Another day, another dolor my friends. The Gods of Circumnavigation have manifested me in yet another climate and culture, this time by the sea! Without a wink of sleep and not having changed my clothes for about 72 hours, my arrival at the Taleofo Airport felt emotionally reminiscent of the opening scene of Lost. Fortunately there was no plane wreckage, but the beautiful island views and lack of WiFi surely knocked some John Locke into my step.
My first few nights were spent in Apia, which is the capital city and surely most “urban” area of the island with various office spaces, highrise hotels, and paved roads. With the Baha’i House of Worship being located about 8 km up the only road that crosses the middle of the island, I mirrored my physical distance with some temporal distance and thus took a three-day hiatus to explore the island. The island itself can be crossed corner to corner in about 2.5 hours, yet cross-island taxis can charge up to 150 tala (about 60 USD), so I became a scholar of the bus system.
Every day, public buses run all around the island with the central ventricle of the system located about 10 minutes from my hotel in Apia. I randomly boarded a bus to bring me south, where apparently picturesque beaches line the coast. By 8:30 am, the bus was packed with travelers, everyone a local Samoan except myself (for the first time I was the skinniest person in the room, God bless). Many people were sitting on each others’ laps, sharing Fanta and wafers, singing, and creating a very communal and sunny atmosphere within this public mode of transportation; I was shocked!
The bus ride lasted maybe 2 hours and I decided to ride it to the end, so I could take in as many views of the island as possible. As I left the brightly-colored vehicle, the driver requested 8 tala (about 3 USD) for the entire trip. Of course, while cheap for me, this fare could be about 25% of a Samoan’s daily wage and travel into Apia has the most areas of employment by far on the island. I was therefore very appreciative of the mobility, and I left the bus with a cheerful “faafetai” (thank you)!
Lalomanu was the name of the village in which the bus had its final stop. It was the southeast corner of the island and, darling, I am telling you, it was the most scenic terrain of my life. Actual palm trees backbending over the clearest, bluest waters… distant islands, adorned with flashy greenery… stretches of white, soft sand, nestled among the black igneous rock. And my favorite part… the fale (pronounced [fa.lε]). These oceanside beach huts are the traditional shelter structure for Samoan culture. They are made of wood and dried leaves from coconut trees. They are slightly elevated from the ground and feature a roof. There are no walls, so ocean and beach views are 360. I was so entranced. Was my childhood island fantasy finally being realized?
Bumping into an employee of the beach fale resort, I inquired about the timing of the next bus back to Apia, and as if truly scripted by the writers of Lost, the beautiful Samoan woman said “The next bus comes in three days, sir!”
Oh well, more disastrous things could happen than getting stranded on a paradise beach, so I booked two nights at the resort and settled into my personal fale. Being on the corner of the island gave incredible access to various sights and sides of Samoa’s natural beauty. I spent some time relaxing, meditating, and starting my transcriptions of the recordings from Uganda and India.
To top off the day, I walked through the ankle-high, warm waves, as the sun performed its daily drama over the South Pacific.
Come nightfall, I made my way to the common area, where a family dinner takes place every night among the visitors of the beach fale resort. I sat my lone body down next to a tall, pirate-looking man and engaged in a beautiful conversation. I found out that this gentle giant was a high school Spanish teacher from the bay area, who enjoyed traveling on school holidays to get to know the areas from which his students come. He has so far traveled to Fiji, India, Ciaro, Spain, Mexico, and Peru to enrich his cultural knowledge of these places and be able to relate better to his students. We LOVE our educators!
To my right was a woman from New Zealand who was on vacation with a few of her friends before a large expedition for her documentary filming. She will be creating a film on whaling rituals of indigeonous peoples around the world. Ummmmm that’s fine, that’s not the COOLEST THING I’VE EVER HEARD. I requested her card, and I will let you all know when we can go to the midnight premier together and weep.
Finally, across the table was a young, Dutch couple that had taken a half-year leave from their respective jobs to travel the world together. We shared a few travel stories, and turns out one of them comes from Haarlem, that evil (yet beautiful) Dutch town near Amsterdam from which I missed my bus. I decided to lean into some dramatic irony, and I told her that I had a wonderful time when I visited there for a choral concert.
Nonetheless, I guess I sat in the right seat, because the next day, the Dutch couple invited me to join them in their car trip around the island…… like, obvi?! So I kicked it in the backseat of the rental car and we saw everything! First, we went swimming in Sua Ocean Trench, which is like a pond under a cave.
Next we walked along the lava rocks by the sea. We enjoyed a divine lunch of poke. We trekked up Togitogiga Waterfalls and swam in the pools. I am fully confident in my (nonexistent) skills at boulder scaling, so I climbed behind the waterfall and took in moment on the slippery rocks. Our night ended with another showing of the Samoan sunset, this time over a central island beach. I think I made a great third wheel.
After some beautiful fale sleep and a morning visit to a smaller, less inhabited island, I said goodbye to the beautiful people that I had met at the resort. To end my Baha’i haitus (Baha’itus?) with a bang, I rented a moped and challenged myself to see the whole island in one day.
My body arose at 6 am and I was cruising down the uncrowded roads for hours of the day. I made a few stops along the way. At one place, I was able to rent snorkel gear and swim with these giant clams that were easily twice the size of my body. I also saw plentiful coral and a happy sea turtle. DIVINITY.
Giant Clams of Samoa (obvi I didn’t take this, pc: insearchoffreshair.com)
The roads toward the west of the island became less maintained; I was clearly entering a more rural area. Throngs of school children would sometimes emerge in this area, chasing my scooter and throwing soft stones at my wheels. The dogs too were quite persistent, and would often charge with hungry teeth for my legs. I was also recommended to carry what I have named a “dog stone” to hold up to a charging dog, as they are familiar with this as a sign to back off. Within minutes, I grew the hardest emotional calluses, bit the bullet, and figured out how to swiftly maneuver around these obstacles. No dogs or Samoan children were harmed in this process.
I was also joyous to stop by a few waterfalls and a Piula cave pool, whereat I could swim about 30 m into a pitch black cave. As I emerged, I noticed that there was an elderly couple that had joined me in the otherwise vacant cave pond. The woman started speaking with me as her husband attempted to hop into the pool. I noticed that this older man was having a difficult time swimming and then he started flailing and calling for help. Thankfully, I was able to employ my muscle memory from my LifeGuard training four years ago and bring the man to the shore and calm him down. The couple thanked me greatly and wished me well on my future travels.
I arrived at my final destination, a restaurant called Paddles in Apia. I looked down to see the tops of my arms and legs coated in stinging red burns. My unprepared self had of course forgotten sunscreen. Dimsum, lose some! I will take the karmic punishment, for this amazing and adventurous day around the island. My night ended with a tasty raw tuna salad as the sunset bled through the restaurant window.
I returned the scooter and made my way up the hill, the glowing Temple on my horizon.
Until next time,