Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Samoa Vacation, Part 1 (Savai'i)

As promised, this post will re-cap the first half of our fabulous six-day vacation to Western Samoa (note: Western Samoa, an independent nation about 50 miles away from AmSam, dropped "Western," a few years ago. This makes it very confusing, but for this post and the next, Samoa will refer to Western Samoa, not AmSam).

After a busy Wednesday of work (we started our second cohort of kids), packing, and paddling, we woke up early on Thursday to catch the first flight to Apia (Samoa's capital city). W climbed aboard the 19-seat Twin Otter prop-plane at 9am. After an awesome flight with incredible views of both Tutuila (our island) during takeoff and Upolu (Samoa's smaller, but more-populated island) as we landed, we
touched down on Fagali'i airport's single runway just a few minutes away from Apia. After a quick pass through customs (we each only brought a backpack with us), the rental car people met us to give us our Hundai Tuscon. The first snag of the trip - it was stick shift. Luckily, Susanna knows how to drive manual, so she instantly became our chauffeur for the trip. This was half good and half bad for her - bad because she never got a break from driving, but good because she avoided the crunch of four people in the back seat.

A quick side-note about driving in Samoa: while they currently drive on the right-side of the road like the US, they are switching in September to the left. This makes everything very confusing, because half the cars are European-style and half are American. They are getting a 3-day holiday in September to ease everyone into the change. However, judging by our stay there, people are such crazy drivers already that I would expect multiple accidents in those first days.

Sorry for the tangent, but now back to our trip. After getting our rental car sorted out, we drove straight for the dock where we caught the ferry to go to Savai'i, Samoa's largert and less-populated island. The ferry ride took just over an hour, but since we had not eaten since early, we were all starving by the time we arrived. We found a restaurant a few minutes from the dock and ate lunch as we overlooked the gorgeous beach and ocean. We then continued north up Savai'i's eastern coast until we reached the village of Lano. There, we found some beach fales (open huts) where we could stay for the night. Two things were outstanding about the fales: 1) they only cost about $20USD per person per night including both dinner and breakfast!!; and 2) the fales were literally located on a beautiful sandy beach. We were sold, and so we hunkered down for the afternoon. Mother nature apparently agreed with our decision, telling us so by providing us with a brilliant rainbow over the Pacific Ocean.

After a wonderful swim without rocks and coral destroying our feet, we sat down for dinner. We were only sharing the fales with two other couples, a younger German duo who were living in New Zealand and vacationing in Samoa, and an Oregon couple on their honeymoon and visiting the husband, Sio's, Samoan family. We had great conversation as we ate chicken curry and sipped on some bottles of Vailima beer.

Friday morning, we awoke early to watch a beautiuful sunrise from bed! A morning swim and a breakfast (eggs and Samoan coconut buns, yum) later, we packed up and prepared to continue driving around Savai'i. Sio and Katee, the Oregon newlyweds, generously offered to come along in their own rental car, allowing us to spread out a bit. Our first stop after leaving was at the lava fields of northeast Savai'i, where we got a guided tour of a church destroyed by lava between 1905 and 1911. We also saw the "Virgin Grave," which was miraculously left uncovered despite over a meter of lava rock all around it.

We continued along and drove clear across Savai'i's northern side to the western tip of the island. We stopped at a canopy walk and treehouse. The treehouse, suspended hundreds of feet up at the top of a giant Banyan tree, had a really cool view above the rainforest treeline. Our original plan was to sleep in the treehouse (which you're allowed to do), but due to pending on-and-off rainshowers, we decided to bag that idea and continue driving.

To interrupt our roadtrip, we stopped at some cool church ruins and walked around on the rocky shore. We also visited the much anticipated (drumroll, please) western-most point in the world!! That's right, Savai'i is the last landmass before the International Date Line, so the western tip gets this prestigious title. Standing from this point (marked clearly with a painted white X on the ground), we could look out to the ocean and see the future! I'll let you work that one out yourself.

As we drove around the island, we came to realize how rural Savai'i still was. We passed many pigs, cows, and horses, most of which were freely roaming around. One time, we were halted by a bull in the middle of the road (he eventually moved after rearing around in fear). We also saw many school children, many of whom yelled and waved to us. We even got flicked off by a few of them, though it was likely for their own entertainment. We also passed many games of volleyball, apparently a huge sport in Samoa (in addition to rugby, of course). At least from our driving observations, everyone did seem a bit more active here than back in AmSam. But I have no numbers to back this up. Our study is the precursor to finding that out.

Eventaually, we began looking for a place to spend the night (since our treehouse plan was a bust). We stopped at one place that was already booked full, but eventually (after quite a bit of driving), we made it to a beautiful beach resort and surfing spot tucked away from the main road. Not only was their space for us, but the owner even gave us a discount for being medical students (which is true for two of us and not really that farfetched for the rest). Again, both dinner and breakfast was included, and again, the beach scenery was stunningly beautiful. We seemed to be continually reminded that we were in paradise.

We spent all of Saturday morning chilling on the beach and snorkling around (we borrowed a mask/snorkle from our Kiwi neighbors), we headed off to catch the 2pm ferry back to Upolu. We arrived at the dock at 1:30pm only to learn that the ferry was sold out. The man at the ticket booth told us that all the ferries for the weekend were sold out, so we began to get worried that we would be stuck on Savai'i (granted, there are worse places to be abandoned). However, after two hours of waiting, we eventually did get aboard the 4pm ferry.

Because this is going on forever, the trip is continued in the next post.

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