Thursday, August 9, 2012

Samoa (Western) from Apia Part 1

We have been quiet on the blog since we made landfall here in Samoa (pronounced Sah-moah with the accent on the first part) so there is much to report. Checking in to Samoa (along with the recent time change and switching to driving on the left side of the road, they have dropped the “Western” descriptor) was an all day affair. Having spent the whole of Sunday tidying up, we were ready at the stated 0900 time. When 1000 rolled around, we were happy to see an obviously official man in what looked like a solid print sarong and an aloha shirt headed to one of the other boats also awaiting check in. This turns out to be traditional dress for a male- the sarong, however, is a “lavalava” and the aloha shirt is actually printed with traditional Samoan designs. Another official in traditional dress, who turned out to be the Quarantine Inspector spoke little. He just handed us a form to fill out and requested us to bag our trash and take it to the quarantine facility right next to the marina for proper disposal for a minimal fee of 3-Tala (divided by 2.25 = US dollar amount) no matter the size of the bag. The next lavalava wearing official to our boat turned out to be the very nice Ministry of Health official. After visiting other boats that had gotten here before us, he boarded our boat where we filled out several forms while he looked around Tao defining it healthy, and answered Shawn’s pressing questions about appropriate dress for tourists (we want to be respectful, but also comfortable). A thin strapped dress ending just above the knees was deemed plenty respectful- at least within the city of Apia. Down came our yellow Quarrantine flag, and finally the more severe looking Customs officer made his way to our boat. We quickly showed our passports and filled out more paperwork and he informed us that Immigration was quite backed up so we needed to go to their office in town for the next step of check in.

As we stepped ashore from the docks, the taxi drivers jumped to offer us a ride, but we opted to walk along the waterfront the mile or so to the Immigration office instead. Once we found the office, we took a number- like at a US post office, and patiently awaited our turn amongst a large number of locals apparently all renewing passports at the same time (there is a lot of travel between American and Western Samoa requiring stops to Immigration). Soon enough it was our turn and we filled out more paperwork, received our passport stamps, and were on our way back to the marina and our final stop at the Port Authority to pay for our slip. Just before 1700, the end of the work day, two Port Authority officials came to our boat to supply us with required Apia Marina tags and proceeded to want to chat for nearly an hour. We made a little mis-step when we told them we were scientists as it became apparent that they think scientists believe in Darwin and not God and they drilled us with questions about religion, the start of life, etc. Chris fielded them well and finally they relented and took our USCG vessel documentation to make copies and told us we pay upon checking out. We sat down and breathed a sigh of relief as the sun set on our first busy day in Samoa.

Samoa, approximately 2,250-miles south of Hawaii consists of two main islands formed from extinct volcanoes rising to 6,000-ft on Savaii and 3,600-ft on Upolo. Of the approximately 177K total Samoan inhabitants, 25% live on Savaii, 20% live in the capital and commercial center of Apia on Upolo, and just under 2% are European. Fanning was a poor Micronesian island and Suwarrow had only 2 Northern Cook Island residents, so Apia with approximately 36,000 residents is our first foray into South Pacific Polynesia. It is a mix of big city yet traditional and everyone is welcoming with a smile. Although some are quite portly, most Islanders are medium sized and dark skinned. Many of the men sport beautiful tattoos sharing their family stories on their arms and traditionally dressed women almost always have flowers in their hair. When they speak English, it is a crazy fusion of Crocodile Dundee’s Australian accent in a Polynesian body. Although Samoans have tended to retain their traditional ways despite exposure to European influence (most Samoans live within traditional social system based on the extended family headed by a chief), tourists of all sizes and shapes are welcomed with open arms. The first questions everyone asks is where are you from, where are you staying, and how long will you be here? Here we are “palagi” (pronounced pah-lahn-ghee), tourists of white descent, and most Samoans are surprised when they hear we are from the US as the bulk of white tourists they meet are from Australia and New Zealand.

As far as we can tell, Samoans tend to be quite religious, 55% belonging to the Congregational Church and 40% divided between Roman Catholic and Methodist Churches. We observed many homes outside of Apia flanked by well decorated family crypts and on Sundays nobody works. It is so quiet at the harbor, that Chris worried doing some drill work that someone would come ask him to stop work. Education is free but not required, though most primary school children attend classes. Many learn English in school, but not everyone seems to understand when we explain we sailed here, and others eyes just get really big. Author of Treasure Island, Robert Louis Stevenson, chose to spend the last years of his life here and is buried atop the beautiful hills above Apia with a memorial and museum. The town is an interesting balance of traditional Samoan and 2012 world influence. Locals are nearly all adorned in lavalavas and puletasi (the woman’s version), but there are also Digicel offices on nearly every corner.
With several boat projects, many tasks requiring internet, and complete re-provision required, we have spent most of our time thus far in Samoa figuring out Apia. During the days, there is a traditional veggie market where women manage the sales and men can be seen sitting in quiet circles drinking traditional kava. There are also grocery stores with dry goods ranging from corner store to upscale air-conditioned and filled with imported goods. Frankies is the local’s choice for inexpensive goods and there are 4 of them around Apia including the wholesale store that supplies them. Chan Mao provides groceries for the large Asian population here and sports the largest assortment of fabrics in town. Lucky Foodtown (we love this name) and Farmer Joe’s (the name is so reminiscent of Trader Joes in the US but the store of course not the same at all) carry most of the imported goods that us palagi search for. Hardware stores range from a familiar looking ACE hardware store to more local Bluebird Hardware and finally on the outskirts of town we found the widest variety and selection of parts at SMI Hardware. We have managed to take several evenings off to watch traditional dancing and fire throwing ceremonies at the bar/ice cream shop across from the harbor as well as at the historically significant Aggie Grey’s Hotel. Both were fantastic experiences.

We spent the first week of our stay ensuring that the tropical bugs were not able to take residence on Tao by pulling out gear we hadn’t seen in months, cleaning areas, spraying all inaccessible pathways throughout the boat and generally reorganizing. After trying out the cafes of the two wifi providers in town (LavaSpot and PostNet) and finding little difference, we chose to use our wifi antenna and the least expensive internet cards purchased in town from PostNet. Back at Tao, we suffered through the slow connection, but were able to take care of basic internet tasks and have computer to computer (no video) Skype calls with our families to catch up a little bit. In the second week, Chris re-did the hatch project with silicone that he had found in town (he had used 4200 in Suwarrow when our silicone was found to be hardened already), changed the engine oil and zincs, and finally finished building the cockpit bed while Shawn took multiple loads of laundry to a local mat and sent e-mails out requesting RSVPs to our March 2013 Mexico destination wedding. Unfortunately, it wasn’t until this final week that we decided to pay the twice as high rate to see if the other wifi connection was any better, and indeed it is worth every penny. Usually with a little extra leg work we can find how the locals get by, but in this case, other cruisers research was correct. LavaSpot hotspot is the way to go if you want to get internet done efficiently (137Tala for 20-hrs at LavaSpot versus 80T at PostNet). Hindsight is 20/20, but we know now in this case, you really get what you pay for.

1 comment:

  1. Glad you are "settling in" and getting your bearings. The photos are beautiful... Everything in the tropics is so bright and colorful. Stateside, everything seems neutral in comparison. Maybe the abundance of flowers all the time makes folks crave big color. It's lovely.
    Would be interested in seeing/reading about your cockpit bed project. :)