Samoan Adventures Chapter 2: Serene Savai’i

We left our accommodation in Apia, still feeling less than 100%. It was Sunday, which meant the streets were quiet as everyone was in Church.

We walked through town to the bus station and as we did so, we heard some beautiful singing coming from a meeting house near the harbour. A church meeting.

We turned the corner to there bus station and saw a sight that highlights the difference between Sundays and the rest of the week in Samoa.

The chaos of the myriad of buses, people running to and fro, selling things, piling in and out of cars or taxis – it was all gone. There was one single bus standing at the far end of the large, empty car park.

So no prizes for guessing which bus was ours then.

This bus was also dressed in it’s Sunday best – it was white, but still pimped out to an extent. We waited for a while, then the bus pulled away, carrying us towards the harbour.

We arrived at the harbour in time to see the ferry arriving. This ferry would take us to Savai’i, the other main island of Samoa and also the biggest. It was quite a small ferry, holding a few cars – maybe thirty – and several hundred passengers.

SAMSUNG CSC
The Ferry Approaches

We boarded from the big red terminal building and found a lovely air conditioned room filled with coloured plastic seats. I enjoyed the crossing and wandered outside to take photos every now and then. The sea was so beautiful, so blue and the islands stood out against the sky, Savai’i rising from the haze and Upolu disappearing back into it.

The crossing took around an hour and a half and cost 12 tala (maybe £4). We arrived at the equally red ferry terminal and began the hot walk to our accommodation at a place called Lusia’s Lagoon.

This accommodation was 60 tala per night (maybe £20) including breakfast, but not dinner. It looked amazing on the website. In reality, it was nice, but a little run down. The lagoon was still stunning, shining beautifully turquoise in the afternoon sun.

SAMSUNG CSC
The view from Lucia’s Lagoon

We went for a walk out in the town, which was very small and occupied, it seemed, mainly by pigs and dogs wandering the streets. We visited the Jet Over hotel, where we spoke to a nice lady about car rental. We also spoke to another nice lady at the visitor centre, who told us there wasn’t much to do on Savai’i!

We walked home via the supermarket to get water and then I went for a swim in the lagoon. Unlike the beaches that we visited on Upolu, the water was deep. It meant it was a bit cooler, but really nice to swim in. The only problem was that I kept getting attacked by seaweed!

As the fales didn’t serve dinner as part of the deal (and their dinner options were too expensive for our travellers’ budget), we walked along the road back to the wharf, where there was a takeaway burger shop. We had had chips and a chicken burger between us for lunch earlier that day and for dinner we indulged in more of the same.

The walk back was scary. It had got dark while we were eating and the road had basically no lighting. We had to use a phone torch to guide us, while we saw storm clouds gathering ahead of us, bursting with lightning every few minutes. The scariest thing were the loose dogs. By day, when they bark at you, you can see them and get a sense of their intentions. By night, it isn’t so easy to tell. We survived the walk unscathed, despite thinking we would be attacked at one point.

Back in the fale (this wasn’t a proper fale, more like a basic wooden hut on a platform over the lagoon), we settled in for the night.

I went out to shower. These were pretty terrible showers. The main problem was the complete lack of lighting. I managed to angle my phone from the pocket of my hung up trousers in order to see what I was doing. Usually I wouldn’t bother, but I was sharing the shower with several cockroaches and I wanted to see where they were, so I didn’t accidentally step on one. After an awkward shower, I stepped out of the door to see a massive hermit crab. Like 8cms across! I tried to take a photo but it was difficult in the dark.

Sleeping in the fale was comfortable and not so hot, as it rained heavily for most of the night!

The next morning I didn’t feel well enough to eat breakfast, so I gave it a miss. We packed back up and went back to the wharf to catch a bus to Manase, in the north of the island. I spent most of the bus journey feeling tired and a bit nauseous.

We arrived at Regina’s fales and were greeted by a Samoan lady and an Australian guy who worked there. He kindly brought us some fruit and toast.

I went into the fale for a bit to unpack and lay down, only to accidentally fall asleep for the next hour! Chris woke me up and went to get instant noodles for us for lunch.

We then went out to see about a rental car from here, but I didn’t get too far before I felt tired again, so I returned to the fale to sleep again, emerging for dinner, which was more rice and taro, along with a tasty curry and the very traditional young taro leaves and coconut cream, which I didn’t like much, but Chris really enjoyed.

SAMSUNG CSC
Sunset in Manase

The next day I felt much better, so we decided to walk to the lava fields in the afternoon. The walk was about an hour each way and it was hot! We wandered through thee quiet villages, lined with skinny horses, dogs, pigs and many many chickens.

We walked past a place where you can swim with turtles, but the reviews suggest that it is not a great environment for them and they are very crowded there – not one for us. It rained at one point, but just perfectly in time for us to hide under a beautiful umbrella-shaped tree.

We stopped at Dive Savai’i’s shop on the way too, so I could enquire about a snorkeling tour. They were very helpful.

We eventually reached the lava fields and paid our 5 tala entry. The lava erupted from a volcano between 1905 and 1911, covering a massive area. The lava overcame a church, which largely remained standing, but is now being reclaimed by vegetation.

The lava fields themselves stretch out towards the sea, as soft black curves punctuated with green. The lava swirls were my favourite bit – as the lava cooled, it left these beautiful patterns in the surface!

At the lava field site, there is also a hole in the lava where some colourful plants have grown up. For some reason it is called the Virgin’s Grave.

We walked back from the lava fields in the heat and took even more photos.

SAMSUNG CSC
Samoan Ingenuity

I especially loved the “old seat nailed to a log” chair. After the hot walk we were glad to return, just in time for a swim before dinner!

SAMSUNG CSC
A beautiful bridge!

The next day I woke up, really excited to see what under the sea looks like! I walked to the dive shop, which took around half an hour. I was greeted by a lady called Tina and given fippers and a snorkel mask. It was nice weather so I was optimistic about visibility.

We (three divers, four guides and I) waited for tide to come in a bit, then boarded the boat for our undersea adventure!

I was paired with one of Samoan guides for my snorkeling. At the first site, I was immersed into a whole new landscape – corals, both spiky and not so spiky surrounded me. It was mind blowing to be able to see everything – massive blue starfish, butterfly fish, little blue fish, big clams – and I was so happy!

The fish darted past. I struggled with my mask a bit – snorkeling is an odd sensation, but with the weirdness of breathing with your face in water to see everything!

After the first site, we moved to a second one. This was the best one. This site had a special kind of coral that is brown but turns white if you waft water at it quickly – it is called magic coral.

The guide also showed me some clown fish, who seemed curious about us and not really scared. They are so beautiful and orange!

After this we looked for turtles. The first one was big and clear and sculling majestically along just ahead of us! It quickly swam off when it noticed us.

On our way back to the boat, which felt like a long way, we saw the second turtle! I was repositioning my mask and the guide told me to look down and there it was! Directly below us, smaller than the first one, with a perfect pattern on its shell.

We also stopped at a small shipwreck, which the divers saw better than I did, but I did see some of the weird thin needle fish hovering uncertainty by the mooring line.

The sea is a strange new environment for me, but I love it. I can’t wait to snorkel again, or even dive!

I got a lift back to the fales in time for dinner which included some local parrot fish, which are weird because they have teeth.

The next day, we left Manase to got back to Salelologa, the wharf town. The bus journey was nice and I was able to see everything I missed on the journey up. We stopped outside the Jet Over Hotel and booked our car for the following day.

We checked back into Lusia’s Lagoon and then went out to exchange money and get some lunch. The centre of Salelologa is very small, with various shops and a covered market, which we also explored.

Like the market in Apia, it sold fruit, clothing, random household objects and beautifully carved wooden souvenirs, like turtles and ceremonial war axes.

We headed back to the fales and swam in the sea – I already miss this! I showered to avoid doing it in the dark and we ran to the takeaway and back. On our way back, it was still light, so we avoided scary night dogs, and we also saw some locals playing volleyball and a pig eating a coconut. As we got near, she defensively picked up her coconut and ran away with it!

That night, we relaxed on the terrace overlooking the sea, listening to the waves lapping below us. Chris showed me his travel “best of” album, which further cemented my desire to go to Asia.

We were very excited to finally tour the islands in the following days – more on this in chapter 3!

Farm Life: My Sexist Workplace

On my first night in Levin, some of the other workers who live at the holiday park told me some stories of their experiences of working at Woodhaven. They mentioned that it is quite a sexist place. This quickly became apparent when I started work.

As the farm produces many different crops, there is a large variation in jobs. These jobs have been somewhat arbitrarily allocated genders. Packing vegetables is a female job, so is sorting courgettes/ zucchinis, planting and harvesting radishes or spinach. Harvesting courgettes/ zucchinis or pumpkins or lettuces is a male job, as is stacking crates.

There is some method to these gender roles: men are generally physically stronger so they do the more strenuous jobs. Women do the physically easier jobs. The planters are small and uncomfortable for tall people, so women do this job as they are shorter.

This would all be fine, except that sometimes the women are very strong or very tall and the men are shorter and less built. Perhaps the assignment of jobs should take these aspects into account as well?

It seems that boys are not allowed to do girls jobs and vice versa.

The company was founded in 1978 and on occasion it seems that the social aspects of the workplace haven’t left that era. It is quite common for some of the male staff members make sexist or suggestive comments. For example, just yesterday, a male staff member was about to give me and two other girls a lift to the field we were going to pick spinach in and another male staff member commented something along the the lines of “You’ve got three girls hanging around your car, lucky guy.” Which is so unnecessary and inappropriate, especially given that the guy making the comment didn’t know any of the girls he was talking about.

It’s not just the women who suffer from this kind of irritating sexism. The men are (mostly) given the more physically demanding jobs and are shamed for complaining about any muscle pains – it is considered weak for them to take a day off to recover from back pain, for example.

The event that really triggered me to write this blog was the party for some of the Samoan boys who were leaving. The party was at the boss’ house and there was lots of alcohol flowing. I arrived late, so missed the announcement of the “house rules”. Rule one was wine is only for the girls and beer is only for the boys. Despite the fact that this rule was continually broken by almost everyone that night, it really represents the archaic line of thinking at Woodhaven.

These fairly insignificant, niggling things elude to a greater problem of how women and femininity is seen.

At this party, some of the Samoan boys were inappropriately touching the women there, which made some of them more than a little uncomfortable. Some might argue that they didn’t know better, but I think it doesn’t help that they don’t have the best role models. Other, more senior members of staff also took the lad-ish joking around too far.

In my opinion, in their position it is their duty to be a good example. At a party, it is possible to have fun without getting drunk and making your employees uncomfortable by pushing the boundaries of what is acceptable. A friendly handshake or hug is acceptable. Bodily lifting someone off the ground multiple times, especially someone you don’t know well, is not so much.

The fact that there is also a power play here makes me really quite angry. The more senior staff can get away with this kind of behavior because they are in charge. It also suggests to newer make workers, especially those who are from countries where the understanding of gender equality is limited, that this kind of behavior is okay.

It makes me sad, because New Zealand is such a beautiful country, with such friendly, welcoming people. Perhaps people who come to work here will get the wrong impression that Kiwis are all sexist, backwards and old fashioned. It really lets New Zealand down.

I have to say though, despite all the issues with Woodhaven, I am impressed time and time again by some of the workers, especially the islander women I’ve worked with, who work relentlessly and uncomplainingly in wind or rain or full sun. We all work hard, but they bring a joy to what they do that us Europeans can’t match. They are just so happy to be earning money to send back to their families.

I find these women inspirational, as they show me how to be strong and push on and find joy even when I might not feel like it. It is strange to be in a workplace that I can find so empowering and so oppressive at the same time.

The world still has a long way to go until gender equality is a reality and it will not happen until men in positions of power change their thinking about women and femininity.

Samoan Adventures Chapter 1: Beach Hopping

When I landed in Apia, I was incredibly excited – staring out of the tiny aeroplane window and grinning at the thought of the adventure ahead.
“Your first time in Samoa?” asked the gentleman next to me, a large Samoan in a traditional lavalava (essentially a skirt, made from one large piece of cloth). His was pinstriped, like a business suit.

I nodded and smiled and continued to look out of the window at the dark run way as we taxied to the arrivals area.
There was a very nice looking building, all wooden arches and tall windows, but that must be the departure building.
Arrivals was small and basic. We were greeted by a small band playing some happy islandy music as we walked through to passport control and baggage claim. I got my shiny new passport stamp and waited for my bag.
After collecting my bag and getting a free Samoan SIM card set up, I headed towards a man who held up a sign with my name on and he led me to an air conditioned bus.

The 45 minute bus ride along the coast was uneventful, mainly just winding roads lined with Fales (traditional houses) and loose dogs. The other people on the bus were dropped at a fancy hotel by the harbour in Apia and I was taken away from the centre to my accommodation. The trip cost 25 Tala (maybe £8).

The lady who worked there greeted me, along with Chris, who had arrived two days earlier. The accommodation was very basic, but clean. We sat outside and chatted to the other guests for a while, before retiring to bed.

SAMSUNG CSC
Samoan Parliament

The next day was a public holiday. This meant a lot of the shops were closed and Apia was very quiet.

SAMSUNG CSC
Sign by the visitor centre

We went for a walk into the town to explore and get food and water. Luckily, the supermarkets were still open.
I thought that the harbour area and the coast was very pretty, but I hadn’t seen anything yet.

SAMSUNG CSC
Pretty bridge and mangroves

We visited the market and I bought a green lavalava for only 10 tala (£3.50).

After shopping and walking in the heat, we made a stop at the impressive Cathedral. Outside, it is a beautiful, blue and white building overlooking the harbour. Inside, it is incredibly decorative, with beautiful carved wood, paintings, stained glass and an intricate stone floor.

My favourite part was the painting inside the some at the front of the church, which shows tribal people sitting around, with Jesus sitting above them.

SAMSUNG CSC
The beautiful dome

Back at our accommodation, we made egg fried rice for dinner and got ready to leave the following day. We then wewent to watch the sunset by the harbour.

SAMSUNG CSC
A fisherman silhouetted by the sunset

We left after breakfast (toast and coffee) and headed into Apia to exchange currency and catch our bus. It was SO MUCH busier. The bus station was crowded and chaotic, so it took us a while to find the correct bus. Once on board the very full bus (I got the best seat, at the front, by the window), we waited for it to leave and took in our surroundings.

SAMSUNG CSC
In the bus

The buses are chunky and brightly painted. They seem to be made out of wood with a metal bonnet and roof. The bus we took was fully pimped out – massive speakers playing loud, bassy mixes of pop songs, about seven rear view mirrors, tiny coloured windows above the windscreen, even some bouncing lady silhouettes at the bottom of the windscreen. A typical Samoan bus.

The bus journey was around two hours – we were headed for the south of Samoa, to a place called Lalomanu.
The beach blurred past beside us. We took a quick stop at a shop where the locals bought food and drinks, then we drove on around the coast for a while. The bus stopped to pick people up, as and when, and eventually we pulled away from the coast and headed into their mountains, a beautiful valley stretching down to the right.

SAMSUNG CSC
View from the bus

Towards the end of the journey, the bus stopped to let people out at their houses and also to allow a man to jump out and place food items in front of people’s homes.

We finally got to Lalomanu and headed to our Fales. We stayed at one called Anita’s. They had three fales and one bungalow, as well as a common area.
We were greeted by Leisha, a Fa’afafine lady, who manages the fales.

SAMSUNG CSC
Lalomanu

Fa’afafine are Samoan men, who were raised as women. It is considered to be a third gender. The idea is, if a family doesn’t have enough girls to help with household duties, one of the boys may be chosen to be Fa’afafine.

We waited until our Fale was ready, then moved our stuff inside. The fale was quite basic: it was a wooden platform with uprights supporting the palm leaf roof, with blue tarpaulins hanging down for rain and wind protection. But not to bad for £28 per night, including dinner and breakfast.

SAMSUNG CSC
The fale

After we had settled in, we walked up into the village to get water. The shops here were very different to those in Apia. In Apia, they are like small supermarkets. In Lalomanu, they are like a hatch to a room at the side of someone’s house, with all the products on shelves inside.

We walked back through the village and took some photos. There were pigs wandering freely around and a beautiful, big church.

Back by our fale, we climbed a bent-over palm tree for a photo and after spending time laughing at Chris’ attempts, I struggled much more!

SAMSUNG CSC
Up the tree after a graceful ascent

We then went for a swim in the sea! The water was warm and shallow and turquoise. The lagoon is protected by a reef a few hundred meters out, the waves can be seen breaking on it just before the horizon.

Samoan waters have no dangerous jellyfish, one only has to watch out for stonefish and cone shells on the sea floor.

The swim was amazing and after some more lazing about and watching the disappointing sunset, it was time for dinner. I had rice with chicken cooked in soy sauce, Chris had the veggie option – a banana in exchange for the chicken.

As it was dark, we went and relaxed in our fale (which had a light). After a while, we went to charge out devices inside and sat with our reasonably drunk fale manager and her friend, another Fa’afafine woman, who chatted with us and complemented my hair.

The night was rainy and very windy – the tarpaulins flapped loudly in the wind, as we tried to sleep in the unfamiliar surroundings.

The next day, we ate our breakfast (eggs, beans, toast and tasty Samoan lemon tea), then caught a lift down the road to Faofao, another set of beach fales.

These fales were much nicer, with bigger and higher platforms, palm leaf shades instead of tarpaulins, fences around the edge and a door! The beach was equally beautiful as Lalomanu and less crowded. These cost maybe £20 per night, including dinner and breakfast.

While it was still raining, we walked back along the road to see a waterfall which had only appeared due to the heavy rain. We also climbed up to a viewpoint and were followed by an inquisitive dog.

I spent the afternoon reading and Chris was planning his future travel. Eventually, the rain cleared up and we went for another swim in the beautiful warm sea.

Dinner that night was buffet style, with lots to eat! There were vegetables, fish, chicken, pumpkin and the very Samoan boiled taro root with coconut cream.

After dinner, Chris and I played cards in our fale with a large 75ml Vailima beer each, listening to a group of 19 year old German girls partying in the fale next door. Luckily, the party wasn’t too loud when we wanted to sleep, so we had a much better night’s rest.

The next morning, the weather was changeable. Showers punctuated spells of sunshine and we were undecided about whether to go to Namua island. Namua is a small and very beautiful island, not far from the coast of Upolu. Upolu is the smaller of the two main islands, but there most populated, mainly because of Apia.

We had our buffet breakfast – toast, eggs, lots of fruit – and then hung around waiting for the weather to settle.

Eventually we made the decision to go to Namua. We packed up and began to walk back towards Lalomanu as the place to cross to the island was the other side of it. As we were just leaving the fales behind us, a car came along and I stuck my thumb out. The car stopped and we entered the lovely air conditioned interior.

The driver was very friendly and spent the journey chatting to us and even stopped so we could buy water.

We got to the crossing point and a man came out of a house opposite and said we could wait on the porch while he called them to pick us up with the boat.
Eventually the boat peeled away from the shore of Namua and zig-zagged across the lagoon towards us. We climbed aboard the small boat and sped back across, looking below the surface of the water for turtles.

SAMSUNG CSC
The boat to Namua

The turtle-less boat ride didn’t last long, maybe ten minutes, before we reached the beach. We climbed gracefully out of the boat and were greeted and shown to our fale. These fales cost maybe £40 per night including, dinner, breakfast and the crossing.

SAMSUNG CSC
Hermit crab

The island was truly beautiful and the gamble with the weather paid off and it stayed pretty fine all afternoon. We went swimming again, drank coconut water straight from the coconut and generally relaxed.

There was an American family on the island, just for the day, so we got talking to them about places to visit in Samoa. Apparently they had lived in Samoa for three months, so they knew a lot. While I was swimming with them, they picked up some starfish to show me – the little boy was especially excited to point out the different parts of the starfish – like the little suckers on its legs.

SAMSUNG CSC
The starfish!

The day wore on and the family headed back to Upolu. Chris and I were given a tasty and filling dinner, which included Breadfruit – this was delicious!

After dinner, our hosts left and so it was just us and the two friendly dogs on the island. We attempted to climb up the island, into the trees, but the path was too slippy. I nearly fell over coming down and had to run the last, quite long stretch to the bottom of the hill!

We decided to sit and look out over the lagoon and listen to music instead. The darkness gathered and hundreds of Samoan flying foxes (fruit bats) erupted from the forest, circling overhead as the light drifted from the sky.

We sat and talked and listened to music and the soft sound of the waves lapping against the beach. After a while, we noticed that the stars had come out, so we had a go at some star photography before heading to sleep in our fale.

SAMSUNG CSC
Stars!

The arrival of the morning brought more sun and more tasty food. After breakfast, we decided to walk around to the other side of the island where there were supposed to be some tide pools and a coral beach.

Chris was worried he’d slip and drown his camera so I continued on alone. It took me a long time to reach the corner, all the while worrying about my camera, and when I did, I saw the large waves roaring as they hit the reef. Nope. I was already thigh-deep in the sea, with my camera hanging precariously around my neck, so I decided to cut my losses and return to shore.

We packed up and took the boat back to Upolu. On the way we saw the shadowy shape of a big turtle swimming by. The boy driving the boat even steered so we could follow it for a while.

SAMSUNG CSC
Bye bye Namua

We then took the two hour bus back to Apia, meandering through the beautiful countryside. It seemed to be the end of school time, as many Samoan children, all dressed in smart school uniforms of a shirt and lavalava or dress, climbed onto the bus and squashed in, sitting on each other’s laps.

SAMSUNG CSC
View from the bus

By the time we reached Apia, it was less busy. We got off at our accommodation and put our things down, then headed out to buy food and have a quick look at the town.

SAMSUNG CSC
Apia Market

On the way back we both began to feel unwell. What followed was an unpleasant evening and following day as we lay in bed, feeling rubbish. It was most likely food poisoning. Chris had it worse than I did, experiencing aches and some chills. The day after we returned to Apia was intended to be the day we headed to Savaii, the other main island, but we didn’t feel up to it.
As bad as I felt, I had still really enjoyed the first few days in Samoa and was determined to enjoy the rest – more about this soon!