Please carry on visiting Samoa !!!

Trip Start Jan 19, 2010
Trip End Jan 27, 2010

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Where I stayed
FaoFao Beach Fales, Virgin Cove, Pasifika Inn

Flag of Samoa  , Upolu,
Thursday, January 28, 2010

For once a blog which has a point!

My partner and I had the privilege to spend a few days in Samoa as part of a multi stop ticket on Air New Zealand (for ecomomy class possibly the best airline ever). We booked this trip in July last year and after the Tsunami hit we had a few choices - stay for longer than planned and volunteer; stick to the plan or avoid completely. In the end the rest of the trip became too pinned down to change anything and we are certainly glad we didn't skip it.

There did seem to be plenty of volunteers about, driving some nice 4x4's, but I think the disaster relief phase is probably over - the families that have lost loved ones will need support but presumably they will get that from their communities. Samoans are also devout Christians and I hope that their faith would be of help in this type of crisis - I am not sure how I would deal with losing half my village one morning. They lack building materials and money to rebuild the most at the moment.

We found a hotel in Apia from the airport, and it proved to be a great budget choice - Pasifika Inn. Accommodation on the island seemed expensive to us compared with other parts of the world but you are well looked after. Pasifika has a great location if you don't have a car and nice pool etc for relaxing. However renting a car will mean you get the most out of the island so then you have a wide choice of where to stay around town.

We rented a car from a cousin of the receptionist - at Queen Poto rentals (they also have branded buses). Their outlet is near the main bus terminal. We got a sedan for 100 tala per day all inclusive, the cheapest deal around. The tour of Upola began with a false start though - what you pay for is what you get and our car was overheating. We took it back immediately, they had a look and seemed to fix it (cold water through a hose pipe into the radiator etc). Happy go lucky we drove for the beaches, thinking that they wouldn't let us go if there was anything serious.

Right near the top of the pass over to the south coast, first the water temperature, and very soon afterwards the rest of the warning lights started blinking and presently, the engine died. Every car that came along the road stopped to offer help - at one stage there were about ten of them parked on the side of the road. Samoans are extremely helpful and friendly we were to find. In fact, we phoned the rental company and they drove out and gave us a brand new Toyota double cab that normally rents for three times the price, just to say sorry for the inconvenience of having to stop on the side of the road and meet lots of wonderful people. The 4x4 was a big treat!

We really wanted to see what we could do to help the Tsunami survivors, and the feeling only strengthened as we drove out and saw first hand the devastation it caused and fresh grave and memorials subsequently erected. The only place open so far on the South Eastern corner of the island seemed to be FaoFao beach fales, though I expect more will open in coming months. The family that run it suffered but determination has seen them rebuild a communal dining area, immaculate ablutions and about 7 beach fales [a beach fale is a round platform with a roof and no sides - and is the way to sleep over there; Faofao had mosquito nets and sides you let down in the rain]. 

We had a very moving conversation with the owner and his uncle one afternoon where they recounted the sheer power of the waves as they hit. They were fortunate in that they made it to safety on the bluff above their homes but 39 villagers died and the memory was still very fresh in their minds. One of their neighbours I saw just lying about hopelessly and I can only imagine the horrors that they have had to endure. It brings a lump into your throat and tears to your eyes just to hear the story and if I had anything worth donating it would have been theirs right then. 

I don't really believe in a lot of aid organisations  - I am always a sceptic. They mentioned that the red cross had been really good though which is always so. The government will be handing out money at some point and they received some free building materials while we were there. But the best way for people to recover is probably to do it themselves, if possible. And the beach fale owners can only do that if they have tourists to support their business. They were certainly very grateful for any visits.

We decided that we should spread our money around a bit but the only other places open seemed to be more in the style of beach resorts - we reckoned three were open on the Western end of the same coastline. Of course there are plenty of areas of the country that were not affected by the Tsunami, and they will have suffered a loss of business too. We stayed at Virgin Cove - I am not sure of the story there exactly; it has mixed reviews on Tripadvisor - but it did lack atmosphere. Perhaps because there are far fewer tourists around, but unless you are very fussy a beach fale will do and they are far better value for money.

We had lots of small discoveries: barbeques you see on the side of the road where they feed you up for nothing, while you sit in their house and swap stories. Driving around on a Sunday morning you see entire villages dressed in white attending church. There are cute farm animals wandering all over the countryside. They have some lovely walks, waterfalls, views and surf and snorkelling spots. 

So please, find those cheap flights and get your ass over to Samoa!


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