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Samoan Scenic tours : Full day tour of Savaii North
The pickup from our resort was at 7.15, an hour later than the pickup from Aggie Grey's Hotel in Apia as the ferry port was only 5 minutes away from the Lagoon resort. The mini bus was very cosy so we got to know the other people in the group quite well by the end of the day. They were all New Zealanders; we were in Samoa during the NZ School holidays so there were a lot of NZ families staying.
We got to the ferry port and got out of the bus which had to be taken and sprayed in order to prevent the spread of the giant African Snail from Upolu to Savaii. We were given two tickets each so we thought we might be keeping one half as a souvenir but one man took half the ticket as we went through one door and then as we actually walked on the ferry the second half was taken , very strange we thought. We walked onto the ferry through the car deck and upstairs where there were plastic coloured seats in an air conditioned area or you could go upstairs where it was covered but open sided with the same plastic seats. We tried both areas.
The covered area showed a video about safety in Samoan followed by a very funny comedy sketch with two Samoans taking the rip out of the Samoan way of life. The local people were rolling around obviously thoroughly enjoying it and some was quite funny (it was in English). We only stayed for the first part then went exploring and ended up sitting upstairs. The trip over took a little more than an hour after which we disembarked and rejoined our mini bus.
The first place we stopped at was a local market. It was huge but almost empty and rather a sad sort of place. There was no-one buying anything and just a few rather empty stalls. It was a newly built concrete building with the fruit and veg market below and a general market above. Sadly the shops upstairs were few and the stuff they were selling just did not really appeal at all. Had there been some nice fresh fruit we might have bought some but carrots, pumpkin and tomatoes did not really attract us.
Just nearby we found a small bus station which had a number of the old fashioned American school buses brightly decorated. They were a bit like the old buses in Malta with a lot of character and so we took some photos of them. According to our guide Savaii is a lot poorer than Upolu and there is very little industry, a lot of people go across on the ferry daily or weekly for work on Upolu and return to live on Savaii as houses and land are cheaper there.
We drove on to the next point of interest which was the site where the first missionaries landed in Samoa, Sapapali'i village where a monument is standing at the spot and commemorates the landing of a certain John Williams. The missionaries certainly did a good sell on the Samoan people as they are very religious and the country motto is "Samoa built on God". On Sunday they all go to the various churches dressed in their Sunday finery which is white. We were stunned to hear that 45% of the peoples' earnings goes to the church and the person with the finest house in the village is the minister. I would want a heck of a lot more than a huge church and a posh house for the minister if I was having to hand over that sort of money. There was an enormous number of really large churches throughout both islands and even though they are used there do seem to be rather an excess considering the size of the population.
Our guide told us that if children were caught playing on the road then you could give them a 'clip around the ear';the village elders would do the same and then the parents as well! The idea of having free time which you can use to relax and enjoy yourself is not part of fa'a samoa (the Samoan way.) Children will always have fe'au (chores) to do, and if they ta'a (run around enjoying themselves) it will be disapproved of. Most people work in their own plantations during the day, and Sunday is the day when Samoa goes to church, apart from the Seventh Day Adventists, who go on Saturday.
Besides a monument there is the most enormous church up on a hill overlooking the sea. The retaining wall in front is built of black volcanic stones with white painted mortar between so the effect is quite dramatically black and white.
From here we drove on to the lava fields of Saleaula. All the Samoan islands are volcanic but the most recent eruptions took place on Savaii from 1905 -1911. The lava field is large and flat, black like Lanzarote with ripples and large rounded mounds. Interestingly there were quite few plants that had begun to grow through the lava rock and that is in about 100 years since the lava stopped flowing. Plants in Samoa must be pretty tough as there didn't appear to be any soil and they were coming up through the actual rock.
The next stop was one of the listed highlights but we were slightly concerned. There was an opportunity to swim with turtles and I had naively thought it would be in a lagoon. Sadly the turtles have been corralled off in a river which is fresh water and they are naturally salt water animals. They were being fed on fruit which is not really their natural diet and so the whole thing was not exactly eco friendly. A few people did swim with them but we decided against it. While you can't blame the villages for being enterprising enough to catch the tourist dollar it is a shame that such beautiful creatures are being kept captive in rather questionable conditions as I am sure that they do not receive any medical attention and although the pool is reasonably large, it is not the sea and they are not breeding there.
Lunch at a really idyllic restaurant called Le Lagoto was next on the agenda. We had been given a menu and about one minute to choose our food just before we got to the turtles. There were burgers, fish and chips, toasted sandwiched and two local dishes so we chose one of each of these as we like to try the local stuff. Unfortunately one dish turned out to be rice cooked in coconut milk which is fine as a side dish but a little boring on its own. The other dish was taro and spinach cooked in coconut milk, which came as four huge lumps of steamed or boiled taro with a tiny bowl of the spinach mix. We shared the two rather starchy dishes before going to enjoy a swim in the most perfectly clear sea I have ever seen.
The restaurant looked over the ocean and it was part of a resort with bungalow type accommodation and these small buildings were nestled just off the beach amongst the palm trees. The food may have been a bit of a disappointment but the setting would take a lot of beating. You could walk out for ages in still sea water and if you went far enough then you did reach a small reef but even before that people with snorkels were seeing a beautiful reef fish. It was a perfect spot for children as there were no waves and the shallow water went for ages. We were able to lie and relax in the lovely warm clear water and not worry that we might sink because of the wodge of starch we had eaten for lunch!
We had to leave the Le Lagoto by 2.30 as we were due to catch the 3.30 ferry back to Upolu. We had the same business of two parts of the ticket being taken by two people as we left the building then boarded the ferry.
This ferry was a whole different experience. This was the old ferry and boy was it old. The cars and vans parked on the deck and were held in place by wooden chocks and a metal rail divided them from the seats where we sat. The seats were hard wooden slat benches, they were under cover but had it been raining then the only protection would have been plastic blue tarps let down on string. There was a small metal door above which was a sign saying washroom. I didn't even bother looking despite being quite desperate!
Health and safety obviously hasn't been transferred from the new ferry as people were in their cars and walking amongst them while we were sailing and although it wasn't rough there was quite a swell and the ferry was certainly rocking quite a bit. Disembarking was whenever you felt brave enough to walk between the reversing vehicles. It was all part of the experience and we survived to tell the tale.
The trip was a very interesting one as Savaii is quite unspoilt. The Samoan people have managed to hold on to a lot of their traditional ways of living and governing or policing their people which our guide told us about as we drove around.
What was less good was the fact that we were told the organisational things in rather an ad hoc manner. When we got to the place with the turtles we were vaguely pointed in the direction but not given instructions as to changing rooms or offered the towels he had brought for our use. The lunch menu was passed around and we had minutes to select our lunch and tell him the number of the dish and our room number. Included in the lunch was a drink which our guide had said included beer. We actually wanted just a bottle of water but it was coke or sprite neither of us like either drink really so that was not really made clear. Water was provided throughout the tour but we had to keep asking for it rather than being offered it.
For anyone going on this tour I would strongly advise sitting on the left hand side of the bus as that way you are not in the sun and you also have the best views of the ocean too. The bus is air conditioned but when the sun was streaming in the people sitting on the right hand side of the bus were getting very hot indeed and as the bus returned along the same road the sun had moved over head and hit the same people again.
Having said all that Samoan people were rather laid back about a lot of things, wake up calls were hit and miss. We booked for this trip and when we arrived our names were not on the list despite the fact that we had signed a chitty for it. One drink would come and then the other would be forgotten, the starter arrived at the same time as the main course and things like this kept happening but we found that it was best not to get upset but just keep reminding people. Everything we asked for or booked we did at least twice and then checked again to make sure.
Just out of interest the small village of Falealupo on the western most point of Savai'i, is just 20 miles from the dateline, and so it is said to be the last place in the world to see the sunset each day. This village was the site of Millenium 2000 celebrations and used by the BBC as 'the last place on earth to enter the new millennium.
So yes, I would recommend this trip with this company as it was relaxing, interesting and the scenery and views of the ocean as well as seeing the villages were definitely worth the trip. It was not cheap I believe it cost us £60 each but as we were there for such a short time we wanted to see as much as we could in that time.
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