Published: September 23rd 2012September 16th 2012
Monday 10th September – Auckland to Apia, Samoa
The 3 ½ hour flight from Auckland was ok… I didn’t have movies but there were plenty of TV shows so I watched ‘Mike and Molly’ and ‘Smash’ which I’m now addicted to. I was completely engrossed and only took a break to order a bagel and some wine by using the touch screen and swiping my credit card. Then the nice old chap sat next to me started chatting… for quite a while... over an hour. He was nice and I didn’t mind chatting but I wanted to get back to ‘Smash’! I only got half way through the second episode before the screens turned off. We had a bit of turbulence but I’m proud I managed to get through the flight without any medication… just a nice glass of wine.
It was dark when we arrived and could just see a scattering of lights out of the window which meant there was land down there! As soon as we landed we could feel and smell the humidity of tropical air… and when we walked off the plane and onto the tarmac it hit us but there was a nice breeze. Immigration and Customs was quiet and as soon as I walked out into Arrivals I saw a sign with my name on for my hotel, the Tanoa Tusitala. They were waiting for some more people so I went in search of a Samoan SIM card but came back empty handed. It was a 30 minute drive to the airport and although it was dark it was nice… typically tropical with dimly lit streetlights and the men walking along with their shirts off. The houses looked very open and there were big open meetings buildings, many of them full of people. The street-side stands seemed to sell everything and anything and we passed some nice looking churches. We arrived at the hotel and were welcomed warmly… and they were happy to change my ground floor room to a 1st
floor room (on account of my fear of tsunamis…). The room was lovely; very spacious with nice air con and a TV (dodgy channels but I did find The Blind Side to watch). I got settled in to watch the movie and felt very happy J I managed to sleep ok… was on and off though… thought I’d been asleep for ages and would then wake up to find it’d only been an hour or so. There was some noise outside but it was comforting.
Tuesday 11th September – Apia, Samoa
I got myself up and dressed early and went for breakfast, which it’d been nice to find was included in my room rate. I had some scrambled eggs, beans, bacon and potatoes. Then I went for a walk into town to buy my SIM card. The hotel told me it was only 5 minutes away but I could get a taxi on account of the heat… I thought “I’m no wimp” so I went. The hotel is opposite the main road along on the harbour, so I could see the choppy sea in the distance. I didn’t go over though, stayed focused on the task in hand (it was too hot not to!). I walked past the bus station, with its rows of brightly coloured buses (some open with no glass in the windows) and eventually made it into some sort of town. I was a bit confused by the map so I didn’t really know where I was. I stumbled across an outdoor Digicel stand and they set me up. It was 10 Samoan Tala for a SIM (about £2.50) and that included 11 Tala credit (it was 20c to send texts internationally, good deal). I walked a bit further to take some pictures and then headed back, past the massive newly built government building… kindly paid for by the Chinese. I was going to go into the Flea Market but was actually too hot and didn’t have a hat so I got some water and snacks and went back to my room for a rest under the air con. I settled by the pool for the afternoon, it wasn’t busy so was nice and peaceful. I read and had a swim and then felt a REALLY bad migraine coming so sat in the shade waiting for my lunch. The service was so slow… (I guess I’m on island time!) and I felt so poorly, just needed a tablet and bed. I got my drink and toastie after almost an hour, gobbled it down then went to bed where I stayed for 2 ½ hours! I got up to walk to the hotel shop and back, then ordered room service. It was then that I noticed the ants… they were all over something in the corner which would have been ok… but then I saw they were all over the floor AND my bed. So when the man came with my Caesar Salad I told him and he sent housekeeping back who changed my bed and cleared it all out. I was still finding them hours later! I slept on and off again after watching Moneyball.
Wednesday 12th September – Apia, Samoa
I had a quiet day… got up, had breakfast, went to buy some more water and then headed back to the pool. I spent a nice day there with a few breaks to sit inside under the air con. In the evening I went along to the Guest Drinks as a note had been pushed under my door earlier… there weren’t many people there but it was quite nice. We got some free drinks (the local beer Vaalima is really nice) and had some nibbles. And I got a NAME BADGE! A big one saying ‘RACHEL’. A little embarrassing but I chatted to some nice people (Fran and her husband Merv… would have liked to talk to the guy that worked for AusAid but didn’t get round to it). I learned some interesting facts… Samoa’s population is 186000, there’s a lot of unemployment and poverty and many people give what they do have to the Church. I sat in the bar and had some Thai Fish Cakes whilst reading my book, listening to the great local band and giggling to a Facebook chat between Heather and Jenny back in New Zealand… I must have looked like a right plonker. In the end I decided I was a bit tipsy so took myself back to my room hoping there would be another decent film on… there wasn’t. There was lots of random Samoan TV which includes public announcements (e.g. birthdays). I tried to look up TV listings but they don’t seem to be online.
Thursday 13th September – Apia, Samoa
It was really hot today and it took me a while to get up and out. I had some breakfast and then had my free foot treatment at the Spa. The Samoan girl was so lovely so I had a back massage too (to help the migraines!) and it was brilliant, one of the best massages I’ve had. It was nice to listen to actual tropical birds tweeting outside rather than just a recording of some. I walked over to the harbour wall and sat for a while in the breeze… not such a great idea as the massage oil attracted the sun and I got a little burnt. I did another water run and then sat by the pool. Fran and Merv had a chat to tell me about the car rental deal they got from Budget so I rang and booked for Saturday, I needed to see some more of the island. I headed down to the bar for happy hour and the chef saw my sunburn (I actually didn’t think it was that bad) and said he’d sort me out with some leaves… so he sent the barman off to pick some which they then heated up on the grill. Fran and Merv invited me to join them for dinner and I was glad because when the chef came back he shoved the leaves down my top. It was embarrassing enough but would have been worse if I was sat on my own. I headed back to my room (I HAD TO STUDY!) and was quite bored… I don’t mind being on my own but wouldn’t have minded an evening in the bar. I was saving it for the next two nights when there was a band on. The TV was a bit dodgy again… missed Maffy when an advert came on for NZ Corned Beef… with an instrumental version of Greenday ‘Time Of Your Life’. And that was followed by a DHL advert with ‘Ain’t No Mountain High Enough’. It’s not what you need when you’re feeling a bit lonely! And then…. Friends came on! It was just what I needed. The first episode was followed by the DVD menu screen (i.e. showing the Season 1 Disc 1 Episode options) but hey ho! The night’s film was ‘Pelham 123’.
Friday 14th September – Apia, Samoa
I had a REALLY good sleep, only woke up a couple of times. I woke up to rain which was a nice sound but disappointing as sunshine would have been nice but an enforced stay inside might be quite nice. So after breakfast I sat in the room studying and watching ‘We Are Marshall’. It brightened up in the afternoon so I headed outside for a swim and a sit by the pool. Fran and Merv came back from their drive out and didn’t fill me with much confidence… there are apparently no signposts and some of the roads are a bit dodgy! It got chilly quite early so I packed back in the room and spent a pleasant couple of hours in the bar. I had some Happy Hour wines and some of the buffet BBQ which was delicious. A few people chatted to me and I had so many ‘Are you on holiday?’… ‘On your own?’ and then ‘Good for you’ with a sympathetic smile. Is it really that odd that I’m here on my own? Everyone else seems to mind more than me! A nice old guy invited me to join him and his friends… it was nice to chat but I’d have rather read my book so went back to my room early. Tonights TV was… the USA Voice. I’d have preferred a film. A film did some on later… it was a Hugh Jackman and Evangeline Lily one about Robot’s… I was too tired to watch it by the time it came on. I had a really on and off sleep, not happy! The noisy geckos outside kept me company.
Saturday 15th September – Upolu, Samoa
I was up bright and early to check out and pick up my hire car. My flight to Fiji was at 5.35am the next morning and from what other people had told me about their departure times I expected to be leaving at about 1am. But… when I check out I was told it’d be 3am! What was I going to do for all that time?! It’s not like the bar is the liveliest place! Anyway, I checked out, stored my bags and after breakfast headed into Apia to pick up my hire car, I had to wait in there for ages (island time!) but they eventually sorted me out with the nice little automatic… at least it was right hand drive (most are left hand drive because Samoa only recently switched to driving on the left side of the road to match NZ and Australia). (They also recently changed time zones, moving themselves the other side of the International Date Line which means they’re now first to see the new day not the last). Anyway, I headed out of Apia across the Cross Island Road. Merv and Fran told me it wasn’t very well signposted and it wasn’t… it was a lucky guess really after clocking the location of the Police Station which was on the map, good job my map reading skills are good! The road was good… it was typical South Pacific landscape…all lush green scenery and windy roads. The road took me over the hills which were covered in big thick greenery and a cloud of mist. I stopped at the first highlight… Papapapaitai Falls. It was a lookout from the road across a wide valley with a thin tall waterfall flowing the other side. It was quite nice. I carried on and as I passed over the biggest hill was rewarded with a view out over the sea in the distance. It was a beautiful blue colour. The road was lined with Coconut Trees and little stalls set up to sell them… I did consider buying a coconut but then what was I going to do with it?! I just kept driving, stopping every now and then to take photos from the car. It was too hot to get out for long. I reached the other side of the island and got a bit confused because the roads didn’t make sense from the maps… I took another chance and ended up going the right way… passing through pretty little coastal villages. The houses are quite distinctive and all the villages have big open meeting areas, under cover with stone pillars. A lot of the houses seemed to have them built into their houses. The really distinctive thing about the Samoan countryside was the leaves… they don’t so much plant their gardens with flowers as with different brightly coloured leaves. Some were purple, some pink and some lime green. It was such a pleasant drive and there were plenty of people about on a sunny Saturday, many carrying heavy loads. I hit the coast again and was looking for Seabreeze Resort… I’d drunk too much water and really needed a pee! I took a wrong turn and ended up on an unsealed road so after a nice drive around a remote village I headed back and found my way again. I shot past Seabreeze so had to turn around again for the steep drive down into the resort along the cliff edge. But it didn’t last for long as I was rewarded by arriving in the most beautiful little cove. A small beach with beachside holiday accommodation scattered around. I parked up and asked someone if I could stop and have a drink so they directed me to a restaurant perched out over the ocean. I chose a table looking out over the sea, quite brave for me. I knew I was in the area of Samoa that was affected by the 8.3 magnitude earthquake and devastating tsunami (with weaves reaching 14 metres) in 2009. It was such an idyllic place… I wasn’t really hungry but thought I should have something so ordered a salad and a coke. On the way back from the toilet a couple stopped me to chat… it turned out they were originally from Aylesbury and Hastings… now living in Wellington! They kindly invited me to join them and we had a lovely chat. It was really nice to hear some home accents and talk to some lovely people. I enjoyed my salad and sharing stories with them. They also took a photo for me… just for you Mum and Dad as there’s not many of me in Samoa! We said our byes and I took a few photos. I later learned that Seabreeze had been pretty much destroyed by the tsunami. The managers are still the same and were there when it happened. The earthquake in the early morning was so bad it knocked them off their feet and they knew immediately it was likely to trigger a tsunami. They managed to get their guests attention to tell them to run up the hill (the steep path I’d driven down). They didn’t have time to get out of their own house and were inside when the waves hit 10 minutes after the earthquake… they literally had to hang onto the ceiling beams. They watched the original restaurant floating away. There were no casualties at Seabreeze was safe but along the coast, where more than 189 people died. As you drive along you can see that they didn’t really have anywhere to go, the cliffs are only a 100 or so metres from the shore and too steep in most places to climb. I carried on driving and the remnants of the tsunamis impact are all around. There were many damaged buildings; some just had the ruined base left, other were a shell of buckled pillars. I drove through Lepa, one of the worst affected villages; only the village welcome sign and church remained after the waves struck.
The drive along the coast was beautiful; I just had to be careful of children, dogs, horses and pigs on the road (a family of pigs ran right in front of me). As I approached Lalomanu (a must see part of the coast) I saw more and more of the Beach Fales… open accommodation which is where most backpackers stay… they’re very cheap! I was too scared to stay in one because they’re open and right on the beach. At Lalomanu I parked up, got a drink and asked if I could take a walk on the beach (most of the beaches are owned by a local community so you have to ask permission… I chose somewhere obviously designed for tourists). I took a paddle, it was nice! I carried on along the coast and stopped for 2 young boys in the middle of the road, they got 2 Tala each out of me, about 50p. I headed back inland on the recommendation of the nice people I’d met at Seabreeze and passed through quiet communities. The schools were like in Uganda, long colourful buildings around a green. There were people playing Volleyball everywhere, seems very popular. I passed a really beautiful stretch of road that looked out over a lake but got a terrible picture! Up in the hills it felt quite remote and I kept hearing this strange buzzing sound… I panicked it was the car (just what I needed in the middle of nowhere!) but when I opened the window it sounded like it was coming from the trees… must be a cicada type bug. Over the pass I got to Taelefaga lookout, apparently you could drive 2 minutes up the road for a better view but I was quite happy with what I had. It was over a deep leafy tree filled valley leading out to the sea. I thought I’d maybe gone the wrong way again but carried on and ended up back by the coast, passing through villages with lovely deep green rivers flowing through them. I was back on the north side of the island and the water wasn’t bright blue… it was more a very shiny deep green. It reminded me a little bit of Kapiti Coast… just because there were nice rocks sticking out like Chocolate Brownie. I spotted some surfers! They seemed pretty good but the waves weren’t massive, must be dangerous though as they break out on the reef. I arrived back in Apia and stopped to get a ‘city view’ but there doesn’t seem to one. I took a picture of Aggie Grey’s the famous hotel and then set about looking for petrol and a cement mixer (Dad, I’d been looking everywhere for one but I guess there don’t work Saturdays!). I got the petrol (half a tank was 70 Tala, about £20)… and after driving pretty much every road in Apia I ended up driving back past the hotel (phew, at least I knew where I was) and after turning around at a dead end I spotted a hand cement mixer in a garden! I drive back past a few times and after decided against using the long zoom in case anyone spotted me I went in to ask the builders if they minded me taking a photo. They were so nice! They said there is a company with trucks but that it’s Saturday… so sorry Dad, the one I’ve got will have to do. I pulled back into the hotel and packed up the car… leaving the key under the floor mat (bit like Guernsey!). In the hotel I sat by the pool until it got dark then moved up to the bar. The great band was playing again and I had some Happy Hour cocktails. The nice barman walked around to tell everyone there would be a show at 8pm…. It turned out to be him breaking into a coconut with his teeth! It was amazing! He took a few minutes to break through the shell then smashed it with his hand to split it into 2. I went back to my own table and before long a nice Canadian girl (bit tipsy) came over to ask me to join her table… she’d recruited a load of friends (the others were from Tuakau in New Zealand) and used to be a backpacker so wanted to include me… I joined them and had a nice chat and listened to the band… they played a lovely version of “Sweet Child of Mine”…. It was quite clear she’d had a few and also rounded up a nice Aussie girl and got her to join us… I had further Samoa embarrassing incidents. I was walked in on in the toilet… then back in the toilet I was getting changed and I was walked in on again, I’d made doubly sure I’d locked the door that time as well. The Canadian girl wanted us to go to a club… but to cut a long story short me and the Aussie girl went… simply because the Canadian went back to her room and passed out! We got a taxi to Y Not… the place to be apparently… we were told we’d be safe there as it’s where the expats go. We went in a disco taxi and it was nice but quiet and there no expats in sight. We still had a great time and met some nice locals… they’re so nice and friendly and regularly asked if we were ok. The band Oski were amazing. The bar closed at midnight, as everything does, so we were only there in an eye. We called up our disco taxi driver and he picked us up outside to take us back to the hotel. The hotel bar was all closed up but we got some ‘room service’ Vaalima and then the barman after asking me what time my flight was gave me a Samoan Coffee (which is actually rum & coke!). In the end the Aussie retired to bed and I went to sit in reception…. my 9 hours had turned into just 1! There was a lot going on in reception with people checking in so I sat people watching. We (me and 1 other guy) went to the airport in a nice big coach and it seemed to take ages; it was very dark but on the outskirts of Apia there were still a lot of people about. The airport was quiet so I checked in quickly and paid the 65 Tala departure tax then went to sit in the departure lounge. I was actually quite tipsy… so set about sobering myself up. There were a couple of snack bars open, enough to get some water and salt and vinegar crisps. I was a little nervous about the flight… as always! I wasn’t sure I could take tablets this time either, as had been drinking. We all got on the plane and it wasn’t full… I was typically in the only row that had people in all 3 seats, random considering some only had 1 person in the row. I was sat next to a really large guy who was also sat in half of my seat bless him, and a chap who talked to himself. As soon as we’d taken off I spotted 3 spare seat so moved to them for an hours sleep (the flight was only 2 hours) and tried to ignore any turbulence. And… before I knew it they were announcing our descent into Nadi… Fiji!
Miss you all.
Lots of love!
NOTE: I use these updates to capture my memories and share what I'm doing on my travels with friends, family and anyone who’s interested enough to read. The views are my own and I try my best to ensure any information I share is fair and accurate but I do sometimes get things wrong. I welcome any feedback so I can make improvements and corrections for future readers. Thank you.