The verdant island of Savaii is the third largest landmass in Polynesia, following Hawaii and New Zealand. It is home to over 43,00 people and was once the center of the non-violent Mau a Pule movement against colonial rule in the early 1900s. Fa'a Samoa or traditional Samoan society remains strong on the oldest island off the Samoan archipelago. We
decided to spend a week in a traditional beach fale (hut) overlooking the sugary Manase beach.
Savaii is mountainous, fertile, and surrounded by coral reefs. In comparison to Tutuila (our island) the size 659sq miles to 54 sq miles, highest peaks of Mt. Silisili (6,096 ft) to Mt Matafao (2,142ft), Savaii is expansive and flat. The people are much thinner than those in American Samoa, due to more traditional lifestyle (diet & exercise), fewer cars grace its smooth straight roads. All cars drive on the left-side, changed last September in order for New Zeland car dealers to corner the market. This was the last country to change sides since the 1960's. I have to admit that im a bit partial to Tutuila's geography, where steep cliffs plunge into the pounding surf & coves are carved into the dramatic coastline. Yet, Savaii has the knid of beaches you dream of when someone mentions the south pacific.
The plan was to stay on the north side of Savaii, in the Manase district and scuba dive for several days. The area was covered in a series of volcanic explosions from Mt. Matavanu in the early 1900's, blackened rock dominates the landscape as far as the eye can see. The trip was planned with German percision, unfortunately we were using Samoan transportation.
A week before our departure date, the only plane of the stellar Inter-island Air fleet caught on fire in the outer island of Tau. This was the second aircraft fire in less than a month, the other being the Governor's plane. I frantically placed phone calls to the airport, only to be met with "we're not sure what the plan is, check the day before your flight." The day before we were set to leave, I was told they chartered the other airline's plane, only problem was we had to be ready by 3am.
At 5:30am we touched down on the island of Upolu, took a taxi to the wharf to catch the 7am ferry to Savaii. As the taxi driver unloaded our bags he stated, there is no ferry until 2pm. Thinking nothing of why we would want to sit at the ferry terminal for the next seven hours. An old woman laughing at us & selling breadfruit advised us about a ferry across the island in the capital of Apia. We caught another van taxi across Upolu with a driver who kept calling me champ. Finally, we boarded the 3 hour ferry to Savaii on the new boat donated by Japan. If you ever wonder why rich countries provide aid or donate things to poor countries, think about Japan's Whale lobby. Where they go around the world philantropically building schools, health centers, and donating ferries to third world nations in return for a voting consensus on whaling issues. Anyway the ferry was comfortable, and i spotted a peace corps volunteers whose website i had viewed on the internet. The Peace Corps program was started in 1967 and currently 35 volunteers serve mainly as teachers. To my knowledge many also specialized in hanging out, drinking beer, and scuba diving.
Crossing the Apolima straight to Savaii, while reading A People's History of the United States, my thougts mingled with the landscape & grappled with a moment in time that i was living. Where was I? How did I get here?
... Perhaps no other region conjures up so many romantic visions as Polynesia—swaying palms plopping their coconuts onto deserted beaches, the fabled missionaries, and beachcombers. Michener and Maugham have described it, Gauguin captured it on canvas. The names of Captain Cook, William Bligh, Bloody Mary and Sadie Thompson mingle together in a confusion of history and fantasy...
My Walter Middy daydream was rudely interupted by a bull horn announcing we had landed. We gathered our scuba gear and haggled for a reasonable taxi fare to Tanu Beach Fales. We passed people going about their daily lives, pigs running across the road, horses slapping flies from their backs, people living in open air fales- their things open for all eyes to see. Fales usually have a roof, thatch or corrugate, for posts, pull down thatch side or none at all. To the westerner our first paranoid thought is that there is no privacy, to the Samoan, have everyone hang out and share your life. We arrived at a family compound, waited for welcome drinks which never materialized, and were finally shown to our fale, perched on the powdery beach of manase. We were to spend the next week in a hut, scuba diving, reading, and feeling alive.
Unfortunately, we could not document this trip, due to someone pilfering our camera, but you can imagine. White beach as far as the eye could see, snuggled up to a technicolor reef, filled with bath water. As David Byrne of the Talking Heads said "oh heaven, this must be the place." Well, until the drunk Germans next door started wrestling on the beach (Nein! Nein!). Oh well...
As we settled in for the night, listening to the lapping of the waves, Michelle realized we had forgotten our contact solution, which for a dive trip is catastrophic. We argued about what to do when we remembered a similar situation, using 0.9% normal saline solution during our Papua New Guinea trip. We asked where the closest medical clinic was (10 mintues away), and arrived and gestured about our need (as they spoke no English) returning 20 minutes later with a syringe w/ needle intact filled with 50 cc of saline solution: mission accomplished.
The next morning Dive Savaii picked us up and brought us to the dive shop. Run by a wonderful French & South African, with 2 visiting dive masters from Czech Republic. The first day of diving was Coral Gardens. This dive site consists of a huge variety of corals: cabbage coral, bubble coral, leather coral, head coral, purple coral… you can reach a max depth of 18-20 meters, following the reef wall, enjoying the coral along with its inhabitants. Big schools of parrot fish, snappers, lazy turtles, eagle rays… sea cucumbers, nudibranches, clown fish, star fish and if you have a quick eye, the titan trigger fish. The second dive was wreck juno, a 3 mast missionary sailing ship which sunk in Lelepa bay in 1881. This iron wreck is full of corals, where one can easily see trumpet fish, turtles and a wide variety of colourful reef fish, parrot fish, yellow snappers, big-eyes and much more. The max. depth one reaches here is 25 meters. We dove with an argetinian guy, and shared the boat with 4 Peace Corps volunteers completing their PADI Open Water Training Course.
That night we were invited to a BBQ at the French owners house, consisting of chicken & burgers. Living in the South Pacific, you attend a wide variety of barbeques. It was wonderful, people from all over the world, Sweden, Germany, Switzerland, etc. Atmosphere was festive, with the dive shops daughter blowing soap bubbles, over a drinking game in Samoan, drowned out by South American singer Manu Ciao. Many Vailimas were consumed and we rested the next day, Sunday along with the whole archipelago.
At night we all ate together under the moonlight, serenated by traditional Samoan music and Siva Dancing. We walked on the beach, curled our toes into the sand, and swam under a Van Gogh esque starry night.
Monday's dive consisted of Lelapa bay self-swim w/o divemaster and the Juno Shipwreck to Coral Gardens route. We saw a 4 foot barracuda named Victor, who was very curious about what we were doing in his neighborhood. These dives were with a nice couple from the South Island of New Zeland, although they were pretty bad divers. Not to be a diving snob, but there is a big difference if everbody knows what they are doing vs not.
Michelle's 30+ birthday correlated with our last and most definitely best day of diving. All of the conditions lined up, minimal wind, calm seas, adequate sunlight to make excellent visibility. Luckily, we were all experienced divers and we made a congo line through Canyon Pinnacle. This dive site consists mainly of pinnacles with many swim-throughs and canyons to explore, reaching a depth of 25 meters. You will also enjoy the blue vastness of the ocean with usual 20m plus visibility. The ocean floor will reveal jenkin rays, cracks and crevices will reveal turtles and puffer fish, soft corals house clown fish and a variety of hard corals housse assorted reef fish. After snaking through the last of the 12 caves or swim-throughs, we all surfaced with big smiles on our faces. Its a feeling that divers get after they know that the conditions were just right.
Realizing the return journey home might be as adventurous as the original, we called the airlines, no problem, all systems are a go. Unfortunately, after crossing the straight and ariving at the airport, we were told "we're in a holding pattern." For the next 6 hours, we waited until at 6pm it was announced to no-one's surprise that the flight was canceled. Thankfully, the 1 aircraft airline, put us up at a decent hotel (well, thats after a week in a hut), paid for transportation and dinner- now that's Fa'a Samoa. We contacted work and told them of our predicament.
We finally arrived back on Tutuila, 1 day and 1/2 after leaving Savaii- yet we had smiles ear to ear. Sometimes simple pleasures are really the deepest and longest-lasting.