Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Samoa Vacation, Part 2 (Upolu)

This post is part 2 of our trip to Western Samoa. I'd suggest you read part 1 (below) first if you haven't already.

We made it back to Apia around 6:30 and checked into Valentines Motel, a quaint, family-owned, and extremely cheap place just a 15 minute walk from the center of the city. After settling in, we headed downtown for pizza and a night out on the town. Not that there's much of a town. That is, there is a 1-block stretch of 3 or 4 bars and nightclubs. Way more than AmSam, but still nothing special. I suppose what can you expect for a small city in the South Pacific? Regardless, we had a great time and got to celebrate Independence Day with some American Peace Corps volunteers we met.

Sunday morning, we lugged ourselves out of bed and headed over to the Palolo Deep Marine reserve, a spectacular snorkling spot. However, because it was low tide, getting out to the giant drop in the coral was a tedious and very painful task. We also probably killed plenty of coral, leaving us wondering about the Samoans' "reservation" efforts. However, our friend Ben, a fish expert, just told us that coral grows so fast here that it doesn't really matter if you touch it. Once we did make it out to the deep area, we saw hundreds, if not thousands, of fish of all shapes, sizes, and colors. Sorry, but I don't have an underwater camera, so you'll have to use your imagination. Truly amazing, though.

We then dried off and headed accross the island, stopping along the way to visit Samoa's Bahai temple (link is to Wikipedia, which can probably explain the religion way better than me) and Papapapaitai Falls, a 100-meter waterfall. We reached Upolu's southern coast faster than we expected (Upolu is much smaller than Savai'i).

Our next stop was at the Aganoa Black Sand beach. The road to reach the beach finally put our 4-wheel drive to the test, but the bumpy ride was certainly worth it. At the end of the road, we were greeted by a perfect, Corona-commercial-ready beach speckled with a mixture of black and white sand. We immediately rna for the clear, blue water, which was 4-feet deep, sandy, and might as well have been a swimming pool. We spent the better part of the afternoon swimming, playing with the black sand, and burrying Susanna in sand with the help of a local Samoan family.

As the sun sank lower, we piled back in the car to head east to Lalomano beach. We arrived at our fales just in time for dinner. The fales, which covered the beach, housed dozens of people, making the place more like a resort than our previous accomodations. Dinner was served mess-hall style, with plate after plate of various food placed along the long, shared tables. We ended up talking with a family from Zimbabwe that now lived in New Zealand after losing their commercial farm. We even joined them in a rousing post-dinner game of Texas Hold'em.

Monday was a beach day. Lalomano beach is gorgeous and a great place to lay out in the sun (or in the limitted shade) and read. We also swam, but the incredibly strong sideways effectively turned the water into a swimming treadmill. After a lazy morning and a beach-side lunch, we began our trip back up to Apia for our final night in Samoa.

This drive, along Upolu's northeast coast, was one of the most beautiful stretches yet, with green, volcanic mountains surrounding a plain covered in palm trees and the ocean in th background.

Another side note about our drives around both Savai'i and Upolu: there are churches galore. Just like AmSam, we passed dozens of beautiful churches on each leg of our trip. I uploaded pictures of a few examples, but it's incredible that there are enough people on the islands to fill all the churches. In particular, Mormonism is extremely common. This is probably both because the family values match Samoan culture and because Mormon missionaries are very good at their job.

Back in Apia, we again stayed in Valentines Motel. We dropped off our bags and rushed back out to go to Apia's main outdoor market. This was our chance to shop for traditional-style gifts, including wooden clubs and axes, jewelry, and decorated siapo (bark cloth). Bargaining was fair-game, making everything very cheap. If you are interested, the currency in Samoa is the "tala" (the samoan pronounciation of "dollar"; "seine" was the word for cent).

For dinner, we attempted to go to the restaurant at Aggie Grey's hotel (the most famous in Apia). However, the we found the Monday-night Asian menu a bit too pricy, so we just ordered drinks and desserts and later went to get pizza at the same place as Saturday night (a nice reverse dinner).

On our final morning, we did some more shopping, this time at the flea market. Our extra duffels now stuffed to the brim with trinkets and crafts, we headed back to the airport, dropped off our rental car, and took the tiny plane back to Tutuila.

As evidenced by the lenght of these last two posts, we jammed a lot into our six-day trip. Today, we were back to work, and we are now officially halfway done with our research (after finishing with our second cohort of children). Amazingly, I have less than a month left in (American) Samoa. For now, though, it's back to business as usual after a great vacation.

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