Sunday, May 31, 2009

A closer look at Tutuila

Yesterday afternoon, McGarvey once again became our tour guide as we went for a ride to the eastern side of the island (we live on the central/west side).  It was beautiful out, so I took the opportunity to take some pictures out the car window as we drove.

We wound along the main road into the center of town (Pago Pago) and then turned left onto one of the mountain pass roads that climbs into the island's core and then down to the northern coast.  The road quickly turned into switchbacks as we climbed, and the rainforest around us became denser and lusher.  At the top of the pass, a sign marked the trail head of a hiking path that led up to the top of Mt Alava (a hike that I hope to go back and do soon).  The top of the mountain pass also provided this beautiful view of the village of Fagasa on the northern coast.

After a quick drive down to Fagasa, we climbed back up and down to Pago Pago and the main road.  We turned eastward and continued toward the far end of the island.  We soon passed by the core of Tutuila's economy, the tuna canneries, and got a short taste of the overwhelming stench.  The road then wound us out of Pago Pago harbor and into the island's Eastern district.

As we left Pago Pago, the villages we passed through became more and more traditional and rural.  We waved at the villagers as we passed by and always received a warm smile and waves in return.  The coastline also became a bit more rugged and untouched, though we saw many locals taking a swim on their small, sandy beaches.  We continued our joy ride to the tip of the island before turning around.

On  our way back, we stopped for a beer and a swim at Tisa's Barefoot Bar.  The wooden, surf-shack-style bar was empty, but after a few minutes Tisa came out and warmly greeted us and joined us for conversation and a Vailima (Samoan beer).  Tisa is a very local and very outgoing and friendly character.  She bears the traditional Samoan tatoos on her upper legs and has a lifetime of experience in American Samoa to share.  She ran for governor once as a liberal, third-party candidate (mainly just to prove a point), but for now she is satisified keeping her bar sustainable and chatting with  locals and Palagi (white-skinned foreigners like myself).  Tisa and her partner, Candyman, host a Polynesian feast every Wednesday night that we hope attend in the near future.

As we conversed, a bout of rain passed by, but it cleared up, giving us the chance to take an ocean swim.  The water was incredibly warm, and we all bobbed up and down in the waves for a while before rinsing of in Tisa's freshwater shower and ordering ourselves another Vailima.  This time, we were joined by Candyman, who told us all about the food plantation he runs up on the mountainside.  He grows dozens of varieties of tarot, banana, breadfruit, and coconut, all of which he and Tisa use to prepare their Wedensday feasts.

We also heard from both Tisa and Candyman about the imminent closing of one of the two tuna canneries and the effects they thought this might have on the island.  The canneries employ many people here on temporary work permits and lots of people from western Samoa.  Many think that thousands may leave the island due to the closing, but both Tisa and Candyman noted that there were both positive and negative consequences.  As the canneries leave (the other is expected to close soon as well), Tutuila will be forced to find new means of economic income - possibly tourism, and maybe even a call center (the fiberoptic lines have already been laid to reach here!).  Both of these could make the island clean up its littering problems, but the future is definitely uncertain.  It will be interesting to get more peoples' take on the rough economic situation caused by the cannery closing throughout the summer.

As the late afternoon approached, we said our goodbyes and headed back towards our village of Ile'Ile.  As the sun was setting, we stopped for this fantastic view of Rainmaker Mountain (see right).  We again cooked ourselves some dinner and I turned in for sleep very early after a long but very fun day.

Today, Sunday, will likely be a quiet one, as most people spend the day at church and many stores are closed.  It's also turning out to be a very hot one (I began sweating before 9am!!).  Professor McGarvey, Susanna, and I will likely do some preparation work for our research project.

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