Canadian Adventures 5: Jasper National Park Maligne Lake Road

So, this blog is getting written before the end of 2017! This is good news.

We left off at the beautiful Pyramid Island in Jasper National Park. After admiring our beautiful surroundings (our main pastime on this trip), we drove on to find our campsite for the night. The campsite was quite out of the way, but didn’t take too long to get to. The last road before the campsite was partially unsealed and suddenly changed from sealed to unsealed with a sickening thump of the tyres, even if I drove very slowly.

At the campsite, we made dinner, which was, as usual, adequate. We decided to make some noodles, despite worries that we would run out of gas. I kept the gas low to make sure we didn’t use it all, so we had some left for our very important morning coffee (ground coffee brewed in cafetiere – we might have been living in a car, but we didn’t become complete savages)! Because of my conservative cooking method, it took what is technically known as f*cking ages for the noodles to cook. Meaning that when I accidentally knocked the pan off the tiny stove and spilled the finally-cooked noodles onto the floor, it was especially devastating.

Life goes on.

We made up for this loss by drinking some Kracken rum. See – not total savages!

In the morning, we did some more cold water hair washing. This never got less horrible. This was the day that we decided to drive down the gorgeous, winding Maligne Lake Road (we affectionately pronounced Maligne as “Ma-ligg-nee, apologies to my French/ French appreciating readers). Maligne Lake Road is such a perfect drive, with lots to see and do along its length – a must do for Jasper National Park.

Our first stop was Lake Edith, where we found yet another set of red chairs and did a “colour quest” from our Xplorers booklet. The idea was to find things of various colours. Eva and I decided we should only choose natural things, that made it much more difficult to find anything red.

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The softies at the Lake Edith red chairs

Our second stop was Maligne Canyon. The canyon was very beautiful, carved out of a moody grey rock. There were many bridges crossing the canyon, with bigger and bigger drops to the river below. We also found some fossils – another Xplorers task – but nowhere near as many as the booklet suggested. After our walk in the canyon, we did a quick tour of the gift shop, where I bought a large bottle of maple syrup in a maple leaf shaped bottle.

We carried on along the road. I was really enjoying the drive and thoroughly used to driving on the right. We stopped off at a random layby to find another set of red chairs located next to the river, which were harder to find than expected as they were hidden by a mass of foliage.

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Eva at the chairs

One of the most atmospheric stops on our journey along Maligne Lake Road was Medicine Lake, whose surrounding area was devastated by fire in 2015, meaning that there are hundreds of blackened trees lining most of the hills surrounding the lake. There were signs there about the Caribou, which are very rare to find in the park.

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Medicine Lake

After Medicine Lake, we continued on to Maligne Lake, stopping on the way for a quick look at a black bear close to the road. These bears are becoming habituated and aren’t scared enough of humans. This means they are more likely to scavenge and become “problem bears” which means they will likely have to be killed before they hurt any humans. The recommendation is to just drive past them or stop briefly to look or take a photo while remaining in the car.

Sadly, we saw many tourists approaching the wildlife to take photos, not understanding the impact they are having.

We saw two more bears down a bank further round Medicine Lake, potentially one was a grizzly, but we couldn’t stop to look as it was on an awkward bend.

We carried on, keeping our eyes peeled for wildlife, driving slowly and having lots of cars overtake us. I couldn’t really understand why people wanted to drive so fast – it’s a stunning drive to be enjoyed.

Eventually, we spotted two cars pulling over just ahead of us, so slowed down to look for the animal they were stopping for, Eva readying her camera excitedly. As we slowed, one of the men, who had got out of his car began waving his arms like a runaway windmill and shouting “there’s nothing here!”. It was then that we realised that they had simply stopped to pee.

And that’s how Eva nearly took a picture of a random man peeing.

We carried on to Maligne Lake and saw a mule deer. We parked up carefully and headed into the visitor centre to get a map of the hikes in the area. Our Xplorers booklet asked us to hike the Mary Schaffer Trail and find various types of pretty lichens. The walk followed the edge of the beautiful lake and had great views.

We realised pretty soon after starting the walk that it was sleeting. In June. It was really odd, but likely due to the high altitude of where we were.

After our walk we headed into the cafe at the visitor centre for drinks. There was a man doing a talk about the wildlife of the national park and how humans fit in with it. He had furs and skulls to show people and told a few stories, including some that sounded a bit unlikely. He explained that bear bells are useless and you should only give them to people you don’t like.

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View from the trail

We drove back along the wonderful road to Jasper. At one point,  we turned a corner and there was a bear in the road! Luckily I was doing the speed limit, which is set quite low in case of such encounters, so I was easily able to avoid the bear.

As we neared Jasper, we saw another wildlife jam. The cars had all stopped because there was a small herd of elk hanging out by the road, some with babies! It was great to see them, but again we were dissapointed by the number of people who had got out of their cars to take photos.

In Jasper we went to a tasty buffet curry place for dinner, which was good, but not like British curry houses. We are lots! After curry, Eva wanted ice cream, so we found a pot of mango pineapple sorbetto and took it back to the campsite with us. We had to eat the whole thing, else it would melt by morning. We almost managed it. As we stuffed our faces with copious amounts of sorbetto, we watched a group of friends on the pitch in front of us, the one man dancing very camply on the roof of one of their cars.

In the morning, I got Eva to drive us to the front of the campsite to fill up our water. She hadn’t driven before, but this was an automatic, so there wasn’t much teaching involved. She did well, but underestimated (as most people do) how sensitive the pedals would be. We jerkily approached the tap and pulled up next to some Parcs Canada rangers.

Eva decided we should pretend she just hadn’t driven for a while, so we made conversation to that effect as we went to fill our water.

We drove into Jasper to fuel up and pick up some more camping gas, then went into the visitor centre to finish our tasks and hand in our Xplorers booklet for a prize. We had to swear an oath to protect Canada and the world, which seemed like a bit of a responsibility, but we got some pretty dog tags saying we had Xplorer Jasper National Park.

We then headed through the national park to visit Miette Hot Springs. The drive up was again rather stunning, with beautiful water and incredible mountains.

The hot springs were quite cheap to go in, only $6 or so and had two large hot pools and two smaller cold pools. We spent an hour or so dipping in and out. It was a lovely place to be, but got swarmed by teenagers on a school trip.

As we were having a decadent afternoon, we decided to go to a proper campsite and pay to stay the night! We drove in and set up for the night. It was very swanky, with actual warm water! We had soup and kale for our adequate dinner and tidied the car.

After much chatting, laughing and run drinks, we went to bed in our comfy car home.

Our Jasper adventure was at an end and we were very sad to leave the next day for Edmonton, but excited by the prospect of beds and showers.

The drive went smoothly and mostly long straight flat roads through countryside. It was nice, but a far cry from the beautiful mountain roads of BC and the Canadian Rockies.

We stopped at subway for lunch and eventually reached Edmonton. Eva’s expert navigation got us to our hostel where we grabbed a free tofu-dog, watched TV and did washing – our exciting Edmonton adventure!

Soon I will write a blog about our adventures in Calgary as well as Banff, Yoho and Kootenay National Parks.

By soon, I mean sometime within the next month.

 

 

 

Canadian Adventures 4: Jasper National Park Glaciers and Bears

We drove into Jasper town, arriving in the afternoon. We parked in a back road, then walked back to the main high street to go to Tim Hortons for coffee and wifi. We visited the information centre and picked up loads of leaflets, including one called “Xplorers” which was full of fun activities (this would become our main way of exploring the national parks – you get tags when you complete the booklets).

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Our first national park!

We drove south towards the ice-field parkway – a wonderful road that runs through most of Jasper and Banff National Parks. I had a sore throat and felt a bit tired, so we didn’t want to drive too far. We stopped at the Athabasca Falls on route. They are very powerful and beautiful and lead down a twisty canyon to a pretty lake.

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The Athabasca Falls
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Where the Athabasca river exits the canyon
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The beautiful canyon

We went on until we found a campsite called honeymoon lake, which is by a pretty lake with dramatic mountains.

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Honeymoon Lake

We had been having trouble with can openers. We bought one in Vancouver for cheap, but it was rubbish and flaked off fragments of metal every time we used it. We tried to but some more, but they seemed to be bottle openers, which was strange because the packet said can openers. They were completely useless anyway. We had to borrow one from the Germans in the next pitch across.

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Buck Lake – our breakfast spot

The next morning I felt a lot better we drove to the next lake along to have breakfast, which is where I had an unfortunate incident with a pit loo. Pit loos are basically a long drop to a tank full of waste – they smell bad and they often have flies in them. This loo was probably rarely used because it was by a tiny lake that hardly anyone visited. I needed to go for a longer visit, which is fine, I don’t need luxury toilets for this, but what happened was truely traumatic. I received a large amount of splash-back. Splash-back not just of water, like in the toilet at home, but of waste filled water. Shudder.

After the incident and a suitable chance to get over it, we drove on to see the Sunwapta Falls, another falls inside a canyon. They were also very pretty. We began a walk in the forest, which was lovely, but increasingly scary as we hadn’t brought our bear spray. We eventually turned back and returned to the car park for lunch.

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The Sunwapta Falls

The drive on from there became more and more scenic as we neared the ice-field parkway. More mountains rose up between the trees, now sporting glaciers. There were open glacial plains, with thin turquoise waters flowing through in winding ribbons.

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Distant Glaciers

We stopped at yet another waterfall, that cascaded down the mountain and was guided under the road. It is called Tangle Creek. Everyone was parking on the roadside just past it because, like us, they drove past, saw it and had to stop because it was surprisingly spectacular.

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The break-pounding beauty of Tangle Creek

We expected the ice-field parkway to be covered in ice and snow. Apparently this is just in winter. In summer the snow has melted and the ice is reduced to just the glaciers high up on the mountains. When you reach the visitor centre there, you are at quite a high altitude already, but still below the glaciers.

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The view from the visitor centre

We decided at this point that we wanted to walk on one of the glaciers. The Athabasca glacier, we found out, is the same one our Grandma visited quite a few years previously on her trip to Canada. We had booked to walk on the glacier and had to wait for our bus up the mountain. After an hour of browsing the gift shop, we queued up and got on the bus that took us into the alpine zone of the mountain.

We transferred onto a special vehicle called an “Ice Explorer” driven by a very young guy called Jack. The ice explorers cost 1.3 million dollars each and there are only 23 of them in existence, with one in Antarctica and the other 22 serving the tourists on the Athabasca glacier! The drive up was really cool, especially when the very large and very HEAVY ice explorer went down a 32% gradient slope – scary, but these vehicles are built to cope with it without rolling or sliding.

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That slope.

When we reached the top, we were allowed out onto a small, safe section on the ice. It was very cold. We had 30 minutes to enjoy the experience, which Eva and I made full use of – tentatively wandering around, taking photos and enjoying the view. Eva borrowed a bottle off a random man to drink some of the fast flowing glacial-melt water and I decided to lie down on the glacier. This was quite chilly.

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These are big vehicles!

Eventually we had to return to the not-so-icey ground. We got back to our car and drove to a lovely big campsite for the night. We had dinner, then Eva went on a mission to find a bin and took so long that I went to find her, thinking she’d been eaten by a bear. Of course, she got back to the car before I did and thought I’d been eaten by a bear. I had not.

We settled down in the car and slept. It was one of the colder nights, likely due to the increased altitude.

The next morning, Eva experienced the joys of being poor and living in a car, by washing her hair in cold water!

When she had defrosted, we began to pack the car, when I scared her by shouting “behind you!”. This was because there was a ground squirrel behind her, not a bear! Cue Eva whipping out her camera and taking several hundred photos – see her instagram for the result!

We also had a minor incident where I was filling our large water container from a tap that suggested you didn’t take too much water and a campervan came, causing Eva to shout “campervan”, for some reason, I heard this as “rangers” and panicked, thinking I would get in trouble and ran back towards the car with the now very heavy water container and overbalanced and fell over. Well done me.

Once I had gotten over my embarrassment, we decided to tackle one of the challenges in our Xplorers booklet – find the red chairs. The national parks of Canada have wonderful scattering of red chairs throughout them, at various viewpoints. The first one that Eva and I chose to find was on Wilcox Pass, a popular hiking route starting directly by our campsite.

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We hiked up the hill, as the trees thinned out and the wind ripped by. We met several much fitter hikers on our route up, but the views were pretty stunning by the time we emerged from the trees. The red chairs weren’t all that much further. We took a few photos on the chairs then headed out of the howling wind.

We drove back up towards Jasper village. The drive was lovely as the roads were clear and the views were good. We eventually reached our second red chair destination: the valley of the five lakes! This valley is creatively named after the number of lakes it has in it. The lakes are given the vastly imaginative names of first lake, second lake, third lake, fourth lake and fifth lake. Eva and I theorised a man must have named them.

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One of the five lakes

The lakes were lovely – all different shades of blue. Sadly it began to rain while we were hiking, but we found the chairs and began to make our way back to the car.

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The weather turned…

On our way back, I was walking maybe 5m ahead of Eva and we weren’t talking as it was raining quite heavily. As we walked along the empty path, around 5m in front of me a BEAR ran across! It was an adult black bear, going very quickly. I immediately stopped and went “There’s a bear, there’s a bear, that’s a bear, oh my god Eva a bear!”

Eva got ready to use the bear spray as she couldn’t see due to rainy glasses. The bear had luckily already ran on through the trees and out of sight.

The adrenaline rush was like nothing I had felt before and I jumped out of a plane and off a bridge earlier this year. This was a positive bear sighting – safe but also stunning. Being so close to such an incredible animal in the wild is a truely awesome experience.

Once we had recovered from our bear encounter, we headed back into Jasper and found a cute vegan cafe and got hot chocolates and a ginger cookie. We managed to get some wifi at Tim Hortons to talk to mum and dad and stocked up on some more food.

Our next destination was Pyramid Lake, another of the many beautiful lakes in Jasper National Park. I saw an elk on the drive in and there were warnings about dangerous elk as it is the time of year when they have calves. We found another red chair, which was not too long a walk, with nice views back over the lake.

 

We headed back down and walked onto the very pretty Pyramid Island which was accessible by a long foot-bridge. We hoped to see loons there, but no such luck.

Loons, for those who don’t know, are a lovely Canadian bird that is featured on the $1 coin. Not Eva and myself.

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The view from Pyramid Island

The second installment of our adventures in Jasper National Park will eventually get written, hopefully before the end of 2017!

 

 

 

 

Canadian Adventures 3: Eastward Bound

The first place that Eva and I visited with the car was Capilano Suspension Bridge. We had heard about the bridge from our lovely Grandma, who had visited quite a few years previously.

Capilano is a very cool site in the North of Vancouver, with the massive suspension bridge, a cliff walk, a treetop walk and various informative exhibits, all inside a beautiful area of Canadian rainforest.

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Capilano Suspension Bridge

We spent quite a long time there, we walked over the laden, swaying bridge, had lunch and wandered around between the beautiful trees. There were lovely signs with quotes on about trees and forests. There were tiny red squirrels running around, trying to steal food.

We climbed the treetop walkway and collected a booklet that went through some of the features of the forest. We ran around, enjoying finding things and completing the activities. Once we had completed it, we got a badge for our trouble – we are now official rain forest explorers!

Eventually, we crossed the bridge again and walked round the cliff walk, which has a large curved section that hangs over a sheer drop – pretty scary stuff! We also braved the glass platform.

We loved our day at Capilano, despite the quite high entrance fee. It was a great introduction to the natural areas of Canada, which we would see many more of along our journey east, to the national parks and beyond.

After Capilano, we drove up to Whistler. This was my first long drive, along a wonderful road called the sea to sky highway. This road has absolutely stunning views, both by the sea and further inland, where mountains suddenly loom in front of you, dressed in snow. It was a hard road to drive quickly on, partially due to its twists and turns, but also due to my amazement at my surroundings.

We arrived quite late into Whistler and found some wifi at a closing Starbucks. We opted to drive to a nearby Regional Park campground, instead of staying illegally in one of the large carparks. The road back to the campsite was mainly dual carriageway, so we had to find a suitable place to turn round to find the campsite.

It was very dark when we got to the campsite. We found a pitch and nervously set up for the night, keeping an eye out for sudden murderous bears. We even peed at the edge of the campsite, rather than risk attempting to find the toilets.

We woke in the morning, unharmed by bears discovered that there was a toilet less than 100m from our pitch. We made lukewarm coffee using our tiny stove, packed up and drove back into Whistler. It was raining, so after a quick play on the very cool playground, we retreated into Starbucks for a drink, a snack and some more free wifi to research where to stay that night.

We headed out towards Kamloops, the approximate halfway point between Vancouver and Jasper National Park. The drive was better that day, with my confidence building and less twisty roads, our average speed increased. The scenery became barer and dryer. There were fewer trees and more railway lines. Massive long trains trundled by slowly.

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View from our pitch at Juniper Beach

We stopped for a break at a place called Lilooet and had a quick walk around the tiny mineral museum and shop there, before continuing on to our campground. It was called Juniper Beach and it sat off the main road, with a railway and a river on one side and another railway on the other side. We saw and heard a lot of trains go by that evening. We also saw an absolutely stunning sunset!

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The sky looked like it was on fire!

We drove on into Kamloops the next day, just in time for lunch in a sunny park. The weather was getting warmer at this point, enough to put the air con on.

We had decided to do a wine tasting while in the Kamloops area, so headed to a vegan approved vineyard called Privato. We were welcomed by a lovely lady who gave us many wines to taste, which were all very nice. We decided to buy the surprisingly dry and very excellent rosé and the most expensive and also most delicious pinot noir. We saved the latter for when we were reunited with Mum and Dad.

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Grapes at Privato

After the wine tasting, and a suitably long sit down, we drove on to a place called Enderby. On the way we stopped to get dinner from an asian restaurant and coffee from Tim Hortons in rainy Salmon Arm, whose name always made my giggle. Enderby is home to the Starlight Drive In Movie Theatre, which was showing Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2!

We arrived and queued up to pay for our tickets. Apparently, my card was being a problem again, because it was ‘foreign’, and we didn’t have enough cash to pay. We didn’t know what we should do, but the friendly man on the box office let us in for free!

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Parked up!

We settled our car in to a spot near the front, then ran to the concession stand to spend all the cash we had on some popcorn. We then nested for a while, pulling out the sleeping bags and softies ready to watch.

The film was fantastic! I can thoroughly recommend it. It is badass, heartbreaking and hilarious, with an incredible soundtrack to take you through it. The experience of seeing it in such a cool cinema was so much fun! I wish we had drive-in movies in the UK, but I guess that the weather can be fickle.

After the film, we also could have waited and seen Beauty and the Beast too. But it was late and we had both already seen it, so we quickly rejigged the car into driving mode and left Starlight behind us.

Sadly, we did not have a plan for where to sleep. After a brief stop in Enderby itself, where we were accosted by a homeless man asking for money, we drove around sleepily, for about an hour on the dark Canadian roads. We found a very full and slightly creepy caravan park that wasn’t going to work and eventually ended up at a rather nice, but completely full campsite called Swan Lake.

It was very late at this point, and I really didn’t want to drive anymore, so we parked on the edge of someone’s pitch and set up to sleep. As it was such a nice campsite, and looked expensive, we decided to set an alarm for 6am and be out by 6:30 to avoid paying. Rude, I know, but we had been stung by our $500 young persons’ fee on the car.

The next morning, we got up and left as quickly as we possibly could. We were out by 6:15 and we’d gotten away with it!

We drove to a nearby village to try to get breakfast, but nowhere was open/ vegan. We carried on along the quiet road until we got back to the main highway, where we found a Denny’s diner to have breakfast – a much more worthy recipient of our money!

The rest of the journey that day seemed to go quickly. We stopped once for a break in a layby near a river as I was quite tired from my lack of sleep, but arrived in a place called Valemount nice and early. We got some coffee at a cool cafe/ giftshop, then found a campsite called Canoe Creek. It was sunny and we were both feeling slightly under the weather, so we decided to pitch our tent and lie flat for a night!

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In the campsite in Valemount

We made food, while fighting off what seemed like thousands of massive mosquitoes! They were approximately the size of my face. I killed quite a few, maybe forty or fifty over the course of us cooking. Mmmm, mosquito corpses everywhere!

We had a little walk around with our cameras – it was a big campsite with lots of odd things to see like old machinery, wooden carved animals by the reception building, an old car and, especially strangely, a tree with a face.

We also got some washing done and hung it out all inside the car to dry. We slept pretty well in the little tent and packed up easily in the morning as the good weather continued.

Eva wanted to go back to the little gift shop to buy some minerals, but it was a Sunday, so it was closed. We managed to get some food before heading out excitedly towards Jasper National Park.

 

Canadian Adventures 2: Carlife Begins

The time had come for us to pick up our car from Vancouver airport. We had a lot of luggage (two big suitcases, one big rucksack, three small rucksacks and myriad camping equipment), so we left it at our accommodation and took public transport out to the airport. At this point, I was excited. I had no idea what was to come.

We had booked the car online ages ago via Expedia. It was booked for three weeks, giving us enough time to drive over to Alberta and visit Jasper and Banff National Parks before heading back to Vancouver in time to meet Mum and Dad at the airport.

We arrived at the Avis check-in desk and queued to get the car. When we were called up to the desk, we hit our first problem. For some reason, the deposit for the car could only be taken on a credit card. I don’t own a credit card.

Now, annoyingly, the debit card that I was using for our travels often counted as a credit card as it was a ‘foreign’ card, which wasn’t always useful – like I literally couldn’t use it in some places. But for the purposes of Avis car rental, it was a debit.

Obviously they can’t rent the car out without the deposit, so I began to feel a bit worried, all our plans revolved around us having a car. I hurriedly handed over all three of my cards for the man to check with his manager: my UK debit card, my New Zealand debit card and my Travelex currency card.

The man went away for a while, I began to get a little paranoid that he was stealing all my card details, but no strange transactions as of yet. He came back and explained that he couldn’t use the currency card, he couldn’t use the New Zealand card as it doesn’t have my name on it (I got it at the bank, so it just says ‘cardholder’), but he could try my UK card. Not ideal, but that’s okay.

He put the card through. Then our second problem occurred. An automatic charge of $500 went through. FIVE HUNDRED DOLLARS.

From this experience, I have learned two very crucial things about hiring cars:

  1. If you are under 25, don’t even think about it.
  2. Always read the small print.

I am 23. This means that that $500 was a $25 a day surcharge for being a young person. Obviously, if you are under 25, you aren’t allowed cars. Probably because you are a reckless mess who will deliberately crash and try to sue everybody. Young people don’t even need cars, they have everything anyway: mobile phones, the internet, crippling mental heath issues. The one thing we don’t have is money. So they make nice things, like houses, cars, university degrees, too expensive for us. Then we’re told it’s our fault that we don’t save our imaginary pounds.

I’m not bitter about this at all.

This brings me to my second point. The online car hire gave me a price along with a lovely sentence: “The total price includes all mandatory taxes and fees”. I thought that meant I’d paid for everything. But no.

Expedia has a very tiny little clause in its small print that says “Additional charges or restrictions may apply for drivers under 25 or over 70”. Sneaky sneaky. Read it, if you ever hire from Expedia. And then expect the worst.

Thankfully our car hire experience did end in us getting a car to drive around Canada. We also got upgraded from our pre-ordered “Chevrolet Spark or similar” to a beautiful VW Golf TSi with more power and most importantly, more space! We were able to fit all our bags in and rearrange our stuff to fully recline the seats to sleep at night.

We, rather organically, named the car “the expensive bitch” and set off to explore this beautiful bit of Canada.

Canadian Adventures 1: Vancouver and Victoria

I arrived in Vancouver on the afternoon of the 7th June, after the night flight from Auckland – it had been a long day, I had left my hostel in Australia at 8am over 23hrs previously and it was still the 7th June! I waited for Eva to arrive and made her a sign – it was weird but good to see her after five months.

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My sign for Eva

We lugged all of our bags to our accommodation, a place called Churchill House, where we spent forever chatting and getting ready to go to dinner.

When we finally made it out, we were talking so much on the skytrain that we forgot to get off at our stop!

We eventually got to MeeT, a lovely vegan restaurant in Gastown, which serves comfort food like burgers, as well as tasty cocktails. We splashed out as it was our first night reunited!

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In MeeT with our cocktails

We had portobello mushroom burgers and two cocktails each (a pineapple basil one and a tequila mojito)! Despite our extravagance, the meal was still very cheap.

We got up quite late the next day (I had only got to sleep at 3am, because of the time difference). We decided to visit the Bloedel Conservatory – a big dome built in the 1960s, which houses plants and over 150 free flying birds.

It was such a cool place to be, with the birds swooping overhead, the cockatoos and parrots preening and occasionally talking. There was a big feeding area where most of the bird congregated. We spent over three hours in there, watching them and taking hundred of photos!

 

 

We especially loved the cockatoos – like Blanca, who hung from her branch by her beak and Kramer, who was a salmon pink colour and knew lots of phrases.

 

 

After our long afternoon in the conservatory, we wanted some ice cream, so went back to our accommodation via safeway to get some. Our evening was relaxed, we ate food and watched TV – but still didn’t get to bed early!

The second full day in Vancouver was bright, but not particularly warm. We took the chance to explore more fully. We found a cool art deco building called the Marine Building, which was decorated with sea creatures.

We had a wander round the waterfront and a bit called Canada Place, which has a walkway with names of different Canadian towns by Provence. After this we had a proper wander around the hipster streets of Gastown and saw the steam clock do it’s thing.

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By Canada Place

We had lunch in a lovely vegan pizzeria, called Virtuous Pie. The pizza was very tasty, as was the vegan ice cream! They had water on tap that you could take for free throughout your meal.

After faffing around and running into various shops to get change, we took a bus up to Stanley Park, the massive park north of downtown. This park is so beautiful. It runs along by the coast and has both cultivated and non cultivated areas. At the end of the park is a bridge that leads to North Vancouver, which we traveled along later in our journey.

 

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The waterfront by Stanley Park

One of our favourite things in Stanley park was the goth squirrels. This is not their real name, sadly, but you have to admit they have that stylishly gloomy look.

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Goth Squirrel

We really enjoyed walking around in the sun. it was very warm, but it was nice and the park was very beautiful. We sat around for a while by the Lion Bridge and watched the world go by.

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Cruise with Lion Bridge

We also found a cool and very sittable-on tree!

 

 

We took the bus back to our accommodation and spent a while getting dressed up to go out. We had found a gay club we wanted to check out. Before we headed to the club, we stopped at the Vancouver lookout tower, which wasn’t very expensive to go up. We timed it to coincide with the sunset! We spent a while there, enjoying the view, then headed up one more floor to the revolving restaurant, where we ordered cocktails and admired the view. The moon was massive and bright and kept being partially covered by clouds, making it look like an odd-shaped UFO.

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View from the Vancouver Lookout Tower

We headed down and caught the bus to the club. We had to change buses as our one broke, which was especially annoying because it was cold. When we arrived we were sad to learn that entry to the club was $40 as it was a special night. We had a strange cocktail each in the bar opposite, then headed home to have our own drinks and watch Hannibal!

The next day was a day of traveling: we had to take a train and a bus to Tsawwassen ferry terminal, where we caught the ferry to Vancouver Island, then another bus from Schwarz Bay into Victoria. The journey was 5hrs door to door, so we were understandably tired when we arrived. We repacked our stuff to fit it nicely into our assigned lockers, bought food and ate before the day was over.

The next morning we had a leisurely one: we ate breakfast and watched TV, then ventured out to go and watch whales! We had booked the tour a few months previously and we were very excited to see orcas, dolphins, seals and possibly humpback whales!

The company was called Spring Tide Whale Watching. We arrived and joined the group, paying our small conservation fee. We walked to our boat and boarded, enthusiastically taking seats on the bench right at the front of the front deck. We were given a safety briefing, which was momentarily interrupted by a sea plane taking off noisily.

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Sea Planes

As we set off into the bay, our chosen seats began to take a beating from the wind. I asked for an extra jacket (these were given out to people as part of the tour) and Eva shared a pair of her gloves with me. After a while I couldn’t take the cold any longer, so I retreated inside and grabbed a hot chocolate.

 

We went on for a long time without seeing anything, except for one or two fins that belonged to porpoise or dolphins. We were beginning to worry that we wouldn’t see any whales at all, when the boat turned and headed in a new direction. All the boats in the area radio each other when looking for whales, to tell each other where they are. We were heading towards a whale sighting.

As we approached we were joined by at least nine other boats. We stopped for a while and waited to see the whales, but then we moved on again. Eventually we caught up with them: a group of four orcas, a family of a mum and three babies of varying ages.

They were so beautiful.

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ORCA!

I wanted to watch the orcas for hours. They came up out of the water very often, moving as a close knit group, popping up in different combinations. The boats following them maintained a suitable distance and the cameras snapped. Eva and I became enthralled in watching and photographing them, so much so that Eva almost stepped off the edge of the boat with her one foot (there were railings, so she would have stayed on board)!

Eventually it was time to leave the beautiful whales, We were in a state of bliss after what we had seen and we were very sad to be torn away. We both want to see orcas again.

On the way back to the harbour, we stopped to look at some bald eagles chilling out on a rock, as well as a group of loudly honking sea lions and an elephant seal flobbling its way up a shallow slope.

 

As we pulled back into the harbour, we were told about one or two things, including one building, which is technically classed as a boat and used for navy training. We were also told about the sea plane runway, which is the only runway in the world that occasionally has to close because of whales!

We headed for dinner at a lovely Buddhist restaurant called Lotus Pond where the food was cheap and tasty and lots!

We then went for a walk around to Fisherman’s Wharf, which has lots of floating shops. As we walked, we watched the sun set and chatted. We saw a harbour seal chilling out, but it dived away as we got close.

 

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Sunset in Victoria

When we got to Fisherman’s Wharf, everything was shut, but we met a lovely, but pretty fat cat called Humphrey, who just sat there as we said hello. He resembled a furry puddle.

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Humphrey

On the way back to our hostel, we walked past the beautifully lit British Columbia Parliament Building and the pretty harbour. Victoria is an unexpectedly stunning city – both Eva and I were surprised at how nice it was there, mainly because we didn’t know much about it before we went. It is well worth a visit!

 

On our second (and last) full day in Victoria, we decided to visit the bug zoo. The bug zoo is a small place, only two rooms and a shop, that houses a collection of insects, arachnids and a few other creatures of a many-legged nature.

The zoo’s aim is to educate people, especially children, on the importance and beauty of these creatures, to help conserve them out in the world. There is a tour guide that moves around the rooms, explaining a little about each bug and giving you a chance to hold the more harmless ones.

Eva and I held practically everything! We held a beetle, a leaf bug, a praying mantis, a thorny devil, some millipedes (including one as long as my forearm) and a hissing cockroach. They don’t let you hold the centipedes because they are wildly aggressive.

 

Our favourite part of the experience was getting to hold the beautiful Chilean Rose Hair Tarantula, who gently strolled along our palms in a friendly manner. We also held a beautiful scorpion called Max!

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Eva and Max

Again, we were sad when we had to leave the bug zoo – it was such a cool idea and so much fun to visit! Our evening went by gently: we watched a film and ate dinner.

The next day we travelled back the way we came to Vancouver and checked into a different accommodation. This was much nicer than our first Vancouver accommodation which was in a very smelly, damp basement. This was an attic-type room in a bright, airy house and had two cupboards built under the eaves, which were fun to play in!

This time in Vancouver, so we didn’t do any more sight seeing – we had a job to do. We headed out to a massive shop called Canadian Tyre, where we bought around $200 worth of camping equipment, including bear spray. We returned on the bus clumsily, made a late dinner and skyped Mum and Dad before bed.

More on our Canadian adventures soon – in which we pick up a car and drive several thousand kilometers!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Marvellous Melbourne

I arrived in Melbourne quite late, after a very nice flight with food and inflight entertainment despite only being four hours long. I was very tired, because I had flown from Samoa to Auckland, then spent the night at Auckland airport before catching my flight to Wellington to connect with my flight to Melbourne. It was a horrible night, despite having Chris’ company, as I didn’t sleep at all.

When I arrived in Melbourne, I got the bus to my hostel – they have a service that takes you from the main city bus terminal to your hostel for free. I checked in and slept!

The next day, I woke up and could properly get to know my surroundings. The room was lovely and clean – only two sets of bunk beds, with only three occupied, including mine. I went out to buy food for the week – it was pretty damn cold after being in hot hot Samoa for two weeks!

Food is cheaper in Australia than in New Zealand, so I could easily stay in budget. Back at the hostel, I had breakfast and sorted my things out, before heading into town just after lunch.

I decided to do a free walking tour – these are a great way to orientate yourself to a new place and they cost as much as you want them too (they are free, but usually you tip). The first one I did was in Rome three years ago, and now they’re a go to when exploring somewhere new.

This tour was really good, especially as our guide, Laura, was so enthusiastic. We saw the State Library, the Old Gaol, the Exhibition Building, two pretty parks, parliament and China Town, as well as some of the cool laneways that they have here.

 

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State Library Melbourne

The State Library is pretty cool, inside is the armour worn by the infamous gang leader, Ned Kelly. The Old Gaol (pictured below) was his last residence before he was hanged on 11th November 1880.

 

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Melbourne Old Gaol

The Royal Exhibition Building is the first world heritage site-listed building in Australia. It was built for the Melbourne International Exhibition in 1880 and is still used as an exhibition venue as well as an exam hall.

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Royal Exhibition Building

The parliament gardens is one of the parks we saw – some of the trees have special bands to stop possums climbing them. These don’t work – we even saw a possum in one of the banded trees.

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Parliament Gardens

Melbourne’s laneways are very famous. They are basically alleyways, that have been transformed either by street art, or tiny cafes and shops, or both. The street art scene is phenomenal with some laneways being completely repainted every week.

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Beautiful Street Art

There are also some cool arcades – fancier, covered alleyways. The block arcade, whose floor is shown below, houses an incredibly popular tea room called Hopetoun Tea Rooms – right now their next available reservation for high tea is in ten weeks!

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Mosaic Floor in Block Arcade

After the tour, it was getting dark, so I headed back to the hostel. I had been invited out to meet James and Gary, my Mum’s cousin and his partner at their flat. The original plan for my time in Melbourne was to stay with them, but they had just moved all their stuff in a few days before I arrived and their flat was literally STUFFED with boxes! No room for me this time.

We went out for a lovely dinner at a Greek restaurant called Hellenic Republic, where the food was very tasty. After a few hours of enjoying the food and catching up, they put me back on the tram to my hostel, where I headed to bed.

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Lobby of the National Gallery of Victoria

The next day, my first stop was the NGV (the National Gallery of Victoria), which has a gorgeous water window in its entrance. There was a lovely photography exhibition on, as well as one about chairs.

Being a designer is 99% about chairs, so I went.

These chairs were particularly arty explorations of the concept, but some of them were pretty cool – like the one in the shape of a fierce orca. For some reason, chairs are something that people love to design, maybe because we spend some much of our time in them? I suppose someone has written and article about this phenomenon somewhere.

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“Fiona Blackfish” chair concept in contemporary chair design exhibition

After the gallery, I headed over to the State Library, mainly to see Ned Kelly’s armour. I have always been fascinated with crime stories, as my TV history would tell you, so gang leader armour is the kind of  thing I like to see.

The library itself is very grand, and was full of revising students.

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Inside the state library

Ned Kelly, for those who don’t know, was an Australian bushranger in the late 1800s. Bushrangers were the Australian equivalent of highwaymen, but Kelly also committed other thefts as well as assaults and murders. His life of crime came to a head when he and his gang took over a town called Glenrowan, keeping 62 hostages in a hotel there. There was a shootout with the police, during which Kelly wore some armour that he made to prevent him from being shot. However, the armour didn’t cover his legs, which allowed the police to shoot him and capture him.

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Ned Kelly’s armour

That evening, I headed out to the Eureka Tower – it was just down the road from my hostel. I timed it so I could see the sunset. The tower has the tallest observation deck in the southern hemisphere. That last bit is important, because there isn’t so much in the way of tall buildings in the southern hemisphere.

The views were great though, so I stayed for a long time, just enjoying the view. I watched the sun go down and the lights come on.

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Sunset from Skydeck of the Eureka Tower

All I managed to do on day three was see the Shrine of Remembrance. The shrine was originally built to commemorate those who served in WW1, but is now a shrine for all Australians who served in war.

I arrived in time for the flags to be taken down for the day, to a bugle call.

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The Shrine of Remembrance

I sat there for a while as it got dark and watched the flame they have there.

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Flame at the Shrine

The next day, I went to see St Kilda. This is an area of Melbourne by the seaside. Even though it was pretty cold, I always enjoy walking by the sea. St Kilda was easy to get to by a tram.

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St Kidla Tram Stop

I walked along the high street and had a peak in all the cute little shops, before heading towards the sea. On the way I passed Luna Park, an old theme park with a very brightly coloured and mildly terrifying aesthetic.

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Luna Park Entrance

The beach was beautiful and the weather was good, so I could explore without getting wet and (too) cold! By the beach is a long pier, with a cute little pavilion building on it, which doubles as a cafe – I got coffee there. Apparently it burned down in 2003, but was rebuilt using the original 1903 plans.

 

I love the seaside – especially the dogs running along excitedly. There was one dog that wouldn’t stop barking at the birds as he tried to catch them – so cute!

The other side of the high street from the seaside is the St Kilda botanical gardens, which I decided to go and see. On my way there, I enjoyed the crunchy leaves that lined the pavement (crunchy leaves are the best – I even have an instagram video from last year when I went to Kew Gardens of me jumping in the leaves)! They have more autumn leaves in Melbourne than they did in Levin – I suppose that they have different kinds of trees in New Zealand, maybe more native ones than ‘English’ imports.

The gardens were nice, but not at their best as it was autumn. They had a beautiful gate though, decorated with stunning details in the ironwork.

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The botanical garden’s gate

After a brief time in the gardens, I headed back to the pier to look for penguins!

Behind the pier is an area of rocks that houses a penguin colony. They are called Little Penguins, sometimes called Fairy Penguins, due to their small size – they are only 33cms high!

They come out more often at dusk, so I headed down for sunset. There were lots of other people there too and we were lucky to see one standing between the rocks, looking out at us and being thoroughly photographed.

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Fairy Penguin!

After my penguin encounter, I went to get fish and chips, before returning to my hostel.

The next day I met James and Gary again and they took me to the Heide Museum of Modern Art. We had brunch, then a look around. The Heide site is made up of several buildings. The first is an old farm house, Heide I, which John and Sunday Reed moved into in 1934. The couple opened their home to like-minded artists. In 1964, they commissioned a new home to be built on the site in the modernist style. This is Heide II.

The site also includes Heide III and the Sidney Myer Education Centre. The spaces are all art galleries. There were some very interesting paintings, but my favourite part of the site was certainly Heide II. The design of the space was beautiful as both a living space and a place to display art – truly stunning.

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Inside Heide II – I love the big windows!

After our visit to Heide, James and Gary dropped me on Brunswick Street and also recommended I see Smith Street. I wandered up and down the two, going into the most interesting looking shops. They had some really cool places: arty cafes, second hand furniture shops and a very pretty tea shop.

 

I had a snack on a bench outside the Catholic cathedral. I wanted to go in, but even though it said there wasn’t a mass on, there was. It was still lovely from the outside.

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The Catholic Cathedral

On the Monday morning, I met Gary to talk about design (I want to be an interior designer, and he is one). He showed me some fabric houses and we discussed his work and costings and other aspects of the job. It was so helpful to have that meeting and great to have a conversation about design with someone who really knows their stuff!

After our meeting, I headed back to the hostel, then briefly out to the botanical gardens before the sun went down. It was gloomy and drizzly, but I could still appreciate the beauty of the place – I especially liked ‘Guilfoyle’s Volcano’, a water storage solution installed in the gardens in 1876, which has gorgeous plants coating the sides.

 

On my final day in Melbourne, I mainly packed and did some more planning for my trip to Canada. In the evening, I met up with James one last time for dinner.

We went to a very cool, speak-easy type of bar in an odd backstreet, called Bar Americano. It certainly had the prohibition vibe and you weren’t allowed to take photos. We had some very tasty cocktails, made from things I hadn’t heard of.

We then headed to Chin Chin, a highly recommended Asian fusion place for dinner. We had a very tasty goat curry and a fiery papaya salad – the food was excellent. Afterwards we had some Vietnamese iced tea, which was red tea and ice and condensed coconut milk – this was amazing.

Melbourne was a marvelous place to visit, with its arty, hipster vibes and I’m sure I will return one day – I am intrigued to see some more of Australia after listening to people on the farm rave about it!

Samoan Adventures Chapter 3: Road trips!

On the last few days of our trip on Samoa, we hired some cars and went to see some of the sights of Samoa that are more easily accessed by road.

We picked up the first car in Salelologa, on Savai’i. It was a small Toyota Vitz, which is a Yaris. We go it early, then headed to the supermarket to buy food for lunch, then on to the road!

I was driving as Chris’ driving licence is in German (annoyingly for licences not in English, people require a translation or an international licence to drive in certain countries). I was very excited as this was the first long distance bit of driving I would do since passing my driving test. In Samoa, they also drive on the left and have right hand drive cars, and the car was an automatic, so it was very easy to get going.

The first stop was the Afu Aau Falls. This is a very beautiful site, with a curved wall of rock, coated in a curtain of bright green foliage, surrounding the waterfall. The waterfall is a little way from the road, along a bumpy, muddy and uneven track. You don’t need a four wheel drive to get there, but it would certainly have been more comfortable. We made it without sliding or bottoming out the car. In part thanks to Chris constantly telling me to slow down!

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Afu Aau Falls

We drove on. I was beginning to really enjoy the driving despite the weather becoming a bit cloudy, with splashes of rain. We eventually found the Mu Pagoa falls. As with all of these attractions, we had to pay a small amount to see it (usually 5 – 10 Tala) – this money went to the family that owned the land that the attraction was on. In the case of the Mu Pagoa falls, we had to walk across a family’s quite dirty, animal-strewn yard to view the falls. They were very atmospheric with the tall palm trees behind. We also saw a small shoal of fish jumping in and out of the waves in the sea next to us!

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Mu Pagoa Falls

The rain continued, but the roads were very clear. The rpute round Savaii is very easy as there is basically one road around the entire island and hardly any traffic. We stopped at a few more places: the black sand beach, which had black sand (as you might have guessed), and some gorgeous black cliffs with waves crashing against them.

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Black Sand Beach
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Arty shot of me at the beautiful black cliffs

After the cliffs, we reached our next main destination – the Alofaga Blowholes. These are some really cool rock formations on the south coast of Savaii which shoot water high into the air as it comes in with the waves. They are very cool and very hard to photograph – partially because the fountain happens quite quickly, partially because it was cloudy when we went and partially because you get sprayed by a mist of seawater!

My attempt at a photo is below!

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Alofaga Blow Holes

We also stopped at Lover’s Leap, a viewpoint on the south coast. It had an odd story behind it – apparently a blind old woman and her daughter were ignore by the rest of their family, so they jumped off the cliff and as they hit the water, they turned into a shark and a turtle and swam off happily. How lovely.

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Lovers Leap

My favourite part of the road trip came when we drove around the west most tip of Samoa. The weather improved, so we were driving in the sun, then we turned onto the road that takes you round the tip. It was “unsealed”, so at first it was a slightly gravelly road surface, but eventually it became mainly sand, coconuts and pot holes! It was so beautiful out there though, with the coconut palms gently shading us as we drove along, a breeze coming through the car windows and slivers of golden sand, showing through the trees.

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The end of Savai’i

There was also a beautiful old church at the end of the island. I just loved how tranquil that area was. There was hardly anyone there, just beautiful, sparkling sea and a mixture of sandy and rocky beaches. It looked like paradise.

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Church at the end of the island

We circled round to the north coast and drove back round and down the east coast of Savai’i. This is the busiest bit of Savai’i. It isn’t busy, but it is lined with towns and fales as well as a few resorts. There is a lovely church in one town which has a slightly vintage charm. We stopped there for some photos.

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Pretty but disheveled church

That night, we drove back to our fale in Salelologa – we had driven around 200km. When we filled up, ready to give the car back, it cost only 25 Tala! The day had been so much fun – what an experience! We stayed the night, the went to return our car and take the ferry back to Upolu in the morning. During the drive either to or from our fale, we were chased by a pack of loose dogs who got far too close to the car for comfort! It seems that the main driving hazard in Samoa is rogue animals – you find yourself watching out for sudden dogs, pigs, cows, horses and chickens crossing!

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Crabs under our fale

We didn’t do too much when we arrived back at Olivia’s accommodation in Apia – in part because the electricity was off and they were out of gas – not great given that we were hungry! We mainly walked around sorting out the car for the next day and I read.

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Sideways moon!

The next day, we picked up our slightly bigger car to explore Upolu! We drove east, towards Lalomanu, cutting away from the sea onto the Le Mafa Pass.

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Car on Upolu

On a steep, windy road just off the pass is a lookout point to what is, in my opinion, the best view in Samoa. I stayed for ages taking photos. The pointy green hills surrounded the beautiful bay below. Wow.

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The best view in Samoa

Just across the road from that view is the other one.

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The other best view in Samoa

We carried on over the pass, and soon came to the Fuipsia waterfall, which cost a whole 10 Tala each. We had to walk along a very muddy “path” and also cross a small stream to get there, but the view down was worth it! it was a lovely high waterfall with it’s own rainbow. As we stood there admiring the view (I had finished taking photos), a bird flew past. I considered getting my camera out, but thought ‘nah’. This was a mistake because the bird was not a bird, but a Samoan Flying Fox!

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Fuipsia waterfall with rainbow!

We carried on to the To Sua Ocean Trench, but it wasn’t open yet, so we carried on driving round to a lovely beach – nearly as far round as Fao Fao, where we stayed at the start of the trip. The beach was lovely and sunny. After a little while, we drove back to To Sua.

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Beach near Faofao

We were the first people to get to To Sua. We paid our 20 Tala entry and went in to take photos! It was empty and especially photogenic! We had a long look and took photos for a while, then went and got our lunch and ate overlooking the sea.

I got changed and went for a swim, climbing down the 10m high ladder into the beautiful cool pool! It is connected to the sea underground, so it has a tide, but it is very gentle. It is very beautiful inside the pool – it has cliffs where it meets the water, some are quite red. There is also a cave through to another opening, but I didn’t feel like swimming all the way through. My favourite thing to do in the trench was starfish on my back and look up at the sky through the oval opening above me – I could have stayed in there all day!

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To Sua Ocean Trench
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View of the sea by To Sua

Eventually, we left and drove to another waterfall with the wonderful name of Togitogiga, which is fun to say. It looked like a good place to swim, if one had the time.

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Togitogiga falls

The last place we stopped was the Papapapaitai falls. The light wasn’t in the best place for a photo, but apparently the valley is usually filled with clouds, so at least we could see it. This waterfall is very tall – if you look, you can see a house to the left of the waterfall in the photo below!

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Papapapaitai Falls

We returned the second car and went back to the accommodation to pack and get ready to leave.

Samoa was such a cool place to visit for me – I had never been anywhere like it! The island lifestyle is wonderfully chill, the people are so devout and friendly (if a little old fashioned) and it was truly eye-opening to be in a place where being white makes you the minority.

Maybe I’ll go back, maybe not, but Samoa will certainly stay with me in my memories!

 

 

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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Samoan Parliament

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!