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Treasured Island (Upolu, Samoa)

October 23rd, 2009 · No Comments

The Apia marina dinghy meets you in the bay and escorts the yachts into their marina berth, they have been known to direct sailors to share a berth with a bommie , yes a bommie one of the large coral heads that can put holes in a glassfibre hull. The game starts when the dinghy rushes ahead and beckons you to follow, they try to get you into the bommie berth before the other sailors on the pontoons have time to rush down to warn you. They are quite happy when arriving yachts decline the bommie berths, they shrug their shoulders and then direct you to another berth. Just seems a slightly odd game.
So that’s the beginning, with yellow flag up, the Samoan authorities arrive dressed in their lavalavas, shirt and sandles, customs immigration health and quarantine. All close at hand as this is the capital of Samoa. No swine flu, we are not carrying illegal drugs, guns, spear guns or anything we shouldn’t have so we are free to go about as a palangi tourist.

The social diary becomes full almost instantly, meeting up with friends and friends of friends. Shopping is the first priority, a few fresh vegetables would be good, meat and cheese and some nibbles. Prices are good compared to French Polynesian, and most things are available, the vegetable market is quite excellent.

Nine coconuts for £1.25 and a big bag of aubergine (about fifteen) for the same. Anything in season was cheap and out of season just wasn’t available. That’s how it should be.

Our first tourist trip was up to Robert Louis Balfour Stevensons house and grave, In 1889 he bought bushland at the foot of Mount Vaea, 3.5 km from the sea, he named it Vailima meaning five waters, for the small streams that ran across the land. He built his home, and spent the last five years of his life here. He died aged 44 and was buried up the hill just below the summit overlooking Vailima, his home. He was loved by the Samoan people, he supported them in their quest for independence and had many evenings playing music singing and dancing with them. They have named their local brewed beer Vailima!

The path up to the grave was through woodland, with the birds singing and the warmth of the sun shining through the trees it was very pleasant. At the top it is very still and peaceful, with wonderful views out to sea.

Under the wide and starry sky,
Dig the grave and let me die,
Glad did I live and gladly die,
And I laid me down with a will.

This be the verse you grave for me;
Here he lies where he longed to be;
Home is the sailor, home from the sea,
And the hunter home from the hill.

We hired a car to have a trip around the island, from Apia to the east, south and then across the island in the middle. First stop was at a cave pool for a quick swim then on inland to another waterfall and pool, waterfalls everywhere! We stop for lunch at a beach fale, right on the shore, safe swimming behind the reef, lots of holidaymakers enjoying their holidays. The sand and coral shore right beside the road, with villages dotted every few miles. Next stop was at the Ocean Trench

, a series of blowholes, one where you climb down a ladder and swim through to another blowhole all in sea water. There were fales and a little beach, very quiet blowholes with the sea just coming into the rock, be very different in a large swell or high winds. Further on we turn onto a forestry track for our final swim of the day, a fresh water river/ waterfall . The brave among us jump from one pool to the next, I need to stay below to take the photos. The fresh water swimming was really refreshing. From here we cut thought the island, stopping only at the Baha’I Temple, an impressive building.

The Samoans are friendly and quite happy to chat along, always wanting to know where you are going and asking where have you come from they often ask how old are you too. Here in Apia is no exception. We decide to do the real tourist thing and have a traditional evening, in a local upmarket hotel with Aggie Gray, not Aggie Gray herself but grand daughter, and not just us but probably another hundred guests, the evening was fun traditional food, music and dance.

Not sure we will sign up for the same type of event in other islands.

Some of the music (linkloads a sound track – suggest right click and open in new tab)
Video of the dancing
Video of the fire jugling

Link to Upolu photo gallery

Permission is sought from the authorities to anchor in various harbours in Savai’i, the next island along, duty free ordered and collected, boat stores topped up and off we go towards Savai’i. After a full day sail we stop in Asau, narrow entrance through the reef, (here the charts are way off, you must line up the leading lines and use your eyes) once in, the water is clear from bommies ( coral heads) and you only have to navigate around the other few boats. We know them all so we go close and chat, anchor down and the banter begins.

Ashore there is a little restaurant few fales and some wonderful people. The yachties get together on the shore and play music, sing and have a beer.

Next morning we take the bus around the island a little way, walk to and climb an enormous banyan tree , where we are rewarded with a super view. On the way back we have a shower of rain so shelter in a roadside house, the lady is weaving a large floor mat, and the children playing around. No electricity, no running water but everyone is very happy.

The next morning, all three of us on board feel a slight shake or vibration, we don’t think too much about it, until our friends on the radio tell us that there has been a large earthquake and tsunami. On the north coast of Savai’I we felt very little and there was no damage ashore, no wave, little did we know then of the devastation the tsunami had caused. The south side of Upolu the main Samoan island where only a few days before we had been, had been wiped out by the huge wave and many lives lost. As the day went on more and more reports were coming in on the radio. Niuatoputapu Tonga, our next destination, had been destroyed.

We left Asau with the boat loaded up with flour, rice and anything else we thought might be useful to the people of Niuatoputapu. Not only had they had the tsunami but their supply ship had sunk and had not been replaced so they had had no supplies for last five months. We left Samoa not quite sure what we would find in Tonga.

Link to Savaii photo gallery

Tags: Pacific Leg