Samoa cycling 2009
‘Expect the unexpected’ rapidly became the group catch phrase. From the moment that we landed at Apia Airport in Samoa we were entertained by the unexpected. On touch down we were requested to remain seated whilst three Samoan nurses clad in face masks and sporting thermometers paraded the aisles. Nobody owned up to Swine Flu symptoms and we were allowed to disembark but we were then processed through a series of nurses who took our temperatures.
Once through emigration and customs we were greeted by Tau, our guide and driver, with “welcome to paradise”. For Ross and I it was a return trip (review the trip report) but this was our inaugural group trip to Samoa with ten cyclists and we hoped to experience the magic and hospitality of the Samoan people once again.
Every day is a public holiday
Last August Ross and I had traveled on the ferry from Upolo to Savaii on Fathers day. It had been one of the busiest ferry crossings of the year. Imagine our surprise to discover that we and hit the jackpot once again. It was Mother’s Day weekend and the ferry was so full that we ended up on the vehicle deck like overheated sardines in the van. Improvised metal tray fans and Tau’s egg, spaghetti and ham sandwiches helped ease the 30 degree temperatures.
The guide book notes “May to October is the dry season in Samoa”. However the weather gods did not respect these guidelines and on our first day we were treated to a sudden monsoon downpour. One of many that we were to experience and quite a different story from our previous trip in August when we had only half an hour’s rain in total.
Regardless of the rain the temperature was in the 30’s and an ideal opportunity to explore the lagoon’s mysteries by snorkel. Lucia’s Lagoon feels cool to begin with until you realise that the cold water from the stream is sitting in the top half metre and that diving deeper gives you a bath like experience. The pelting rain added to the experience along with the cloudy mix of fresh and salt water that would magically clear to reveal what lay below. Our group became noted for their enthusiasm for snorkeling and we would spend up to two hours a day exploring the many and varied coral reefs and colourful reef fish.
Cycling in Samoa requires a one handed approach whilst you wave and call hi, bye bye or talofa to the local children and adults alike. Cycling also affords opportunities not always found when isolated behind a car window. A stop would usually require a conversation with a local as to where you come from and then reciprocation on which brother, sister, aunt or uncle lived in Auckland, Wellington or Australia. Equally well we were invited into churches to admire the beauty of the construction or offered coconuts for refreshment.
Cultural activities and schools
One memorable and quite unexpected slice of life occasion happened when we chanced upon the Woman’s Committee in their weekly weaving session. We were warmly invited into the open fale to watch them weave their intricate mats. An impromptu dance, a weaving lesson, spontaneous singing and a mug of Samoan Cocoa soon ensued. The Cocoa was rich, steaming and sweet like the welcome that we had received.
On arrival at Lano the heavens opened again but it was warm and steamy – just fine to cycle in. We were surprised when later that evening Rob discussed his epic crossing of the ford. “What ford?” we asked and were only convinced when he produced the photo that showed the water half way up his bicycle tyres. The ford had flooded in the ten minutes between the time we crossed and when Rob crossed.
Tayla(14) and Nic(10) were great draw cards for the local children and at Manase they were invited to the local secondary school for English Day. We anticipated that we would be able to help in the English lessons but were delighted to discover that we were part of the adult audience for the annual English Day. The pupils were decked out in their house colours and were beautifully presented. We were entertained with song and dance, speeches, news with commercial breaks and were impressed by the natural beauty of their voices, their delightful sense of humour, their grasp of English and the obvious pride felt by their parents in the audience.
We spoke with the teachers and the librarian who showed us the library which is groaning under old musty texts and rows of Reader’s Digest short stories. It’s our aim to return with English novels for the school. (Any donations gratefully accepted).
An Australian/Samoan film crew was filming the cultural floor show at Luscia’s Lagoon and we were invited to be filmed cycling to help promote tourism in Samoa. So with much excitement we became film stars for a few minutes. After several ‘takes’ we will probably be shown for about ten seconds on their promotional DVD. We asked the film crew to reciprocate with a photo with Nic and one of the Samoan crew quickly whipped his shirt off to proudly display his stunning Samoan full body tattoo for the photo.
Aganoa is one of the surfers’ beaches with a great break over the coral reef close to shore. Normally a strong rip makes this beach a challenge enjoyed by skilled surfers but on our last morning Sebastian, the life guard, recommended a snorkel out beyond the reef as the tide was low and the weather very calm. We quickly headed out through the channel and had one last ‘expected the unexpected moment’ when a large turtle swam by. We followed the turtle for several minutes as it swam along the reef. This along with the large colourful reef fish, deep drop off and coral made a memorable last swim for us.
Savaii held no surprises in it’s hospitality, beauty, warmth, history, snorkeling, volcanoes, lava flows, coral, reef fish, blowholes and sunrises or sunsets viewed from your beach fale. It was truly a Pacific Paradise but we enjoyed lots of spontaneous unexpected and fun experiences along the way.