Tuesday, April 28, 2009


For my 25th Birthday Ben and I went to Savaii. Savaii is the largest island in the Samoan Archipelago but it has about half of the residents of Tutuila.

There used to be a flight directly from Tutuila to Savaii but it stopped running several years ago. These days you have to fly to Upolu (the main island in Western Samoa) and take a ferry over to Savaii. We landed at 9:30am and rushed to try and catch the 10am ferry. Our taxi driver did everything he could (including running into the ferry terminal to try and get us tickets) but unfortunately we just missed it. We weren't too upset though because it meant we got to go back to Aggie Grey's for a drink by the pool.

The ferry ride over was a little bumpy but it was over fairly quickly. When we got to Savaii we rented a car and headed East. Our first night we stayed at Siufaga on the East side of the island. We had the most incredible lobster dinner at the hotel restaurant. I would strongly recommend stopping here!

On my birthday we headed North to Manase. On the way we stopped at a reserve and went swimming with turtles.

We also went on a short walk through a lava tube. Apparently no one has ever been to the back of the cave but our guide couldn't really explain why.

That night stayed at Jane's Beach Fales. Jane's had a great little beach bar and we had a really yummy dinner prepared at the hotel. After dinner we went to a hotel down the beach for desert.

On our third day we drove around the rest of the island. Our first stop was a church that was destroyed during Hurricane Ofa in 1990. The plaque reads:

With the Village completely destroyed, the villagers swam to Falealupo Primary School to the North. This Church remains a monument to the courage and love to the people of Falealupo.

Further up the coast we stopped at the rock bridge. The waves were spectacular.

We also climbed a giant banyon tree. There used to be a canopy walk but apparently one of the boards broke and someone fell last year so the canopy walk was closed.

On our last night we tried to stay at a surf resort on the west side of the island but they didn't have any availability so we had lunch and headed back to Siufaga. This time we tried the BBQ chicken pizza for dinner and we definitely were not disappointed!

On our last day we went swimming at the waterfall and climbed a crater.

Before we got on the ferry we had a wonderful (albeit rushed) prawn lunch near the port. It was pretty much the best 25th birthday a girl could ask for!

Friday, January 30, 2009

Western Samoa

Last weekend Ben and I joined the Simonsons on a trip to Western Samoa. We spent one night in town and then headed to the south side of the island for the rest of the weekend. We jumped off water falls, climbed into trenches, dove off piers (ok Ben dove - I belly flopped), ate great meals and relaxed on beautiful beaches. Not a bad way to spend a weekend!

Our fale in Vavau on the south side of the island.

Waterfall with an unbelievably long name on the cross island road.

We had a little (ok a lot) of trouble with this little car. The battery died TWICE (once when we were about an hour and a half from the rental place), and when we got to the airport to trade the car for Ben's passport there was no one there. We called several times and were assured that the drivers were "on their way." Finally 20 minutes before the last flight of the day departed for American Samoa the guy shows up with the passport.

We arrived at this waterfall with just enough time to take some pictures and jump in before it started raining. It was still nice sitting in the open fales watching the waterfall listening to the rain. While it was raining we started talking to a Samoan who was at the falls supervising a group of American teenagers. He told us he worked for the Coral Reef Academy, an off-shore treatment program for troubled teenage boys. We talked to a couple of the guys and they all seemed like pretty decent kids. Amazing what a couple months in the South Pacific can do!
The pier at one of the resorts where we had a very yummy lunch of chicken curry and pineapple pizza before jumping into the ocean.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008


Christmas in American Samoa is truly incredible. My favorite tradition is that every year all government agency performs christmas carols for the Governor in an event called Pese. The three staff from the Fagatele Bay Office joined the American Samoa Department of Commerce to perform three songs - two Samoan christmas carols and a medley of "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree" and "Jingle Bell Rock." We had practice every day for two weeks leading up to the event to learn the words and related dance moves. The fact that I can't really sing or dance did not seem to matter as much as my enthusiasm for the practices. DOC also provided us with these stylish pulatasis to wear to the performance.

The performances lasted for three days. Several of my friends and neighbors from the Attorney Generals Office performed on the first day. Nearly everyone on the island watches the singing on television and Lisa and Kelly made quite an impression. When I got to work the next day everyone was asking about them and they were recognized all over town.

DOC performed on the second night. Our whole office met early for a final practice and a glass of wine to calm our nerves. Then we headed over to the stage to wait our turn. We were the seventh group to perform that evening so we didn't make it on stage until after 10pm. The performance went great and I actually managed to remember most of the words to the Samoan songs!

Saturday, November 15, 2008

ASCC at Fagatele

My friend Lauren is the head of the Marine Science department at the local community college. This weekend she took two of her classes on a field trip to Fagatele Bay for one of their labs. Alyssa, Lucy and I went along to help supervise and hang out at the Bay. It was a really great group and everyone had a really good time even though it rained most of the time!

Here are some of the students posing on the stairs on the way down to the beach at Fagatele Bay. These kids LOVED posing for pictures but unfortunately my internet is too slow for me to upload too many!

Lauren and Lucy took out groups of students to go snorkeling while Alyssa and I hung out with the rest of the students on the beach. It was so inspiring to see how excited the students were when they returned from snorkeling. Most of them had never been to Fagatele Bay before and some of them had never snorkeled before.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Jan and George

About a month ago Jan wrote to my boss to ask about arranging a tour of Fagatele Bay. Jan and her husband George work for the Canadian National Park Service and George had been asked to join a Norwegian Cruise to the South Pacific as a guest lecturer in natural sciences. The boat would be stopping in American Samoa for one day and they were very interested in visiting "the only national marine sanctuary south of the equator." Knowing all too well how I jump at any excuse to hike to Fagatele, my boss asked me if I would be interested.

So this morning bright and early I set out to pick up Jan and George from the harbor. I knew very little about them except that Jan would be wearing a white hat.  This did me absolutely no good since the average age on the ship was about 55 and white hats seem to be very popular amongst women in their 50s. Fortunately they found me and soon enough we were on our way. The drive from town to Fagatele Bay is incredibly beautiful - particularly if your only expectations come from the Lonely Planet guidebook which has the following to say about American Samoa: "Despite the palm-trees-wafting-in-the-trade-winds image, American Samoa is something of an oddity in the South Pacific. Hastily Americanised in the 1960s, the islands have all the ugly results of commercial an cultural imperialism sticking out from behind the fronds." Now I'm not saying that the McDonalds next to the airport isn't a bit of an eyesore but I think it is a safe assumption that most visitors to American Samoa don't come expecting much and are pleasantly surprised by what they find. Jan and George were no exception. They ooh'ed and ahh'ed all the way to Fagatele while I confirmed (or denied) different rumors they had heard about the island. Is that really the most profitable McDonalds in the world? True. Are there really more churches in American Samoa than households? Basically True. Do the buses really play bad 1980s rap music at six in the morning so loud that you can't hear yourself think? All the time! 

The hike to Fagatele was lovely as always. It was a beautiful clear day but unfortunately we did not spot any whales (there have been loads of sightings lately). After the hike Jan and George inquired about a place to purchase binoculars. I wasn't exactly sure where to purchase such an item (I am quite sure we don't have any bird watchers here on island) but when in doubt there is always Cost U Less (the island version of Cosco)! Well they didn't have binoculars but Jan was able to pick up a pair of nifty sunglasses. Next on the trip was snorkeling. We hadn't gone snorkeling at Fagatele Bay because the tide was still pretty low and it can be quite tricky navigating over the coral in a foot of water. However by this time it was a bit later in the day and Jan and George were quite keen to see some fish. After some deliberations we decided to drive to the east side of the island to $2 beach. Jan had recently been in a car accident and didn't want to walk too much and $2 beach is very accessible being right off the road. Plus we would have a chance to drive by the Tuna Canneries and Tisa's Barefoot Bar, two locations the tour director said were must sees (although I cannot possibly think why - at least as far as the canneries are concerned). Fortunately the smell wasn't too bad as we past by and we safely arrived at $2 beach. 

My friends live right across the street so we parked in their driveway, chatted with the neighbors and were soon in the water. I am always a little hesitant to take people out snorkeling in American Samoa because very often people are very quick to judge. "I saw more fish in Hawaii" or "the coral cover is much more extensive in Fiji" seem to be some of the first things out of tourists mouths when they snorkel here. Fortunately (for me) Jan and George had not enjoyed snorkeling in Maui at all (due to bad weather and poor visibility) so they were very impressed by the various fish species they spotted. After snorkeling I had to drop off the government truck and then Jan and George treated me to a wonderful Sashimi lunch at Sooks Sushi, my favorite sashimi restaurant on island. The ambiance (christmas lights and large plastic plants) is a little odd but the food is delicious and the portions are huge. After our late lunch we said our goodbyes and they headed back to the ship on foot. Good hike, good snorkeling, good company...just another day on the job in American Samoa!

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Tuesday, September 16, 2008


Fiji was WONDERFUL! The food, the people, the beaches, everything was beyond anything I could have ever imagined. I was in Fiji to attend a training class at the University of the South Pacific on Marine Protected Areas (MPAs). The class was made up of approximately 40 students from islands throughout the South Pacific including Micronesia, Kiribati, Vanuatu, Tuvalu, Cook Islands, Tahiti, the Solomon Islands, Tonga, Samoa, and American Samoa, amongst others. They represented governments, NGOs (CI, TNC, WWF, etc...), community groups, schools, and a myriad of other organizations. Everyone came with different experiences and perspectives and it was fascinating to learn about successes and challenges facing other island nations. 

Perhaps the most inspiring participant was the girl from Tuvalu. Tuvalu completely fascinates me. The country is made up of four reef islands and five atolls and has a total land coverage of 10 sq miles. It is the fourth smallest country in the world (before the Vatican City, Monaco, and Nauru) and fewer than 12,000 people, the third smallest population of any country in the world (before the Vatican city and Nauru). In addition to being really really small, Tuvalu has very low elevation. The highest point is 16 feet, making it extremely vulnerable to rising sea levels. It is for this reason that I first learned about Tuvalu in 2007 while I was working as an intern at the UN in New York.

I was covering the Commission on Sustainable Development and for two weeks the US and China had been bickering over carbon emissions and the meetings had come to a complete standstill. On the last day delegates from the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) were given the opportunity to speak. Most of the delegates gave long speeches detailing the various threats to their islands and asked for help in a way that suggested that they knew that they would not receive any. Then the delegate from Tuvalu stood up. Now keep in mind that the people from Tuvalu are traditionally worriers. They are very large and they are very intimidating. It is no surprise therefore that most armies in the world (including the United States) consider their soldiers with Pacific Island heritage the most valuable and the most courageous. So this huge guy from Tuvulu stands up and very slowly walks to the front of the room. He takes his time to make sure everyone is paying attention to him. Once he is situated he looks out at the room and says in a very calm very reserved manner: "I have just one question. Where are you planning to move my countrymen when you drown my country?" And he turned and walked off the stage. This guy was a total rock star! And ever since then I have been totally rooting for Tuvalu!

As a complete aside, I think it is a really interesting twist of fate that the only reason Tuvalu can afford a UN delegation is because they were able to lease their area code (900) and sell their internet domain name (.tv) for $50 million. 

So I was really curious to hear what the government of Tuvalu was doing to help protect their own environment. I was not disappointed. One of the girls who was my age talked about the times when she was a child when she would watch elders from her village eat turtles straight from the shell. She told how at a young age she made a promise to herself that she would protect the sea turtles no matter what it took. After attending University in New Zealand she returned to Tuvalu and now works with the government to develop community outreach programs to teach villagers about the ecological value of sea turtles and the importance of protecting the marine environment. She has been extremely instrumental in establishing several community-based marine protected areas throughout Tuvalu and she is committed to continue her work until turtles are no longer consumed in her country. This girl's passion was completely contagious and she captivated the attention of everyone in the room when she told her story - in much the same way that the Tuvalu delegate had in New York. 

Anyhow after a week of learning about everyone's experiences and making more poster boards than I ever thought possible (the class was very hands on), it was time to explore Fiji! There are only two flights per week from Fiji to Samoa and so I was "forced" to stay in Fiji through Tuesday. Needless to say very little arm twisting was required. My friend from American Samoa flew out and we drove down the coral coast from Suva to Nandi before hopping aboard a boat for a remote island in the Yasawas. But I'm going to hold off on stories until I get pictures uploaded....