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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Samoan Outrigger Hotel – Apia, Upolu
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.
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).
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.
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.
Not until we are lost do we begin to understand ourselves.
Henry David Thoreau
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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