Gentle Savai’i

I’m writing this post from the deck of our beachfront fale at Jane’s on the big Samoan island of Savai’i. We decided that after three days in Apia, we had pretty well exhausted the possibilities of Samoa’s capital city. For our final night in Apia, after a last walk along the harbour seawall, we sampled the fresh local seafood on the deck at Swashbuckler’s, the restaurant at the Apia Yacht Club. It was wonderful, with huge – too huge for me – portions.

After debating about how to proceed, we decided to rent a car for 9 days to carry us and our multitude of bags over on the ferry to the big island. Luckily, the car rental clerk had told us that we needed to reserve a ticket for the car ahead of time; after driving around in circles in downtown Apia for a while looking for the Samoan Shipping Company, we finally found it in a tiny strip mall next to a café, and bought our ticket to ride (at least for car and driver – I had to purchase a passenger ticket at the dock).

Before going to the ferry, we visited the Robert Louis Stevenson museum in Apia, the writer’s former plantation home now made into a shrine dedicated to all things Stevenson. The mansion, called Vailima (now the name of Samoa’s national beer) on beautifully manicured grounds, contains all the furniture and fittings used by the Stevensons during their time in Samoa, including a pool table and a piano.

This house has the only fireplace in Samoa (actually, it has two fireplaces – I suppose having TB made Stevenson more susceptible to the cold than one might otherwise be although it’s hard to imagine needing a fireplace here). As well, the museum has several first editions of the books Stevenson wrote while in Apia for four years in the 1890s. He is buried nearby; the tomb is atop a nearby hill but we didn’t have time to make the pilgrimage up to it. At the moment on my kindle I’m reading Stevenson’s Tales of the South Seas about his time in the South Pacific – will report on that anon …

Driving a car here is a bit tricky for North Americans because Samoans now drive on the left-hand side of the road; it took Ty a bit of time to acclimatise to that but we arrived at the ferry dock without incident well in time for the 4 pm “big” ferry to the big island.

Samoa has two ferries that make the crossing; one, the big, carries about 40 cars and maybe a hundred walk-on passengers; the other many fewer. While waiting in the lineup for the ferry to load, I had flashbacks of my time commuting from Horseshoe Bay to Nanaimo on BC Ferries; unlike BC Ferries, this ship has no customer service facilities to speak of, only two guys trying to sell cellophane packages of stale chips on the dock. This day, after a rain squall had passed through, the ocean swells were quite deep and the crossing was a bit rocky, the ship dipping and diving as we headed towards the dock at Savai’i.

After a quick stop at the ATM to load up on cash, Ty and I booted it down the one island road headed towards the north-east coast and our destination of Manase Beach, trying to get there before the sun went down. We estimated that sunset would be around 6:30 and we hit the road at 5:30 for the one hour drive down the coast – it was going to be touch and go to arrive before dark. (In the tropics darkness comes quickly once the sun sinks below the horizon). The speed limit here is 40 km, a speed which we maintained through the small villages and when people were on the road; in the uninhabited areas we sped up significantly, afraid that we’d not get to the ranch on time.

Each village we passed through had volleyball games on the go and folks strolling along the side of the road; in addition to the people, dogs, horses, pigs, cats, roosters, and chickens were also cantering and scampering along the pavement. As we rounded the bend to the north coast and were driving directly into the blinding setting sun, it was very difficult to see anything on the road. The village kids, thinking it was funny, kept sticking their arms and legs out into the path of the car as we passed, not realising that we really could not see them. Thankfully, we arrived without incident at Jane’s Fales, with ten minutes of light to spare.

Our fale is right on a beautiful white sand beach, one in a row of six or so. The property has about 27 of these structures, the older ones, like ours, of wood, and several cement bungalows back close to the road. It also has a beach bar with a small TV and pool table, an internet café, with two computers, an open dining fale, a small number of bikes for rent, and separate communal toilet and cold shower blocks. Our fale is simply a wooden structure with one room and a porch on which there are two chairs and a table. It has one (dim) old fluorescent ceiling light and a double bed with mosquito net. Sitting on the porch, the breeze off the ocean is stiff and very refreshing. The cost for our stay is 60 Samoan tala a night each, including breakfast and dinner (approx $60 for the two of us). The portions are Samoan-size – large – and the food is quite good. The bananas, especially, are quite wonderful here, small and very sweet. Small black cats, chickens, roosters, and tiny chicks wander freely around the grassy compound – very free range. The vibe is lively, with a largish group of Samoans from Apia, staying here to conduct a census of the island for a week, singing and playing volleyball. These folks have to walk from village to village and up into the forest to count all the souls on the island.

This morning, after being awoken at 4:55 by fighting cats and crowing roosters, we decided to head out down the highway on foot and check out the neighborhood. Walking through the scrub next to the road we climbed down a small dip to the beach a few blocks away and picked our way across the lava field that stretches along the north east and east coast. I collected quite a few shells with which I’ll make jewellery and some coconut halves to paint and use for storage bowls.

After an hour or so of walking in the hot sun, we headed into the Le Legoto Resort for a drink poolside. This place is nice – upscale – but not at all Samoan; it is indistinguishable from the resorts I’ve seen in Maui.

While walking back towards our own much more modest ranch, we tried to hitch-hike but the two cars that passed were only going 2 blocks down the road. Along the road Ty picked up a discarded woven palm-frond basket and a large empty vegetable tin to use as a garbage can on our deck – such are the small delights here on Savai’i.

On this island, as on Upolu, lava rock breakwaters are being built along the low lying coastland and projects to generate water self-sufficiency are ongoing. The feeling here is much more laid back than on Upolu; Savai’I is “old time Samoa”. As we walked almost everyone who saw us called out “hi” or “goodbye” or simply shouted “ho!”. Of course we were the only ones walking in the mid-day heat (something about mad dogs and Englishmen comes to mind …). Samoans come out to walk when the sun slants in the sky and the heat dissipates. At noon, unlike us, they are sensibly in the shade under trees.

See a few more pictures here.

One Reply to “Gentle Savai’i”

  1. Okay, I hate to sound repetitious but I am green. You have just begun and your trip is already a once in a lifetime venture.

    Just so you know, our weather here is in the high 20s by the sea and low 30s inland; so we are in the tropics too. HA HA.

    We already miss you and can’t wait to hear more.

    Hugs Kathryn

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