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