Wednesday, August 28, 2013


29 August 2013

We drove west (along the south coast) to the town of Taga, where there are the amazing blowholes.

The island of Savaii is volcanic, and various eruptions created lava flows that ran from the craters in the center of the island, all the way to the ocean.  Much of the coast of the island is volcanic stone, especially this south coast and the SW coast.
In this area, the lava created large shelves which cooled into igneous rock as they hit the sea.  These shelves cover the "beach" area today, looking like black rolling hills over the former white sand.  It's one of the weirdest shores I've seen!
You can even kind of see the flows of lava, and the way they made ripples and layers as they hit the water.

The black rock is almost bubbly - I'm guessing from the hot lava bubbling and steaming when it hit the ocean, but it also could also be erosion from the sea.  

At any rate, the rock kind of creates cliffs that drop to the ocean, and the waves hit with phenomenal displays of froth and mist and white water flying in the 

But the best part is that, in all that bubbling and 
erosion of rock, various blowholes were created - holes that go through the rock, so that when a wave hits in a certain direction or with a certain amount of force, the water is forced up and out the blowhole, so it looks like a geyser!

WAY cool!

Some areas had blowholes that shot up in unison - others had delayed action, I'm thinking based on how 
far the hole was from the point when the wave hit the rock.

It was quite a show - with all the whooshing and booming noises of the waves and geysers shooting up, and misting flying through the air covering everything!  

Some of the blowholes were shooting at least 20 to 30 feet in the air - and if you look at the photos with the people, well, I think a guess of 60 feet (20 meters) would be accurate.  Amazing!!!!

Other tourists arrived, driving along one of the local 
men who carry along a basket of coconuts.  The "fun" thing to do is place a coconut on top of the blowhole, and watch as the force of water launches the coconut way high into the sky!  It was funny, very silly, and fun to watch, and we stood quite a way distant (to not get bonked on the head by a flying coconut), cheering away!

Just in case the whole place wasn't exciting enough, one of the young German people we were talking with saw a humpback whale fairly close to shore, and we saw him swimming along, surfacing and diving, and blowing spouts of steam and water from his own blowhole!  He continued out to sea, and we could see the whale in the distance, sometimes surfacing, but easily identified by the spout as he swam away.  How magical! 

Touring Savaii

28 August 2013

We decided to stay at our rather posh but budget-priced hotel, since neither of us wants to be eaten all night long by blood-thirsty insects.  Tuesday was rainy, so we had a nice relaxing day around the hotel.  (

The lagoon, which is bright aqua on a sunny day, turns into a moody pewter color on a rainy day.  Add the wind and and incoming tide, and the smooth mirror of water turns into a choppy wave basin!  Throw in some atmospheric grey clouds and a bit of rain, and suddenly this peaceful tropical lagoon looks threatening - especially with what looks like a floating island in the center, eerily hovering on top of the water.

We've had fun with the restaurant at our hotel - apparently, when the kitchen runs out of an item, they'll make what might seem like a logical substitution.  So our first lunch, I ordered a BLT - a bacon, lettuce, tomato sandwich, hold the mayo, on whole wheat toast.  Apparently the kitchen was out of lettuce - the sandwich arrived with thinly sliced cucumber.  Not bad, but different.  Richard's burger came with thinly sliced cukes, too - even though he requested no lettuce - but I guess, since he didn't request no cucumber, well, that was added.  Next day, the BLT turned into a ham, tomato, cucumber sandwich.  It cracks us up - somehow the meal always seems to have a surprise twist!  

Yesterday, though, the pipes in the kitchen/dining area sprang a leak, and so by evening the water was turned off.  It was on by morning, but the breakfast buffet was moved so the plumbers could cut holes in the ceiling to find the source of the major leak.  Yup, we ate our morning fruit and toast while plumbers' legs dangled out of holes in the ceiling.  It took three or four holes to find the source of all the water, and all is fixed by now - but just one more funny episode here.

Today, we picked up our car, a RAV 4, and made a complete circuit around the island of Savaii.  Savaii (sah-VIE-ee) is a volcanic island, so there aren't a lot of beaches - the NE corner has some beaches, and there are a few in the NW corner as well as the SW corner - but inbetween the coast is all kinds of igneous rocks, and along the south shore you can see very cool

lava flows out into the ocean.  

The ferry comes in at the SE corner, and our hotel is just a tiny bit north of there.  This corner is probably the busiest - the various villages are lumped together as "town" and there are more businesses, banks, schools, local buses painted in all kinds of bright colors, and people in this general area of the island.

We headed north along the east side of Savaii, and mostly admired the views, with a few stops to stretch our legs.  We never quite made it to a beach, since many of the beaches have resorts on them, and you need to pay a fee to spend time on the beach.  But we had lunch overlooking one of the prettiest beaches we found, and we may go back tomorrow.  (Or we might go to the blowholes down south.)  It was just one of those idyllic locations that you find on tropical islands, where it looks like some kind of perfect airbrushed movie set instead of reality: white sand, aqua water, reef creating a breakwater so the lagoon is like a pool, people frolicking in the lagoon.  As I said, movie set perfect!

Anyway, we continued around the north side to the NW corner, where there is a short canopy tour.  But don't let the word "short" fool you - we went in and I paid for myself.  Richard stayed at the front and read, hanging out with the men who run this small business.  I was assigned a tour guide, who walked with me through the forest to the site of the canopy tour.  This turned into a major test of my will and fortitude!

First, we climbed a tall metal structure that has a spiral staircase.  I have vertigo problems, so twirling up a spiral staircase that is open on all sides is not a good option - but I wanted to challenge myself, so I did it, holding on to the railing with one hand and a step with the other.  At the top (a good four storeys high) we paused so I could take a photo of the bridge, and we could catch our breath.  (And I tried not to look down.)

Yes, this is a bridge that is basically ladders, end to end, held up by some kind of steel cable, with maybe 2" x 8" boards, also running end to end - all encased in what looked like fishnets so if you fall sideways you hopefully won't fall down.  Yup, with rope on both sides so you feel like you're at least holding on to something.  I crossed this very bizarre, makeshift hanging bridge, hanging on to the ropes for dear life, trying not to look down but still place my feet carefully as the whole contraption swung tilted bounced, and I let out a periodic squeak of pure panic.  Ugh!  I finally made it to the wooden platform on the other side, high up in a banyon tree - and I heard Tiu, my guide, cheering from the other end of the bridge!  All I could do was laugh!

Of course, Tiu nimbly walked across this monstrosity of a bridge in about 5 seconds, and then we could climb another 5 or 6 or 8 flights of wooden steps up the tree, with wood railings to cling to.  We rose up above the neighboring trees, until we were on a platform maybe 400 meters (1200 feet!) above the ground.  O.M.G!!!!!  The view in all directions was amazing, and I walked back and forth, looking everywhere but down!  I could see the ocean on three sides, and it looked as if we were at eye level with the mountains in the middle of the island.  Absolutely gorgeous, but, still, scary.

Then we walked down the wood stairs, to the lower platform.  Instead of taking the bridge again, there was a stair option, so I went with that - steep, narrow steps, steps so small even my feet hung over the edge, as I clung to the wood railing and walked slowly down.  And then I was back on the ground, with my legs weak and trembling from this ordeal.

But was it worth it?  Totally!!!!!


Monday, August 26, 2013

Mosquito Hell

26 August 2013

These are the continuing misadventures of Phebe and Richard.

We left Apia on Sunday and took the ferry to Savaii, with minimal luggage (daypacks), arriving in the early afternoon.  The ferry arrives at the southeast corner of Savaii, in a lagoon that is like a lake, it is so still.

Most businesses are closed on Sundays in Samoa, so we knew we probably couldn't find a rental car.  We took a taxi to a hotel owned by the niece of our landlady in Apia, figuring since we liked her place we'd like the niece's hotel.  Turned out that there was some school function and everything was booked solid, not a room at the inn.  The niece was quite nice and called around, finding a place with reasonable rates that she thought was nicer than the other option - and off we went in another taxi.

The place we ended up has various facilities - we went with the individual fale in the garden area.  This wasn't really a traditional thatched fale, but more of a little plywood fale - and windows, but no screens.  (No did the doors line up with the building, but that's another story.)  Anyway, we settled in for a quiet afternoon, after a bite of lunch.  (There was a very friendly restaurant kitty who decided to steal my fries - seriously, he leapt onto my lap and grabbed a fry and jumped off - so what could I do, my fries had kitty germs, so of course I proceeded to feed him the rest of the fries.  He then jumped back onto my lap, curled up, and started purring.  Wonderful cat!  You know I loved this!)

Well, it turned out that the mosquitoes were just as friendly (and pushy) as that cat.  They followed us into our fale.  The attacked us despite the temperature drop as it started raining, that heavy pounding tropical torrential rain that only seems to happen on small islands.  Hammering on the corregated metal roof.  We climbed under the mosquito nets, fan on, and it wasn't too bad.  Eventually the rain let up a bit, we had dinner, we settled in for the night - and the mosquitoes attacked.  In droves and squadrons.  Every time one of us got up to go to the bathroom, mosquitoes swarmed into the netting.  Or they found holes and came in.  Or they managed to multiply while in the netting.

I don't know exactly what happened - I finally pulled a cloth over my face - but I woke up with a forehead like a Neanderthal, it was so swollen with bites.  Richard has bites all up and down his arms.  Both of us are covered in bites, itching and making us crazy as we try so hard not to scratch.  

Turns out that we both forgot our insect repellant in our large rolling luggage in Apia.  And apparently, this place says to bring your own insect repellant.  Live and learn.

After breakfast, we headed out to find a rental car.  Finally found something we liked that was in our budget, but the car wasn't back quite yet.  We went and obtained the temporary Samoan permit.  Went to the bank.  Walked around for a total of four miles.  And the car still wasn't back.  We had lunch.  Made some phone calls.  Car still not back.  By the time the car arrived, it was late afternoon and there wasn't really time to head much of anywhere - so we found that the hotel with the rental car company was only 30 tala (about $14 US) more than the place we stayed last night.  With AC, TV, hot shower (did I mention the mosquito place only has cold showers in the shared bathroom?), and all the mod cons, including a kitchen downstairs.  Yes, a two-level hotel suite.  So we did the reasonable thing and checked into the hotel.  With a pool.  And lovely landscaping.  We'll pick up the car tomorrow morning, and head out after a good (mosquito-free) night's sleep.

Turns out tonight is karaoke night at our hotel's restaurant - you haven't lived til you hear people singing in a language they aren't too familiar with, singing songs they know but don't really quite understand.  The timing was interesting.  We chatted with an older couple from New Zealand - the man braved the tough audience and got up to sing too!  (No, we didn't sing, beyond a little singing to each other at our seats!  We don't need to have an audience to crack ourselves up.)

Despite the fact that we both enjoy being off-the-beaten-track and taking the path less travelled, well, let's face it - no one enjoys being an all-night buffet for blood-sucking insects.  Or pillows that feel like bags of sand.  Especially when another option with all the comforts one might enjoy is available for almost the same cost.

We may try a fale or two on a beach.  But not in a tropical garden.  And not without a can of Off or Deet or something.

The best news of all?  Samoa doesn't have malaria, and it isn't dengue fever season.

And my forehead no longer looks like a Neanderthal's.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Island Tour - From Sandy Necklace to Vocanic Peaks

24 August 2013

We spent the day out touring the island and are exhausted – the island of Upolu is roughly 20 km wide x 100 km long, or 12 miles by 60 miles – we only toured the east and southern part, but that included swimming in crystal clear ocean, walking to four different waterfalls, checking out a sinkhole that connects to the ocean through underground caverns, and I don’t remember what else.  Past villages and fales and open meeting buildings of every color combination you could imagine.  And through what might have been a parade of Girl Guides, we aren’t too sure – definitely a parade of girls in some kind of green uniform.  With a few parents and boys thrown in for variety.

Just to start, here’s a poetic description of the island from the customs form we filled in upon arrival:

“Samoa is a postcard of natural beauty consisting of ten islands, each offering very distinct and different environments to explore.    
From the rainforest covered rugged volcanic mountain peaks of the two main islands to the vast valleys leading down to a coastline ringed with a necklace of white sandy beaches.”

(I know, the grammar leaves something to be desired, with that hanging sentence fragment.  As I said, it's more poetry than prose.  Descriptive versus narrative.  And maybe a literal translation of Samoan, which often sounds like singing.)

We headed out of Apia which is somewhat in the center of the north coast of the island, Upolu.  (Pronounced ooo-POE-loo.)  We headed east, and encounted the first waterfall, which is on a river heading to the ocean.  There was a wonderful house and fale in the background (the open-air thatched structure that people used to live in, and which most houses retain) across the river, and I was able to zoom in to get a decent photo of that as well.

Apia is the only "city" in Samoa - the rest are small villages.  Or, in my leftover from Liberia, they are small-small villages. 
Sometimes they are a collection of homes with one little shop selling tinned items and cold soda, and often a small primary school.  Students who are older attend a regional secondary school - but the small villages don't have enough students to justify a secondary school there.

The central hills or mountains (depends on your definition) are very craggy, but mostly covered with trees and bush creating the lush rainforest that blankets much of Upolu.  

People can buy land to farm, and so there are often coconut palms, banana trees, taro (eddoe), and manioc (cassava) growing halfway up the hills.  We also saw a few cacao bushes or trees - but no coffee.

The southeast corner of Upolu was hit pretty hard by the tsunami in 2009 (the one that originated in SE Asia) - we saw destroyed homes, schools, businesses.  About 200 people died here, both local residents and tourists.  Many people moved further inland, but the resorts rebuilt right along the coast, because the beaches here are so incredibly gorgeous.

We stopped for a while at Taufuo (pronounced tow as in towel, not tow as in towtruck - so tow-FU-oh).  Gorgeous gorgeous clear glorious water - the waves look like pale aqua glass coming at you when you're swimming in it!  The sand is golden and fairly coarse, which accounts for the rather steep slope of the beach.  (My dad advises me on these things.  Coarse sand makes a steep slope.  Fine sand makes a flatter slope.)  Anyway, the place was truly picture-postcard-perfect with a reef offshore creating a breakwater, and barely rippling waves continuing on to the beach - almost a swimming pool perfect lagoon, with enough reef in the middle for interesting snorkeling.

The resort rents out fales on the beach (pronounced FAH-lays - the "e" at the end becomes sort of an "ay" sound) - people rent them for the day, while enjoying the beach, or for the night, to sleep in.  We haven't tried this yet, but I'm sure we'll give the fales a shot.
We continued along the south shore to To Sua Ocean Trench.  (Toe  SUE-ah.  You've got the ocean trench part.)  This is the sinkhole that connects to the ocean via an underground cavern.  And at low tide, you can actually swim out to the ocean.  But at high tide, or if there's a rough current or high wind creating waves, well, don't swim out to the ocean, you'll get mashed up on the rocks.   

I hope the words line up with the photo.  Because you need to seriously look at the people swimming in the sinkhole, or trench.  We aren't in there.  Look at the ladder.  Look at the person ON the ladder.  That ladder, nearly vertical, is a good 30 ft tall if not taller.  The rungs are 2 x 4s on edge - as in, your wet foot steps on a 2" wide piece of wood.  For 30 or so feet.  Would YOU climb down to swim in a hole in the ground?  Knowing you'd have to climb back up?  Right.  We didn't either.  There's only so much adventure one can take after age 30.  Or 40.  Never mind after age 50 and 60.  We weren't about to climb down that ladder into the depths of the earth.

So we walked around and admired the fabulous view, and the clear water (you can even see the rocks and coral in these photos, that's how clear the water is!), and the beautiful gardens here.  With a few more fales for relaxing.  And a nice little restaurant with ST$10 fish and chips (that's just under $5 US for fried snapper and chips).  Delightful!

Continuing along the south shore, heading west, we came to another area where we could hike in - more beautiful flowers, a traditional drum with amazing carvings, and another wonderful waterfall.  There were two men swimming at different levels along the river - but by now we had been out for nearly the entire day, and were a bit too tired to climb over rocks into cold fresh water for a swim.

Last photo - I promise - we drove back through the center of the island (on the aptly named Cross Island Road), passing more small villages, farms (or plantations, as they are called here), and meeting houses.  There's a hierarchy of chiefs here, with each town or village having a High Chief as well as a variety of other chiefs, each in charge of something in the community.  The meeting houses are for meetings of these chiefs - and yes, women can be chiefs as well.  This meeting house was particularly nice, and I managed a photo.

So - it is now Sunday, 25 August.  We took the ferry to Savaii (sah-VIE-ee), the neighboring and less-populated island, and are staying in a little plywood and corregated fale in the bush.  Probably a good thing it isn't thatch, since it has been pouring (POURING!) rain for the last hour or so.  Yes, we have a lot of mosquito bites from our lunch - we ate tuna, the mosquitoes ate us.  But we have nets to sleep under.  And only a few drips.  We'll see how this adventure goes.  Right now, it seems adventurous and romantic.  By midnight, we may feel differently, LOL!  But hey, this is an authentic Samoan experience, and we're giving it one night at a time.  And yes, I'll try to get some photos in the morning.  When the rain is hopefully over!