There are a number of things that Kirsten really wants to do here in American Samoa, the island she spent 4 of her last teenage years. It is almost as if she is getting the opportunity to finally show the children all of the great corners and the locations of the experiences she had while a youth. The kids have all heard the stories over and over. Now they all have an opportunity to see if the actual locations match with what their mind has painted from the stories. To hear the stories again of wild boar hunts and being abandoned on remote islands while visiting the actual locations has been a memorable experience the kids will not soon forget.
Today after running around all morning we finally got going just after noon from the main bus station in Pago Pago. We looked for a bus that was going in the general direction we were wanting to go (Aua) and asked if they could take us all the way to Au’asi, 4 times the distance. I think the bus driver either was in a good mood or really did not understand my English or the nature of our trip. The passage generally is $2 for adults and 50 cents for each of the kids ($7.50) and takes about 45 minutes. The main problem with taking a bus however is that it one never knows how long they will have to wait for the return bus to come. It could take hours. This driver offered to take us to our destination for $15 and wait for us to come back. Although double the price, at least we would not have to take our chances for the return trip. On the drive there was not one other person that got on the bus, we had the entire bus to ourselves.
After the beautiful drive along the coast we clarified that we were going to Aunu’u Island for 2 to 3 hours. He seemed a little surprised and had not understood as I had expected. We told him he could just return back and come for us later as we would be taking the boat over to Aunu’u and hiking around before needing to return back to Pago Pago. After a few minutes however he explained that he would wait for us. He pulled over and must have laid down for a nap.
In Au’asi there were two boats in the small protected marina that shuttled people over to Aunu’u. We got onboard ($2 adults and $1 kids) for the 10 minute ride out to the island. The boats were small and simple but were the main source of transportation for the 800 or so islanders who regularly commuted back and forth. They had a covered area with benches as well as a more enclosed covered area with sides where a fine mat was laid down for people to sit on. The trip was a bit bumpy but nothing we had not already experienced on our sailboat.
As soon as we arrived on the small little island we asked some of the locals for suggestions on a walking trail for the day. We were directed off to the West side of the island and set off in the blazing sun with all of the kids. Kirsten was disappointed to see that the white coral roads of her memories of this island were being resurfaced with concrete roadways. It no longer had the mystique of the early days but with a growing population on this tiny little island, the locals probably were demanding more infrastructure and services.
After we passed along the South side of the island we passed by a little elementary school. As we walked through the schoolyard as we had been instructed to do, lots of the children stepped outside or peeked out the classroom windows and doorways to wave or say hello. They seemed rather curious as to why a bunch of young white Palangi kids were walking around on their island.
A narrow cement pathway continued on past the school and was almost overgrown by the various vines and other shrubs that were overtaking the walkway. All around us were the sounds and smells of the natural green jungle-like setting. As we moved further from the village we could see a large plantation growing local fruits and vegetables. The trail then moved on up the ridge of the extinct volcano crater that forms the island. It was a simple hike but rather tough due to the heat of the afternoon sun. The pathways also had very little shade which made the hike that much more challenging.
We arrived at the top of the island’s crater where a crossroads of sorts came into view. The trail we had taken up the crater was the most widely used trail as it was used by service vehicles to inspect the communications tower at the crossroads. Fortunately there was a vehicle at the top and I was able to find out where the rest of the trails went to. Two of the trails formed another loop trail to the South side of the island while the other trail ahead of us took a longer route back to the East side of the island, past the quicksand and then back to the main village.
Before continuing on however we all took a little break under a large tree at this intersection of trails. This large tree was the perfect climbing tree and before long all of the boys were up in its branches exploring the green leaves and long branches. It was a great escape in the shady branches from the pounding heat of the day. Besides what better place than around a big shady tree to enjoy the freshly baked cinnamon buns that Kirsten had baked earlier in the day.
From here we split up with the Girls taking the same hour long route back to the village while I went with all of the boys to the East side of the island along an overgrown track of tall grass. At one point I thought that we may get lost due to how tall the grass was. It did not look like a very well used trail. But eventually it open back up again. Soon we could hear the gentle roar of waves along the East coastline of the small little island. We descended down to the waters edge to a breathtaking view of a private looking little turquoise lagoon and a stone arch that protruded from the side of the rock wall. It was here that Jaeden couldn’t resist climbing a coconut tree to get something to drink. He succeeded in making it to the top before tearing off a coconut with one hand at the top. Unfortunately when he descended back down the tree to inspect his prized coconut, it was not as juicy as it could have been. But a good drink nonetheless.
I walked ahead with Orin and Eli in search of the red quicksand that was known to be found on this side of the island. The trail continued along the ocean back to the main village but before long we saw a path going back inland. The trail led to what looked like a small lake. The lake however was circled by some very spindly looking trees. It did not look like much but one could see a thin sand like substance on the surface of the water. Some areas were thicker than others and Orin and Eli picked up some coral rocks from the pathway to toss them into the quicksand like lake. Orin ran to the side of the lake, found a branch and even tossed it onto a sandy isthmus. This was the only place where things really seemed to settle on top of the soupy like substance.
Frequently we saw flutterings of fish or tadpoles in the water as they tried to move from one shallow section of the water to another. It was amazing to think that anything could live in this shallow or soupy water.
After some exploring it was time to head back. We had already spent more than the two hours we had told our driver we would be here for and needed to get back. As we walked on toward the village Eli and I spent time along the path together while the other boys walked ahead. We enjoyed walking on the coral pathway that had a one foot tall coral wall to the inland side. Palm trees lined the two sides of the pathway to create an idyllic nature walk back to the village. On the entire hike from the school back to the village we only saw about 4 buildings, most of which looked abandoned. It seemed that everyone on the island lived close together in the main village.
As we approached the village we could see the ornate church with a crushed shell perimeter encircled by another white sand strip. It was a beautiful building and interesting to see at least three churches on this little island. As we approached the water taxi area, Kirsten, Alyssa and Teyauna arrived at the same time. The kids all hot and thirsty went in search of the little store that is found on the island for a nice cool can of pop. Sure it was a little overpriced (not as much as French Polynesia) but it was hot and a refreshing break from the exhausting hike of the day.
Aunu’u is a quaint little island well worth a visit. While I would highly recommend touring the East side of the island and returning back through the loop road through the centre plantation. If one has lots more time, the back loop trail I hear is well worth a visit. Go early in the day however as 4 pm is the last boat back to the mainland.