We had no idea what to expect in Samoa, but we have thoroughly enjoyed being here and have stayed for nearly two weeks. Samoa has been full of surprises. There is nothing flash or sophisticated about Samoa. The people are proud of their culture and the way of life often referred to as “the Samoa Way” or Fa’a Samoa. There are plenty of helpful legends and ancestors but the culture is very much built around the family, community and church. Geography and culturally, this small nation is considered the heart of Polynesia. I am not sure we would really describe Samoa as a tropical paradise, rich in natural beauty and unique attractions as per the quide books (compared to French Polynesia) but it is certainly unique (to us) and we have really enjoyed the new experience. The people really make it – they are so welcoming, and smiley.
Our first surprise was the Apia Harbour. This is really quite built up and dominated by the Catholic Cathedral and huge government buildings. The officials have to be fetched and carried to the boat, wear skirts (known as lava lavas,) sometimes have man beads (our term) and flip flops! They were all delightful and we all happily flogged through the paperwork and repeated the information many times before heading to immigration and yet more paper. Our knowledge of rugby was found to be a little lacking – did you know there is a Rugby World Cup in Japan? We do now. These are big people and we can understand why they love and excel at rugby.
The town is busy but the buses really steal the show. Sadly we never had time to try one out, but they look very crowded and apparently the timetable is changeable! Julian was thrilled to find an excellent Indian restaurant – the first we have had for a very long time. We tried fish and chips at the fish market but sadly our fish turned out to be chicken – something got muddled somewhere, but we were intrigued to find that the benches for selling the fish in the morning convert to tables at lunchtime. We were warned in the guide books that Sunday is very much seen as a day of church and rest so we joined the locals and went to the Cathedral service in English. The singing was first rate – it is the first time I have heard the Lord’s Prayer in harmony, the sermon robust to say the least and the setting beautiful. There are churches of all denominations everywhere and they are still building more.
We had a great time at the culture event where we learnt useful things such as making fire from rubbing two bits of wood together. This is really quite hard work. We made plates from banana leaves. I am not sure our plates were up to much but we have frequently seen locals using banana leaf baskets for carrying fruit and coconut. We learnt how to tackle a coconut. We had a great lunch from a traditional earth oven – a Uma. It is the first time we have had bread fruit and taro that has tasted good. This cooking technique is still widely practiced particularly for Sunday lunch after church. We learnt about tattoos – these are extensive. And finally we had a great display of singing and dancing – Strictly has some serious competition.
There are two main islands in Samoa – Upolu and Savai’i. Cruising the Islands is not particularly easy so we decided to leave the boat in Upolu and have a four day cycling trip on Savai’i. This was a wonderful experience and really allowed us to see community living, the agriculture, sleep in the beach huts or fales, see some somewhat dubious attractions and have some great exercise. Given the heat we were not completely mad and had a support van and excellent guide/driver Uilau.
Many of the gardens are mostly growing our house plants!
We loved seeing the mixed perennial fruit and vegetables growing in the fragile volcanic soils.
Comfortable in the little beach fales although they were basic. Julian reading The Times on his iPad!
Finally we went to a Fire Knife show. This was a great evening with Samoan food on banana leaf plates followed by dancing.