Climbing out of the dingy and onto the green island of Amerika Samoa felt like stepping back in time 25 years. It was the most unexpected feeling. I could almost see myself as a young 16 year old. I remember my first impressions then. I see everything so much differently now. I am filled with such a great love for this land and the beautiful people that live their lives on this island. Some things have changed but the longer we are here the more I realize that most things have not changed that much. There is a McDonalds here. That was a shock. Most villages look the same only a bit cleaner and a few more churches.
In the evening people are permitted to drive on the one main road around the island but they are not allowed to enter villages during family prayer time. After an incredible day of hiking to Nu’uli waterfalls and driving around the island we were coming home right around prayer hour. In every village families were gathered to pray together and village security were dressed in matching lava lava’s standing on the side of the road to enforce family prayers. It felt strange and amazing to see people of every faith upholding this tradition. I think there are more churches here than anywhere we have ever visited. Every little village has two or three churches and these villages are all really close to each other.
I cannot tell but everyone seems to respect the different religions. The houses are so humble. Many are banged together with tin roofing and old siding. The churches however are elaborate and as fancy as they can make them on this little paradise. Everyone of them is always white washed or painted up pretty in pinks, blues or greens.
The public transportation is a large mismatched fleet of homemade buses converted from old trucks. They build them up and then paint the outside with fancy flames or skulls or roses. They are also adorned with different sayings like “Neva Give Up” or “Forever in my heart” or “families are forever” even the “Liahona Express”. Each one is privately owned and they blare their island music as they rattle and rumble down the road. Each kid is a quarter and adults are a dollar, double if going to the furthest corners of the island.
We have been so used to scouring each island for any familiar food that we can use to create meals. The supplies have been so limited. We expected this place being American would have a bit more in the way of easy American grocery shopping. The truth is the stores here are poorly stocked and a very limited amount of produce is available compared to home. But we are not comparing things to home. We are comparing them to the last five months of eating creatively with what we brought and what we can find on the shelves of the tiny stores throughout the islands. Very few places besides Tonga grow their own veggies. We feel like we are in heaven here to have many new foods like grapes, cilantro, cheese, yogurt and green zucchini. We found a small warehouse type store that carries some Costco type food (called Cost U Less). The prices are double Costco prices but there are products like cheese and Chicken breasts and even tortilla chips. These thrilled Norm. He was feeling a lot more deprived than I realized and was happy to pay any price for some familiar foods.
In some ways the island has changed. There are two new buildings in Pago, the main town, that are two stories and one is even quite pretty. The Bank Of Hawaii building is built to US standards and looks different than any other building on island. The other is an government building that is just huge but not so picturesque. In the main Pago area there is a McDonalds that does brisk business. It does not sell salads and there are little veggies on the four burgers they sell but it always is busy. Because it is the only building that has free WiFi, we often pop in to check emails or send messages. They have a mini play place and as a result Zak jumps up and down whenever we come near the Golden arches and points frantically saying “weeeeeee”. He loves the slide there.
So in these ways my little island home has progressed if I can call it that. But unfortunately Bank of Hawaii has just announced they are pulling out of Samoa. There are a lot more Asian stores here and a growing Filipino community. My old high school does not look any different except that there seems to be an addition of an outdoor covered gym area.
The things I love about this island are still the same. The outgoing nature of the islanders is still intact. The generous hearts and the constant laughter remind me where I have landed 25 years ago with my sailing family. This island is arguably the most gorgeous geographically. The steep jagged mountains dripping with jungle vines surround the bay. There are flowers and bird everywhere. The beaches are gorgeous in a rough sort of way. It feels natural and wild like the Marqueses islands. There are pretty open fales in every village.
We have been staying with the Pili family for over a week. Other than for one night in Niue, it is the first time we have spent so much time away from our sailboat. My Mom and Dad will remember this friendly home. It is the same one we used to visit as kids. Ali is an avid reader so she has bookshelves filled with books and the kids love it! Not to mention that the kids don’t have to pump their toilets (heads) like on the boat.
We have run into old friends and met new ones. We have eaten with different people and shared stories and laughter. I am so glad we stopped at this enchanting island. It is filled with strange and wonderful experiences. We hiked down to Massacre Bay. We hiked around Aunu’u. We have swam and hiked at every waterfall on this rock. We have enjoyed the blow holes and tide pools at Sliding rock. We have eaten at Samoan festivals and had people to our boat for dinner. We have eaten out at one or two of the few ‘safe’ restaurants on the island and we have had unforgettable memories. Norm and I have even gone out on two dates without our kiddies. Tonight we have left for Western Samoa. We still do not have charts or electronic charts for Australia so we keep saying a prayer we can find them. We are really trying to find a way to get them sent to us but they are almost impossible to get a hold of.