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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And then, all of a sudden, I am free.

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Some might call my decision reckless, but I don’t care. I don’t care anymore what people think. I’m tired of playing by the rules. I’m going to write my own rules from now on. I don’t care about what’s going to happen tomorrow, I learnt (or I am learning) to live in the present, without worrying too much about the future.  And I am in the lucky position to do so.

Yes, I did it. I finally left an awful job where I had been suffering for the last 6 months or so. The plan was to stick to it until next June or Christmas at least, but I couldn’t stay there one more day.

I had given my life to this business and I had been rewarded and recognised most of the times, up to when they realised I was too good for them. Yes, it might sound arrogant, but that’s exactly it. I was far too good in comparison to their average employee and too many people were getting frustrated and upset of my biannual punctual promotions and salary increase. At some point, they had to stop that and, despite I had met and overachieved all their  new targets, they refused to promote me again last April . Obviously that was a huge shock  for me, most of all because they couldn’t give me any real reasons except that it was “too early”.  But, in hindsight,  I know that for a business is better to lose one outstanding person, than many average. And this was it. After the last few unfair power games and subterfuges I decided to leave. Like that. Without a job to go to. So, here I am.

I am free.

I’m free to be free. Free to waste time. Free to make random decisions, free to get bored. Free to sleep until late or to go bed late. But I’m also free to interrupt what I am doing to start something else. I am free to do nothing. But most of all I’m free to do everything I want to do.

When I want to. How I want to. Where I want to. Why I want to.

No more alarms at dawns,
No more suits in the morning,
No more lunch boxes,
No more useless and endless meetings,
No more routine,
No more schedule,
No more deadlines,
No more pressure,
No more anxiety,
No more politics,
No more fake smiles,
No more living in a box,
No more long hours,
No more power games
No more pretending to be someone else.

And all of a sudden I realise that the scariest thing in life is exactly what everybody (pretends to) crave for: Freedom.
That’s why we cling to our job security, stick to failed relationships, hold to places that make us feel safe. Because being free is F*****K scary, man. You don’t have any safety net below you, if you fall, you are going to crash on the floor and there won’t be anything to hold you back.
It’s like being blindfolded in a car that is racing at very high speed, it’s like throwing yourself from an helicopter without parachute, it’s like diving in the oceans without enough oxygen, its like surfing huge waves with a broken board.

But it is also like waking in the morning and be able to read the news in more than 5 minutes, it’s like having time to reply to emails from friends, it’s the laziness to surf on Facebook, it’s the luxury to read a good book in the middle of the afternoon, it’s the  lavishness to spend two hours in a cute cafe writing this post.

And this is where I am now, on this big wave that is sweeping away my past while I get ready to surf the next one that’s coming up behind me. It’s a even bigger one, but I know that I will stand on my board for the length of it. I can do it now. Now that I’m free of chains. Now that I am free.

NOTE: And I wish to thank here all the people who have helped me to be brave, to take the courage to move on, to be free. First and foremost, Alekim who enlighten me over a year ago when we met at the Gili Islands, Antonia, who made me see that another way is possible after all, Sunday for all her wise and invaluable advice and Patrizia for instilling me dreams and pushing me out of my comfort zone. These are four great women who took the tough decision to take their lives back in their hands and drastically change it while looking for something better.

F**K It!

fuck it

When I first saw the book “F**k It Therapy: The Profane Way to Profound Happiness” at my local bookshop I thought it was the usual “help-yourself-useless-s**t-type-of-book, but then after a few months, a friend who read it said it was great and hilarious and I also decided to give it a go.

The book is written by John C. Parkin who had a “top job in London” before saying “F**t it!” and moving to Italy with Gaia Pollini, his wife, who also participated in the book with her “magic”. They now run the “F**k it Retreats” in some amazing location like the volcano of Stromboli and the beautiful Tuscan landscapes in Italy.

With the help of this book, you will learn to SEE your prison first: understanding that we are prisoners is the most important thing if we really want to set ourselves free. The prisons we all are can be of different shapes and sizes, but most of us have some barriers to escape from.
Work, family, relationships, responsibilities, duties, debts, ambitions, dreams: these are some of the prisons we inherited or created for ourselves. In order to find the key to open the damn door, we need to see that we are prisoners. Stop and start thinking what makes you feel suffocated sometimes; is that the last credit card bill? Or a comfort relationship you dragged on for years? Or is the mortgage that forces you to stay in a job you hate?  Your marriage perhaps?

When you find out what it is that makes you want to scream then you are half why through. No. Only joking. You are not, but now you can act. You can (re)act and say:

F**k it!

Once you have mapped out the walls of your prison (your anxieties, lack of imagination, fear, self-doubt and all those things that keep you Inside/Stuck you can then “break through the walls”. There are several walls that you need to smash before you can stare the blue sky of freedom again. You need to walk yourself through every and each of the reasons that put you inside and kept you there for so long.

You must be asking: “Yeah, it sounds nice, but how?!?” This is what I was asking too, go to Part 5 to find out “How”.

Once you have forced those walls to fall and you believe you are actually free, then you can start mastering some enhancing tools and exercises to reach the

F** It State of Mind

At the end of the book, John and Gaia give you some interesting tips to stay and live in the Fuck it State in the real life (aka when you finish the book and wonder how to actually change your life).

I found John Parkin’s style extremely amusing, the book is filled with funny cartoons and jokes. He also shares some feedback of people who either read the book or spent time in one of their retreats. It’s an interesting little book that combines practical exercises with some Asian philosophy and basic of relaxation.

This is not a book that tells you to give up your job or divorce your wife/husband. This is a book that will help you to go through life with a better, positive and relaxed attitude. You will be in the f**k it state and therefore life will be easier and more pleasant. You will see things from a different perspective and under a different light.  Possibly you will feel lighter and maybe even happier.
At the end of the day, it’s not necessarily about changing your life, but it’s all about changing your attitude.

 

Change what you can change and let go of what you can’t change.

 

 JUST F**K IT. 

 

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Disconnected

Last night I started reading I come alone a book by Michelle J Coote, an Australian who after a touching travel experience in the Middle East, decided to move to Thailand and then India. I’m still at the beginning of her journey, but I’m already sure I’ll be intrigued by her adventures, also because the two countries are part of the around-the-world trip I’m about to start. I’ve been following Antonia’s blog for a few weeks now and I’m curious to see how their lives have taken them to or away from Brisbane (Antonia has chosen the Australian town as her temporary home, Michelle decides to leave her “beautiful, tidy, clean and organised” Brisbane to travel and then settle in Southern Asia).

However, while I add myself to those who are craving for the Asian and the Australian dream, I’ve disconnected the plug. I’m on auto-pilot now. I’ve always been part of that category of weird people who jumped out of bed in the morning in excitement thinking about what was on the plate for the day. I was the type of person who was getting a bit depressed on a Friday afternoon, thinking about the boring weekend ahead and how do to fill all that spare time. I’ve often been the one who got some extra work to get done at home between parties and dinners out. But I never left any my time available, too scared to be spending time with myself, horrified to listen to my thoughts or talk to myself. Busy, always busy was the routine, no a free minute for myself. Get stuff done.

I’m now part of that army of individuals (at the opposite side of the spectrum), who wakes up on Monday morning thinking that Friday will never arrive soon enough. I spend my days and hours counting down minutes to The End. I am bored and disconnected. I used to be in the office at 8am and now I drag myself through the door after 9am, under the suspicious stare of my boss.
But I don’t care anymore. Love is over and I can’t get it back. I don’t see the utility of my job and I feel like all my efforts have been wasted. I also feel betrayed and I can’t fix that.

Now I spend my days listening to the screaming voice in my head that is shouting to GET OUT OF HERE and considering options for my future.
The problem is that, despite I’ve read tons of blogs and books about downshifting, moving-on, leaving the corporate world, location-free jobs, online millionaires and entrepreneurs, I haven’t found my way. All of the them are incredibly inspirational, don’t get me wrong, but the reality is that I don’t know how to change my life. I have no idea what I could / should do next and this ambiguity, as well as the various options, are making me more and more confused.

What shall I do? Shall I do that master in HR capitalising on my 6-year recruitment experience to pursue a career in HR or shall I just forget about it and move on to a brand new chapter in my life i.e. online marketing, obviously assuming a massive risk by learning something completely new to me?

Would you take the easy option or the less-travelled path?
Let me know your thoughts and if you have practical suggestions on how to learn and find a location-independent, sustainable job, I will be forever grateful.Image

Let it be

Reflections

Here we are again. Two weeks ago I resigned. I took my boss to a meeting room for a “quick 2-minute chat” and without actually thinking about it or preparing for it, I said “I’m leaving“. Two painful weeks followed, they decided to keep me, they decided that I was worth another try and promised me the moon and the stars. And more money.

And …I? I decided to accept. I decided to turn my back to that half-opened door. I decided it wasn’t time for Freedom. Just yet. Just for a little bit longer. I decided I would stay.

Sometimes in life there are things that are completely out of your control. I like to think that we are the creators of our own lives and that we give clear directions to our paths, but now? Now, I feel I have no control.

I’ve been looking at my last six years with a different eye lately, I started looking at things from a new perspective and I realised that things weren’t exactly as I thought. I’ve always put my career first, I thought that achieving record salaries (for my age and experience) and smashing targets was what was going to make me happy. I thought that being promoted three then four years in a row would have turned me into a satisfied person, I naively believed that being “the youngest consultant ever” would have made me special.

I then realised that the truth was really different. The truth is that I wasted (the best) six years of my life. Basically I threw away my twenties pursuing (and  achieving) inconceivable goals.  You might be thinking that I should be happy, right? But happiness, you know, doesn’t come from money. They threw some more money and promises to make millions of pounds if I stay for another decade or so, but I know I won’t.

I’ve now realised that I’m going to make myself happy, that I already feel I’ve achieved what I wanted to achieve in my (first) career, and it’s now time to move on. I’m now studying my plan B. And C. And considering options to escape this life.

Now I know. I know that isn’t a title that gives me the authority to be the person I want to be, nor it’s a pay rise. I’m already the person I want to be.

And I am happy.

“A few times in my life I’ve had moments of absolute clarity when, for a few brief seconds, the silence drowns out the noise and I can feel rather than think and things seem so sharp and the world seems so fresh, it’s as though it had all just come into existence. I can never make these moments last. I cling to them, but like everything, they fade. I have lived my life on these moments. They pull me back to the present, and I realize that everything is exactly the way it was meant to be.” 

From ‘A Single Man’