“Amuia le masina, e alu ma toe sau.”
“Fortunate is the moon, to go and then return.”
―A Samoan Proverb
Of all the places I have traveled in my adult life, Samoa takes the cake. It could be the attitude that I had arriving in the country, the lovely local I met on the airplane who made sure I was safe and sound and found what I needed, or the kitten I met outside the airport who gave me a cute meow and made me smile, but what really warmed my heart was the beautiful sunset I saw as I was driving my sketchy rental car through the palm trees swaying in the warm breeze with the smell of bonfires and umu’s wafting through the air.
This familiar smell brings back so many memories. From the early memories of campfires with my family on road trips through the National Parks, to bonfires in high school where we snuck sips of booze and traded secrets of boys we liked. Living in Colorado, I didn’t get to have as many campfires as I wanted to, but during the hot Summer months, I still managed to have a campfire in Utah, where my best friend and I reminisced about the good ole’ days and shared our troubles and fears. Campfires truly bring the best memories.
I was able to remain calm when my offline maps failed me and I couldn’t find my accommodation. I stopped to ask for help and was met with what I can only explain as “Samoan directions“. I had read about it before, and had heard stories about the way Samoans will wave off tourists, not truly wanting to help them. The interaction went a bit like this:
“Hi, I am looking for Matareva Beach Fales, do you know where that is?” I ask a woman running a small store where my google pin dropped me.
“It doesn’t exist, they are closed,” she quickly replies with a wave of the hand.
“Well, I have a reservation there, so they must not be closed,” I reply.
“It’s too far away, it’s on the other side of the island, you will never find it in the dark, why don’t you just stay with me at my place.”
“My maps say that it is right here, near Salamumu, I have a reservation and would really like to stay there tonight,” I explain, feeling nervous that she was so openly offering her home to me.
“It’s a few kilometers up the road, but the sign is hard to see, its probably 20-30 minutes back on this road,” at which point she looked at my map and helped me to pinpoint the exact location and the roads I needed to take to get there.
This interaction proved to me that “Samoan directions” are totally a thing. The first answer is a dismissal, the second is avoidance and the third answer is finally the truth. Luckily, despite the unlit sign, lack of street lights and complete loss of location services on my phone, I still made it down the long and bumpy dirt road to the Matareva Beach Fales.
I awoke in the morning to a beautiful sunrise and decided I finally needed a day to relax. To sit on the beach and do nothing. Sitting still is a talent I never acquired, and it can be quite frustrating to try to accomplish.
I went for a swim and dried off in the hammock, I read my book (a wonderful two perspective book about a young man traveling Europe, researching his family ties to an Everest climber to inherit a large fortune), and completed heaps of Sudoku puzzles. I took a few naps and went for a few swims, trying to stay cool and escape the heat by staying in the shade.
The mid-day heat is intense, and the humidity slows everything down. Driving around, you see people sleeping in open fales all day, laying in the shade. They aren’t being lazy, they are just trying to escape the heat and conserve energy!
The following day I decided to head out and try to find some cool stuff. I found a travel buddy and we went East. Stopped at a beautiful waterfall down the road and went for a dip. The chilly fresh water was just what I needed to cool my body temperature down and get some energy to continue.
In my last post (What I Show You VS What I See), I mentioned there were certain places that you see over and over again on social media, they are beautiful, but when everyone goes there, it starts to lose its luster. To Sua Ocean Trench is one of those places. If you follow any IG travel blog, I’m sure you have seen this before, but experiencing it was another level.
The To Sua Ocean Trench is a beautiful sink hole of sorts, the greenery surrounding the pit, mixed with the salty sea water, give the illusion of beautiful blue/green water in this ocean fed swimming hole. The underground aqueducts that feed the water from the ocean a few hundred meters away can be heard like drains from the cave at the Northern end of the pool.
As you soak in this paradise, listening to the sounds of the aqueducts filling and draining, you can feel the water levels rising and falling with the tides. At high tide, thrill seekers will jump from higher up on the frighteningly slippery ladder, but beware if you do this you will most likely hit the bottom as it is no more than a couple meters down.
This beautiful park has gardens full of native plants and colorful flowers. There are rock pools near the ocean that fill with crystal clear waters and create a beautiful backdrop of blow holes, splashes and reflective pools. It was easy to get lost in the rhythm of the waves and watch the tide come in.
On the way out, the question became, left to go home or right to explore? Obviously, I chose right. We got lost before realizing we missed a turn then made it to what we thought would be the end of the journey. A large landslide had blocked a large portion of the developed road. We were able to maneuver around it and continue on until we found the only open restaurant we had seen.
We stopped in and made friends with a few kittens who were chasing the birds out of the restaurant. With my restrictive diet, I have had a fairly easy time traveling and finding food that fits my needs. I asked for something simple, a plain grilled chicken breast, no breading/batter/bun and a salad with no dressing. My travel mate ordered octopus in coconut cream.
When my food came, they had breaded the chicken breast, fried it, and drizzled it in ranch dressing. I knew there was a small language barrier, and the restaurant was closing when we walked in, so I decided to bite the bullet and try to eat around it. I also tried some of the octopus, which was a first for me, and although I probably wouldn’t order it again for myself, I was excited to have tried a new and local dish.
The following day, we decided to try going West. We had made it to the farthest Eastern part of the island the day before. The island of Upolu is less than 50 miles long, so its a pretty short distance to get around the whole island, but the unsealed narrow roads and copious amounts of pedestrians make the trip slower. Its extremely important to not only watch out for pedestrians, including children, but also the dogs, cats, pigs, horses, cows and birds make slower speeds the smart decision. At times you may also run into rocks, coconuts and small rivers flowing across the roads. And, for the record, coconuts do not split when you run over them, so don’t expect to have a nice snack after trying to squash one on the road.
We made it all the way to the north end of the island before realizing how far we had gone. There wasn’t much to see, but we found a “historic site” with a great view of the ocean, a small island and the storm rolling in. Unfortunately, neither of us speak Samoan, so we never figured out what the historical monument meant, but it was nice to enjoy some good conversation and the cool breeze before the rains came for the afternoon.
We headed back to the beach fales for a nap before dinner and had some laughs playing with the kittens and puppies.
The following day, we set off for Apia to see the flea market, a beautiful church and to get details on the weekly ferry and rental car drop off. Not before stopping off to see a waterfall and the sliding rocks on the way.
For 90 tala ($35 USD) I bought a one way ferry ticket to American Samoa for that week. The flea market was beautiful, full of colorful lavalavas, handmade knick knacks and heaps of tribal necklaces and jewelry.
The food court of the flea market was slightly disappointing due to the absolute nonexistence of gluten free options, but I got a grape soda to quench my thirst and enjoyed the smells nonetheless, and maybe a bite or two of a BBQ lamb bun, which was extremely delicious, but not worth the pain the next day.
We made our way to a proper restaurant for lunch and made friends with a few more cats looking for some food. I ordered the cheapest steak I had bought in ages. 55 tala ($21 USD) got me a 16 oz top sirloin steak, salad and chips. I ate maybe a third of it, fed another third to the kittens in front of me, and brought the rest back for mama pup.
I dropped off my travel mate and headed back to the fales before it got too dark. After another short nap and dinner, we had our first fia fia night, a traditional cultural celebration including dancing, singing and a beautiful fire dancing show. The local youth group performed for us, displaying amazing dance moves, clapping their hands and slapping their bodies to create rhythmic sounds; their facial expressions, huge smiles and hunky muscles added to the excitement.
After using a dry stick to start a fire, just like their ancestors had to do, they brought the fire to the beach for a phenomenal display of fire dancing, performed by a very young child, later adding in some older adults for a great show of skill and care.
The following day, I took off from exploration to read, nap, swim and complete some more sudokus. A different youth group came by that night to have another fia fia show, which was similar to the first, but had it’s own special flare, including an ava ceremony (similar to a kava ceremony), where the princess of the tribe welcomed a few of us into the community. I was fortunate enough to be a part of those welcomed into their community, and was grateful for the opportunity to try their ava, which was almost exactly the same as the kava I tried in Fiji, but a bit more diluted.
I fell in love with Samoa. Not only was it totally acceptable to nap and relax all day, but there was always a kitten to feed at dinner time and I met some of the most interesting people on my travels, including another travel blogger which I would like to take a minute to recognize and invite you to go visit her page by clicking this link (The Go Fever).
My travels over the past month and half have been very busy. There haven’t been many days to stop and smell the roses, although I get a quick whiff as I am passing by most days. Samoa was a great reset, especially after Fiji, where I stayed in a different place every night for 7 days straight. It was just what I needed to realize what I had been missing, a home of sorts, familiarity, and a sense of belonging. Leaving Matareva was difficult, especially knowing I was leaving another kitten behind, but I found myself back there a few hours later. Meeting up with my travel mate and giving him a ride back to Matareva, where we watched the sunset from the warm Pacific waters and split ways, wondering when our paths would cross next.
Traveling has a funny way of creating new opportunities where we never thought there was a door to open. Happy trails.