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Samoa: Cool Winds and Warm Hearts

Travels to Hawaii and South Pacific, part 11

By Armando F Sanchez, Contributing Writer
Published on LatinoLA: May 19, 2014

Samoa: Cool Winds and Warm Hearts

We docked early in the morning in the town of Apia.

Apia is the capital of the independent island country of Samoa (previously referred to as Western Samoa and not to be confused with American Samoa). Samoa is the smallest country in the world and it is located 4,150 miles from San Francisco and 2,278 miles from Honolulu. It's 2,700 miles from Sydney, Australia. The island population is around 200,000.

The plan for the day was to get our rental car and tour the island. Our goal was to drive around the island and get a feel for the local culture and find some nice coves to snorkel.

We walked a very short distance to leave the commercial ship docking area and a representative from the car rental company was waiting for us at the gate. He was holding a sign with my name on it so he was easy to locate.

I networked before leaving home, via email, with the Blue Pacific Car Hire company and I was happy with their service. The rental price was good and we shared the car and the cost with a wonderful couple we met on the ship from Canada. On their company web site it highlighted that I would need to obtain a local government issued driver license - $20.00 valid for 30-days -and that I was required to drive like they do in England. I was going to drive for the first time, in my life, on the left side of the road with the steering wheel on the passenger side. The car was an automatic. Had it been a standard transmission, I would have had to shift gears with my left arm. I do know how to drive shift and I am ambidextrous so I would have had to adapt. When traveling abroad, one cannot simply assume that one will get a car with an automatic transmission.

The speed limit throughout the city is in kilometers and it's between 10 and 20 miles an hour.

I felt ready to drive in traffic. Trini, my wife, and Judy sat in the back seat and Bob was assigned the task of co-pilot and navigator. I could see Trini and Judy, through the rear view mirror, as they were looking at each other with wide eyes and they started strapping themselves tightly with the seat belts. I think if there had been some head gear around, they would probably have put them on as well. Bob was busy taking pictures of the panorama and I figured that I just needed to be extra careful and go slowly. I put the car in gear and drove into the road.

The rule in driving here is simply to follow the car in front of you. If you are not behind them, then you are going on the wrong side. We were off looking for the main highway that crosses through the middle and over to the opposite side of the island. That's where the nice beaches are to be found.

We had to stop a few times to ask for direction in order to get on the main road. We found it and got on the way. As we climbed a bit up the road we traveled very slowly. Again, we are one one lane roads and these serve as street and sidewalks. There are pedestrians walking on the sides and crossing. Buses, taxis and trucks travel slowly. You keep coming across areas where they are doing road work. It doesn't take long to be up on the mountain and on the southern side. Once you leave the town the area is full of small farmland. Chickens are constantly crossing the street and once in a while a pig or two are also crossing the road. It's not chaotic, but one must drive slow and cautiously because one never knows what is ahead.

We were looking for Tafa Tafa Beach. When were were researching for things to do on the island, we kept hearing about this beach, so we decided to locate it and explore. We were expecting some form of a large public roadside sign informing us that we had arrived. Instead, we saw a tiny sign that pointed to what seemed a side dirt road going into a jungle area. We realized we were expecting a huge sign announcing that we were getting closer or that we had arrived. We found neither and decided to go down the tiny side road. It was a rocky road and we simply followed the path.

After 5-minutes of driving cautiously, we all of the sudden came to a beautiful beach area. The ocean scenery from there was simply breathtaking. We were the only car parked there. We had driven about an hour from the dock to here and it was well worth it. We walked along the beaches with its slanted palm trees. We walked into the water, which was inviting and very warm. We spent time snorkeling. It is always recommended to constantly wear water shoes. The beaches are made up of coral and it is quite easy to get cut.

We looked forward to continue on the road and seeing more of this beautiful lush green island. The road seldom runs along the beaches so it's hard to see the coastline unless you are up on a hill. We toured and passed many villages. Since it was a weekday, we could see the schools where students would be sitting on the concrete floor. It's not that they are poor. It more a matter that here it rains a great deal throughout the year. It stays humid and they typically build open covered areas without walls in order to let the cool ocean breeze through. The houses we saw were relatively large and very well maintained. Whenever we talked to the locals, we quickly got a sense of their friendliness and warmth. People wave at you as you pass them by. If you stop and ask for directions, they are pleased to help out. Along the road you see many churches of different denominations. I wasn't counting but I recall seeing many temples of the Latter-day Saints (Mormons). Missionaries established here in 1860s.

Eventually we drove around the entire eastern side of the island. We stopped many times to see the gorgeous coastline and simply to rest. Bob must have taken more than 200 pictures. It was very easy to look out over the trees and horizon to enjoy the panorama. The cool ocean breeze kept swaying the palm trees. The rustling sounds of the wind were soothing.

If I hadn't been driving, I am sure I would have taken more pictures than Bob. When we were driving in the direction of the dock area, we were in a part of the island we had not passed through. The housing was still separate but built closer together. We could see areas where the youth were playing sports. They were playing volleyball. Others were playing rugby and cricket. I saw a few billboards highlighting persons from here who are professional wrestlers in the US. Samoans have a reputation for being formidable football players at the college and professional levels in Canada and US.

We had read that Samoans are proud and friendly people. From what I saw throughout the day and those that I talked, I think I also agree. They smile a lot and are charming people.

I was sorry we were leaving so quickly and I do hope to return soon. For the scenery and most importantly, to enjoy the hospitality of the wonderful Samoans.

One had to drive slow and thus it provides the opportunity to see and enjoy the countryside. I can understand why the author Robert Louis Stevenson settled and was buried here.

At 7:00 pm we set off for two days of ocean travel and we went on to visit Tahiti. It was a wonderful experience being here and now, it's time to look forward and prepare for my diving explorations in Tahiti and Moorea.

As for my driving, we had no incidents. I will admit that I did once get on the "wrong side" and as soon as I saw a car at a distance coming at me I remembered and immediately shifted over. I didn't panic and I had to keep reminding myself all day long. I am ready to do it again.

It was wonderful to share time with the delightful people of Samoa and also to forget the rest of the world.

About Armando F Sanchez, Contributing Writer:
Armando F Sanchez is an author and CEO of Armando F Sanchez Production. His organization produces global digital media programming.
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