided we'd try out a new part of the island known as Airport beach, named because it sits along the outer side of the airport runway. All we were told about getting there was to park in Industrial Park and walk along the fence. So we did. The "trail" (really just a slim opening between the fence on one side and bushes on the other) was covered n trash, but we wanted to find the beach so we kept on going. And going. And going. Eventually, we were on the far side of the airport pushing our way through the bushes or climbing on the large rocks leading into the ocean. We looked at each other in despiration, but we agreed that at this point we might as well complete our journey and go all the way around.
We eventually did make it to a beach, but access would have been much easier if we had started in a different place. We relaxed in some shallow pools formed by the rocks for a while and attempted to swim (it was a bit too rocky). At this point it was late in the afternoon, so we continued along past some very cool rock formations and blowholes before making it back to the road. Our journely brought us not too far from our house, so Kirstin and I headed home while Gabe and Susanna hopped on a bus that took them to retreive our car. The whole shebang took 4 hours and took much more energy than we had anticipated spending on a day at the beach. But so it goes. I made us chicken parmesan for dinner, and we watched a movie (Doubt) before going to sleep exhausted.
Yesterday, feeling a bit less adventurous, we decided we’d drive out to the western side of the island and find a beach there. We were aiming to go to “Palagi Beach” on the very western tip, but we could not find anyone in the village to tell us how to get there. We kept driving around to the northwest just to see the sights, but were eventually forced to turn around due to a construction crew. We eventually settled on a beach in Agugulu (we asked a villager for permission), and spent a few hours reading on the beach and wading in the water (despite the strong current).
Today, after practicing taking anthropometric measurements on each other and running through our research protocol (see, we do SOME work here), we returned to Larson’s Beach, which still gets all our votes for most beautiful beach on the island. Because it was high tide, the water was high enough off the rocks that we were even able to swim around. The beach is particularly great because it is extremely secluded and we do not need to worry about intruding upon a village (as is the case with most beaches here).
This evening, we were invited by Rive (pronounced Ri-vay), one of the four Samoan researchers we are working with, to his Church in Nu’uli. A bit of background: The Christian missionaries did quite a number here as with most of the South Pacific (One website says the island is 98 percent Christian). Every village has at least one church, often many more. Different types include Congregationalist, Methodist, Seventh Day Adventist, Mormon, Catholic, and just about anything else you can think of. Many of the Churches we pass on the road have architecture that clearly dates them back to the colonial era.
We met Rive outside his Church just before six for mid-week services. Engraved above the door was the name of the Church, “First Samoan Full Gospel Pentecostal Church.” As strange as this sounds coming from a nice Jewish boy, I was actually glad to see this because it meant a much more musical service. Before we even entered, we could hear the music blasting, and inside the church I could barely hear anything over singing accompanied by keyboard, bass, and even a full drum set. We were the only palagis (white people) present, but everyone seemed too caught up in the service to even notice us. There were plenty of claps and raised arms and shouts of “Amen!” as the gospel music played. Despite a few repeating English phrases, the entire service was in Samoan (which actually made it more enjoyable), but the music was beautiful and it was interesting to hear the sermon belted out in some unknown language.
When the service was over and people began filing out, a good number approached us to introduce themselves and welcome us (a great demonstration of Samoan hospitality). Rive gave us a little tour, introducing us to his family and the Church’s Pastor. As we were about to leave, Rive’s mother asked us if we had eaten yet. We had not, and so we accompanied Rive, his parents, and his little sister to the Chinese restaurant next door. I’m beginning to that “Samoan food” simply translates to “Massive amounts of food,” as plate after plate arrived at our table.
We were all stuffed after the meal, and we profusely thanked Rive and his family for inviting us along to Church and to dinner. Katy later commented on how weird it is for us northeasterners to understand genuine hospitality and kindness, but that’s really what Samoan culture is all about. Churches one of the main centers of culture and community here, and it’s great that we are already being invited to join in. While I’m not sure I want to become a regular church-goer, I am certainly interested to see some of the other types of services and take up Rive’s offer to return with him for a Sunday service.