Lost & Found in the Pacific (part 2) – Samoa

If in Fiji I got totally lost, Samoa is where I truly found myself again. My last post was all about my wild three weeks healing, flirting and finding a way to build my broken heart and shattered self-confidence, but it was only in the calm waters of Samoa that I really faced the sudden mess of my Life, the unsustainable pain, the shock of losing my chosen One. In Samoa, I had to move on and decide if I wanted to waste my last few months on the road crying over the spilled milk or face it, feel it and f**it.

Pain is inevitable.
Suffering is optional.
Murakami  

I decided to f**k it.

I landed in the capital of Apia after a brief flight from Nadi, where my driver greeted me for the long ride to my accommodation on the beach (see below for details). 

As he was driving, I was thinking about my recent memories of Fiji. I wandered, looking out of the window, if my next 10 days in Samoa would have been similar, but I had no expectations. I learnt to leave them behind. Nowadays, after sixteen months on the road, I travel without plans, ideas or programmes and I let the places and the people to amaze me.

All the time.
Everywhere.

This is for me is the purest way of travelling, where you explore for the pleasure of understanding, of being surprised, of letting the new country, city, people to take you by the storm. Anyway, as I was lost in my train of thoughts, we were taking the coastal route through an endless line-up of tiny villages, as most Samoans live along the coast. The villages were all extremely beautiful. Simple, but clean, with beautiful lush gardens and coconut plantations and natural forest. The road was winding and bumpy making the journey ever more interesting. People on the streets were coming back from work or school. In Samoa, most men wear the traditional lava-lava, a skirt that ends right below the knees, the kids are in their cute school uniforms while women have a more western look and traditional tattoos on their tights. There are tons of schools along the way, maybe as many churches, it seems. While we ride, we can see many family burial sites, prominently positioned in the front yard of the house, usually they are a pyramid type of tomb, sometimes single graves topped with a stone. There are no typical stores however, but little kiosks selling all sort of things. On the street, there are chickens, cows and stray dogs relaxing, sleeping or wandering. By the time we arrive at the destination, the sun was setting on the horizon and…

…and there is where Samoa hit me on the head.

samoa

I knew that there would be coconuts, sun, salt, and breathtaking natural beauty, but I did not know Samoa was a true untouched heaven, an incredibly stunning country lost – like I was – in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. What makes this tiny island country very special is the deep connection and love for the Fa’a Samoa, the Samoan way of living, so evocatively alive and deeply embedded in the people of this country which I immediately grasped on that first night.

Rarely you see so much unspoilt tropical beauty, very few hotels, no international supermarkets and the lack of hectic pace of modern life. The tiny South Pacific island nation of Samoa really is something incredible. I have seen a number of places in the world as you know, but Samoa truly is still unspoilt, wild and untouched as people had told me.  

WHEN TO GO:

Samoa is an incredibly beautiful place. It is not just the tropical flowers, the fresh air and the warmest people, it is the music, the dance, the sweet scents and the meaning of life which take a totally different perspective here.
Avoid the wet season from November to March but expect rain throughout the year. I was there in December. It rained every day for a little bit, but the peace of the low season is unbeatable.

samoa

SLEEP & DREAM AT:

Taufua Beach Fales – Lalomanu Beach, Upolu 

Incredible and wild home away from home for a week. This very laid back, far from fancy, family-run beach establishment of fales is paradise. Perfect if you want a quiet, chilled place to relax and go to bed rocked by the crashing waves. This was the perfect place to sooth my soul and heart: remote enough to ensure peace and quiet but at the same time with just the right number of guests and shows to keep you entertained.

Here, I slept in one of the traditional fale, an open cottage without walls, just a roof supported by pillars and beams, that in Samoa is often used to greet relatives and friends and sometimes, like in my case, even for sleeping.

Samoa

Samoan Outrigger Hotel – Apia, Upolu 

An exquisite boutique, family-run guesthouse with fale-style private bungalows set in a lush garden around a nice swimming pool. There are also normal hotel rooms in the main building. Complimentary breakfast.
Samoa

 

TOP 10 THINGS TO-DO IN SAMOA:

If hanging around the pool is not your thing (hello, traveller!), then consider renting a car (you can usually get the international licence on the spot through the rental company), and go about touring the island instead. Waterfalls, lagoons, diving and surfing spots, all make the trip worthwhile. Also: If you consider road tripping or backpacking in Samoa, be mindful that almost all land is in private hands, and that beaches are usually only accessible after paying a small fee to the local village.

1 To Sua Ocean Trench – Upolu

Magic is real! This is a giant swimming hole, thirty metres deep, filled with sea water and connected to the ocean by an underwater channel. You will need to climb down a very steep ladder in order to go for a swim.

To Sua is a “big hole” (this is the actual Samoan translation) that was created many, many years ago through volcanic activity making it one of the major attraction in Samoa (and a very Instagrammed sight too).

A swim in the To Sua Ocean Trench is unforgettable and this place was probably my favourite sight on the entire island.

 

Samoa te sua ocean trench

2 Fia Fia Night

Fia Fia is a tradition that you must experience while in Samoa. During the event, fire dancers, delicate female dancers, and super fit male dancers, songs and traditional food all come together to create a remarkable and memorable evening. Breadfruit, chicken, fish, fresh fruits, pork and taro are traditional foods, with kava being the traditional drink (like in Fiji).

Fia Fia Fia Fia

3 Lalomanu Beach

This is one of Samoa’s most pristine beaches, on the southeastern tip of Upolu. Here you can hire a beachside fale (I recommend Taufua Beach Fales), swim, snorkel, eat and soak up the sunshine. I was staying here for the first part of my holiday and many day trippers were coming to visit this gorgeous beach.

4 Robert Louis Stevenson House 

After Te-Sua Ocean Trench, this was probably my second favourite thing during my time in Samoa.

When Robert Louis Stevenson, the famous author of Treasure Island and Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (Wordsworth Classics), arrived in the South Pacific in 1889/90 he found a warm, tropical paradise filled with friendly people and he decided to settle here with his family. Stevenson had been struggling with the ill health of his lungs all his life and the climate in Samoa seemed perfect, so much better than his Scottland or his wife’s America. So he bought an estate in Valima, right outside Apia and moved in with his wife, her children from her first marriage and his mother.

The house is still in the exact same conditions as a century ago: there is a half-completed jigsaw upstairs which totally mesmerised me, there are dresses, combs and books and of course, the studio where Stevenson completed some of his best works, including Kidnappedand Catriona

A visit to this museum/house is a must-do while in Apia and if you haven’t already, buy a copy of one of  “Tusitala” (Stevenson’s Samoan nickname, which means the “Writer of Tales”) there.

5 Papapapaitai Falls

The Papapapaitai Falls is a beautiful sight and my pictures don’t give them justice. Just off the Cross Island Road you will find a small bay to stop and admire them. As far as I know, there is no direct access to the fall, but you can see them from here: an incredible water stream down into a deep gorge.

6 Papaseea Sliding Rocks

Another gorgeous place to explore and have fun with your friends. Papaseea Sliding Rock is located at Seesee in Faleata District about 15 minutes drive from Apia. The sliding rocks are divided into two waterfalls where you can swim and slide for some extra fun.

There are one 5 meter slide and three smaller ones at the base of the steps and it is an ideal place for cooling off on a hot day.

7 Namua and Nu’utele Islands 

The translucent lagoon around Lalumanu beach is beyond beautiful and thanks to its rich marine life, it is now a reserve that protects a magnitude of tropical fish species. From here, you can head off to Namua Island just a little further to the north where you can swim with the endangered green turtle or you can explore Nuutele Island and see the most magnificient seabird nesting grounds of the Pacific.

8 Sunday Mass

Samoan people love to joke, sing, dance but are serious about three things in life: God, family and food. With regards to the first, with a couple of friends I met on the Island, I decided to go to a Sunday mass to see what the fuss was all about. We understood nothing of the service, of course, but the calm, the peace, the voices and the singing brought peace to my messy head and restless heart. Sunday in Samoa is a day of rest in which everyone goes to church dressing immaculately in white

Sunday in Samoa is a day of rest in which everyone goes to church dressing immaculately in white. They were elegant and beautiful and their procession to church reminded me of old movies and photographs from another era. It was an incredible experience that I highly recommend.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

9 Umu

While in Samoa, you must eat as much fresh fish and tropical fruit as possible. Also, make sure to try the Island fries made of taro and banana instead of potato. If you are lucky (like I was!!!) you will be invited to try the traditional Sunday lunch, the most important communal meal of the week (to’ana’i), with locals at their village.

The meal, which is cooked over the Samoan Umu, a traditional above the ground stone oven heated by glowing hot lava rocks normally features a whole pig, tons of different vegetables and coconut-based delicatessen. The food can be placed directly on the rocks, wrapped in banana leaves or in coconut fronds for cooking. Useless to say that we ate too much of all the delicious food that was offered to us by the incredibly generous and friendly people we’ve met.

10 Get a bus ride to the markets

Moving around Apia is simple and the city isn’t too big to walk everywhere. But, why walk when you can hop in one of the fun buses that populate the capital? Grab a map and board on a local crazy, brightly colourful bus. It’s cheap and it’s an incredible experience that you must try.

In Apia, the bus terminals are located next to the food market in Fugalei and also opposite the flea market at Savalalo. Apart from these two terminals, there are no designated bus stops, so you will need to wave down a bus (use your whole arm and keep your palm facing downwards) as it approaches and ask the driver which bus you need to catch. The seats are wooden benches, and if the bus becomes full, the locals will opt to sit on each others’ lap, rather than stand in the aisles. You will also be offered to sit on some strangers’ lap, so don’t be offended or scared and just embrace the Samoan way of living 🙂

The produce market in Apia is open every day of the week but is best from Monday to Saturday and it offers a dazzling array of fresh local produce. Go there for lunch and walk along the various stalls that serve some cooked Samoan favourites to nibble on and be amazed by the number of bananas, the taste of coconut and taro in all shapes and sizes.

If you are on a hunt for Samoa’s traditional, fine handicrafts like baskets, bags, sarong and more, then head to the Apia’s Flea Market on Beach Road (Monday to Saturday), which sell everything from colourful Samoan clothing to crafts.

samoa

Not until we are lost do we begin to understand ourselves.
Henry David Thoreau

samoa, fiji airways, fiji

In the Fa’a Samoa philosophy, natural disasters like strong hurricanes or tsunamis are blessings, as they wipe away existing structures and the arrival of donations help replace the faulty roads, bridges, houses and electric lines with new ones. It is there, talking with the locals about the last tsunami, about the family that manages Taufua Beach Fales lost over 80% of their members and how a local teacher saved the lives of dozens of Australian pupils simply following her instinct from the wave, that I understood.

I understood that in life, sometimes we need to be hit by a massive, unexpected, tragic tsunami that will take us completely down, almost suffocating us, depriving us of oxygen and hope, and only there and then, on the edge of losing everything, we must find the reasons and the way back up. Where we can breathe again. And it is there, once again swimming in incredibly crystal clear waters that I promised myself that I would go through it.

I wouldn’t let myself drown.

I know that I can survive
I walked through fire to save my life

* Most pictures were taken with the new addition to my Olympus family: Olympus Tough TG-4 Camera – Red

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  • Kelly Ann Duhigg

    Talk about a tropical paradise steeped in rich culture. I love places like this that have so much beauty to offer and largely unspoiled by a crazy tourism industry. Can’t wait to check this location out for myself. Thanks!!!

    • Let me know when you end up going there! Hope you’ll love it as much as I did! 🙂

  • Oh wow! Ever since I was a kid I’ve always wanted to visit Samoa for no reason other than The Rock having roots in American Samoa, and them being so close in proximity – why not visit both?! But I’ve never actually looked into Samoa beyond the beaches, so it was great to get a bit of insight into the true culture of the place. I had no idea it was where Robert Louis Stevenson ended up either; even more reason to visit!

    • Really?!? I think I didn’t even know Samoa existed up to last year! Yes, I am ashamed to write it down but it’s the true! I didn’t know there were so many islands in the Pacific until I took a close look at the map! I wanted to visit both but the flights are super expensive in that part of the world and a month and half in the Pacific was a heavy hit on my travel budget already 🙂

  • I visited Samoa on a day trip during a cruise, I loved the short time I had as I could visit the beaches. I wish I had chance to stay over like you, I can totally understand why it is the perfect place to clear your head. Your photo of the Papapapaitai Falls does do it justice, I remember passing these. I can relate to the Fa’a Samoa philosophy too, relating it to problems I’ve had in my life. In the past when I felt there was no hope, but like the Island was repaired, I now continue to live my life after my loss.

    • Hi James, thank you so much for your thoughtful comment and I am glad you are confirming that there is hope after the loss and I’m also happy to hear you are doing well today. Thank you for your kind comment, I’m honoured 🙂

  • Natalie Tanner

    I love that everyone wear white to church! I’d love to know more about that. Is it to symbolize purity maybe? What about tourists that want to worship but didn’t bring an all white ensemble? Are you allowed to visit in different colored clothing? Cool post!

    • Aren’t they beautiful? I wasn’t wearing white that day as I didn’t know about it but they let me in anyway, so you shouldn’t have any problem. White is the most important colour in any church in Samoa and, as you guessed, it relates very much to the concept of white for purity. In fact in Samoa white is regarded as the symbol of pure heart, because of the missionaries who came to the island wearing white and the Samoan followed their dressing code and it has now become very much part of the Church culture.

  • Mel

    Sounds like a good trip both mentally and travel-wise. I think we need to say f@$k it more often! The Big Hole is gorgeous, I can see why it is so Instagrammed. Lots of good things to do here, I always enjoy produce markets, too.

    • Thank you, Mel! 🙂 Yes, my new philosophy is to say F@$K it at least once a day! There are SO many things in life that do not deserve our attention/time/worry!

  • I am so glad that after this trip, you were able to overcome the tsunami in your life. Sometimes it happens to the best of us and traveling has helped me heal better as well. Samoa looks like the perfect place for it. I for one wouldn’t have enjoyed the rain. I would love to see the Fia Fia dance one day.

    • Thank you, Soumya! Yes, the tsunami is over now, I just have to collect the pieces and put back them together as Samoan do 🙂

  • Sophie

    Wow! It looks a great trip for ya! The big hole is mindblowing though! and yes certainly many fun things to do . what’s the approx cost for this trip could you please tell me? because I am in love with this place now 🙂

    • It’s not the cheapest destination, especially the flights are really expensive and you should book ahead. The fale in Lalumanu was around US$40 per night while the fale in Apia was around 28US$, food and other things are reasonable and really worth it! 🙂

  • 2travellingsisters

    This is why we often call such places a paradise on earth, it helps us to forget all our worries with their invigorating beauty. Looking at your pictures we can imagine the relaxed and laid back lifestyle of the locals, we totally envy them. How inviting is this that swimming hole, Samoa is filled natural beauty, we hope someday we can make it there.. 🙂

  • Sonia Sahni

    I loved the rustic cottage you stayed it…so close to nature. The beaches look stunning..the water is so clear. However, I am most excited about the waterfalls…I love a dip in fresh water… it is so much fun. Hope to be able to get to Samoa sometime soon!

    • Oh! I was actually sleeping so close to the shore that the waves were too loud to ignore at night!!!

  • First off, let me just get this out of the way – this was a beautiful post. This is the kind of travel blogging that I love and enjoy reading. Your love story about Samoa was touching that you’ve completely sold it to me. I’ve always known that Samoa is beautiful, as with most other island nations in the Pacific Ocean is. But I love the diversity in culture, the preservation of that culture, and the authenticity of the original settlers still embedded in their culture today. This is what makes a travel experience even more immersive. And it doesn’t hurt either that those white sand beaches are to die for!!

    • Aww thank you so much, Abby…yours is a really the best compliment on this blog ever! I really appreciated it and thank you for making my day! please visit Samoa before it becomes another tourists magnet! 🙂

  • Wow, this looks truly beautiful and so peaceful. I really enjoyed reading your experiences there and glad you chose to f*^ck it and experience all that Samoa had to offer.

    • Right?! 😛 have you read the book? I found it incredibly inspiring and useful and even though I read it a few years ago, I still remember the key lessons and decided to apply them while in Samoa 🙂

  • Ravenous Travellers

    What a beautiful place – you have some incredible pictures. We didn’t know much about Samoa and you’ve just sold it to us, another place to add to the bucket list! The cottage you stayed in looks amazing as do the beaches. Glad you had a great trip.

    • Thanks a lot guys! I didn’t know anything either about Samoa and gladly it is stil one of those places where there isn’t an overload of info online. You still get a sense of discovery and researching if you plan a trip there. Enjoy!

  • La Vida Viva Travel

    What a beautiful piece, thank you for sharing this. Samoa looks beautiful and your experiences sound wonderful. To Sua looks exactly like a cenote in Mexico, crazy!

    • Really! Both you and Jacklyn said it looks like Mexico! I have been there, but it’s not something I thought of! I think I have to go back to Mexico 😛

  • jacklyn.

    I couldn’t agree more about your sentiments on the purest way to travel and Samoa looks (and sounds) like the perfect place to truly travel. I also can’t believe how much the landscape looks like Mexico! Officially added Samoa to my bucket list thanks to you!

    • Thank you, Jacklyn! Yes, it’s one of the fewest unexplored places in the world I think! Please do let me know when you manage to go so and let me know what you think ! 🙂

  • Janine Good

    I found reading your post incredibly therapeutic. Sometimes being in a place of solace does heal wounds. I am glad you were able to find some here. I find being in such an environment does allow the mind to reflect and even though you didn’t understand much of the mass, the power of the word transcends all language barriers. I hope to get to Samoa some day as it truly looks magical.

    • Thank you so much, Janine. I am strongly convinced that our mind and attitude is what really makes the difference. Before Samoa and Fiji I was in New Zealand, probably one of the most beautiful countries in the world, but I was too deep down the hole to appreciate it. But you are right, a beautiful place can bring us joy in moments of depression. Take care x

  • Talk about an untouched paradise.. Samoa looks so beautiful and steeped in culture. I’m glad you found time and space to clear you mind and re-center.

  • Kathy James

    Samoa looks like a great place to mend a broken heart. You photos are beautiful.
    I too do not like just sitting on a beach. I would be keen to do the rock slide. Thanks for sharing