(Sunrise - Monday morning)
On Monday we went to Apia to see if we could get our return flights and visas extended. As it turned out the visas were not a problem, just a little paperwork and a $50 Tala fee. The tickets were a different story. It appears that I had purchased an airfare that was restricted to 30 days and to extend the return to 60 days would cost each of us approximately $300 US and that was just Air New Zealand. I expect US Airways would have charged us at least $100 US each to rewrite the ticket. We decided not to spend the extra money and will be returning to State College on Tuesday, March 25.
Travel Tip #1. Make sure you understand what your restrictions are on your tickets. We bought ours through Expedia and it is not always obvious with Internet purchases as to the restrictions.
Travel Tip #2. This will apply to very few of you. If your spouse was born in Samoa and has a Samoan passport or birth certificate they should bring them with them. This is regardless of whether or not they are an US Citizen and traveling on an US passport. The Samoan passport does not need to be current. This will enable both of you to extend your visa with minimum difficulty and expense. Otherwise you have to get a family member to "guarantee" your support. While this is not generally a problem it does involve more paperwork and fees.
We decided to play tourist and visit some of the things we had not seen in Upolu on previous trips. Our first task was to find a hotel. There are three classes of hotels in the Apia area ranging from backpacking without hot water or air conditioning and a shared bath and toilet to international class hotels with all the facilities a pampered tourist would expect. We decided on a mid range hotel, Hotel Pacifica, with air conditioning and a shower with hot water. Both were welcomed after more than two weeks in the bush. We elected not to have the ocean view or TV. The hotel also provided breakfast. Since the hotel does not currently have a full service restaurant we had our other meals somewhere else. While the hotel was somewhat spartan by US standards it was adequate and the staff quite pleasant and represented the best in the legendary Samoan hospitality.
Travel Tip #3. Most prices are quoted in Samoan Tala. The exception appears to be hotels. I was using the Lonely Planet Guidebook with a revision date of 1998. The guidebook lists prices in Tala. The Hotel Pasefika (The Hotel Pacific) was listed in the guidebook at a rate of $55 Tala. That is quite a bargain considering one US dollar buys three Tala. When I checked in at the hotel they quoted me the $55 rate. When we checked out we were surprised to learn that the rate was listed in US dollars. We learned later that all the hotels were listing their rate cards in US dollars. The government also charges a 12.5% tax on most purchases including hotels. In same cases, such as our car rental, we used cash and paid "under the table" and were able to avoid the tax. We got a great rate on the car, nearly 30% below the going rate. If you would like to know the company send me an email.
We spent our day of sightseeing driving around the east end of the island and along the southeast coast.
The fresh water pool at Piula is a "must do" stop for anyone visiting Samoa. Piula is the location of Theological College for the Methodist Church in Samoa. Behind the campus and church is a path that leads down a cliff to the beach.
At the bottom of the cliff is a fresh water pool that flows out of a lava cave. The pool is approximately five feet deep, twenty feet across, and twenty-five to thirty yards long. About half of the pool is inside the cave. For the adventurous you can dive through an opening that will lead you to another similar, but smaller, pool about 25 yards away by land. Since I didnít attempt it, I donít know how far one has to swim underwater.
From Piula we started south stopping briefly to look at Falefa Falls.
From there we crossed the island through the Lemafa Pass
We had intended to go to Samamea to look at Fagaloa Bay which is reported to be one of the nicer bays in Upolu. I missed the turn so this will be something for the next trip. There are road signs at most intersections; however, we discovered that the arrows are not always pointing in the correct direction. The moral of the story is to ask directions often. One of the problems I had was that I was given directions in English and the Samoan version wasnít always recognizable. For example, I was looking for the Morris Building in Apia and several people gave me what appeared to be good directions, but I walked by the building several times before I realized that Morris in Samoan was Molesi.
Once we got to the south shore we traveled west. The beaches on the south shore are reported to be the best in Samoa but arenít visible from the Coast Road. To reach them you have to drive down plantation roads or hike in. Or, you can do as we did and go to one of the several beach resorts. We stopped by The Coconuts Resort.
This is a beautiful facility that according to my guide book was set up by two lawyers from Chicago who were looking for "paradise." The hotel is a very nice upscale resort. The rooms are expensive and cost over $200 US per night. There is a range of rooms available with several rooms built out over the water and with a glass bottom that lets you view the sea life. These rooms are much more expensive. We had lunch at The Coconuts and as with most hotels in Samoa found it to be expensive and not very good. The menu was a standard Western sandwich menu. With the exception of the nights, usually one night a week, where they have Polynesian entertainment and a Samoan buffet the food is disappointing in most hotels.
The best eating experience we had was for lunch in an Apia restaurant called King Taro. The food is served buffet style and had available about eight different Samoan dishes. Some of the dishes are not available in the hotel feasts and are served only on special occasions in the Samoan home. This was probably the best Samoan food and the best food I had during the whole trip. This was a real treat for Tai.
After lunch we headed back to Apia on the Tiavi Road. Both Savaii and Upolu are mountainous with the range of volcanoes running as a spine down the middle of the islands. The Tiavi Road crosses the island at about mid-point. At the top of the range you get a view of a spectacular waterfall. I am told that is no way to reach the pool at the bottom. That sounds like a challenge to me and something to attempt in the future. At this point you are about 2500 feet above sea level.
The distance from Asau, Savaii to Apia, Upolu is only about 88 miles, but the trip takes about half a day. The drive from Asau, whether by bus or car, to the wharf is about 55 miles and takes several hours. The roads are narrow and the average driving speed is about 25 MPH with top speeds in a few places of 30 to 40 MPH. The boat trip from Savaii to Upolu is only about an hour depending on which boat you take but the wait for the boat can take up to an hour if you havenít timed things well. The bus ride from the wharf on Upolu to Apia takes about 45 minutes to an hour. It is a grueling trip.
A note about the buses. These are home made jobs. They consist of a wooden frame built upon a bus chassis. Typically they are under powered, noisy, and uncomfortable. The seats are wooden and the only padding is that which God gave you.
Apia is about the only thing that resembles a city in Samoa. It is built on a bay and the main road runs along the curve of the harbor. It is the seat of the government and commercial activity. In reality, Apia is made up of a number of small villages much like the State College area is a collection of townships only the area is much smaller. With the exception of a couple new high rise (seven or eight stories) office buildings the commercial area consists of one and two story wooden or concrete structures some of which date back to time of the German colonial days. There is not much for the tourist in Apia other than to shop for handicrafts. We managed to avoid that this time since our house is already filled with Samoan artifacts. To truly experience Samoa you have to get outside of Apia.
While we were in Apia we visited the home of Robert Louis Stevenson. I had been to his grave which is located on Mt. Vaea overlooking the Apia harbor, but never to his home. R.L. Stevenson lived the last five years of his life in Samoa. He had TB and his doctor recommended that he move to a warm tropical climate. He quickly adapted to Samoan life and became highly respected by the Samoans. When he died he was given a funereal by the Samoans that is reserved for the head of state. He was given the name Tusi Tala which means the Story Teller. He is still highly respected today.
We spent two evenings with Taiís niece and her family while in Apia. Their lifestyle is very different from that in Asau. It really pointed out to me how rural and traditional life is in Savaii.
We spent a little time investigating housing options. It appears that quite a few places are available for purchase and rent. We looked at one very attractive house that rents for about $500 US. I think that is within our budget and my next task is to convince Tai that this is a move we should make. We have both come to the realization that it is not practical to live in Asau. I found the temperature and humidity slightly less in Apia, but Tai is still having problems with the heat.