Published: August 20th 2008August 20th 2008
I know you’ve all heard our exciting news by now, but I can’t write a Pacific-life blog and not include the story of a very Pacific engagement. I think we bombarded most of your inboxes with an account of the proposal already, but we omitted most of the rest of the wonderful trip to American Samoa, so I should add that in here.
It was a surprise anniversary trip that Ed had planned, and I was expecting to maybe end up on the ferry to Savaii (the other main island of Samoa), so when we suddenly turned into the airport I was completely stunned. Soon after we were peering out the windows of a tiny aeroplane looking down across Samoa, one of the most beautiful flights I’ve ever been on, with incredible views. American Samoa is only about 55 minutes away, so after a small stretch of ocean we were soon flying back over coral reefs, sparkling beaches and sheer mountains (American Samoa is much more mountainous than Samoa).
Ed had taken a gamble on a recommendation of a new guesthouse, which wasn’t on the web or in any guidebooks yet. So he was careful to say he wasn’t
quite sure what our accommodation would be like, but the gamble certainly paid off. The house was situated amongst neatly kept gardens right on the rocky coast, with waves pounding up against the rocks and shooting into the air. Our room was beautiful, with French doors opening out onto a balcony that looked across the garden to the waves. The next day we rented a car from our friendly hosts, Isabel and Dean, and set off to explore the southwest and west coasts.
American Samoa and Samoa (previously Western Samoa) started off as essentially the same country, with the same peoples and culture, before being split between the US and Germany then NZ. (AmSam is still a territory of the US, while Samoa is independent but still has strong links with NZ). American Samoa is a very odd place - just like Samoa on the surface, with similar scenery and vegetation, and similar-looking villages (although fewer fales). But go through town and there is a McDonalds, Pizza Hut and KFC all within a stone’s throw of each other, and while people drive big cars in Samoa, in American Samoa it’s beyond ridiculous - I’ve never seen so many monster
trucks. We stopped in at a supermarket in the morning to stock up for a picnic lunch, and even the supermarket was an odd combination of Samoa and America. Aisles loaded with tins of corned beef and huge sacks of rice (like Samoa), but also all sorts of American products that we used to see when we lived in the States - like the orange cheese, giant cartons of juice and just overly-processed food of all types (but on the plus side, Ben & Jerry’s!).
We got out of town and followed the coast road, winding past villages and around mountains. We stopped at a couple of beachside villages, and the people we met were so friendly and welcoming - didn’t stare us down for entering their land and didn’t charge us for it either, which made a nice change. It seems some of that American-style ‘have a nice day’ approach has seeped into the culture, which might seem a bit fake when I explain it like that but really it was quite pleasant. We eyed up one of these beaches as our picnic spot (and unbeknownst to me, the proposal spot), and launched out into the water with
our snorkels. Coming back in, we had a minor upset when I startled a stingray chilling out on the bottom and sent it shooting past us both out to sea (Ed was at this stage imagining a Steve Irwin-style disaster right before he was planning to propose). Standing in the shallows, Ed produced a coconut ring and proposed, I may or may not have squealed, and then the two of us bounced back down the beach to our picnic spot, to celebrate with a very fancy bottle of champagne Ed then produced from the backpack.
From there we decided to go and visit Fagatele Bay, an old volcano crater with one side blown out, and hiked down to the secluded spot after being threatened with being shot by the owner of the land the path is on (the only unfriendly people we met in American Samoa). We emerged from the trees at the bottom of the forest to see the crater open out in front of us, with waves surging onto a small wedge of sand below. Floating on our backs in the water, watching birds circle above and hearing the noises of the forest around the crater was
The next morning we farewelled Isabel and Dean and hopped on a bus to head into Pago Pago, the main town. Buses in AmSam are hilarious - old cars or trucks that have had the tops cut off and then been built up into a bus. We wound around the coast in the other direction this time, eventually pulling into Pago. Pago is situated around possibly the most amazing harbour in the world, with sheer cliffs rising out of the water, and the town perched in a winding strip along the edge. There’s a tuna cannery that is responsible for much of the country’s income on one side of the harbour, and apparently on a bad day the whole town smells of fish, but luckily this day wasn’t too bad - only while you were going right past the cannery. On some advice from a local in a café, we found a trail at one end of town disappearing up into the forest on the mountain, and hiked up to where there was an old gun installation. Then we trekked further along the ridgeline, before running out of time and heading back down into town.
that night was along the coast out the other side of town; ‘Tisa’s Barefoot Bar and Restaurant’. Squeezed between the road and the sand at Alega Beach was Tisa’s, a wonderful ramshackle deck with two small fales wedged in at one end. One was being rebuilt, so we were the only guests. Tisa was a friendly and feisty woman, a local personality, who was happy to sit and chat with us to pass the time, while her husband worked the bar and cooked us up a hearty dinner. The previous night we had managed to phone my family minus my Mum who was away for the weekend (working and without a phone), and also Ed’s family minus his Mum who was away too (on her way back from South America), so this night was time to try and reach the mums again. We managed to get through and experienced the excitement all over again with squealing mums on the end of the phone. The next day was our veg-out day, where we relaxed on the deck, read our books, and went for the odd swim, soaking up the beautiful surroundings.
Our last day arrived, and we hopped back on
From Rainmaker Pass after we huffed and puffed our way up
a bus into town. Leaving our bags at a shop at the bottom, we decided to hike up Rainmaker Pass - the road that passes over the mountain just beneath the highest peak. Well actually, to be honest we just wanted to catch a bus up for the view, but when no buses came after a while of waiting, we bit the bullet and started walking. The road was incredibly steep, and after a few blisters and sore quad muscles we made it to the top, to a phenomenal view back across Pago harbour. After taking it in for a while, we were grateful to have a ute stop and offer us a lift back down the hill. Back in town, we stopped in at Sadie’s for lunch - a famous local hotel named after its original owner, who has a story eerily similar to that of Aggie Grey and her hotel in Samoa (local women who provided a service to the soldiers passing through during the war).
Finally it was time to head to the airport, and after a misunderstanding with our bus driver and a trip along the scenic route and then backtracking for a while, we
were checked in and ready to go. We had both thoroughly enjoyed ourselves for our four days. AmSam gets a bit of a bad rap over here in Samoa - people say it’s culture-less, dirty, full of giant American chains and fat people and only good for shopping, but I like to think that it wasn’t just getting engaged that meant we had a great time. It has certainly taken on some of the less desirable elements of American culture, like all the teenagers flounce around in oversized basketball shirts and seem to think they’re gangsters or rappers or both, but the scenery was amazing and the people all so friendly (except for the guy that wanted to shoot us). I’d also like to avoid the trap of thinking everything American = bad; and while Samoans (and other palagis who’ve been) like to be critical of AmSam, Samoa itself is also changing and taking on elements of a more international culture, and also has its own problems with obesity and health and so on. Having spent so much time in Samoa, it was riveting to see another country that began with the same culture, and has kept a lot of
On our coastal drive
it yet also diverged down a slightly different path.
There are more photos below