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Asau, Savai'i
Western Samoa

September 26, 2004

It's Sunday morning and the Umu fires have left a thick layer of smoke on the glassy waters of Matautu Bay on Savai-i Island. This is our fifth Sunday in Samoa and they have all been windless and smoky. The Samoans all go to church Sunday morning then have a big family lunch, cooked in the Umu (hot stones and breadfruit leaves make a sort of oven). Church is the only permissible activity so everything is closed for the day. We have spent most of our time in Apia, partly because anchorages in Samoa are few and far between, mostly open bays with some reef protection, which can be rolly, and there is no place to go if the wind shifts. We had a few days at a bay 10 miles east of Apia and are now cruising the north coast of Savai'i Island.

From the ocean, you can see the lava field that dominates the north west corner of Savai'i. The eruption of 1905 to 1911 created this long black scar with bubbles and craters that reminded me of chocolate pudding. The lava falls into the sea in steep cliffs, with series of blowholes along the coast. As we were sailing along, suddenly one of the 'blowholes' erupted and a mother humpback whale with calf did a full breach and barrel roll. We had just landed a nice wahoo a while before, after losing one lure. Opus 4 followed us across a day later - we had caught three fish but Opus 4 had no luck.

Yesterday we took a 'round island' tour and our guide stopped at one place, which is rumoured to have the best blowholes in the world. At a quiet moment, our driver runs up, throws some coconuts into the hole and runs away again. Soon after the coconuts shoot out in a spout of water 90 meters high. He also stopped for us at Mauga village, built around the rim of one of the craters in the lava field. A game of Samoan Kirikiti (cricket, but played with a 3-sided bat) was taking place in the barren depression. At another spot on our tour, we had to wait to pass as the Kirikiti game sprawled onto the road, and even had fielders down on the beach, and occasionally in the water. We watched the game, a cross between cricket and cheer leading with rhythmic clapping after each play. Team uniforms consist of a lavalava (sarong) of the same color. Another stop was at a wetland with a pool of huge tame turtles, so we all got in and played with them.

Traffic, and our driver, had been leisurely all day, but things changed completely for 'rush hour' when the ferry came in from Upolu. Almost all the vehicles on the island were there, including the gaily painted busses (complete with hood ornaments, murals on the back, mudflaps with chrome emblems on them, all manner of cab decorations and music blaring). Once the ferry had disembarked, it was as if a flag had gone down and all vehicles raced up the road, passing each other on the long hill sometimes three abreast. It appears that nobody would dare come in the other direction at this time.

Samoa is a vibrantly colourful country. The villages are all well kept, and you always see women out weeding and sweeping the stone or grass compounds between the fales. Many of the fales are open, a roof on poles over a raised concrete floor. Some achieve a degree of privacy by erecting a picket fence between the poles or placing large wooden chairs between the poles. There is always a bright color scheme in effect, which is carried through to the chairs, fence, concrete base, and even a sort of frieze that decorates the inside of the roof (normally made from colourful fabric or tapa cloth). Many of the fales are two-toned, (red and purple, or yellow and blue are popular) with designs painted on the base and any other large surface. The road side and gardens around the fales are lush with flowers and colourful shrubs.

With us on our 'round island tour' were Paul and Joanne from Opus 4. We had all taken the same tour on Upolu Island from Apia when Rob's mom was visiting us. However, we were very disappointed with that tour, which seemed to be a tour of hotels, reminding us of a high pressure time share sales promotion. We did not stop at any villages during the entire day, and several of the advertised stops had been missed. Lunch was supposed to be in a village at a cost of $10, but instead we ended up at an up-market resort with nothing on the menu less than $30. We felt so strongly that the advertising had been misleading that we complained to the manager. He was most interested to hear our feedback, and offered us a free trip around Savai'i. We are very glad we accepted, as the Savai'i tour was just great.

One of the disappointing things about Samoa is what we now refer to as the ATM mentality. We first noticed this as 'tourists' in Europe, and particularly Bangkok, where the locals see tourists as a money machine - they ask us for money and we give it to them. Everything costs money in Samoa. Even to walk on the beach you will be charged $2. They are small amounts, usually, but the attitude is annoying. The stops on our tour yesterday cost a total of $42 per person in these small fees. At one cliff top lookout, there is a legend of a mother and daughter who jumped to their death. The sign says 'Lovers Leap $2' - I wondered if this was the price to jump.

However, it is possible to break through the tourist ATM mentality and get to know these very friendly and accommodating people. Everyone smiles and says hello as they pass by, and most are more than willing to help you (for free) in whatever way they can. Once again, I am grateful that my travels are not generally as a 'typical tourist' and that our way of life gives us the opportunity to occasionally be accepted by the real people.

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