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Vava'u (Tonga) to Samoa 22 - 26 February

Flemming arranged the day before our departure to clear customs and immigration for us at the port of Vava'u, just a couple of minutes' walk from the Adventure Backpackers hostel where we were staying.  The customs official was late showing up, which delayed things by about half an hour, but it wasn't too important as the flight to Samoa was not going to be a long one. Flemming didn't get a proper receipt for the 55 Pa'anga (about US$ 27) he paid the customs official.  Then the immigration officer must have felt jealous so he asked for 10 Pa'anga.

At the airport we found some willing guys to help carry away the rocks and tyres that we'd used to secure the plane. The weather behaved itself during the flight, except for a headwind that increased the time from about 2 hours to 2 hours 20 minutes. However, on the approach to Faleolo Airport (Samoa), we had to skirt closely around a hefty and rather active CB located just 5 NM south of the airport. It produced plenty of warnings on the stormscope. Fortunately there was a 15 DME arc arrival route which just kept us clear of the monster.  There was a few raindrops on the windscreen on final, as well as a 20 degree crabbing angle due to the crosswind. The wind was quite gusty on short final.

We were greeted on arrival by a representative of Polynesian Airlines who would have acted as our handling agent had we been willing to pay him US$120. We told him quite firmly that we didn't need his services. Then he picked up one of our bags and we smilingly said we didn't want him to carry it for us if it would cost us $120. He smiled back and said: 'Don't worry. This is free of charge.' That was the nicest handling agent we've met so far!

We completed customs and immigration formalities with the friendly officials and then the immigration officer let us use his phone to call the fuel company, Mobil.  We wanted to refuel straight away, just in case there was going to be a problem.  Flemming got hold of the Mobil fuel guy who suggested refueling the next day - island time!  Faleolo airport was 35 kms from the capital, Apia, where we would be staying, so I said: 'Insist on refueling today!' It turned out that fuel guy just needed some time to transfer the fuel from drums to the fuel truck.  Finally, they agreed on 3 p.m., and since the bar wasn't open at the airport, we took a taxi to go and have a snack lunch. It all worked out perfectly and we were heartily relieved at having full tanks again after all the fuel hassle in Tonga.

Sorry friendly Tongans, but we found Samoa much more beautiful.   It has mountains covered in lush rain forest, plenty of white sandy beaches and attractive south sea island houses with well manicured lawns and pretty gardens.   Even the more modest houses seem to possess a motor mower and make good use of it.  

We stayed in Apia for two nights at the Outrigger Hotel which (we think) deserves the write-up in the guidebook as the 'nicest backpackers accommodation in the South Pacific'.  It is in a charming old south sea island house with wooden walls and floors, set in an attractive garden, overlooking the sea to the east of Apia harbour.   We also chose it because it is run by a Dane, called Claus, married to a Samoan lady. We were lucky to get the only room with a private bath and even luckier that they were still open as they are due to close the day after we leave Samoa and open again in April in a renovated house at a somewhat less attractive location.

The sun was going down as we walked to the famous Aggie Grey hotel for an aperitif and the sight of an outrigger canoe being rowed across the harbour was most picturesque.  Aggie Grey used to sell hamburgers to US servicemen in the Second World War.  Her son started up this first class hotel in her name in mock colonial style in 1989 and the bar area is full of photos of her and other Samoans taken in the 1940s.  It was at this hotel that Margi and Gerard Moss stayed in 1991 during Hurricane Val, although Gerard didn't always get to sleep there as he had to baby-sit their Saratoga Romeo at the airport, to save it from destruction.

The next day we visited the house 'Vailima' where Robert Louis Stevenson (the Scot who wrote Treasure Island) spent the last four years of his life at the end of the 19th century.  It was a lovely colonial style house in wood, set in a beautiful garden.  Robert chose to have the house built on a hill where it would catch the breeze - essential in this steamy hot climate where temperatures are about 30 degrees Celsius all year round.  But, in spite of the heat, he had fireplaces built in two of the rooms to make him feel more at home!  Also in spite of the heat, Flemming walked up through mosquito-ridden rainforest to visit Robert's grave on Mount Vaea, 475 m. above sea level.  Meanwhile, I enjoyed sitting in one of the breezy, shaded porches of the house.  Flemming insists, though, that there was a pleasant breeze when he reached the top! The inscription on the grave reads:

Under the wide and starry sky,
Dig the grave and let me lie.
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

Later we walked to the Palolo Deep Marine Reserve, just 5 minutes walk from the Outrigger.  We didn't really expect it to be up to much for snorkelling, being so close to town, but it turned out to be amongst the best we have seen  in the South Pacific.    There was quite a strong current pulling us back to shore and I didn't make it out to the interesting coral the first time.  It didn't help that we don't have flippers.  Disappointed, I emerged from the sea to meet a French speaking family. It turned out that they were from Nyon, just up the road from Geneva!  Alain Dubois, true to his name, works with wood as carpenter/cabinet maker and came out here with his wife and children just 16 months ago.  A courageous move, which - after a difficult beginning when his Samoan partner failed him - now appears to be paying off.   Alain lent me his flippers and told me where to find some very colourful giant clams, with rims varying from blue to turquoise to green.  Thanks to the extra propulsion I also made it out against the current to the corals.

We dined both nights at the Sails Restaurant on Beach Road, which is probably the best in town.  We sat at a table on the first floor balcony which catches the sea breeze.  There are only about 5 million Danes in the world but somehow Flemming always manages to run into some of them.  Sure enough, seated at the next table were a couple of Danish men. Hans and Werner work for a Danish engineering company and they are working on a water supply project funded by the EU.

The next morning we hired a Suzuki from Claus and headed out of town for the south-east of the island which has super beaches, and where one can stay cheaply in fales, traditional Samoan thatched huts, intelligently designed with open sides to allow the sea breeze to pass through.  The views were stunning the whole way, and particularly from the pass in the green-clad mountains.  Soon after we arrived at the beach road in the south-east, we saw a sign for Namua Island Resort and spotted a cute little island with white sandy beach about 2 kilometers from the shore. We decided to stay there for the night.  We knocked on the door of the nearest house and woke a woman from her siesta to ask how we could get a boat to the island.   She came out with a flag to signal to the island and a few minutes later the boat came across to fetch us.

Namua Island was perhaps not Paradise itself but it came pretty close to it.  The fales came complete with mattress, pillows, sheets and mosquito net, and we slept exceedingly well there, cooled by the breeze.  The downside was lack of a private bathroom, but the communal loos were fine and, since there were only 3 other couples staying there, the shower never seemed to be occupied when I needed it.  My only complaint would be the food which was mostly chicken when there was ample fish in the sea to catch.  There were plenty of coconut palms so I asked for one to drink the delicious coconut milk.  A young man climbed up to fetch some for us.  The milk and the flesh made a nice supplement to an otherwise boring diet.

Free of the laptop, we did very little on the island apart from swim, snorkel, read and chat to our fellow inmates.  They were a nice bunch of young people. We soon realized that, like us, none of them were of the same nationality. The next morning I enjoyed a long chat with our hostess, called Sala, who spoke excellent English.  She lamented the influence of the US on the Samoan way of life, which meant junk food, videos, concrete houses, and plastic bags.  I hadn't seen too much evidence of this in western Samoa, but Sala said you were now considered to be poor if you lived in a fale instead of a 'proper' house..Also a lot of western Samoans have emigrated to US Samoa to find work in canneries.  They are thus able to send money back to their relatives in western Samoa.  Maybe the Samoans would have been better off if we'd left them to themselves and not created the need for consumer goods, such as clothing and other unnecessary items.  Until the missionaries arrived in the mid-nineteenth century the women would go topless and wear grass skirts.

We returned to the mainland the next day after lunch and enjoyed a beautiful drive along the south coast and a swim and snorkel from another idyllic beach.   Later we rinsed off the salt water, bathing in a freshwater pool under Togitogiga Falls.  We had both the beach and the falls entirely to ourselves.  Then we decided to treat ourselves to dinner at the 5 star 'Sinalei Resort'.  We enjoyed an excellent dinner in their exquisite dining room set in a sophisticated sort of fale.   We both agreed, though, that their beach was not a touch on the ones we'd enjoyed.  

There were no beach fales nearby where we could spend the night, so we reckoned on returning to Apia after dinner as we were leaving Samoa the next day for Cook.  But, just on the off chance, we told the waiter we would be delighted to spend the night at the 'Sinalei Resort' if they would reduce the price of the rooms to about a third, indicating that we would not be needing breakfast.  The waiter checked with the assistant manager who checked with the powers that be and, bingo, we came up trumps!  But although we had an air conditioned room and a private bathroom with a shower open to the stars, I was glad we hadn't missed the unique experience of a fale the night before.

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Refuelling at last! Mulieai Lauano from Mobil at the hand pump

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The nice view from 'Samoan Outrigger Hotel'

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Robert Louis Stevenson's home Vailima near Apia. Now a museum.

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The fireplace in Vailima creates a homely Scottish atmosphere

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There is a nice view from Robert Louis Stevenson's grave on the top of Mount Vaea

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Falefa falls on the north coast of Upolu island

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This flag is the signal to Namua island that the boat is needed

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Angela enjoying fresh coconut milk in our fale at Namua island

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We were just thinking of the poor souls stuck in an office in foggy Geneva!

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Remote beach on the other side of Namua island

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Many nationalities at Namua island: UK, Australia, US, Venezuela, Germany, Denmark

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Lots of pretty flowers on the island

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Sala and her son

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We had this beach at Lalomanu for ourselves

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Sunset during dinner at 'Sinalei Resort'

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