This Danish Pālagi has been exploring Samoa
Day 3,249 since October 10th 2013: 198 countries out of 203. No flight, no return home, min 24 hrs in each country and 1 pandemic!
(The opinions expressed on this site are my own, and do not reflect the position or policies of the Danish Red Cross which I represent as a Goodwill Ambassador).
The adventures of yet another week
While I’m by no means happy about approaching nine years (away from home) within this project, I am very fond of all the memories and observations I have been enriched by this week. Samoa is certainly a special country and now occupies a firm part of my heart.
Last week’s entry: Swire’s good crew, and Samoa: first impressions
Between last Friday and Sunday so much has happened that it could easily fill ten pages on its own. However, given that the week itself has been quite eventful, I guess this will have to be something of a highlight entry. It’s quite interesting how much I have experienced over the past many years. My mind cannot quite cope with it all. During a videocall the other day, ultra-wifey mentioned that we did a Harry Potter marathon during her visit in Amritsar, India, back in late 2018. I guess she could read in my face that I did not know what she was talking about. “You don’t remember?” she said. I did not remember. In fact, there is much I do not remember from this journey across 198 countries over the past (nearly) nine years. I have not had a chance to digest it all. Every day is more, more, more. This was not supposed to take a decade. The Saga was supposed to take less than four years. Alas, her we are. And in true Saga style, we keep on keeping on.
Waiting in Apia for the bus to Mulifanua Wharf Ferry Terminal.
Being misunderstood or falsely labeled is a normal part of my life. Some call me a blogger? Sure, I blog. I’ve been called a YouTuber. Sure, the Saga has a YouTube channel with over 400,000 views. An influencer? Sure. Traveler? Why not. Public speaker, Danish Red Cross Goodwill Ambassador, Salomon Ambassador, adventurer, explorer, fundraiser, media manager, project manager, Chairman of the board, logistician, red tape samurai, mental athlete, husband, brother, son, human…I’m all of that. I’m certainly not a tourist and not on a “trip”. But I cannot fault anyone for not understanding. Nobody else, living or dead, knows what it is like to venture across 336,192km (208,900mi) through 198 countries in an UNBROKEN journey completely WITHOUT flying. What a journey it has been. Please, please, please let it come to a successful end soon.
A huge smile for the Honorable Leatinu’u Wayne So’oiala (left of the Honorable Prime Minister in red). And I'm grateful to their government! It's madly complicated moving forward to Tonga without flying. But we are at the highest level as Samoa's foreighn ministry is reaching out to Tonga's Prime Minister in support. Who would have thought it woud require that much?!
The Honorable Leatinu’u Wayne So’oiala, his lovely wife Ramouner, and their large family, continue to host me and take good care of me. Last Friday I wanted to take the bus from Apia to Mulifanua Wharf Ferry Terminal so I could cross over to Samoa’s largest, but lesser populated island, Savai’i for the weekend. Within the kindness and care of Wayne he wanted to give me a ride to the bus terminal to ensure I caught the right bus. And he even had a leftover VIP ferry ticket from a function on Savai’i earlier the same week. So, I was well taken care of. I caught the midday ferry and soon sat foot on Savai’i. Then I marched off to Jet Over Hotel, where Wayne had organized a rental car for me. Did I need all that help and support? No. Was it nice though? Yes indeed. And the rental car was a good call on Wayne’s behalf as I would never have managed my plans without it.
Cruising counter clockwise around Savai'i. Lot's of decorations along the road celebrating sixty years of independence along with Septembers Teuila festival.
My first stop was at Sale’aula Lava Fields. Two major volcanic eruptions in 1905 and 1911 had lava flowing from Mount Matāvanu, which didn’t exist until August 3rd 1905. Five villages were buried. For whatever reason the walls of a now ruined London Missionary Society (LMS) church remains! It’s quite a sight with the evidence of hardened lava within and around the walls. Apparently the villagers were evacuated to Upolu, which is Samoa’s main island, and still have their regional voting rights from Sale’aula on Savai’i. I was guided by Blessing who was quick to ask if I was married or single. A theme which would continue across Savai’i. Family sizes are large in Samoa and having ten siblings seems common. I asked Blessing, who has five sibling, if she wanted to have children some day and if so, then how many? She answered: two. She also spent a lot of time on her smartphone while I took photos and video of the place. The world is definitely changing. Blessing also showed me the “Virgin’s Grave” which is a curiosity near the church. As the story goes, a High Chief’s virgin daughter (or maybe a virgin nun), was buried long before the volcanic eruption. And the grave was left untouched by the lava flow which went both ways around the grave.
The LMS church was built in 1865. Amazing to see the walls still standing!
At Sale’aula Lava Fields with Blessing who handed me a fresh mango from a nearby tree :)
What a remarkable story of the Virgin's Grave at Sale’aula Lava Fields
From Sale’aula I continued to the small village of A’opo. As I mentioned in last weeks entry, Samoa’s highest mountain had a magnetic draw on me. I did some research and found that the hike to the top starts at A’opo, where permission must be granted from the High Chief, and a guide will be appointed. Information was scarce but I found a pretty good source left online by a German who had done the hike in January 2019. The German wrote that the hike cost USD 50/day and that it was possible to spend the night at the guides place for USD 8. The German also shared GPS plots from the entire hike and mentioned there were two water sources along the route. I reached A’opo and approached a small shop asking for direction. People in Samoa are very kind and very helpful. And as I’ve mentioned before, conversations come really easy. I was soon directed to the High Chiefs home. I wish I had photos but the situation was too authentic to pull out my phone and start snapping away. High Chief Pao was an old man with a milky white left eye. He spoke limited but enough English. He invited me to sit down and a small wooded table separated us. I looked into his good eye and asked for permission to hike Mount Silisili. He asked for my intentions and we agreed to call it “observation”. He then said it would cost 150 tala (USD 55) and that his son Lucky (or Luki?) would guide me. We then each had a cup of Koko Samoa within his wooden house in the immaculately kept village. I feared it would taste horrible and that I would need to stay polite. But it was delicious. We then agreed I would meet his son at 06:00am the next day at High Chief Pao’s house, and that we would go up and down the mountain in one day.
High Chief Pao's house, A'opo village, Savai'i, Samoa.
I thought I would have slept in the rental car or perhaps at some cheap beach fala (beach house). But I was looking for food that evening and found it 20 minutes from A’opo at Va-i-moana seaside lodge. And on arrival my phone almost magically informed that I received a USD 100 donation via PayPal from the owner of Verandahs Parkside Lodge in Auckland. Wow thanks! So, I decided to splurge and stay at Va-i-moana for the night. The next morning, I checked out and drove back to A-opo to start the hike. The village was still asleep at 06:00am and I carefully walked up to the High Chiefs house hoping no dogs would attack. Nobody was up. I spent about ten minutes calling out for the High Chief before he woke up. He got out of bed naked and wrapped himself in his lavalava (Samoan skirt for men), chased a sleeping dog off a nearby chair and invited me to sit down. A young man was sleeping in the same room and minutes later I left with the young man without knowing anything about him. We drove a few minutes up to another house where we picked up a slightly older man and then the three of us continued further up the mountain. They didn’t speak English very well – but they spoke enough. They were brothers. The older one (34y) was named Liu (not Lucky or Luki) and the younger one (27y) was named Aotearoa. Yes! Like the Māori name for New Zealand (the land of the long white cloud).
Aotearoa in red and Liu with the backpack.
I think the setup might have been good back before the pandemic. You can drive the first 7km (4.35mi) up a mountain road where there is a house, toilet and tanks with collected rainwater. Then the trail starts. The High Chief told me I was the first pālagi in a very long time, perhaps since late 2019, to ask for permission to hike Silisili. We couldn’t drive up to the house because the road was far too overgrown. And the trail itself was very overgrown as well. This wasn’t just another hike. This was another adventure!
The nature in Samoa is remarkable!
You haven’t really been on a hike until you’ve followed a barefooted man with a machete deep into primary forest which is simultaneously growing and decomposing :) It is quite the experience. Liu led the way hacking a path for us swinging his sharp machete left and right. In one swing he would sometimes cut growth in half with branches as thick as my arm! But mostly it would be minor growth. Liu would sometimes wear his beach slippers and sometimes go barefooted. I stuck to my trusty Salomon X Ultra 04’s ;) Aotearoa was behind me carrying a light backpack.
There were about a thousand different ways you could twist your ankle on this hike. Fortunately I did not. It required a lot of concentration regarding footwork.
It turned out Liu wasn’t very fit on the uphill stretches. He needed a lot a breaks and time to smoke some cigarettes. It wasn’t long before Aotearoa took over with the machete and Liu was behind me. Aotearoa was moving forward at a brisk pace and we sometimes stopped to wait for his older brother. Both of them work at the family plantation on a day-to-day basis. I wonder what they thought of guiding a pālagi up and down the mountain? Their English did not suffice for me to know. A pālagi is generally the Samoan word for a foreigner but upon more research it turns out the origins and the meaning is a bit disputed. It is not derogatory and the word is often used to describe those of European descent.
At the peak of Mount Silisili (Mauga Silisili) at 1,858m (6,096ft).
After 6.5 hours Aotearoa stopped within the thick growth we had long been moving in and indicated that this was it. This was what? This was apparently the peak of Mount Silisili. The roof of Samoa. We were at 1,858m (6,096ft). There was no sign, no concrete block, no view, no nothing of much apart from a lot of nature. Aotearoa pointed towards a black plastic encased compass which had been fixed to a tree with tape. I looked around and could see that several of the nearby trees had been carved with people’s names. Okay. This was it. Liu caught up to us and the three of us sat down and shared two cans of tuna I had brought with me along with some crackers. Then we dove into my bag of almonds, took a few photos, and when there was nothing left to eat we began the long hike back to where we had come from.
As done at the roof of Kenya, the roof of Fiji, and now the roof of Samoa: the Ross banner came out! (note the incredible view behind us). You can spot the black compass on the tree next to Liu's face.
We also hiked up on Mount Mata o le afi (eye of the fire). A nearby active volcanic crater which last erupted in 1902. Its highest point sits at 1,647m (5,404ft).
Over the course of 10 hours and 18 minutes we ended up covering 26.73km (16.61mi) and a 1,355m (4,446ft) total ascent which led to me burning 4,445 calories. It was a very hard hike but not technical difficult. I doubt I would have found my way without the brothers. There are a few steep climbs, there’s some muddy and wet terrain, there are plenty of sharp volcanic rocks, and there is a lot of forest! The forest contained much beauty and at times I saw plants which looked completely alien to me. We passed some orange trees and Aotearoa climbed it, shook the branches, and fresh oranges dropped to the ground. Yummy. It was nice and cool the higher up we went and it was dreadfully hot and humid as we descended. The last hour of walking was strenuous wading through thick growth on the road leading back to the rental car. I think the optimal way to hike Silisili is to drive (4WD) up to the house at the end of the road, start the trail, make camp and sleep at Mount Mata o le afi (the nearby volcano crater). Then head to the peak of Silisili the next morning, and descend back down to the village. Normally the path would probably be a lot easier to pass due to regular traffic. There’s a toilet and a tank with collected rainwater on Mount Mata o le afi, which makes for a good camp site. By the way, Liu was lightning fast on the way down and we hardly stopped at any point. I grabbed on to hundreds of trees trying to descend quickly without falling over forward. It was a rough and demanding hike – I left with bruises, scratches, and insect bite, but overall worthwhile. Nice to touch hundreds of trees :)
Some of the best grilled fish I've ever had and a cold Taula.
After dropping the brothers off I continued back to Va-i-moana seaside lodge. I hadn’t planed to in the morning but now I was exhausted, and craving a good meal, a nice shower, air-condition, and a good night’s sleep. When I arrived, the power was out but I had a cold shower and before my spectacularly delicious grilled fish was served, the electricity had returned. Va-i-moana seaside lodge was beyond nice. It wasn’t overly expensive at USD 55/night and the staff was comparable to angels in their gentle nature and with their sweet faces. A fresh breeze came from the calm ocean and fresh flowers and weaved coconut leaves decorated the wooden pillars. The only thing which could have made it better would have been to share it with ultra-wifey.
I got up at 07:15am the next morning, had breakfast, packed, and continued on my way counter clockwise around the island. My goal was to pay a visit to the Alofaaga Blowholes and look for a place along the way to sip some tea and have a light lunch. But it was Sunday and everything, apart from the many churches, was closed. It was pretty cool to see how nicely everyone dressed up to go to church. Men in white shirts and ties, women in long dresses and with hats. They were often greeting each other in front of the churches. I did not see the shadow of a bus and do not know how I could have managed without the rental? Good call Wayne! On my way to the blowholes, I saw a sign to Falealupo Canopy Walkway. I had seen a lot of signs along the road to caves, waterfalls, nature walks and much more. The canopy walk lured me in.
Would you dare to walk across? 10m (32ft) up in the air. Nobody around. No phone signal. When was this last serviced? ;)
There was nobody to charge any money from me. There was nobody at all. No vehicles on the road and very few people walking about. Sunday morning. I parked and followed a footpath into an impressive forest with trees so tall that you are immediately humbled and put in your place. Tranquility and forest sounds. A metal tower appeared ahead of me and I carefully began climbing it. 10m (32ft) up a simple suspension bridge of wires, rope, and ladders, connected a sort of tree house 24m (79ft) away from me. The tree house was built up a giant banyan tree. Would the bridge hold me? Had anyone been here in recent times? Where is the adventure in turning around? Not to be found at all. After a bit of risk assessment, I proceeded across the bridge. I made it high up the banyan tree on to a wooden platform. The view was spectacular. I might only have been 20m (64ft) up but the view was still remarkably better than from the “peak” of Silisili.
Spotted this pineapple in the forest near the canopy walk.
The blowholes were my next stop and they did not disappoint. After handing a kind man 5 tala (USD 1.80) to drive up a basic coastal road I had the marvelous blowholes all to myself. A spectacular coastline with powerful waves crashing against it. Random tubes generated from the hardening lava long ago creates the effect of a whale’s blowhole. The ocean would push water through the lava tubes and water would spray up. Sometimes calmly and at times with awe-inspiring power! I was transformed into an excited little boy marveling at natures forces. A definite highlight on the roundtrip of beautiful Savai’i.
Alofaaga Blowholes: natures playground!! :)
This was just brilliant!
I had to refill the tank of the rental before I returned it at 2pm. All the petrol stations I found on google maps were either closed or no longer existed. I found yet another closed petrol station, parked and scratched my head. It was 1:40pm, Sunday. What to do? At that exact moment a taxi showed up with a passenger signaling me to wait. It was the operator of the petrol station. He appeared again 5 minutes later with a wooden school desk which he carried to the petrol pumps. Then in no time 6-8 other vehicles lined up behind my rental. Bizarre. I returned the rental with a full tank and sat down at DMC (fast food joint) near the ferry terminal. I had secured my ticket and was now enjoying a meal while a skinny dog lurked around nearby. Then a man sat down across from me? He greeted me telling that he saw me at Va-i-moana seaside lodge but didn’t have a chance to talk to me then. Now he spotted me and wanted to say hi. His name was Les and we spoke for five minutes before he got up and was on his way again. At one point he asked if I was doing this project for something good and I replied: “yes, I think so”. Before he left, he handed me some money and told me it was in support of what I do. I looked, and it was 200 tala (USD 73)!! I told him it was too much but he just smiled and walked off.
Rocky up in front next to me :)
Back on Upolu (main island) I was collected at Mulifanua Wharf Ferry Terminal by Rocky (Wayne had sent him). And then I was brought back to my Samoan family who keeps feeding me and taking care of me to a degree which goes far beyond regular hospitality. Samoa is amazing as far as I’m concerned and you just need to book a flight and get her asap :)
On a random Tuesday night we had an "umu". A Samoan umu is an above-ground oven of hot volcanic stones. Then food is wrapped and prepared on it. Samoa is a great food country! I personally fell in love with taro and palusami. Palusami is taro leaf with coconut milk. Mind-blowingly good!
Already a long entry – huh? Well, I told you the weekend was a full adventure! And I didn’t even cover everything. I could have written twice as much. That was just three days. I’ve been out here in the world for 3,249 days. Can you imagine! Oh well, the rest of the week will be in photos and captions. Enjoy.
Villa Vailima was the home of the Scottish author Robert Louis Stevenson who was beloved in Samoa, where he ended his days. He wrote several well known books such as Treasure Island and the Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. The original villa was completely destroyed in the early 90s by two cyclones. But the home has been convincingly restored. It's a must visit when in Apia.
Robert Louis Stevenson is buried (wearing his boots) on top of nearby Mount Vaea. He was locally known as "tusi tala" (story teller/teller of tales).
Media has been really kind and plentiful in Samoa. Lots of newspaper coverage and recently also four radio interviews with the kind hosts at Radio Polynesia.
The Samoa - China Friendship Park opened a week ago and is a huge win for Apia! As far as I'm concerned it is unparalleled among the small pacific island nations. And it is a delightful park to stroll about in.
School children on a tour of the friendship park. I particularly enjoyed observing the huge mudskippers and the many fiddler crabs in the mangrove tidal garden.
Susan (blond in white) is a lot of fun! She's an Aussie nurse living in Apia with her Aussie husband Gary (in glasses) who's a policeman. Gary's Aussie mom Laraine (red hair) was visiting. They invited me for dinner at Paddles (man in black and woman in green work at Paddles). Susan is the only Travelers' Century Club (TCC) member in Samoa and has been to 95 countries. Susan is great at telling stories, mimicking characters and voices :)
Finally, I've been exploring Apia (the capital) and it is a fine city with a lot of interesting shopping opportunities, good restaurants and cool cafés. Within Nourish Café I found a quote I know you'll like: Be the reason someone believes in the goodness of people.
If you enjoyed this blog or find that I am doing a good job then you can support here below. The Saga welcomes funding. Thank you :)
Mr. Torbjørn C. Pedersen (Thor) - one of four Danes in Samoa (I've met two).
"A stranger is a friend you've never met before"
Once Upon A Saga