Whew, well it’s been an amazing past few weeks after all the school work I had before the semester break. As some of you might already know, me and 8 of my buddies went to Western Samoa (as opposed to American Samoa) for a week for our semester break. I apologize for the length and crazy amount of pictures, but hey, can you blame me?
Things started off a little shaky when our bus to Christchurch was roughly 4 hours late to pick us up at our stop…which was KFC ha. The good thing was we had a friend that was at another stop where the bus had broken down, so he kept us updated. Other than talking to him, we had no way to know what was happening. Luckily our flight was not until later at night so it didn’t affect our schedule, but some of the people on the bus had to completely redo their travel plans. I think the worst part for me was that we ended up waking up at 6 for no reason. It was about a 5.5 hour ride to Christchurch – the longest leg of our entire trip. After arriving in Auckland at around 8 pm, we had to wait until 6 am for our flight to Samoa. So naturally, hung out and slept on the floor in the airport. We met up with another group of 8 international Otago kids so it was actually a pretty good time. We took over this one room at the top of the airport and random families kept coming up, seeing us, and backing down the stairs reaal fast haha.
Once we landed in Samoa and went through customs and everything, I immediately changed into my Rondo Celtics jersey…and from there on out I was either shirtless or wearing a tank. A nice change from Dunedin weather. We got a taxi from the airport to a hotel in Apia, the only real city on the island – it reminded me a lot of Thailand actually. Fairly dirty, everybody staring at you because you’re the only white people, big markets, etc. A couple people I was with seemed uncomfortable but I loved it, good to experience. On the way, the taxi driver stopped at his house for about 5 minutes. After that, I knew we’d be on island time and definitely not in a hurry to get anywhere. The main road that goes around the island is beautiful – right on the coastline.
Ready to go
Bunch of people swimming
Taxi driver’s house
It was interesting to see the types of houses most Samoans live in. They are basically a completely open slab of concrete with pillars around the outside. Very simple, breezy, and island-esque.
Another thing I immediately noticed was how many churches there were. Not only Christian, but a lot of Mormon and others. There were some really neat looking ones.
Once we got all settled in to our backpacker hostel (which was not much…just 2 beds and a fan, no outlets or anything) we decided to walk around and explore along with a Norweigan named Marita that was also staying there. Luckily it was a Saturday and the city was bustlin’. The market was in full swing, so we went there. We got heaps of bananas and some delicious meat pies + free kool aid.
Where we stayed
After Neil bought some sunscreen for 58 tala (~$30!! – good thing I don’t wear sunscreen), we went and tried to find the “beach”, but it ended up being a very rocky bay. We ended up walking around the city for the entire day, it was neat to see how the locals lived. But arguably the best thing to come out of the day was that we found an American football for cheap. From then on we played catch for what seemed like half of our time awake. Oh yes.
Clocktower in the middle of town
First football pic
We noticed that all the buses were very colorful, unique, and completely packed with people dancing to super loud music. They looked real fun, and we decided we had to ride them at some point. It was funny that most of them were playing American music, too. Another thing about the cars we noticed was that some of the cars had steering wheels on the left, and some on the right. We learned that it was because they had switched from driving on the right side of the road to the left side only in 2009, so many of the existing cars still had left side steering wheels.
That night we ate at what I can only describe as the most awkward restaurant I’ve ever been to. It wouldn’t really make much sense from me explaining it, but trust me. We ended up walking into the restaurant with the staff staring at us without saying anything, ordering, coming back in an hour and a half, and being the only group eating there. We did discover the deliciousness of Vailima, Samoa’s very own beer, that night though.
The next morning we had to find a ride from Apia to Lalomanu Beach, where we would stay for 4 nights. We had heard it was the best beach on either Samoan Island, and whoa did it not disappoint. After trying to negotiate with a bunch of taxi drivers, we got a guy named Tony. Tony ended up being the man. He was an ex-tour guide, so he had a lot of advice on what we should see, etc. He also ended up making the drive from Apia to pick us up at Lalomanu beach (1.5 hrs) to take us places around there multiple times…so clutch. Like before, the drive on the coast to Lalomanu was breathtaking. On the way to Lalomanu, we took a little detour so he could show us this scenic overlook. The middle of the island is pretty unpopulated – mostly jungle and big mountains. Reminded me of Jurassic Park or something.
Some of the crew
Once we got to our place, Taufua Beach Fales, we went right to the beach to hang out and throw the football around. The sand was soft, water was crystal clear, and it was hot/sunny…just what we were looking for. A couple hours after we got there it was time for the Sunday feast, complete with a roasted full pig. It was nice that the price of our rooms also included a free breakfast and dinner…I’m assuming it was most of the price by how much food we got, ha. The first night we stayed in the “mountain view” fales, which we weren’t too psyched about since we wanted to be on the beach. But they ended up being wayyyy nicer, and we actually requested to stay up there an extra night. There was also a nice big field to play football on, heh. Basically they would have a free taxi pick us up in the morning and take us to breakfast, and then take us back up there at night after we were done partying on the beach.
The roasted pig
Mountain View Fales
Not a bad view
Dug a big hole/moat
We got to meet so many people from different countries, it was great. Including two Greek guys that were probably the most raunchy old men I’ve ever met – they really enjoyed having Jessika there, to say the least. They were hilarious though, life of the party. We also met 3 people from Minnesota-Duluth that were studying abroad in Wellington – Nate, Andrew, and Casey. We ended up becoming pretty good friends and they actually told us about the amazing river/waterfall hike we ended up going to on our last day in Samoa…which I’ll talk about more later.
Stan from Greece and Jess
Tas from Greece and Jess
David and Casey from Minn
Just about every other night at Taufua they had some kind of dancing, either fire dancing or the “Fiafia” dance…or even a dance to Grease lightning??
We definitely ended up being the typical loud, obnoxious, young Americans that listened to music and danced most of the time. I felt sorry for the other people staying there, but all of the staff was young too and liked to have a good time with us. Shout-out to Otele, Craig, Bruce, Limu, and the rest of the gang! It was a family-run business, so they were all cousins or somehow related which made it even more laid back and fun.
Me, Jeff, and…Nate from Minn on the left
Drummin on the beach
One day we were out on the road talking to Tony the taxi driver who randomly stopped by to talk plans with us and all of the sudden we see a car pulling over and heard “Hey guys, what’s up!?”. We had randomly found Ruben and Antonio, these two Portuguese kids that go to Otago with us. Ruben is Neil’s roomate, and Antonio is his best friend from back home. It was crazy and awesome to meet up with them. They had a rental car and ended up driving us around for the day. We tried to go to this place called To Sua Trench, but we made the wrong turn at first…luckily. The “wrong” road led down to this deserted beach that used to be home to a resort (sad to see all the Tsunami damage from 2009). It was an awesome little spot, felt like we were on some private island or something, absolutely nobody around. We found a tree to jump off of, then decided to try to find To Sua Trench again. We did, and it was just as good as it looked in pictures. It was a huge hole in the ground that you climb down a ladder to swim in.
Antonio and Ruben sighting
Our private beach
A little tree jumping
Deserted island feel
That night, the other 8 Otago kids we met in the Auckland airport showed up at Taufua and all of the staff wanted to play us in rugby. This was the one time where I was glad that I couldn’t participate in an activity because of my knee – the Americans got destroyed. All of the Samoans were massive and didn’t hold back at all, even on the girls that played haha.
The next day our boy Tony came and picked us up and drove us to the Piula Cave Pools (which was almost all the way back to Apia, so he essentially made the drive 4 times that day…dedication). To get to the pools we had to walk through the local college, it was kind of a weird setup. But nonetheless, the pools were really neat and had a good view of the ocean too. They were freshwater pools that went back into a cave and there were fish everywhere, you couldn’t really tell how many there truly were unless you put goggles on. Oh yeah…and there were freshwater eels too, pretty freaky.
On the ride there
Cool building on campus
Goes back into that cave
Most of the crew
After stopping at a fruit stand on the side of the road, Tony took us to the Falefa Falls on the way back to the beach.
More tsunami destruction…
This was our last night together with the Otago kids so we got pretty wild after the Fiafia dance (which means “good night” if I remember correctly).
The kid in the yellow shorts was the best little dancer I’ve ever seen
Jeff didn’t stand a chance
Sadly, we had to say goodbye to the wonderful people and place of Taufua the next morning. We left at 7am (with Tony again) to meet up with the Minnesotans at the River walk they had told us about. Apparently a Peace Corps person told them it was the coolest thing they’ve done the whole 5 years they’d been there so we had to check it out. The hike was run by this Samoan guy from New Zealand named Ollie living on his father’s land with his white wife, also from New Zealand.
They keep their business on the down low, no advertising or anything – they only relied on word of mouth, which I thought was pretty neat. They wanted to keep the experience pure and non-touristy. Boy did we enjoy ourselves. We started the hike directly from their backyard with Ollie, another Samoan that didn’t speak english, and their 4 dogs leading the way and protecting us from wild hogs…which we luckily didn’t encounter. I really can’t explain with words how amazing the hike was. It was probably half on land, half walking directly up the river. Came across probably 10 different waterfalls, all unique in their own way. And we got to jump off almost every single one of them after we climbed up them…including the big 50 ft one. Ollie was a really fun guy and showed us a great time. We ended up breaking the record for how many people jumped off the highest waterfall with 11 of us doing it…Jessika was the only one to back out. We could have had the all time record if she did because they only take 10 people at a time max (plus Ollie and the other Samoan). Again, I can’t say enough about the hike, it was definitely the coolest thing we did. Unfortunately because we swam and walked through water so much, I didn’t have the opportunity to take as many pics as I wanted.
Climbing up (reppin Texas!)
About to conquer the big waterfall
Me jumping off the big one
After we all did it…Jess wasn’t allowed in the pic hah
All of us and Ollie afterwards
Once we got back, we went on a little trek around the town we were in. Saw a random pig sitting in a puddle of water, some kids catching sea turtles in a stream, some crabs, and played football on a little island. When we got back, Ollie’s wife Jane had our fales all set up (complete with neon colored mosquito nets), so we took it easy until dinner was ready. We were pooped from the hike and walking around. Luckily she made the most delicious meal we had in Samoa. We had all been complaining about not getting to eat enough food while we were in Samoa but this made up for it. BBQ chicken, heaps of rice, asian noodles with chicken, breadfruit with coconut cream, and mango cinnamon muffins. I could only eat 1 plate, but Neil got around 4 if I remember correctly.
Matt caught one
Our football spot
Manly mosquito nets
The next day we caught an early bus to Apia (one of the ones we were wanting to ride) which was much cheaper than a taxi at 4.5 tala (~$2 a person). Since it was a Saturday, we went back to the market to buy gifts for people, etc. It was also the annual Teuila Festival (some kind of flower)…the biggest tourist attraction for Samoa apparently, but we had no idea it was happening. On a slightly similar note, we learned that they were taping Survivor: Samoa while we were there. We got some more meat pies, took advantage of our last chance at baking in the sun, and went snorkeling before heading back to the airport that night.
The market again
“Hey get a picture of me with my coconut milk”
Army band strolling down the street
Me and Jess sharing a coconut jam filled crepe…mmmm
Once we got to Christchurch at 7am, we had the entire day to kill before we got on our bus back to Dunedin at 4pm. We decided to walk around and see all the earthquake damage, which was actually way worse than I was imagining. Even 6 months after the quake, I would say that over half of downtown was completely shut off and/or abandoned. There were only like 4 places that we could find to eat at. Pretty sad to see. But we ended up eating at a place called Spag’s Pizza…delicious. I got some of my Texas spicy craving fulfilled with lava sauce and jalapenos on my pizza and spicy cajun fries on the side. Another funny story about eating here is that there was a guy wearing a “Hi, how are you?” shirt straight from the ATX…it was crazy.
Then we found a huuuge park that was essentially empty. We all took naps in the sun before playing….football again.
David looking like a hobo
Can’t really see, but someone had a sick remote control plane
We got word that while we were on the bus back to Dunedin, there was an small earthquake in Christchurch…scary but would have been cool to feel. Similarly, 2 days after we got back there was a tsunami and earthquake warning on Lalomanu Beach in Samoa. Our friends from Otago were still there and had to get evacuated…talk about some good luck on our side.
Now, onto the Rugby World Cup. It started on Thursday when the All Blacks played Tonga…it wasn’t very fair. The All Blacks killed them 41-10, but it was an entertaining game to watch, maybe just because we were at a bar ha. The atmosphere in Dunedin is awesome though due to the new stadium being about 1 mile from downtown, lots of excitement and rowdy fans. The main street here, George St., was partly blocked off this weekend. Neil, David, and I went out to lunch and checked out all the festivities. The Argentinians get real wild. I don’t have any tickets for the world cup yet, but now I’m planning on trying to find some. I just can’t miss out.
People on stilts, people in mirror suits, etc.
A couple days ago we went to the Moana Pools, which is kind of like a mini indoor waterpark. On the walk over there I was telling Neil about Schlitterbaun…I think I successfully talked him into making a visit to Austin with it. Anyways we got there and it was a lot of fun – slides, wave pool, lazy river, high dives, inflatable obstacle course, etc. And speaking of Argentinians, we saw the entire Argentinian Rugby team at the pools. They were massive, but looked just like us splashing around and having a great time.
And that pretty much brings the blog back up to date. This weekend we’re planning on going to the Milford Sound, home to arguably the best hike in the world (Milford Track). You should check out pictures, it looks amazing.
Finally, some more phrases I’ve noticed:
palagi – Samoan word for white person/foreigner
malo – Samoan word for hello
lava lava – Samoan man skirt
kava – Samoan root that people drink to get intoxicated. apparently makes your entire mouth numb, but we didn’t get to try it
good on ya – good for you