24 July 2010 | Apia, Samoa
"Talofa" is the greeting here in Samoa. It is so nice to hear. We tied up at the dock around 10am on Thursday morning. We were greeted by Harbor Control and our offshore sailing instructor, John Neal who happened to be tied up with his boat, Mahina Tiare III, just across the dock. We had to stay aboard for a couple hours while our yellow quarantine flag was flying and various officials from Customs, Immigration, Health, and Quarantine all came by for a chat, paperwork, stamps and information. Each of the offices I listed have separate representatives with different forms. While we were waiting, John and his wife Amanda treated us to cold slices of watermelon and a local fruit salad. Amanda also performed her version of a Maori Haka (she is a New Zealander and a Haka is the Maori war dance.) She put on her red wig and Viking hat and danced along the dockside giving thekids quite a show - her passion for the Haka runs deep. Amanda and John also gave us some tips for getting about town and finding supplies and treated us to a feast of a breakfast the next morning. Mahina Tiare III is an HR46, so the kids got to see what a "real yacht" looks like inside. What a welcome.
Once we were free to leave the boat we headed into town for a little resort action at Aggie Gray's Hotel. Just down the street from the Apia Marina, Aggie Gray's hotel harkens back to the post-war era when Aggie began catering to GI's. She was supposedly the inspiration for the Bloody Mary character in South Pacific. She died a few years ago, but her spirit is alive in the hotel. Next Wed night we'll take the kids to dinner there for the dance show, but meanwhile, we've been invited to swim and relax by the pool anytime we want.
Today we visited the Robert Louis Stevenson (author of Treasure Island and many more works) home and museum. He and his family spent the last 4 years of his life in Samoa. He is buried on a hill above his home. His wife returned to the United States after his death, but once she died, her daughter brought her ashes back to Samoa so she is buried alongside RLS. Sophie is working on a blog post detailing the home, his life and our visit. So I'll leave the rest to her.
We then came back to the boat and tried to set up our transformer to get the batteries juiced up. It ran for 20 minutes until Finn and Freya yelled from above "Hey Dad, there's fire and smoke, the box is on fire!" Eric is kicking himself because he meticulously set the transformer for 220 instead of 240. He thinks he misheard the marina staff when we arrived. So now we have to run the engine to charge the batteries for a couple hours and we have to track down a new transformer. A hot situation.
This afternoon we'll snorkel at the nature preserve, tomorrow is Sunday so we'll attend the Catholic church service and hear amazing singing and Monday, Eric is off to officialdom to request permission for us to sail to the neighboring island of Savaii before we depart for Tonga. On Tuesday we signed up for an all-day tour of Manono Island, a tiny outer island in the straight between Upolu and Savaii. The kids will get a ferry boat ride, a local lunch, get to see how coconut milk is made and watch some women weave mats. It is a total touristy-tour with staged "local" situations, but what the heck. I am sure we'll meet some nice elderly Australians on holiday and have a relaxing day.
We've learned some valuable culture lessons already. We've been hustled a couple times, but now we can see it coming. Whenever fresh tourists arrive on shore, they stand out. White skin, sun hats, backpacks and all the while they are looking up and around to take in all the sights. This makes an easy mark and we were no exception with our three little ducks in a row. It starts out with a friendly hello, then a drawing you in with some story about an Auntie to lives in the States, or some relatives who lost everything in the Tsunami and they are helping them raise money, and then suddenly you've been hooked and have to get out of the situation with your money still in your pocket. No harm done and we can now see them coming a mile away. We've learned the "waving-off hand wave" and how to sing-song a disinterested "Talofa" so we can say hello and ignore them at the same time. The kids have found this fascinating. At first we started to call it the Samoan Hustle, but then realized that is quite unfair. It is just the hustle that happens in any big city, in Samoa or right at home, especially in cities often visited by tourists.