Lava Fields and Blowholes

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Oceania » Samoa » Savai'i
August 8th 2018
Published: August 9th 2018
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Today we’ve booked a full day tour which will take us all the way around Savai’i. We‘re collected by our guide who introduces herself as Una, and she tells us that our driver’s name is “Naughty Asu”. We don’t ask why our driver’s name is Naughty Asu and just hope that it doesn’t have anything to do with the quality or speed of his driving.

We set off through some of the villages that we walked through yesterday. Una tells us that every family must have a fale at the front of its property to use to welcome and entertain visitors. This even applies to the more well off families who might also have a European style house behind their fale. She says that there is a very strong culture of village families helping each other, and they routinely ask each other for food or to borrow money. We’ve seen a lot of horses in the villages, which Una says are still used to transport people and produce, as well as doubling as near silent lawnmowers. The villages are very clean, which is doubtless due to the efforts of the many women we’ve seen diligently sweeping the grounds around their houses with straw brooms.

Our next door neighbour back in Melbourne uses his obscenely loud leaf blower three times a day, and is manically paranoid about privacy and security. I wonder how he’d go living here in the land of brooms and houses without walls. Maybe I should suggest to him that he comes here; permanently if possible.

I ask Una again about the crime rate, given the almost complete lack of security afforded by the open sided fales. She says that crime is a problem, but it is mostly associated with alcohol and the fighting that often comes with it. She says that unlike westerners, once Samoans start drinking they find it very difficult to stop. She confirms what we’d read previously that the village chiefs and the extended families of offenders play a key role in dealing with crime, in conjunction with the police. Penalties imposed by the chiefs can include fines paid in cash or as food. If an offender’s family is unable to pay a fine they are usually expelled from the village.

We stop outside a large swimming pool. Una tells us the long and violent Samoan legend behind the name of the pool, which concludes with the heroine getting the village chiefs to kill her apparently innocent friend while she is bathing in the local swimming hole. I suspect the story is supposed to have a moral, but it’s not all that obvious what it is, other than that we should all avoid getting on the wrong side of the heroines of Samoan legends. The pool is ominously called The Eye of the Bitch.

Una points out the extensive cacao plantations along our route, and tells us that cacao is one of Samoa’s key exports. My chocoholic wife seems to have developed an encyclopaedic knowledge of the world’s cacao industry. She says that Brazil is currently the world’s leading cacao producer, but local environmental factors are wreaking havoc on its crops, so she is delighted to hear that the world’s chocoholics now have another source of cacao that they can rely on. The plantations here don’t look all that big. If she’s going to have to rely on them to feed her habit I fear she may go into withdrawal.

We pass through a village with flags lining both sides of the road. Una says that these indicate an imminent family reunion. These are apparently large and very significant events in Samoa, and relatives come from far and wide to attend them, including from overseas.

Next stop is a canopy walkway near the village of Falealupouta. Issy requests a pit stop. A few minutes later Una and I hear a shriek and then watch on as Issy bolts out of the toilet she was using. I go to investigate and discover a large, hairy and very menacing looking spider camped on the porcelain near the top of the toilet bowl. Issy says that she only saw it when she went to leave. I think she may have just dodged something quite nasty, not to mention embarrassing. The three of us spend the next few minutes swapping spider stories and Issy and I then launch into a rendition of Slim Dusty’s "The Redback on the Toilet Seat". Una thinks that this is very funny.

The canopy walk is a flimsy rope bridge suspended between a steel structure and a very large tree. The bridge is about fifteen metres off the ground, and we climb another fifteen metres or so from there up some wooden steps around the tree to a platform perched in some tree forks high above the rest of the forest. The views from the top are excellent.

As we drive on we ask Una about her family. She says that she has six children, five of her own, and one adopted. She tells us the story behind her adopted daughter, who is ten years younger than her next youngest child. A woman in a village on Savai’i gave birth to a child as a result of an affair. Her husband didn’t want to have anything to do with either the child or its mother, and its mother’s family was destitute and unable to support it, so it was in danger of starving. Una’s husband is a policeman, and was called in to investigate. There didn’t seem to be too many options other than to try to adopt the baby out, and after several weeks of unsuccessful attempts to find some willing adoptive parents, he sheepishly rang Una one day to see if she might be prepared to take it on. She agreed, despite having five other children to support. Issy is close to tears as Una is telling this story.

We notice that Una has some traditional Samoan tattoos. Whilst tattoos are very common on Samoan men, they are much less common on the women. Una tells us that she got them so that she could participate in some of the traditional ceremonies that would otherwise have been closed to her. She says that the tattooing process was excruciatingly painful.

Next stop is the Alofaaga blowholes, which are apparently generally regarded as Savai’i‘s premier attraction. The blowholes are on the island’s south coast, which seems to be significantly more rugged than the tranquil lagoons around our north coast resort. They have resulted from the sea undermining a wide rock shelf, and waves then forcing water up through small holes in the rocks. Asu throws some coconut husks into one of the holes and the next wave throws both the husks and a large water spout twenty or so metres into the air. These are way more spectacular than any blowholes I’ve ever seen before, and certainly deserving of their premier billing.

We drive on to the Afu Aau waterfalls which are a few hundred metres inland from the coast road. As seems to be the case with all attractions here, even ones that aren’t all that attractive, we need to pay a fee to the village to enter. Una says that the money collected is then supposed to be used by the village for the maintenance and improvement of the attraction. Some of the places we’ve been to today have looked to be totally deserted, but as soon as we‘ve tried to set foot in them, someone has magically appeared from nowhere to collect our money. Usually only one person is needed to collect the money, but the fale we need to pay at to enter the waterfalls is packed with men playing cards. Una mutters something under her breath about them wasting their time and not using the money the way it’s supposed to be used. The falls are pretty, and lots of people are swimming in the large pool beneath the main fall.

Una tells us that it is customary for Samoans to bury deceased family members in the front gardens of their properties. She says that the bigger the gravestone, the more beloved the family member was. Based on the large numbers of giant headstones and mausoleums we've seen as we’ve done our circuit of the island There must be a lot of very well loved people here. It does however seem to be just slightly brutal to be displaying to the world just how much or how little a dead person was loved by their family, after they’ve died, when it‘s too late for them to do anything about it. I guess we’ve only noticed the big graves because they’re the ones that stand out; I hope there aren’t too many small ones. We’ve also just realised that we haven’t seen any "for sale" signs in front of any properties since we arrived here. I’m not sure I’d be too keen on buying a property that had the mausoleums of a whole bunch of people that I didn’t know parked permanently on my front lawn, so maybe that’s the reason the real estate game isn't big here.

Una drops us off for a quick browse through the market in the main town of Salelologa, which is where the ferry berthed when we arrived. There doesn’t seem to be too much trading going on, and the main action is several large groups of men playing pool on half a dozen or so tables on one side of the market. Presumably they’re waiting for their womenfolk to finish whatever buying or selling they’re doing. I’m not entirely sure I’d want to be a woman here on Savai’i. Una tells us that she works twelve hours a day seven days a week, yet it’s a Wednesday today, and the only activities we’ve seen any blokes participating in in the past half hour or so are playing cards and shooting pool. I think that some of the men here in this part of Savai’i might need to lift their games.

We pull up behind another car at a traffic light. Una tells us that this is the one and only traffic light on the whole of Savai’i. We wait for it to turn green. We wait, and wait, and wait. Eventually the car in front of us gives up waiting and drives through; we follow suit. If this experience is anything to go by, I think that maybe they should hold off on putting in any more traffic lights in Savai'i for the time being. I'm not quite sure why anyone thought they needed this traffic light; there are hardly any cars here. Traffic rules here seem to be a bit of a lottery generally. Una says that the speed limits in Samoa are 60 kilometres per hour on the open road, and 40 kilometres per hour through villages, but these are obeyed by absolutely no one.

Next stop is the lava fields, which Una tells us, as we'd read previously, have resulted from a lava flow up to 100 metres deep from the eruption of nearby Mount Matavanu between 1905 and 1911. Fortunately the lava flowed very slowly, so no one was killed. We go into the ruins of a church. Only the walls remain, and the inside is partly filled with solidified lava. The church’s tin roof apparently melted during the lava flow, and we can see its corrugations imprinted in the rock. The lava patterns in and around the church are stunning. The vegetation has however come back very strongly and there are frangipani trees and other assorted plants sprouting up everywhere through cracks in the rock. We continue on to the Virgin’s Grave. This is a circular gap in the lava, which legend has it is where a chief’s teenage daughter was buried; she was apparently so pure that the lava flowed around her grave.

Last stop is a large turtle sanctuary near the resort, where the turtles come up to the edges of the ponds to be fed. They are very tame and cute.

Additional photos below
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Church ruins, lava fieldsChurch ruins, lava fields
Church ruins, lava fields

Note imprint of corrugated tin roof in the foreground

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