Saturday, June 30, 2007

Samoa Tourist Style Part 2 -- Upolu Island

I spent my last night ever on Savai'i with my friends R&J who are volunteers in a village near mine and the gal who made the Savai'i tour with me. The next morning I caught the ferry back to Upolu, grabbed a bus (I love those old wooden buses - talk about cultural integration!) and headed for Apia to check in with PC and rent a car for the rest of my trip. This time at least the car was in decent shape, at least until I got through with it. More on that later.

My plan was to circumnavigate the island taking in all the touristy things on the way but I had already seen a lot of Upolu since we trained there so I decided to skip a portion of the trip and go directly to Vaie'e to see my training family and bid them goodbye. I did stop long enough to get a photo of this great waterfall that you can see from a viewpoint along the Cross-Island Road. There are many many waterfalls in Samoa crashing down off the lava peaks into the valleys below but this is one of my favorites.

I arrived in Vaie'e mid-afternoon and the family was waiting for me. They were so happy to see me and so sad that it was because I was there to say goodbye. We talked and made plans for my stay. They do not have a car and I wanted to do something special for them so I told them we were all going to go to Togitotiga waterfall which is about 8 miles from their house. When I was in training they had showed me pictures of it and wished that we could all go there so now I was making that wish come true. It was the best way I knew how to thank them for everything they did for me while I was staying with them. We had an absolutely great time. Packed a picnic lunch and headed out. Mind you not everyone would fit in my car at one time so I made two trips there and two trips back but it was worth it. It is a two stage water fall with deep pools at the bottom of each section for swimming and lots of nice rock cliffs for jumping in if that was your desire. (Not mine!) M brought her adopted niece and we enjoyed playing in the water with her while the younger family members alternated between swimming, eating, and playing King-Of-The-Mountain on a big log that was laying off the bank down into the creek.

I stayed with the family for two nights and then said my goodbyes and headed out west along the southern coast of the island. The countryside is lush and green of course but pretty flat until you get close to Falelatai then there is a spur off one of the main mountains that reaches clear to the sea. The main road turns inland at this point and totally bypasses where I wanted to go but I had it all scoped out on a map and could see a "minor" road that would take me up and over the mountain and drop me right down into the village, so off I went. The first problem I ran into was finding the turnoff to get onto that road. I drove back and forth a couple of times before I was convinced that one of the side roads must be the right one. It was, but little did I know that this "road" would require me to cross a river without benefit of a bridge. I saw that, stopped, and was about to turn back since, at that point I still wasn't totally certain I was on the right track. However there was a group of Samoan men and some children parked there so I decided to ask them. They assured me it was the right road and also that my 4 wheel drive vehicle would have absolutely no problem with the level of the water in the river. They didn't think I would even need to put it in 4 wheel drive, but if I was afraid maybe I should turn back to the main road. WHAT! Me afraid! I think not! So I thanked them, put it in gear and eased into the water, thinking all the time that I was going to be sorry. It turned out to be a piece of cake. I might as well have been driving on dry land, but hey - how was I supposed to know? So on and upward I went.

I had made arrangements to stay with another volunteer on the northwest coast of the island and was not expected there until mid-afternoon so I decided to stop on the mountain in a shady spot along the road across from these flowers and read a book and relax for a while after my harrowing experience. There were virtually no houses but of course where I stopped there was one set back off the road and I looked in my rearview mirror and saw three kids standing in the road staring at my car. One took off towards the house and I decided it was time to move on - besides I sorta forgot that mosquitos are a 24 hour a day problem in Samoa and they had found me.

I arrived safely at my destination and spent a relaxing 2 days reading, and yakking with my friend then prepared to head on down the road back to Apia for my last week in Samoa. Now, remember I told you I'd talk about the car later? Well, this is the time. As I was backing out of her host family's driveway I backed right into the gatepost and busted out the tail light. Fortunately I had overcome my tightwad personality and purchased the "collision" insurance when I rented the car so I just had to decide whether I wanted to blame it on someone else or fess-up that I am just stupid. Hmmm. I asked my friend if it might look like someone had hit me and she said "Sure, absolutely". Now mind you I would never have considered this option if I thought I was going to get someone in trouble, but #1. Samoans don't buy insurance. #2. Traffic accidents are never reported or investigated unless someone is seriously injured. #3. Because of #1 and #2, Samoans won't even bother to stop if they hit someone because it's going to cost them money and they won't get in trouble for not filing a report.

Well, the devil made me do it. I turned the car in at the rental agency with a sad story about being clipped by a car behind me that was turning right. They said okay, you're covered, and then they gave me back my deposit and I left feeling somewhat guilty but not enough to cough up the $700 USD it would have cost to fix it.

The rest of my time before departure was one of just enjoying being a tourist. I rented a room in a bed and breakfast hotel right across the street from the ocean for four nights where I made friends with a couple from Denmark who have been volunteering as teachers in Malawi for the last couple of years (not PC). We had some good discussions about volunteerism in general and PC vs. private. One night a bunch of us who were staying there ordered pizza delivered and had a great time pretending we were home.

The hotel put on a little demonstration each afternoon for their tourist guests which ranged from learning to siva (samoan dance) to how to husk, crack, and grate a coconut to make coconut cream which they then served with boiled bananas (have I mentioned how much I hate boiled green bananas?) It was fun to pretend I didn't know anything about this stuff.

One afternoon I got a front row seat as one of the fautasi boat teams prepared to practice for the upcoming Independence Day races. These boats hold 48 rowers seated two abreast, and one man who usually stands and tells them what to do. It was a kick, because after first starting to load the boat they waited 30 minutes for the 1/3rd of the team that wasn't there yet. Finally they snagged a couple of neighborhood kids to man some oars and set out for a practice run. About 15 minutes later they came back and picked up some more guys, but still didn't have a full complement. Eventually they did manage to get most of the team in the boat and the kids back on shore and then rowed off into the gathering rainclouds and around the Palolo Deep point where I couldn't see them any more.

One day when I was walking to the Peace Corps office I decided I should probably get a picture of Apia Harbor because it really is a pretty sight and the only other pictures I have are from downtown looking out towards the sea. So I took a few shots and stitched a couple together and this is the result.

Friday night before my departure friends from my training group all got together and took me out for a farewell dinner at one of the nicer spots in town and since my "brother" La from my training village family is going with one of them he came too. I was glad to get another chance to say goodbye to him plus he brought me this really neat t-shirt as a gift from his family. I was disappointed that my friends R&J from Savai'i couldn't be there too but they had family visiting from the States and couldn't make it.

After spending all day Monday in the PC office, collecting all manner of paperwork and getting stuck for bloodwork one more time I headed out to the airport at 9:30 at night arrived at the ticket counter with my itinerary in hand, assuming I had an e-ticket since that is all they had given me, only to find out NO-O I was supposed to have a paper ticket. I called one of the emergency PC numbers and said "Whas up?" Well, not exactly those words. They did some phoning around and found out my ticket was safely locked up in someone's desk! Yeah! Nice to know you are keeping it safe for me.

Mind you it takes 40 minutes to get from the office to the airport. It is now 11:00pm and my flight leaves at 12:45! My PC driver headed back to town to get it and I was absolutely convinced he'd never get back in time, but he made the round trip in 50 minutes! Good thing it was Samoa or he would have had one of the biggest speeding tickets of all time. He admitted to doing up to 100mph! Guess they really wanted to get rid of me.

Anyway I made it safe and sound, minus one of my suitcases which got derailed by the Transportation Security Administration inspection. It was delivered to the house via FedEx the next day so not too much of a problem.

So that's the end of this Grand Adventure, and it was a grand adventure. Would I do it again? Probably not. Certainly not for such a long period of time. But stand by! Who knows what the future may hold. Until next time, "Tofa soifua!."

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