How unaffected can one stay by beauty? It certainly grows on you, doesn’t it? Samoa, as a country, certainly grows on you. The absence of crass commercialisation is something that one notices as soon as they walk out of the airport. The biggest advertisement one sees is the huge hoarding of the nation’s only beer- Vailima, and that too outside the brewery.
What makes Samoa beautiful? The sights, the seemingly long unending roads, or the simplicity in everything related to life? It’s all of this, and most importantly, its people. The people here are ever smiling, effervescent, and friendly. On the louder side of life, it is hard to see them being flustered. The easy pace of life on the island has, on the other hand, given raise to laziness.
Everything in Samoa revolves around music. Not strange. It certainly is appealing and surprising when you enter the immigration area at around 2 AM and find people playing all sorts of musical instruments. At that hour, after a seemingly long flight, it is a delight to listen to pleasant tunes. The immigration officer is also welcoming- a relief. In fact, the journey from the flight to the van hardly took 20 minutes- including collecting the baggage, a welcome by the locals with garlands et all. Welcoming someone plays a huge part. At least it seemed so in my two visits to the airport in Samoa. Not only were we welcomed with glee, but locals who seemed to be coming back were accorded a champion’s welcome.
Since I was fighting the time-zones (Samoa is +7:30 hours IST), I found it tough to sleep. Sink into sleep I did and the first interaction with local Samoans is something that will stay with me forever. As soon as I was introduced to them, they were keen to smile at me; all of them.
Being an eggetarian, my toughest battles were yet to come. I was shocked looking at the menu in the room and wanted to fly back to India the very next moment. I gathered myself, got up, left the room and went to the restaurant. When informed that I was an Indian, they said they would try their best to dish up Rotis for me. Their next question, however stumped me. They asked if I was from Fiji!
The people never failed to amuse me. Their smile and innocence added to their charm. I found out, as the days grew by, that the smiles offered to me on the day one weren’t a rarity. They were, in fact, common place.
There are the things which you wouldn’t miss if you go around Samoa. Beaches, friendly people, poverty, waterfalls and huts, which locals call fales. These huts make a fascinating watch. Few houses surround these huts. Apparently, families get together under these huts and have fun. These huts are made for parties. They are wide and long, with a hay top in the shape of a quadrilateral.
Apart from the fales, there is something else that shows the Samoan’s devotion to family. The graves of parents exist in the courtyard of the house; in most of the houses.
These are the things that you notice in the rural areas, which you see when you go on a tour of the island Upolu. Towards the stretch when you enter Lalomanu, the best beach on the island, you notice the destruction that a tsunami left in its wake.
The drive from Lalomanu back to Apia is one of the best drives I have ever been in. A distance of 59 kilometres affords you sights that are difficult to find in that short a stretch. In fact, the sights start a little before you actually reach Lalomanu. Starting with the waterfalls, you get to Tosua` which has a pool that was a first for me.
Tosua` means ‘the big hole’ in the local language. It is a trench in what looks like a cave from the shore. The water level in the trench is governed by the tides. The water-level in the trench always makes it a good place for a swim. At the same place, if you are lucky enough to go there at the high tide time you can catch some blowholes.
Sopoaga waterfall is another sight that shouldn’t be missed. Apart from Abbey Falls in India, it must be the only privately owned waterfall. Surrounded by greenery all around, a jet of water flows down into a gorge. The unique thing over here is the fact that since it’s a privately owned waterfall, there is a charge you need to pay to the owners. In their absence, there is an honesty box that you can drop the charges into. Fortunately, when we went there, not only were the owners around, but their child played a musical instrument for all of us. I forgot the name of the instrument!
Lalomanu to Apia is a drive that affords you views of a valley, a plateau, a corniche, and lots of churches. The Le Mafa scenic point gives you some breathtaking views of the valley. Samoa must be the country with most number of churches per sq.km. A village with barely 5-6 houses has 2 churches. No exaggeration this! Some of the churches have a school attached to them. If you look closely, you would surely think that Volleyball is the national game, as most kids are likely to be found playing the game in the evening.
Samoa, like all other Polynesian countries, is seen as a tourist spot. Expectedly, the cuisine here is similar to what you get in most of the other countries. Local food is very rare to find. It wasn’t until the last day that I got to taste some local food. Palosami is a dish cooked up with colocasia and it’s leaves with some coconut cream. I was initially hesitant in tasting it, but once I did, I wanted more of it. Although not a local product, an L&P that I tasted on the same day had the same wishing effect on me.
While working, it was difficult to concentrate as the clouds used to gather around the mountains closest to us and it used to be sunny from the coast. If it rained, it was a rainbow day. In a very rare occurrence, I got to see a double rainbow.
Fifteen days of stay in Samoa made me appreciate it and its people better, the people who are always ready with a smile, whatever the circumstances be.