From extremely hospitable locals to corrupted ****

As we did not get to do much the day before due to bad weather and that most places were closed, we planned to visit a waterfall before catching the ferry back to Upolu at 2pm. We drove all the way back to a waterfall. A distance that seemed short on the map took us quite long as we obeyed the speed limit (most of the time). However, we saw the police themselves driving much faster than we did multiple times, and no, they were not chasing bad guys. Before entering the waterfall we had to pay fees, 5Tala per person to the local village chief, the regular process here. There were young girls, resized_IMG_2398_edmaybe between 8 to 10 years old collecting fees this time. We wonder why they were there on a regular Monday and not in school instead, but they could not speak English so we did not find out. The waterfall was, how should we put it, cute. There was lots of water as it rained a lot. But it wasn’t spectacular so we did not spend a lot of time there. After killing some time we were back at the wharf. We met the Swiss family whom were our neighbors at Va-i-Moana Resort on the same ferry again. Small world it is! We drove on the southern highway after arriving at Upolu. The first hour we were on the road very leisurely, not even looking for a place to stay as we thought there must be more options later and the island is even small than Savai’I anyway. As we drove further, we got a bit nervous. One resort that we stopped and enquired was closed. The other was too expensive. The other was closed to look for new management…resized_IMG_2451_ed hmm… is our car big enough to sleep in? Due to the strong rain some parts of the main road were also flooded by rivers so one time we had to disembark and check depth by walking though the water etc. As we were at edge of giving up, we tried our luck at a local village again (there was a dated signboard on the main road). Hooray! We did not have to sleep in car! It was a family of 7 who was running the place. We were the only guests…probably for some time already. The whole family got so busy after we “checked in” – the mother and kids cleaned our fale, then the mom drove away to get us mozzie coils and buy food for dinner which she later cooked and her children served…they also let us try Samoan Koko (a caffeine intense cacao drink) which we did not really like. In the evening the whole family sat in their living room on the floor resized_IMG_2404_edwatching some shows in front of a tiny small tv. The Homestay Mom and kids had to leave for Apia early morning so they made us breakfast and put it in our room. When we got up we had the whole place to ourselves. Numerous dogs waited in front of our fale hardly letting us getting to the toilet and watching that we didn’t do anything wrong. Breakfast was Samoan pancakes and fruit platter. We did not enjoy the pancakes so much so the dogs got lucky.

The weather still did not clear up unfortunately. We continued our journey eastwards and skipped a few sights on the way due to the bad weather. One of the most visited places in Samoa has to be the To Sua Ocean Trench (A huge, 30m deep swimming hole where salt and river water meets). At first we thought it was not so spectacular that we did not even know if we should change into our bathing suits and swim. Luckily we resized_IMG_2519_eddid! It turned out to be an amazing experience. The currents were strong, one minute you are pulled and the next minute you are pushed back. If you just lay back and let yourself float, you will be swaying in the water. You could also clearly feel the warm ocean water and the cool fresh water coming together in this natural pool. Roman performed some of his most elegant jumps…

Lalomanu Beach is our next stop. Voted as one of the top 10 beach destinations, we just had to visit this place although a tsunami in 2009 destroyed quite a bit of this region and its coral reefs. We had a longer stop at one of the few local shops asking for food. resized_IMG_2549_edThe lady at the shop cooked lunch for us (she took about one hour) while we had long conversations about life with her husband. We got two huge portions that could feed a family for 10 tala (3 USD). Later we made it to Lalomanu. The beach was of very nice fine sand but rather short and small. Unfortunately it was still overcast and not sunny at all. We checked in at one of the beach fale resorts which was completely destroyed by the tsunami and entirely rebuilt (as we found out later were the former owners of this place together with the entire family killed during the disaster. What a sad story.) Our beach fale was directly on the beach of course, first row, resized_IMG_2557_edas the name suggests. So near to the ocean that you could hear the waves and winds all night long and during high tide the water reached the fale. Dinner was to be served at 7pm, but someone came knocking on the door at 6.40pm already. Everyone sat on a long table and shared the food. We met an Austrian couple at dinner and had a good long chat as they were in NZ too and were heading to Australia after Samoa. We also discussed about Swiss and Austrian big neighbor, Germany.

Spending time at Lalomanu Beach was great. It was, however, sad to hear how the reef was destroyed during the tsunami. We felt even more sorry for the villagers here who have lost many of their family members in the tsunami. We were told by a NZ lady who spends half a year in Samoa and half a year in NZ that when tsunami hit Samoa, the family running the Beach Fale got the foreign guests to safety first before their own family members. It was then too late for some of them. The reason why they built the Fales again was to provide jobs for the people (it must be devastating to lose your family members, home and a life’s work). The atmosphere at Taufua was really family-like with it’s beach being the best we have seen in Samoa so far. Too bad there is not enough time for us to stay longer, next time maybe!

As much as we admire the take-it-easy spirit in the South Pacific, we also realize that the people here are not so particular about certain things in life. We have seen a wardrobe that can’t be closed, toilet door with a big hole (maybe that the air stays resized_IMG_2572_edfresh?), curtains of different lengths, road suddenly narrowing because no one cuts the vegetation etc. But maybe it is exactly because of their “take it easy” that they are so happy. The Samoans are particularly friendly too. Driving on “highway” on Wednesday, we passed by a house that looked beautiful, with a well-maintained garden. We went to ask for permission to take photos. Besides allowing us to take photos, the house owners and his family also offered us “local products”. Emosi and his brother, Sesi (or sexy?) showed us his pineapple plant, plucked the pineapple, cut the pineapple and fed us. The friendliness did not stop there. He showed us his coconutresized_IMG_2573_ed tree, climbed the maybe twenty meter tall tree, peeled, cut and served the freshest coconut we have ever had. When we finished drinking the coconut water (we were really full at this point actually, having breakfast an hour ago), he opened the coconut and used a spoon to get the coconut flesh for us. YinRu showed the kids some photos on her camera (they have probably never seen something like that). The family was already starting to hint that we could have lunch together with them but we left them after some good time. The friendliness of the people is definitely one of the highlights in Samoa and this “family-introduction” one of the best things we have done.

The day continued to be pretty much a day experiencing friendliness of people and resized_IMG_2590_edvisiting of waterfall. The first waterfall we visited was about 50m in height and truly magnificent! The second waterfall was Falefa Waterfall about 25mins way from Apia. Roman bathed at this waterfall a bit and we had instant noodles at the store there. We checked in at a resort called Le Uaina after visiting the falls. We had a short snorkel in the afternoon. The water was very shallow but surprisingly there were many beautiful fishes! Lots of sea cucumbers, blue/red starfish, triggerfish, moray eels and lots more. There were only four of us checked in at the resort so it was very peaceful. We basically had the whole restaurant for ourselves to enjoy a candle light dinner. The breakfast next morning was also pretty good. After checking out we went to visit the Cave Pool which was exactly next to our resort so we even walked there. It was one of its kind: from the first appearance it did not look special at all, but as we swam further into the cave and looked back to where the sun was there were amazing blue underwater colors! The swim in the turquois water with many huge fish inside was quite refreshing. We had a good time chilling there before going to Apia.

Once you step into Apia you will realize that half the population of Samoa reside here (it feels like that). It is a lot busier than any other place in Samoa that we have been to. We had one whole day to explore Apia after putting up one night at Lynn’s Getaway. Ouresized_IMG_3160_edr first stop was the fish market. Where else could be a better place than that to get fresh fish? Some of the fish sold there are not the ones that we would ever eat, some species sold are even the kind of colorful reef fish we like to watch when diving or snorkeling. We also saw a small shark on display. Next to the fish market was the bus depot where you can see all colorfully painted buses which somehow reminds us of the buses in Cuba (not that we have been there, but you get the picture). It was such a lively place to experience Samoa: vendors selling all kinds of snack to bored customresized_IMG_3130_eders waiting for their bus, police standing/assisting traffic, motorcycles, cars honking, all at the same time with the traffic collapsing every now and then. We also went to the handicraft market and got ourselves some souvenirs. Slowly and steadily our souvenir collection from all around the world is growing. We just have to figure out how to transport them. Well, we will find a way.

Roman had been wanting to get a haircut in Samoa. When we saw one barber shop near the market, Mr. Adventurous decided it is time to get one. Some young Samoan resized_IMG_3143_edguys were sitting outside of the store and they became very excited when they saw Mr. Adventurous going to them. Without hesitating, they invited us to their store and Roman was seated. Using a sponge (to clean the hair away, don’t think about hygiene here) and a scissors/shaver, Mr. Big Samoa the Barber gave Roman a Samoan haircut confidently. Roman was pretty happy with the result, and he felt like a real Samoan instantly (the cutting though remains a bit weird in some places and was rather funny. Hopefully his hair will grow back again fast). We also had a stop at the Cultural Village at Apia and saw a foreigner getting a Samoan Tattoo done the tradition way with a blade and ink. We watched for 15minutes until it was even too painful for us to watch that we went away.

After spending a nice day at Apia, we returned the car to AA Rent A Car, and it was our worst experience ever. Upon returning the car, the staff checked the car and said we created a new crack on the front bumper (which we did not, and the damage made prior to our rent was even noted on the contract). Of course we did not accept this and told them they have even marked it on the contract. However they insisted it was our fault. They got a quotation from a garage (their own relative) which charges 805Tala to repair the crack. Thinking it is absurd, we went to the police station to get a report so that our insurance could pay us back. The police reckoned that the quote was too much but he could not do anything. He could also not write us an insurance report because there was no accident involved. You could imagine our frustration at this point, when realizing how corrupted and helpless you are in such a country when not even the police can protect you.

We went back to the car rental company thereafter and told them the quote is too high and that we do not accept the practice. Furthermore, we do not understand why there was no competitive quote allowed. We should have the right to choose a garage which charges a reasonable price. We wanted to ask the other garage for quotations, but the car rental company did not “allow” that. They said if the work of other garage is not “up to their standard” they will redo it again, and that of course, at our costs. When we said we do not accept their business practice, the manager began to threaten us by starting to call the immigration and stop us from leaving the country (he knew our flight was in a few hours) if we do not pay the bill immediately. Out of fear, we signed the bill of 805tala, 440tala of which is for labor of one person for one day (we asked the garage how much labour would be involved, and we know it is too much for Samoan standard). We left the place after that not wanting spend any extra minute there seeing the faces of these corrupted a**holes.

We have to say we left Samoa with heavy hearts after this incident with the car rental company. We have met so many lovely people who tried to make our Samoan visit memorable. Lynn at Lynn’s Getaway, for example was a great host. Not only was Lynn’s Getaway a nice place to stay, they are also great host and even allowed us to shower and rest there before our flight. Lynn heard of our encounter with the car rental company and told us we could have called her when we were at the car rental company. We of course did not think of bothering her, in fact we panicked that we could not think of anything. We just cannot accept the attitude of AA Rent A Car that we wrote an email to the Samoan government right when we arrive at Hawaii (to which they have yet to reply). What they did with threatening us was a crime. Whenever we think of our Samoan trip in the future, we will unfortunately link our memories with this unhappy incident too. We have also learnt a lesson from this incident to take photos of the car’s conditions whenever we rent one. Well, shit happens. We are hoping to relax (and only rent car from big players eg Avis/Hertz) in civilization a bit for the next three weeks, enjoying good food, sun, wind and beach. Aloha, Hawaii!


Only in Samoa

Remember the cute little Fijian airport with outdoor walkway we mentioned? We were going back to the same airport to fly off! The cute airport works on Fiji Time, a term that is just widely used but difficult to describe what it exactly means. It can mean taking delays with cool, chill out, or even earlier than scheduled time, like what happened with our flight. Our flight time to Samoa was changed to depart 40mins earlier, without notice. Luckily we were on time. The aircraft was also changed as well so Yin Ru missed this unique opportunity to fly with a 50 seats turboprop (no a jet aircraft but one with propellers). The flight time would hence be shorter than with propellers aircraft. The flight itself was short, smooth and quite scenic with views over south pacific islands and coral reefs. Inflight we sat next to a man about whom we found out later that he is a VIP in Samoa. We were impressed when he said his kids went overseas to study and he flew to three different countries in the past week. Samoans are rich in comparison to Fijians who can’t afford to fly, one would think. This man, after some research, turned out to be the son of the former prime minister of Samoa, and used to be the chairman of the National Bank of Samoa, Minister for this and that, and runs a consultant company now etc…Definitely no ordinary regular citizen.

Of all the flights we have had, this was the only one that arrived earlier than scheduled. We were prepared to wait 1.5hrs at the airport for our rental car but surprisingly, the staff from the rental company was there waiting for us already! We took our car for the next 8 days, an all-wheel driveresized_IMG_1911_ed Subaru Forester, and drove to hotel near the Wharf to get a ferry to Savai’i (one of the two main islands in Samoa) the next day. After a short drive though impressive villages, all very neatly maintained with colorful gardens in front, open living buildings and, most important, a beautiful church in the center of every village we were quite amazed about this place. Only in Samoa: Pigs, horses or chicken families crossing the main road (there is only one road on the entire island)…Speed limit of 45kmp in cities and 55 anywhere else….Phone and car number plates with a maximum of 5 digits. The main road is also the major walkway for all human (and not just the animals), parking for resized_IMG_2630_edcustomers and vendor place as well as playground for children. There were even waves from the open ocean flushing into the street during high tide an rivers flooding the road. Luckily we suspected that and booked a more solid, all-wheel drive car! That is the funny first impression we have of Samoa. We had our first fale experience (a fale is a traditional small wooden house, usually round shaped and built with local materials such as wood or palm tree leaves for the roof and classically open missing any walls). On our first evening in Samoa we had a cruel battle with a huge cockroach of 5cm. Solution to the cockroach problem: a mighty fast knockdown spray that saved YinRu’s sleep that night. Next day we got up early at 7am to, supposedly, catch the 10am ferry. At the ferry terminal we were told there wasn’t any 10am ferry (funny, the hotel and rental car company told us there would be). We got stand by tickets for 12pm. So we got up so early and now we had no idea what to do. resized_IMG_1887_edGood thing was that we had a car! So we wandered around, there was one road anyways so no worry of getting lost. We went to a “supermarket” (small store at a petrol station), bought some fruits on the street and came back to ferry terminal to wait. It was hot and humid but: Yaaay we got a 12pm ticket in the end. It was amazing how they managed to get the cars loaded in the boat. We were still queuing up and there were a few cars lining up behind us when we thought that the ferry is more than full but yeah, somehow the squeezed in more and more cars. We have never seen a ferry so fully packed that one could hardly cross and walk around, resized_IMG_1928_edsome people even being unable to leave their vehicles and staying in there for the ride. We arrived in Savai’i an hour later. One could practically not get lost: there’s only one loop road on the entire island which is about 40 times 70km “big”. We had some local lunch and drove to our fale for next two nights with a short stop in a village destroyed by a volcano eruption and the lava flooding about 100years ago. We sweated like never before, even at dinner at the beachfront we were both sweating. Samoa was just too hot and humid for us and: we have probably never experienced such severe mosquito plague. There were literally everywhere and very aggressive.

The resort served us funny breakfast with white toast and no jam available. But well, at least there were fruits. Pineapple on white toast wasn’t so bad. We paid a visit to the district hospital, a famous sight in Samoa. Ok it is not a sight. We just needed some medication to stop Roman’s diarrhea and abdominal pain since it didn’t ease of after more than 5 days and we ran out of supplies. Certainly running to the toilet 12+ a day isn’t very supportive to travel either. At the district hospital nurses are doctors, pharmacists, caregivers and resized_IMG_1971_edcleaners; all-in-one. After the hospital visit we did a loop drive at western tip of Savai’i through probably the most rural area of the country. Most people here still live on a subsistence economy: they do not follow any regular work to earn money but plant crops and have animals or hunt/fish to survive. Fishing is usually done by spear fishing and apnea diving (no oxygen supply, just a deep breath and down you go). They own very basic houses and live a truly simple life. We did a tree top canopy walk which resized_IMG_1963_edbasically walking on self-made ladders. It was funny because in Australia where we did a tree top walk too we saw signs everywhere that one should be careful, no more than 8people and other precautions on the ladders at one time. And here no one really cared and the walk, about 30 meters above ground, was secured by self-made natural plant fiber ropes. On the way back there was a probably 80 year old man who did not speak English and asked us to fetch him back to his home. We passed by some local fishermen fishing with spear, children playing next to the street without wearing clothes and endless bushland. It was a very hot day so when we got back at resort we jumped into ocean to have a bath. We were traveling on the other side of the world and it was such a coincident to have Swiss as neighbors! Time to practice some German for YinRu and exchange about travel experiences…

After two nights at Va-i-Moana we were hitting the road again – this time the South Coast Road aka Highway 55kmp speed limit. Samoa is not meant to be explored at 100km/h, the road conditions, the pigs/piglets/chickens/dogs on the road and kids justresized_IMG_2035_ed don’t allow to do that. The whole drive from one end to the other on this road would probably take 1.5 to 2 hours. Since we took our time to drive leisurely, stopped every now and then to take photos of the villages and visited the famous Alofa aga Blowhole, it took us almost 4hours. The villages we passed by were generally small and simple, sometimes you wonder if the houses would not fall apart if a storm hits the place. People were very friendly, children waving at you whenever you pass by. Though in some countries it is taboo to take photos of their houses (especially if it is not a mansion), in Samoa we found out that people are pretty ok with it.

The blowholes (lava tubes at the shore which, when waves at high tide hit the coast, resized_IMG_2060_edforce water to explode into huge fountains high in the air) where spectacular and is also one of the highlights or most visited spots in Samoa. As YinRu liked the blowhole in New Zealand a lot, she was looking forward to this one. As we turned into the gravel road that would lead us to the blowhole, an old man came to us and asked us if we were going to the blowhole. Naturally we said yes. He then hopped on to our car. Hmm alright we thought. As we have also given a local a lift before, we thought this time is the same. The funny old man’s name was Tofa, which means goodbye in Samoan. He repeated the word “Alofaaga” a few times and laughed. He also explained the word “Alofaaga” means “ever and forever” (his exact words). Tofa got out of the car and collected coconuts on the way to the blowhole. We arrived at the blowhole after a 5minute drive. WOW. How impressive it was! The water shot up high into sky, at least reaching the height of three storey-building. Tofa threw the coconuts that he had collected into the blowhole with the right timing, and boom, the coconuts resized_IMG_1980_edwere blasted high into the sky dozens of meters high! Tofa studied the waves and when the waves were big enough, he repeated the coconut-stunt a few times. When the “show” was over, he asked us for 30Tala. Ah-haa, we knew it was weird that he “volunteered” to throw us the show. Anyways we paid him 25Tala (although it was a lot for Samoan standard) because he was a really funny man and he probably had a whole family to feed. We would love to stay longer there to admire the magnificent blowhole but the scorching sun did not allow us to do so so we left the spot. We even provided pick-up and drop-off service for Tofa.

Samoans are religious and Sunday is Church Day- which means “Tote Hose” – no shops were open and some sights closed etc. We managed to reach our hotel at 2pm to get some food. Our room was a small basic room built on water, where one could watch huge fish swim whilst sitting on the balcony. The setting of the fale on the jungle’s edge at the water front with no clear walkways or any infrastructure was indeed special, resized_IMG_2425_edhowever the room was very dated and dirty. Well yeah, maybe that is the way to experience Samoan life. We would actually the room more when the weather is nice and you could sit on balcony admiring the fish, but too bad when we were there it practically rained the whole day and night. The rain was strong that we were worried our coconut leaved roof would not withstand and might collapse. Luckily it did not happen. The walk to the toilet in complete darkness over roots and mud while rain was pouring down was another unique experience.