Rain fell almost constantly during my stay in Samoa, everything from mild sprinkles to ominous storms blowing angry sheets of horizontal water. The weather made it difficult to warm up to Samoa, no pun intended, as did the fact that it would have been tough for anyplace to follow the high of Ofu. But I was visiting during rainy season, so what did I expect? It made me appreciate how lucky I’d been with the weather in American Samoa.
I spent my first two nights in Apia, Samoa’s capital and largest city. Taking advantage of a rare break between downpours I went out to walk around downtown, but the rain quickly returned and thoroughly soaked me before I could retreat back to my hotel. Large areas of Apia were flooded. I decided to embrace the downtime and work on my photos.
Samoa has two main islands – Upolu, which includes Apia and the majority of the population, and Savai’i, which is bigger but less developed. With just five days to spend, I decided to concentrate on Upolu and save Savai’i for another time.
From Apia I hired a taxi to take me to the far eastern side of the island, stopping along the way to swim in the To Sua ocean trench. The taxi driver, John, asked for more money than my hotel said he’d initially agreed to, and when I pushed back he grudgingly agreed to the original price. But he clearly wasn’t happy, sighing loudly every few minutes as we drove.
To Sua is a massive hole in the volcanic rocks that connects to the ocean through an underground channel. A steep wooden ladder takes you down to the bottom, where you can swim in a circular pool of aqua-marine seawater. I was more excited about To Sua than anything else on Upolu. “How long you stay?” John asked sullenly as we pulled up.
“Maybe 30 minutes? What seems fair to you?”
Ha! That would hardly be enough time to dip my toe in the water and run right back to the car. “I’ll try to make it fast.”
Light rain was falling and there weren’t many tourists. The only people in the trench were climbing out as I climbed down, so for a short while I had the entire place to myself. It was an incredible experience.
From To Sua we drove east to Mutiatele, the closest village to Namu’a Island, where I’d be staying the night at a beach fale. A fale is a traditional Samoan hut, basically just a flat, elevated oval surface supported by pillars and covered by a domed thatch roof. The sides are left open to let in the breeze. A small motorboat was sent to ferry me over to Namu’a, and on the way to the island a fast-moving sea turtle passed right next to us.
There were a couple other tourists on the island when I arrived, but it turned out they were just there for a day trip and I’d be the only overnight guest. Thankfully I had two friendly dogs for company. Later the manager showed up, a stocky, smiling guy named Yetti. I pointed to one of the amber-colored mutts and asked, “What’s his name?”
“Khali,” Yetti said. “My sons named him after the WWE wrestler.”
“What’s the other dog’s name?”
“Khali,” Yetti repeated with a laugh. “Same name. One name for two dogs.”
I tried snorkeling off the coast of the island, but the rain and wind stirred things up so much that visibility was terrible. Given the strength of the rain, one of Yetti’s sons had enclosed most of my fale in waterproof blue tarps. After dinner Yetti and his sons went to the mainland, leaving me as the undisputed king of my own island. With bad weather, no wi-fi, no snorkeling, no electricity, and no one else around, the king retreated behind his fale’s mosquito net and read until he fell asleep.
At breakfast the next morning Yetti offered to drive me to my next destination, the Sa’Moanna Resort on the western side of Upolu. “And I’ll charge less than a taxi,” he said. As we drove along the southern coast the sun broke through the clouds for a beautiful moment, only to vanish again like a skittish deer.
Yetti brought up President Trump. “What do Samoans think of him?” I asked.
Yetti laughed. “Our Prime Minister, he talked about him yesterday. He said ‘The people who vote for Trump, that’s a fool people.’” Yetti went on to claim that Trump won because he just “out-talked” all his opponents. “But there is nothing to the talk! Nothing!”
The Sa’Moanna Resort was definitely a lot fancier than the Namu’a Island Beach Fale, and there was some good snorkeling from their small beach. I came across a moray eel completely out in the open, so nearby it was a little unnerving. Despite the less-than-ideal weather it was a nice place to spend a day.
The next morning a hotel worker named Vai offered to give me a ride back to Apia. On the way she picked up her friend Rosa, who asked where I was from.
“California,” I said.
“Oh, you’re from the island of rich people!” Rosa said with a laugh.
As we rolled through Upolu’s lush green inland hills, Vai’s radio played extra-sugary covers of old pop ballads, with an over-the-top version of I’m All Out of Love followed by (Everything I Do) I Do It For You. Later that night on my hotel room TV in Apia I watched a Samoan trio belt out a heartfelt cover of Sinatra’s My Way.
The next morning the taxi driver taking me to the airport said his lifelong dream is to go to America. When I asked why, the feisty older man explained, “Here when you eat at a McDonald’s and order a drink, if you want more drink you have to pay again. Americans tell me that there at McDonald’s you can fill your drink up again and again, as much as you want!” His voice jumped at the end, emphasizing the wonderful ridiculousness of free refills. He cackled in amazement. “That must be why Americans are so fat!”
That was saying something coming from him, given that Samoans are some of the heftiest people I’ve ever seen.
“Also the burgers at McDonald’s in America are much bigger than the burgers at McDonald’s here. In America, you eat one burger and you are satisfied, you feel good. Here you must eat five or six burgers to feel good.”
When I’d arrived in Apia the previous afternoon, a Sunday, the whole city seemed to be shut down and the only open restaurant I could find was a McDonald’s, so I happened to have just eaten a Quarter Pounder with Cheese (and no, not a Royale with Cheese, even though Samoa is on the metric system). I did my best to set my new friend straight. “I can tell you the Quarter Pounder with Cheese here in Samoa is the same size as it is in the United States.”
“No!” the driver insisted decisively, “It is much smaller here! Much, much smaller.”
Ha, OK sir, you win. On to Fiji.