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American Samoa

June-July 2003

Our 485 mile passage  from Palmerston to American Samoa went well with occasional light winds that allowed us to fly our spinnaker during the day.  Despite the light winds we were still under the influence of the large southerly swells that had been rolling us around for weeks.  Our arrival at American Samoa was at 10 pm and rather than spend a night hove to and standing  watch off the island we decided to enter the harbor at night.  We rarely enter strange harbors at night but the American government maintains good lighted buoys here and the lights combined with our radar, night vision scope and electronic charts permitted us to navigate in safely and get anchored to enjoy a full nights sleep. 

When we were in the Cook Islands we were convinced they were the friendliest people anywhere.  We continued to believe this during the entire  passage to Samoa but shortly after our arrival the Samoans convinced us otherwise.   Everywhere we were met with unbelievable acts of kindness.   One afternoon two young women watched Rob try in vain to make a phone call to America from a pay phone.  As soon as they saw he was unsuccessful they came up apologized for the phone system and one woman offered Rob  the use of her cellular phone which he declined.  A few minutes later as Rob chatted with them their friend walked up to join them and by way of introduction they mentioned he was having trouble with the phone whereupon the friend quickly reached into her purse and offered her cell phone to make the call to America.  

People stopped on the road or even turned their cars around to give us rides.  When the NAPA auto parts store did not have a fuel filter Rob needed the manager spent 30 minutes calling all his competitors to find the part.  Later, in the internet cafe with Rob half way through a website upload at closing time the people arranged for him to stay 2 hours after they had closed so he could finish.  It went on and on like this day after wonderful day. 

Our main reason for visiting here was to reprovision the boat.  It was wonderful to find familiar American food brands at prices half of what we would have paid in French Polynesia.   We stocked up with over $1,000 of staple groceries to see us through Tonga, Fiji and beyond.   Besides the Costco store we visited the LBJ Center for Tropical Medicine Hospital.  It is probably subsidized by the US Government but the total cost for Rob to meet with a doctor, get a blood test, and meet with the doctor to review the results was $15.  Dee's two doctor visits plus prescription medication cost was $18.

From American Samoa we were able to make a short side trip by plane to Samoa, formerly Western Samoa.  Here we found the same friendliness.  People willing to do anything for you and going way out of their way just to be kind and helpful.  As we drove around the island people would stop and wave frantically at us like we were long lost relatives.  The two islands which comprise Samoa were lovely with plunging waterfalls, dramatic coastlines and lush highlands.  Driving was a pleasure on the wide roads lined by mile after mile of beautiful plantings.  The roadsides were so immaculately clean it was possible to drive 5 miles without seeing so much as a single piece of litter. 

We stayed on the beach in "fales," open sided platforms that are the traditional Samoan homes.  The fales range in size from tiny to huge and all have sides of woven mats that can be raised or lowered for privacy or breeze.  There are no interior walls and it is strange to see these platform houses with the sides up and full of furniture.  Today the more well off Samoans live in houses but each house has a fale out front which still serves it purpose as a gathering place.

The Samoans, along with the Sherpas of Nepal, are the only peoples we have ever met whose natural state is total happiness.  Surely sadness enters their lives but moments later they spring back to the natural state of ebullient happiness. 

In Samoa the proprietress of our 20 guest beach resort threw a "fia fia" night while we were there.  The fia fia started when the chief of the local village came over and conducted a kava ceremony first grinding the kava root then mixing it with water and finally presenting a bowl to each of us in turn.  The kava is drunk from a half coconut  bowl and looks like dirty dishwater.  To do it properly you must  swig it down in one gulp then yell "manuae".  Kava is a mild narcotic though its main effect seemed to be making our mouths' numb.  Most of the tourists stopped after a bowl or two but the Samoans went at it all night. 

After the Kava ceremony the fire dancing began followed by a dozen men and women, mostly employees of the tiny resort,  doing the traditional Polynesian dancing and singing.  The finale was a fire baton twirling on the beach.    

A "fia fia" is like the "island night" dance performances put on for the tourists on nearly all the Polynesian   islands.  We had seen a dozen of these wonderful dance performances and enjoyed them all.  However in Samoa there were two key distinctions.  Firstly, the conservative Samoans wore full coverage lava lava dresses rather than sexy grass skirts with coconut shell bras and secondly, the Samoans were dancing for themselves.  Our presence was a minor note.  In the other islands the performances lasted 30-40 minutes and afterwards the dancers went home like any other working people.  In Samoa the performance lasted well over an hour after which they got all the tourists dancing with them.  This lasted another 45 minutes until the tourists one by one found their seats.  At that point the Samoans continued to dance for another hour or two as the spirit moved them.  All the while smiling and laughing. 

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