Well, what can we tell you all about Samoa? In brief it is a beautiful country with lovely people and stunning scenery.
We arrived early in the morning on our flight from Honolulu and were met by Michael, a member of staff from The Seabreeze Resort, our first stop in Samoa, he had a car waiting complete with iced water and cold towels to refresh us after our journey – great start.
The drive to the hotel took about 75 minutes cutting across the Island of Upolu from the airport on the west coast to the hotel on the south east corner. The drive took us through forest and along the coast. On the way we passed through lots of little villages some of the houses were very simple, some with tin roofs and curtains instead of walls, others were more substantial with wooden walls and windows; all of them were painted in bright colours, blues and purples and pink and yellow. We noticed that most of the homes had a kind of pavilion in front, often as big as the house and sometimes bigger, they looked a bit like oblong bandstands with steps leading up to a concrete platform and pillars supporting the roof. Michael explained that these were used for family gatherings, christenings, funerals and title naming ceremonies, every family needs a space big enough for everyone to come home to. We also noticed that many houses had graves outside, apparently burying family members at home secures the families right to stay on the land which is very important.
As well as the colourful houses we were wowed by the gardens; Samoans are keen gardeners and Upolu had just had its annual garden festival. The villages were a riot of colour, with plants laid out in the gardens and planted all along the roads between villages. We recognised many of the plants as house plants available at home, there were a mixture of acid green leaves with acid yellow flowers; shrubs with green leaves which turned crimson as they matured and others that were bright magenta. All that set against a backdrop of palm trees and forest with the clear blue skies, what a sight to behold.
We also noticed that nearly every village had a large church at its heart and a small shop selling a few basics; lots of houses had stalls outside offering surplus tarrow roots, bread fruit and coconuts from their garden.
We reached the hotel and checked into our little chalet room overlooking the pool and the bay beyond. It was a beautiful setting, a cove with a small beach and steep tree covered cliffs all around. Looking out to sea we could see the surf breaking over an offshore reef creating a calm lagoon in front of the hotel; in the centre of the lagoon was a rock island topped with trees and a small concrete building. It turned out that the island is sacred to the local community and they keep family remains in the little building, these include the family of the Samoan Prime Minister. Guest were asked not to climb on the rock when swimming.
Having arrived at the hotel just after 09.00 we were invited to the restaurant for breakfast, this was our first hint of how good the Seabreeze hotel was going to be. As soon as we sat down we were brought a plate with half a coconut filled with sliced mango, pineapple, orange and banana; there were also three tall shot glasses each, one with yoghurt, one with coconut water and one with bircher muesli (we discovered bircher muesli in Chicago, it is oats and nuts soaked overnight in the fridge in apple juice and served cold with grated apple and cream or yoghurt, delicious). This was just to keep us going while we decided what we wanted for breakfast, the chef did perfect poached eggs so most mornings we had that.
Our room (there were only 11 in the hotel) was simple but very comfortable with a lovely bathroom and walk in shower. There was complimentary wine, beer and soft drinks in the fridge and each evening when they turned down the bed they left little treats in case we got hungry during the night, packets of M&M’s, iced biscuits or packets of banana chips. Outside we had a covered deck with a table and chairs and a double hammock.
The restaurant at Seabreeze was excellent, it was built along the rocks on one side of the cove and had an open terrace at one end. We had some great meals there, a seafood catch special with steamed lobster, scallops in coconut sauce and grilled masimasi (white fish), that was one meal! And on Saturday and Sunday lunchtimes they fired up a wood burning pizza oven and made fantastic pizza (almost as good as Mark’s!).
The first two days we were there we had very heavy rain, it was dramatic to watch and with excellent good timing it cleared up each day at about 15.30 giving us time for a swim before happy hour at 16.00. Most of the other guests were from Australia and New Zealand, being such a small hotel meant we all ended up sitting around one big table beside the pool bar drinking cocktails and getting to know each other, It was a lovely atmosphere. One guy, Craig, who lives in Australia but is from New Zealand went right through our NZ itinerary annotating it with details of restaurants, brewery tours at scenic routes we could take!
On the third day of our visit the weather improved and we set off in our hire car to explore the island. We drove over one of two passes to the north coast enjoying the valleys and waterfalls until the coast came back into view. We drove along the coast road to Apia, the capital of Samoa and stopped to have a look around. The bus station was great, full of brightly painted buses with slogans and bible verses painted on the outside. The market was a bit touristy, probably serving the cruise ships that we suspect come in to the harbour. There was a large, wooden catholic cathedral and a clock tower on a round-about but that was about all we could find. We left Apia on the Cross Island Road which took us over the other pass and back to the south coast. On the way we stopped to visit Robert Louis Stevenson’s House and took a guided tour. He lived in Samoa with his family for 10 years and died here, he is buried at the top of the hill overlooking Apia.
We got back to the hotel in time for our afternoon swim and of course, happy hour!
On Tuesday we had breakfast and checked out, as we prepared to leave the staff gathered in front of the car to sing farewell first in Samoan and then in English, it was really lovely except we weren’t sure whether we were supposed to leave while they were singing or wait until they finished, they kept adding verses with variations on ‘you’re leaving’, ‘good bye’, ‘we’ll miss you’, ‘see you again’… but they did finish a waved us on our way.
We drove back the way we had come from the airport heading for the ferry wharf at Mulifanua to catch the car ferry to the other island Savai’i. We got there early so we stopped at the Sheraton for an iced coffee, we will be staying there on Friday night before we fly to Fiji so it was nice to check it out. As instructed we arrived at the wharf one hour before our ferry departure and parked on the quay. After a while all the vehicles were organised for boarding, which included turning around to face away from the ramp! Sure enough when the ferry arrived Mark had to reverse on board. The ferry was about the size of a large trawler and just wide enough to park 4 cars abreast, assuming you didn’t want to get in or out. I jumped out while Mark was parking and he just got out before the car next to us backed into place. That was when we discovered that there were no seats or shelter on board, the foot passengers had taken all the space on the steps up to the bridge and on the narrow deck around it, we had to stand on the open car deck for an hour and a half in the full sun, it wasn’t the easiest journey but we did make it. We got talking to a family that were returning to Savai’I to visit family, they were booked on the same return crossing as us and assured us that would be on the ‘other ferry’ which is bigger and more comfortable. Fingers crossed.
Our hotel on Savai’i was about an hour’s drive around the coast road, it was called Le Lagoto which means sunset. It consisted of 10 stand-alone Fales (rhymes with ballet), built in traditional style with roofs like upturned boats designed to withstand cyclones. They were lined along a beautiful beach with golden sand and a coral reef just offshore. The Fales were a little bit tired but very comfortable with effective air conditioning which helped us sleep at night. We had a little deck with two chairs and two loungers, a strip of lawn and wooden steps straight down in to the water. It made it very easy to roll out of bed in the morning and straight into the sea for a swim before breakfast. The restaurant was ok, it offered a mixture of western staples (burgers, toasted sandwiches etc.) and more local fare, we had some good fish and a starter of grilled lobster tail for the equivalent of £5. On our first morning we walked along to the restaurant to be greeted by a sign saying “Todays Tropical Breakfast, baked beans or cereal served with toast” we opted for the beans which came in a bowl with a side order of toast and strawberry jam. On the second morning they offered scrambled egg or cereal served with toast.
We were lucky enough to be there for FiaFia night when they served a buffet of local dishes and presented a performance of local songs and dances. The music was lovely and it was particularly atmospheric when the electric went off across the island for about 20 minutes. The performers kept singing while the staff rushed about lighting candles.
During our time at Le Lagoto we rented snorkelling gear and had a fantastic time exploring the reef spotting the fish – we found Nemo. We took advantage of a complimentary 15-minute massage each in the spa which was very relaxing. We also met Hilary and Peter a couple from Melbourne who have a home on Upolu and were visiting Savai’i with their daughter and granddaughter. In the course of conversation, we mentioned our plan to move to Cornwall and discovered that Hilary has published a book about her family who moved to Australia during the 19thC from St Stephen in Brammel, the village next to the one where Mark grew up. Small world! Hilary is still researching the family history and we have offered our services as local investigators once we are settled in Cornwall.
Finally, it was time to return to Upolu ready to fly to Fiji early on Saturday morning. We reported to the ferry wharf an hour ahead of sailing time, we were lined up facing the ramp as the ‘other ferry’ moored up. We drove on facing forward and found seats in the air conditioned lounge on the next deck up. To Marks delight they were showing a repeat of the rugby match from last weekend New Zealand v South Africa. All in all, a much more comfortable journey.
We are now in the Sheraton Samoa, it’s very comfortable but doesn’t have any of the character of the other two hotels, however it does have Wi-Fi so all being well we will be able to publish this blog post before we leave for Fiji.
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