On the 15th we finally headed out for Savai'i. Rosie and Dylan spent the night and we all left the house around 6:30 am. As we waited by the side of the road to hail a taxi van to take us all the the office, Dylan glanced at his watch, "You'll never make the 8 o'clock boat." Cale and I were in agreement with him, we expected to make the 10 am boat. Little did we know.
By the time we hailed a taxi from the office, it was after 7 am. Then we had the taxi driver stop at Daphne's, a restaurant that was for some strange reason filled to the brim with pool floaties and inflatable swimming pools. We bought a pool lounge for the beach. Next stop was the ATM for some cash. Then we finally left town and headed to the wharf.
We are making good time heading to the wharf and at a little after 7:30 Cale looks at me and says in surprise, "I think we might make the 8 o'clock boat." I make sure to say loudly that it doesn't matter if we take the 10 am boat, so the cabbie doesn't think we are putting any pressure on him. Ten minutes out the cabbie switches on his four-ways (which means get out the way, I am in a hurry. If you have a string of two or three cars all with their flashers on and horns blowing you know that one of them contains a person that needs to get to the hospital) and floors it. We make it to the wharf by 7:58 and Cale tips the driver an extra $10.
Of course we were unprepared to actually make the 8 am boat and hadn't taken our seasickness medicine an hour before travel. Instead we take it immediately before getting on the boat. However, Cale and I manage to sleep through the journey and Annette appeared none the worse for wear.
Once in Savai'i we rented a car so we could drive around the island and see some of the things mentioned in the travel guides. I drove the car. For the first time in over a year, I drove a car. (In Peace Corps Samoa, you can drive a rental car if you are on a pre-approved vacation day, which I was). It was very empowering.
First stop was the Tia Seu Ancient Mound (aka the Pulemelei Mound). According to the brochure produced by the Samoan Tourism Authority:
"This stone 'pyramid' is the largest ancient structure in Polynesia, and stands more than 12m tall."
And that is all the information the brochure has on it. I think that is more information than the guy who took our money to see it has on it. I plan on making a future post on my thoughts on the state of the tourism industry in Samoan, but it is sufficient to say that I was greatly disappointed in all the tourist attractions we saw on our drive around the island. Basically, the way tourism works here is a the family that owns the land that the thing is on sets up a faleo'o (according to the dictionary this means ordinary dwelling house, but in my experience it means smaller, round fale with thatched roofs and wooden floors) by the road or entrance to the thing. Then several men lay in the fale all day playing suipi (I know I mentioned this card game earlier). When a palagi shows up, they collect the fee from you ($5-$10 tala or so) and point. End of service, end of information.
So anyway, we go to this mound. We pay our fee. We drive down a long, rutted, unpaved track in the jungle. We park in the "car park" (slightly larger track in the jungle off to the side and in the mud). Then we walk up the indicated path. The path is uphill and rocky. As it turns out the mound is also uphill and rocky, so that as I am walking up the path, I look up and realize, "Oh, this is the mound."
The mound is completely surrounded by jungle and also completely covered by jungle, but you can kind of make out that it is a roughly square two-level pile of rocks. The bottom level is larger than the top level. When you get to the top you have a decent view of the ocean.
According to the Lonely Planet:
"This large pyramid, measuring 61m by 50m at its base and rising in two tiers to a height of more than 12m, is almost squarely oriented with the compass directions ... standing on top of it, you can see south all the way to the ocean in one direction, while in the opposite direction trees are wrapped in enormous vines and other jungle foliage ... Samoan oral traditions imply that all ancient Polynesian monuments were used for pigeon snaring. However, given its similarity to religious structures in Central America ... archaeologists have difficulty believing this. The complexity of its design and the effort expended in its construction leads them to believe that it may have had a religious purpose, perhaps even a strategic one considering the sight-line of the coast."
On our drive back to Apia on Friday, we were lucky enough to catch a ride with a Peace Corps driver who told Cale's mom that it might have been used for human sacrifice. We are all pretty sure that he was just messing with her.
After the mound, we went to see the Afu Aau Falls, which according to the brochure:
"...this dramatic jungle waterfall crashes from the rainforest into a deep natural swimming pool."
According to the Lonely Planet, your admission to the falls is also for the mound as well. However, we had to pay separately for each. Rumor has it there is a dispute between the family whose land one is on and the family the other is on. The guides make it seem like you need a 4WD to get to the falls, but they must have made a new, easy path when the divided the two attractions because it was very easy to get the the falls. In fact, too easy. Our waterfall hike in Faleaseela was so satisfying party because we did all the work to see the waterfalls. For this one, we just drove the car right up to the edge of the pool, got out and where like, "Yep, that's a waterfall."
Apparently, you can swim in the crystal-clear, cool pool at the base of the falls. However, we did not. On the other hand, I did break out the bar of anti-bacterial soap we bought and wash my tattoo, as I was still trying to wash and massage it every two or three hours if I could (which I couldn't).
After this we continued our journey west on the south side of the island. Annette was reacting to the seasickness medication and being attacked by what Cale is calling violent fits of sleep. She was incapable of keeping her eyes open no matter how hard she tried. She will later claim we drugged her and then dragged her around the island. We did, but not in a malicious way.
We stopped at a resort along the way for lunch where we were charged $15 tala for a can of tuna and three slices of cheese.
Next it was on to the Canopy Walk, which thanks to the incredibly unuseful map in the toursim brochure we got lost trying to find, twice. Eventually we looked at the map in the Lonely Planet, which was more helpful and we were successful in locating it. The Canopy Walk is located in the Falealupo Rainforest Preserve. Falealupo is the western-most village in Savai'i and therefore the western-most piece of land before the International Dateline. The people of Falealupo see the last sunset of the day, everyday.
Anyway, according to the brochure, the Preserve is:
"A low-lying tropical forest in the northwest, the preserve is a beautiful spot with a tree-top canopy walkway that weaves among giant banyan trees. There are breathtaking views towards the summits of Savai'i and walking trails for visitors to enjoy."
This is sort of a lie. Here is a more accurate description:
"A low-lying tropical forest in the northwest, the preserve is a spot with a tree covered in a haphazard wooden structure connected to a self-standing, slightly-leaning wooden structure only 5 meters away by a fishnet, aluminum ladder and wooden plank 'bridge' that is only occasionally open to the public due to safety concerns. There are views and rumors of walking trails."
According to the Lonely Planet, the Canopy Walk is a prime attraction and for an additional $50 tala per person you can spend the night on the platform up the banyon tree. They claim you will be given a mattress and mosquito nets and the fee includes breakfast and dinner. It was our original plan to spend the night in the tree (something Annette was initially very excited about but at this point too doped up and sleepy to care). However, when we asked the old men sitting aimlessly in the faleo'o out front (who collected our entrance fee) about it, they all seemed to have no idea what we were talking about and eventually, we gave up.
After the disappointing tree experience, we decided to make haste to Jane's, the beach fales in Manase where we would spend the rest of the week. Within five minutes of arriving at Jane's we were already in better spirits. We proceeded to spend the next four days (with the exception of the drive back to the wharf on Tuesday to return the rental car) lazing about on the beach, reading books, taking naps, collecting all the shells in the ocean (that was Annette) and generally having a good time doing nothing.
The food wasn't quite as good this time as the last time. They are trying to cook more palagi foods, but unfortunately are under the impression that palagi love Spam. I think we only had two meals that did not include Spam. Other palagi attempts included the burrito that was made of a crepe with beef stir-fry inside and the omelette pregnant with Spam.
Friday was the day of travel. We started our wait for a bus outside Jane's at 9:15 am thinking there might be one at 9:30 for the 12 pm boat. There wasn't. So we waited until about 11:30 am. We arrived in town around 1 pm. Annette asked if that was a pretty full bus. Sure, there were people sitting on laps (I was sitting on Cale's) and there were two guys hanging out in the doorway of the bus rather than find a seat and the front of the bus was full of luggage and the aisle of the bus did contain rolled up mats and other luggage. However, we would have to call that bus only 3/4 full. Jim, who happened to be on the bus as well, concurred. He doesn't consider a bus full until someone is sitting on his lap or he has to stand in the aisle for the entire trip (palagi get special treatment on buses and things have to be pretty full before they cannot get a seat all to themselves).
Saturday Annette finished up her souvenir shopping.
Sunday we went to the training village. We had previously arranged with the host family to have them pick us up in Apia on Sunday morning and drive us back to the village with them. However, when Cale called Sunday morning, they were already in the village. Instead we rented a car and because my vacation request had ended, Annette drove us out. We visited with the host family for about three hours. We were fed fish and breadfruit and turkey neck soup and herring mixed with coconut cream. Annette loved it all.
After we left the village we drove to see the turtle pond on Beach Road and then up the mountain to see the Baha'i Temple, one of only seven in the world (with an eighth already planned for Chile).
Monday we tried to do as little as possible before we took Annette to the airport. We arrived at the airport at 9:50 pm, ten minutes before the ticket counter even opened. Annette was checked in by 10:10 pm, but her flight wasn't until 11:59 pm. We had plenty of waiting to do. We were not alone. Dylan and Sally of group 77 were going home for good, the last of their group. Several other people were also heading home for the holidays and were on the same flight.
After we saw Annette off we headed home with Lissa and Rosie (who also came to see everyone off).
And there you have it. Cale's Mom is Here, Uma.