What a delightful world to itself! It is less traveled for cruisers compared to other islands to the south. Weather dictates timing, direction or comfort: you don’t often get all three at once. And as our wise cruising consultant Jamie has said (now quite frequently), ‘it gets more complicated as you go west’.
All that to indicate what guided us to the marvelous islands of American Samoa and Samoa. Getting into their system through the proper authorities can be sketch only because they are set up primarily for commercial vessels. The infrastructure for yachties is just not there, especially since the devastating tsunami in 2009. So even as you want to assist another vessel – caution -- they take their jobs very seriously. It is lovely to see six large Samoans on the dock ready to assist, then some of them come on board and some of them cannot fit through the bimini structure.
So, on shore, now to explore! The buses reminded me of old Mexico. They are two sizes, privately owned. Each of them have personalized paint jobs and custom fabric dashes and sound systems that noodle your body with the bass. A dollar gets you as far as the bus will go and they make personal stops for locals. Island time…always island time. What pervades all experiences is light and lively laughter. Samoans are always smiling and greeting others and usually the exchange turns into some joking and laughter. The laughter is contagious so there is a levity about the whole place. I don’t know how else to describe it. Effervescent.
To the top! Our fearless cruiser compatriots Brian (SV Pawsitive Latitude) along with Fred and Judy (SV Pit Pony) joined us on the epic hike to the top of Mount Aluvu. Honestly, what made it ‘epic’ was the fact we had to hike up to the start of the hike. Plus-10 percent grade maybe? I could get ‘well actually’ed but honestly it was an effort! And when Judy piped up in the last half-mile and said ‘mind if I just jog the rest of this bit?’… ah, crikey! She did that again at the end of the hike! She underscored the monohull legs myth!
The defining experience was meeting Lupe and Dan. After our port check-in they were nearby and introduced themselves, offering us assistance in any way. Recently retired they moved back to her ancestral land to build a home. Hoping to make it a home base, their real desire is to become cruisers themselves. I invited them on board despite the awful state of things after a windy whiplash approach the night before. I figured they should see the complete picture. Lupe and Dan were gracious and said they would really like to see the catamaran tied up behind us, but they couldn’t afford one like that (we all laughed).
The beginning of friendship starts in a variety of ways. We went to church with them on Sunday and that flowed into a day of lunch then touring the island in the ultimate convertible :: the back of their pick up truck. Sunshine and smiles all around. We circled around again for a few other activities along with Brian, SV Pawsitive Latitude, including Tisa’s traditional Samoan feast cooked in an umu and Lupe’s family feast at their home. Lupe’s sisters-in-law and nieces shared their talent and joy of traditional dance and song. In the embrace of this laughing, loving family it was truly a night to cherish.
So out of this friendship, our Samoan friends began making the cruising dream a reality. Brian was looking for crew for his passage to Tonga :: I piped up that Lupe and Dan should join him. Yes, I did! And so they did!! Between them, it was a course of conversations and evaluations and then a ‘just do it’ decision. We buddy boated to Western Samoa first as that was what weather window permitted. In sight of one another for that overnight passage, we got anchored and processed in so that we could share some fun in Samoa. First order was the Cultural Center. We were welcomed to traditional singing, pareu painting, preparations for the umu feast, wood carving and dance. Kava was served. The city market was four times bigger than Pago Pago. What a treat for the senses.
Western Samoa has much more land whereas American Samoa is quite vertical: sea, reef, beach, jungle rock. So, while Lupe and Dan visited her sister on another island, Brian Mike and I toured in a rental car all over the main island. Intriguing coastlines, coconut and banana plantations, taro plantations and cattle ranches. Most of the land is privately owned so when there is a natural wonder (think salt water sinkholes, spectacular waterfalls, oceanside blowholes or caverns, giant clams) any access granted is by the generosity of the locals. We enjoyed the hospitality of some very fortunate families!
When the weather window permitted passage, our paths diverged. SV Pawsitive Latitude headed south to Tonga and we went directly to Savusavu, Fiji. It was important to get to Fiji in time to meet Channing and Sarah for their cruising holiday … with us!