We're still tied to the dock in Apia after returning from 5 days of travel around Samoa. The weather to head to Tonga should be good early next week and there are a lot of us ready to leave but we're using the time to do boat projects and get in some last minute touring. There's a regatta in Tonga that's being put on by the boater's facilities in NZ and we're excited to be there for that since there are a lot of great activities in store. NZ seems to be really serious about attracting the cruising community and if it turns out to be anything like what I've read, it'll be nothing short of paradise. Or maybe it'll be great advertising.
Any time you walk down the docks, there's always the bustle of people using the hose, sanding, scrubbing, tweaking, hoeing out & polishing. Jon wet sanded the whole toerail yesterday in a rainshower and I varnished it this morning before we went for a great walk with Mike & Marnie on Picara. We retraced the 11km of the race that Jon & I ran, then strolled around in town at the handicraft market. We also got some interesting local foods from vendors here. They do a lot with coconut milk and coconut cream, wrapped in the leaves of the taro root. Sometimes it's baked to resemble creamed spinach, or it can be mixed with flour, wrapped in taro leaves and then baked to form a dense bread of sorts. I was also able to get a much needed haircut by a NZ lady and it came with a free scalp massage which feels way too luxurious for me. We also have all of our anchor chain out on the dock now to be rinsed and then marked for length and I can clean out the anchor locker after all these months of not being able to do so. All this time we thought we had 300 feet of chain but upon measuring it today we realize we have 400ft. I checked with West Marine and we did indeed order & pay for 300 feet. Here we are fretting about the weight in the bow and wondering if we can add the extra weight of another furler and we already have an extra 150 pounds now that we didn't think we had. We should have measured & marked it initially but there wasn't time to do it.
We had such a nice time traveling around with Bob & Sue in our used Japanese SUV. It smelled like a wet dog, and we didn't get used to it. But we had a portable fridge to keep our food cold and we'd brought everything we needed for lunches and happy hours together. Most of the lower cost and authentic accommodations here are fale's- most of the local people live in these also. They are thatched roof shelters with palm frond sides that you can lower for privacy. Most are located beachfront although one we stayed in was alongside a mangrove forest and all the ones we stayed in included breakfast & dinner. When we'd arrive, we'd pick out our fale, then they would come and set it up by laying down mats, foam mattresses, colorful sheets and then finish it off with a bednet. It's the closest I've ever come to having a canopy bed so it feels kindof fancy! We found the food to be really good, varied and nicely prepared. I love the way the Samoans use plants and trees around them. We usually had woven placemats, perhaps a leaf under our mug like a sort of decoration, a little flower arrangement at the table & in the bathroom, possibly the shower "stall" would be surrounded by plants. Since houseflies can be a nuisance at the table sometimes, one guy stood at our table all while we ate breakfast fanning the spread of food with a long leaf. The sheets were made from the colorful tropical fabric designs that Samoa is famous for and our pillows were stuffed with the fluffy interiors of kapok seed pods. Every morning the sand and floors are raked and swept with handmade brooms.
We packed in a lot during the 5 days spending 2 nights on each of the two major islands of Samoa. There are a few other little ones and actually, we stayed at one of these islets that was about a mile offshore on the first night. They came and got us in a small boat and then ferried us back the next morning. Some of the things we did were visit waterfalls and colorful swimming holes, climb to the craters of two non-active volcanos, snorkel at the beach in front of our fale's, we visited a cave that had swiftlets nesting and we got to see the baby birds in the nest. We walked through lava fields left by the eruptions in the very early 1900's and we did a lovely coastal walk at a park that gave us views of interesting rock arches just offshore with crashing waves & blue surf. We met up with other cruisers twice since we're all really doing the same thing. So we did a hike with one couple and then we shared a dinner table with 4 more. We drove the road that travels the perimeter of both islands- Upolu & Savaii and took a car ferry to be able to spend 2 nights on each of them.
I think the four of us had the same thoughts on the highlights of the trip. We liked being able to see the island and get a really good feel for the culture & lifestyle of the Samoan people. Samoa has showed us the most traditional culture of any place we've ever visited. Because they mainly live in fale's, you can easily "see in" to their life as you pass by on the road. There are churches everywhere to the point that it seems a bit much. There are religions I've never heard of but everyone seems to respond to the daily call to prayer around 6pm that lasts for a half hour or so. Jon says the "bells" used for this are often old scuba tanks with the tops cut off and they hit that to make the gong. On Sunday, most everyone is dressed in their best whites- white lava lavas for men and white frilly dresses for women and the churches are FULL. The singing is beautiful. During the day, you can see groups of women in the large community fales, sitting on woven mats doing fine weaving. They dry the plant material for their weaving on their lawns in front of their homes (next to their buried loved ones since this is done here also). We stopped at one to see how they weave the fine mats and the ladies were singing as they wove. They answered our questions and we chatted a little. Then one older lady got up and came over to us, doing some traditional dancing. Before we knew it, Sue & I were up there dancing with her too while the others sang and there was loud laughter and a really good vibe going for everyone.
On another day, we passed a village where everyone it seemed was outside together enjoying a festival. They had a cricket game going and one of the guys asked Jon if he wanted to bat. So he did! No scoring though- that's a hard ball to hit! We had several other nice interactions with people and we continue to feel the hospitality of the Polynesians.
The most interesting natural features were the Alofaaga blowholes on Savaii. There were several large blowholes with water shooting up like geysers every time a wave came in and it wasn't even a rough day. The whole area was so beautiful with the black lava rocks and then the blue ocean behind with the white spume overhead.
As you might expect from any tour around together, the four of us got a few jokes going about recurring themes. I don't know if anyone has seen the episode on Seinfeld that deals with "low talkers" but Samoans do seem to be very softspoken, often to the point you can't hear what they're saying. One customs agent even asked Jon if he had a hearing problem! I already mentioned that you can see the fale's from the roadside and for each village there will often be a few community fales too. We would always see sleeping forms in them at any given time of day. On the ferry, there weren't many places to sit because one person would lie down on a bench, thereby taking up the whole thing. The floor is fair game as well. We've found that English is a secondary language to Samoan and so many of the villagers couldn't understand us very well but they would answer "yes" to most questions. So we were never sure if something really meant yes or not! And forget about any directions. The other funny thing is that most of the sights were on private land since most land is owned by the villages. So if you visited a waterfall, there would be someone sitting or lying in a fale at the entrance to collect the fee- nearly always 5 tala ($2.50 US) per person. Everything was 5 tala, everywhere we went which can become kindof draining after a while, in more ways than one. But that said, we still had a wonderful time and overall the fees were reasonable. We were just packing a lot in to a short time frame.
I looked at our pictures and they don't capture what we saw & did very well. The underwater pictures we took with our new waterproof Dicapak bag were overexposed and I see I didn't get any pictures of the villages. Oh well. At least there's something up there for you to see. Hopefully the next entry will be from us underway to Tonga. We're looking forward to the holidays and a visit home!