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Pacific Odyssey 2010/2011
Follow the Larsens from Seattle to Australia and back.
07/27/2010, Manolo Island, Samoa

On Tuesday we made a day-long visit to Manono Island, a very small island in the Apolima Straight (the pathway between the two largest islands of Upolu and Savaii) with around 800 inhabitants. We signed up for the tour through Aggie Grey's and though I knew it would be quite staged, I wanted the kids to get a chance to see some local culture, not just the busy town of Apia with too many taxis, hot pavement, mangy dogs and feral cats.

The day did not disappoint. Our tour guides, Fooa and Jonah, were an inadvertent comedy team. They picked us up in a small bus, drove us 45 minutes along the coast to an area called Manono-Uta, which was essentially a compound of a couple houses and a half dozen boats. The family who lived there was apparently the transport company from Upolu to Manono. The aluminum runabouts you see in the pictures serve as school buses to take the Manono kids back and forth for the school day. Our boat was less sturdy looking, made of wood and quite leaky. I knew we'd make it to the other side, but I wondered how far up my legs the water would reach before we landed.

Five other people signed up for the tour besides our family, so we had a nice small group. We landed on Manono near a very large church, only one of many on this small island. You'll notice a very small islet in one of our pictures. Eric joked with the tour guide about how he knew that island didn't have people living on it - no church. Despite our best planning efforts, one of the kids had to go to the bathroom right away. We were motioned to a family home with an outhouse. I was reminded of my days in Micronesia where toilets were installed, but did not necessarily function. Freya and Finn gave it their best go - we found some wallpaper squares on a ledge ( I think they were used as toilet paper) to line the seat with. When we were done, we tried to flush but the handle was just for decoration.

Back on the tour, we walked through a couple villages, noticing that people lived in both cinderblock with tin roof homes as well as traditional thatch roofed structures. As on the more modern Upolu, each extended family has a compound, a nice chunk of land they own. There is a meeting house where the head of the family and the other ranking members have regular meetings, each person is given their specific spot on the floor upon which to sit. There are then the sleeping structures, sometimes like a house with walls, sometimes open to breeze. Most people sleep on pandanus-woven sleeping mats, not mattresses, so the beds are rolled up during the day and spread out again at night. The other curious aspect of the family compound is the graveyard that most seem to have. Family members are buried on site. The larger the grave stone, the more prominent the member. Once a family chooses to bury someone on their land, they cannot sell it (most do not sell land anyway); however, if they find they want or need to sell, they can remove the body and move it to the new location if it has already been 10 years in the ground. You can see some of the more modern meeting houses in our street views back on Upolu. They are quite close together; the lots seem to run deep.

After 30 minutes or so of walking, having passed by a couple more churches and meetings houses, and the school yard where the kids were having recess, we came to a meeting house of a family who hosted us for a kava ceremony. Kava is a root found throughout the Pacific Islands, it is ground up, mixed with water and drunk. If you have too much, or the kava is strong, you will become numb inside your mouth and throughout the body. We had just a sip, from a common cup. In Pohnpei, Micronesia the kava is traditionally chewed by someone, then spit into the bowl and mixed with water. I don't believe they do it that way in Samoa, but I didn't ask the question because I could not refuse the sip. The kids were left out of the ceremony for obvious reasons, but they were quite interested in the motions.

We were also given a coconut cream making demonstration, some local basket weaving, and of course given the chance to buy something the family had made. Finn and Sophie each picked out a fan and Freya selected a nicely sized cowrie shell that reminded her of "the planet Mars."

After the family visit, we were shuttled off to a nice open hut by the shore were we had a little picnic lunch, were given a chance to swim/snorkel (the coral was mostly dead), and then we hopped back into the boat after the boat-helper had bailed out at least 25 buckets-full of water ( I stopped counting around then.)

Our kids were thoroughly fascinated by the outing. The bus ride was educational, notice the strange yellow sign we took a picture of; one in English and then Samoan posted about every few miles along the highway: "No Rape or Indecent Acts." They said hello to some school kids their age and they got a real look at how some people live, out in the open. We were so pleased with how well they sat through the kava ceremony, tried their heads on the traditional pillow, and accepted crowns of flowers by saying "Faafetei" which means "thank you" in Samoan.

Sunday in Samoa
07/25/2010, Apia, Samoa

We awoke this morning at 5:40am to the sound of church bells. Church wasn't in session yet, so I am not sure why they were ringing when they were, but I imagine it was to remind the village that today is Sunday. We attended the 8am Catholic service in Samoan. Everyone was in their finery, we did our very best with flower print dresses for the ladies and long pants and clean shirts for the men. We were a few minutes late, but were quite welcome in the sanctuary. The entire service, including communion and collection, only lasted 25 minutes. We think that might be a record for a Catholic church, but we aren't sure. No hymnals, but a lot of singing. People just knew the words by heart.

On our way to church we began to notice smoke from the cook fires; by the time we were walking back to the Marina less than an hour later the fires were in full force and a white haze had descended upon the town. Smoke was mingling with the low hanging clouds and the atmosphere was very thick. Sundays in Samoa are meant for church and family and eating. Some of the food is prepared in an umw (pronounced oom). This is a pit dug in the ground, lined with coals. The meat or whatever is going to be cooked is set inside the pit and then covered up again with earth. There it slow cooks for a few hours. In Hawaii they often cook a whole pig this way; not sure yet what the Samoans prepare.

Nothing happens on Sunday, barely a soul on the street. All the shops are closed. It is very quiet as I sit and type this at 10am. We are going to head over to the pool at Aggie Grey's and spend the day lounging by the pool.

07/24/2010, Vailima, Samoa

Robert Louis Stevenson was the author of Treasure Island, The Strange Case Of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and many other tales. He is best known for Treasure Island, a tale of pirates, secret islands, and men who drink too much rum. His writing career was indeed amazing. During the last four and a half years of his life, he wrote thirteen books. His works are still famous today.
Upon entering his house, I got the distinct impression that a lot of people had lived there with him. There were five bedrooms, a smoking room, a dining room, and a great hall. His mother, his stepdaughter, his wife, and his stepgrandson lived with him.
His mother, Margaret, never really fit in. The climate was too hot for her. Also, she didn't really get along with the samoans.
At one point in his stay, he met a girl whose birthday was on Christmas. He knew he was nearing the end of his life, and so he offered to swap birthdays with her. They even had the legal documents drawn up!
The first room we went to was the smoking room. There was a fireplace, a lion skin rug, a tea table, and a chaise lounge. Beautiful tapa designs covered the walls. There were mats on the ground to walk on so that you didn't step on the original flooring.
Before we left, we hiked a trail to the waterfall where R.L.S. and his family bathed. We were allowed to wade in the water. R.L.S. built a dam and a flood gate so that he could control how deep the water got. Mom took a picture of us wading by the waterfall.

07/24/2010, 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.

Samoan Landfall

We have arrived in Samoa. We are all well but tired. We will make a proper update later.

Closing in on Apia

The wind returned in spades and we are closing in on Apia, less than 100 miles to go. When the wind returned, we were too far out to get in Wednesday before sunset, so we actually had to slow the boat down to arrive after sunrise on Thursday. After pushing for speed for days, it just feels wrong.

The harbor in Apia is within easy walking distance of the restaurants and shops. It will be nice not to need a car. This time tomorrow I hope we are having pizza for lunch. (Local food will follow soon.) We are all ready for port.

This will be our longest passage of the trip, at 19 days. We will have covered over 5500 nautical miles of Ocean. Once in Samoa, our pace will slow. Our next several passages will be 1-4 days and we will take substantial time between them. I won't have as many boat projects, and we will focus on seeing the sites and meeting people. The next phase our our trip is about to begin.

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Who: Eric, Christine and family
Port: Seattle, Washington
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