If you’re a regular reader to my blog, you know that some countries give me a “vibe” right off the bat – a succinct feeling in my heart. Samoa was one of them.
I thought, at first, it could’ve been just the impeccable warm welcome from the hotel. Moments after arriving at the Taumeasina Island Resort in Apia, I was lei’d and given a cold drink. But it didn’t seem to be just the usual mechanical “welcome” motions of a staff, but rather a sincere, heartfelt welcome that would set the stage to a wonderful two days on the island.
Since we’re on the subject of the hotel—and if you’re a regular reader—you know I only rave about hotels I truly love…I really loved this place. The Taumeasina just had a great energy to it. More often than not, live music was being performed in the foyer and bar. The property featured a nice pool that straddled a small beach. Everything was kept up quite well – a nod to the man removing the kelp/seaweed from the sand. All those little things really add up.
The guests were mostly Samoans, at least, during my stay. This was thee place for the locals to come and enjoy. Even the local radio station was talking about The Taumeasina. While the resort was super nice, it wasn’t a bit ostentatious or hoity-toity. It was just a really nice place with really nice people – the staff and the guests: lots of smiles and greetings from everyone. The energy here was so good.
And then there was the room. In all of my travels, probably the most comfortable room ever, after 186 countries! It wasn’t the fanciest, the biggest, the most expensive nor did it have the most amenities. But it was soooooooo relaxing. Besides the solid bed, great shower (I love strong-pressured shower heads!) and modern and clean décor, what I loved most was the glass doors that opened up to the outside. Two giant, glass panels slid open to reveal the fresh ocean breeze and a relaxing view of the palm trees and water just outside. To make it even better, the temperature was perfect and there was not a mosquito or fly in sight (and thankfully no big tropical spiders either!) Seems like the biggest drawback to some of these exotic locations are the bugs, but I saw not one flying pest my entire time in Samoa. Great weather, beautiful waters, cute girls and no bugs??? Where do I sign up?
As much as I liked The Taumeasina, I didn’t want hotel food my first night in Samoa, so I ventured out on foot to find dinner. I underestimated how far town was from the resort and ended up hailing a cab about halfway there. It was wet and getting dark and I didn’t want to spoil my fantastic first impression of Samoa with blisters.
I ended up at what was probably Apia’s nicest restaurant, Tattau Bistro. The tuna sashimi and lobster and prawn croquettes were delicious. I did a double take when I saw the waiter was barefoot – then I remembered, “You’re in Samoa, dummy!” Tattau was a nice place and I recommend it.
My cab driver back to the hotel was a really jovial guy named Eddie. He seemed genuinely happy to have me in his taxi and asked if I needed a driver for tomorrow. I had nothing planned so I took his number. I’d enjoy the best sleep in months that night. My belly and heart were full.
After the breakfast buffet at the hotel, I gave Eddie a ring and he was at my door 20 minutes later. We were off! He asked what I wanted to see and told him that he was the expert and to show me whatever he thought I should see. I really had no clue where we were going, but aren’t those the best experiences?
We drove along the coast, through little villages and into the interior – over the mountain and to the other side of the island. A few notable things I observed in Samoa:
There was never any traffic, although it was the weekend. Still though, I didn’t hear a single horn honk once during my trip.
I’ve also never seen so many churches in my life. I found it just wild how many churches there were, so close together, everywhere I went. Some were small and modest, others were grand and intricate; and they were of many different Christian denominations.
The only structures more common than churches, where the meeting places. I don’t know the official, local name of these buildings, but they consisted of a concrete base and a roof held up by wooden pillars all around. No doors or windows. These were local meeting halls for the villages and there were just so many, sometimes two or three right next to each other.
The locals often used old tires for planters. They’d paint the tires different colors and then pot plants in them. One village lined the main streets with red poles topped with coconut shells that were painted white.
Many houses on the water had big concrete swimming pools that looked like they were filled with seawater. Super interesting.
And Samoa was extremely clean. Between the clean streets and the decorative touches, I could tell this is a country with a strong sense of pride and community. With each passing hour, I gained more and more respect for Samoa. Church, family, community, cleanliness…they were checking all the boxes.
Geography is Fun
Samoa, or “Western Samoa” is comprised of two main islands and should not be confused with nearby American Samoa, which is a US territory. I wish I’d had time to see Samoa’s other island (Savai’i) and American Samoa.
In the Trenches
It was a long drive, but I was enjoying the views so much. We finally reached the other end of the island and drove past the magnificent Lolomanu Beach. The sand and water looked great, but I’d save my trunks for To Sua Ocean Trench. The giant hole in the ground filled with water was like a cenote, only this was water from the sea – much warmer than chilly spring water. To Sua was absolutely spectacular, but I guess I didn’t think about how one would actually get down into the water. Maybe I pictured steps? Instead, I was meet with a frighteningly tall wooden ladder that I had to psych myself up for. One slip and it would be curtains, and this is not how I wanted to die! Step by step, one rung at a time, and moments later I’d descended into the emerald-colored hole and was floating around in that warm, clear ocean water. It was paradise.
On the drive back across the island and into town, we stopped to see Sopoasa Falls. The view from the lookout point was magnificent. I enjoyed the rest of the ride back, soaking up all of the sights: the rainforests on the sides of those steep mountains, the little villages we’d pass through, all the churches and of course the locals selling fruit along the road.
We swung by downtown Apia on the way back, and soon Eddie and I were saying goodbye back at Taumeasina. It had been a lovely day and I was so glad I hired Eddie for the tour. If you come to Samoa and need a driver, buzz him at +685 777-7941. He’s a good dude! I’ll never forget how wowed he was that Samoa was my 186th country. A few times during the drive, when Eddie took calls from his family, he could be heard exclaiming, “The client I’m with has been to 186 countries!”
Back at the hotel I relaxed for a bit, took a dip in the pool and devoured an entire palusami pizza for dinner, as I watched the live entertainment happening right there at the restaurant. The diet I promised I’d stick to was not quite working out…at all.
Sunday was my last day and I decided to check out the nearby Papolo Deep Marine Reserve. What a great decision!
The grounds looked more like a little fairy tale village than a state park. There was a giant tree in the middle of the property that—minus the tree house—was a dead ringer for The Swiss Family Robinson tree. Big, wooden swings hung from its branches. Resident toddlers frolicked about and I couldn’t help but wondering if these kids knew how special it was to have their childhood in such a special little place.
I rented my mask and snorkel and soon I was in the water. Tropical fish appeared immediately, just inches from the shore, but the real treat would lie a couple hundred feet ahead.
I made my way towards the buoy marker floating off in the distance. I’d read this was where the good stuff was. The only problem was the current, which kept pushing me back to shore. The farther out I got, the stronger the current. By the time I neared the buoy, I was almost out of steam – it was like swimming up river. Between the water’s force pushing me back and a leaky mask, I was completely out of breath and energy. The water was still shallow enough to stand up, so I did, and rested a few times to catch my breath.
Getting to the buoy was a challenge, but so worth it. I proceeded to witness the most beautiful coral I’d ever seen in my life – probably the most impressive thing I’d seen on this entire trip. Giant, round platters of coral were laid out like scores of tabletops in every direction with abundant sea life everywhere – absolutely stunning! But sadly, my time floating over this magic would be cut short by the current. I would’ve loved to take my time, leisurely floating over every inch of underwater scenery, but nature’s force would not allow it, the water pushing me back in the direction of the shore like an insistent shopkeeper hurrying a penniless child out of his candy store. There was no sticking around.
The scary part came where I was pushed over beds of coral that were just millimeters from by belly. The tide was so low I had to suck in my stomach to avoid being scraped across the razor-sharp coral just beneath me. I tried not to panic, but between the force of the relentless current and the height of coral, I feared being drug across those serrated edges like a block of cheese on a shredder. It was close call, but I’d finally made it over the coral unscathed.
An International Affair
I hung out on the shore for a while until my friend Felix arrived to join me; then I made my second trip out to see the coral, this time with a buddy. Felix (Swiss) was the third extreme-traveler friend I’d meet up with during this trip. His insane travels and activities makes my journeys look like a girls’ summer camp – his life could be a movie!
With cargo containers and silos just a few hundred feet away, we both commented on how surprised we were such vibrant sea life existed so close to an industrial area. The other surprise: The entire time, we were the only ones there. Not another soul in sight. And had I not invited Felix, it would’ve been only me. How amazing! I liked this so much better than crowded spots like Hanauma Bay (Hawaii), where you’re alongside hundreds of others. I live for isolated adventures like this. It’s when I feel like the luckiest man in the world.
Back at the hotel, I packed up and said goodbye, taking the hour-long shuttle back to the airport. There are some countries I feel perfectly fine leaving, and others where I have a sense of sadness departing. Samoa was one of the latter. It was probably one of the most hospitable nations I’ve ever visited, without feeling too “touristy.” To have that combination is extremely rare. Even the immigration officer stamping me out asked how my stay was and invited me to come again…simply wonderful! I left with a great feeling about Samoa in my heart. I’m a single man with no children, but if I ever wanted to raise a family, and have my children grow up anywhere in the world, I could choose Samoa. I admire and respect the people and their ways there so, so much. Pay attention when you’re there, and I think you’ll agree.
Up next: #187 – Kiribati!