Well, it turns out the downside of working in a prime tropical vacation destination is that you are, in fact, working and not vacation-ing. That changed for me, all too briefly, a couple weeks ago, when my boyfriend braved not only one, but one-and-a-half trans-Pacific flights (thanks to the inefficient flight route to Apia from LA via Auckland) on top of the cross-country travels that took him from Princeton, NJ alllllll the way here to Apia, Samoa. All the while lugging a suitcase containing a minimum of clothes, and a maximum of ‘family love’ in the form of Chinese soap operas (thanks mom!), forwarded mail, a BUG ZAPPER (thanks dad!), Chinese movies (thanks mom and dad?), and of course, edible treats. Needless to say, he gets brownie points.
Since arriving in Samoa, I haven’t had a chance to do much more than a little basic site-seeing around Apia. Sure, I’ve been all over the country with loan officers, but sweating profusely while financial transactions are completed in rapid-fire Samoan is not quite the same as kicking back on the beach with a snorkel in easy reach. Nik got one restful night in Apia (or not, turns out the roosters, dogs, and 5am church bells are still INSANELY LOUD, but I now sleep like the dead) before we headed off for adventureland. By the way, for those of you who are wondering, adventureland does not include being adequately supplied or planning ahead.
SPBD kindly lent me a car for the weekend so we took off on Friday, which happened to be Good Friday, when Apia actually became a ghost town. The south side of ‘Upolu is known to be the prettier side, so up and over Cross Island Road we went. Naturally, my excitement for Nik seeing the beautiful mountain greenery and epic ocean views triggered a massive rainstorm that seemed determined not to budge off the mountain. Once we finally inched down the other side (where of course the sun was shining), we kicked off vacation-time with lunch and pina coladas at one of Samoa’s fanciest resorts. Again, I emphasize that tourism in Samoa, while certainly an important and growing industry, is definitely not as developed as once might expect to find at a ‘tourist destination’–it’s no Hawaii, for example. We stayed at two places over the long weekend: Namu’a Island and Virgin Cove Resort.
Namu’a Island: Is a small (very small) island off of ‘Upolu’s southeastern coast, near the Aleipata district. It has small beach facing the ‘mainland’ that holds about 10 beach fales, one family’s home, a kitchen/communal dining area, outdoor shower and toilet stalls, and zero electricity. That is literally everything on the island, besides sand, trees, and hermit crabs. This is where we ran into the slightly underprepared aspect of our travels.
Thankfully, cell phones have replaced the old method of ‘drive to the pile of rocks and then wave the red flag to get picked up,’ so despite my uncertainty about how to actually reach the island, we got there. However, due to my own fuzzy expectations, and Apia’s virtual ghost town-hood, we arrived at Namu’a (via tiny motorboat) with zero water or food. Breakfast and dinner were fed to us, but lunch was a more difficult matter. Thus, I learned the true amazing-ness of coconuts (more on that later).
Ah, this is it, I thought, tropical paradise. Blue skies, blue waters, nothing to do but relax…of course, if you know me, or my family, you know that ‘relaxing’ is about as far down as you can get on the list of activities that you find an Orr partaking in. Part two of my vacation un-preparedness–I didn’t bring a book. What???? Who brings no reading materials on a beach vacation? As Nik contentedly reclined in the shade with his wildly entertaining book, I settled in for some good ol’-fashioned hermit crab watching. Then hunting. Then attempted-racing. We had some good times, me and those hermit crabs. Between pestering the wildlife (oh, I shouldn’t poke sticks down random holes in the sand?) and forcing periodic updates out of Nik so I could ‘read’ vicariously through him, plus a couple stints of snorkeling that were the least-graceful moments of my life (more on that later), it turns out that ‘relaxing’ thing is pretty nice.
Virgin Cove Resort: Is on the Southwestern coast of ‘Upolu, is a ‘resort’ in the sense that it’s large, and you can buy your drinks and meals there, but otherwise was really nothing like what I was expecting. For one, we basically had to off-road through the jungle to get there–okay, more props go to Nik here because I’m sure me inching over a dirt road, sweating bullets and refusing to take my foot off the clutch as Samoans stared at us rolling through their neighborhood, probably does not qualify as great company. Regardless, it was worth every bit of nervousness for the axels of my car. This place was freaking beautiful. There’s no other way to put it.
This time our fale was souped up–a door? pull down panels? a bed? what is this, the Marriott?–but the water still came right up underneath us during high tide. I stole a Tom Clancy novel (hey, everything else was in foreign language) from the ‘abandoned books shelf’ at the front desk, and smugly sat next to Nik to enjoy a little beach-time reading. Except it turns out Tom Clancy novels make me laugh out loud, and not intentionally. Oh well. Between my new wildlife study of the gopher-crabs, as we dubbed them (more on that later), snorting outrageously at my new book “Debt of Honor”, and pestering Nik for periodic updates on his book (whyyy does he read so slow?), I decided this ‘relaxing’ business is actually pretty nice. Especially when you get to kick back on the teeny front porch of your beach ‘fale’ with a beer and discuss the meaning of life as the tide comes in under you and the ocean reflects a full moon. Nope, not even exaggerating, it was that ridiculously picturesque.
Things I learned on my Samoan vacation:
1. Coconuts are amazing. Despite spending all day on a sunny, tropical beach with zero water or food, we were actually fine–thanks to coconuts. As the afternoon wore on, we put in a request for niu (young coconut), and the family sent someone up a tree, who promptly tossed down a dozen coconuts (deftly dodged and then gathered by the 8 year old daughter). Since coconut water is now en vogue as a sports drink thanks to all those electrolytes, we got both hydration and a tasty afternoon snack after cracking them open.
2. Snorkeling is not a natural activity for me. Those masks are not made to fit my face. It took me a mind-boggling amount of time (as Nik first stared, then laughed hysterically in amazement) to wrestle one onto my face, and then it kept filling with seawater. Turns out I better stick to the smaller (possibly child-sized?) mask that I borrowed from my best friend. In other news, I am also scared of water getting deep, water going down my snorkel, and plants touching me. Luckily, I was able to battle all of that and realize that colorful fish are awesome, which makes being slightly freaked out totally worth it. Sadly, Samoa’s reefs were all badly damaged a number of years ago by two back-to-back cyclones, and the coral has yet to recover. Still, fish are cool.
3. Crabs are gophers. There were not only an amazing amount of crab holes everywhere, they clearly ruined landscaping efforts and took over gardens. They also disappear amusingly fast into the ground, and do, actually, have sideways, claw snapping showdowns that practically scream ‘Pixar’ because they are so funny and animated.
After a couple more escapades involving sliding down waterfalls and discovering exactly how much harder it is to snorkel without flippers, Nik went home via an extremely direct route (Apia-Auckland-Sydney-LA-Newark) and my vacation time was over. Back to the daily grind…
I take a little more convincing….