Pago Pago, American Samoa. I still don’t understand why I fell so hard for Pago Pago. Maybe it was just love at first sight as we cruised into port past beautiful chiseled and lush green mountains, while a turtle swam alongside us. Maybe it was the subtlety of its beauty compared to the paradises we had just ventured from. Or maybe it was simply a fondness for the underdog, because from all the places we visited, American Samoa definitely felt like the underdog.
First view of Samoa
There was a definite sense of having left North America, contrary to the country’s’ name. The economy was largely still suffering the effects of the 2009 Tsunami. The port only received Cruise Ships once every few months, and so with our arrival there was lots of excitement and activity as markets spread out before us as we disembarked, and locals pleaded with us to buy their goods; eager for us to buy home-made goods and asking us to turn our backs on anything stamped as made in China. Fair enough! Samoans, aptly nick-named the “Happy People” of the South Pacific, are proud of their culture, and eager to preserve it.
View of the Pier from our verandah
But, wow! As Martin and I stepped off the gangplank and put our feet on solid Samoan ground we were immediately hit with such intense heat and humidity, we had to wonder how anyone could possibly function in such an atmosphere, let alone keep a smile on their face. Our plan, which we kept to, was to wander through the market place and through town, but boy, was it hard going. Within minutes it was if we had just stepped out of the shower. Yet everywhere we looked there were locals going about their daily business, effortlessly smiling, and looking genuinely happy to be here.
At first glance the town of Pago Pago looked rather run down and a little dirty compared to the North American towns we were use to. But despite this it was easy to get caught up in its charm. Me, more so than Martin. Many of the locals wore traditional lava’s; knee-length ones by the men, and longer ones by the woman. Random concrete fences were decorated with brown and white island designs, and you could never really be sure it was graffiti or done with intent. One tree had its’ trunk intricately, and beautifully carved. Rainbow coloured buses rambled by looking as if they could possibly be Utes (trucks), with a cabin thrown on the back. Everything about them looked like they were the project of a local handyman. Pago Pago, it seemed, embraced whimsy.
Downtown Pago Pago
Martin battling the killer heat
Martin and a half ute / half bus
More whimsical buses
A Museum on the side of the road
Another view of the Museum (?)
Beautiful tree carving
Detail of the tree carving
A beach - sort of
After a quick tour around, walking the streets, soaking up the atmosphere, and battling the heat, we returned to the ship to freshen up. I had booked an excursion for myself for that afternoon and couldn’t wait to explore more of the island and the culture that was already enchanting me. Martin, however, was quite happy to remain on board and rejoice in having air-conditioning.
My excursion began with boarding one of the brightly coloured island buses that seemed to rule the streets. Their insides seemed as eccentric as their outsides. Small wooden planked seats formed close-knit rows. Sitting diagonally with my knees pressed against the back of the chair in front, I couldn’t help but wonder how some of the larger island people managed. The windows were open holes with a sheet of plastic loosely sitting in grooves to cover the bottom part of the window. I’m not quite sure what the point of them was. But thank god…they had air-conditioning!
My awesome tour bus
Inside my tour bus (look past all the heads)
Winding our way along a picturesque coastline, past small bays, and run-down villages we made our way to the Leone Missionary Monument. On the way we stopped to take photo’s of two significant rocks. I have forgotten the names of them but remember that the one that sat in the sea was a boy rock, and the one on the beach was a female rock, and apparently they had been in love, their parents didn’t approve, and the girly rock got pregnant…and well… that’s all of the story I remember.
The bus ride was extremely fascinating and more enjoyable to me than the rest of the excursion. The sea was marbled in blue and aqua tones and met golden beaches, while behind them stood proud mountains with thick green flora. We passed many elementary schools and high schools, each with their pupils dressed in specific uniforms. Often the pupils would be sitting outside having their classes in the sun. As we passed they grinned ear-to-ear and waved enthusiastically.
Along with an abundance of schools there seemed to also be an abundance of churches, all in varying denominations. Houses and small villages we passed all seemed to be in varying states of disrepair, and I marvelled at how many of them had elaborate grave stones sitting in their front yards, or nice and close to their front doors. Apparently it was common that if you owned your house – you buried your family in your front yard. The other structure often found in the front yard was huge circular or square concrete pads with roofs. Often they took up most of the front yard, and seemed to even rival the houses in size. Called “guest houses”, these were built as places to have celebrations or for family reunions, and were even used for family sleep-overs, just as we would use ours of the same name. Seeing how the locals lived had me feeling for the first time that I was really in a foreign country.
One of many guest houses
The Leone Missionary Monument was quite frankly not at all what I was expecting. For starters – it was a church. Standing as a monument to where the first missionaries landed in 1830, I guess this was only fitting. From the outside the church looked a little gaudy but fitting with its surrounding landscape, however the splendour of its inside decor was breathtaking! Beautiful polished wooden planks graced the floor and ceiling. Colourful stain-glassed windows filtered sunlight upon the front altar and stage, that in itself was adorned with an extravagant array of colourful blooms. Photo’s don’t do it justice.
Close up of the mini monument in front of the monument
Inside the Leone Church
Back on the bus again we started off for our final destination. Traversing bumpy gravel roads we arrived in a Samoan village where we would be attending a traditional Ava Ceremony demonstration, (Kava in Fiji), held by the Chief of the village. Only a few people from the audience got to sample the muddy Ava drink and I was not one of them, but that was okay. The suffocating heat was beginning to burn off a little, and with an orange juice in hand I relaxed and watched as we were treated to the entertainment of traditional dancing and singing.
By the time I arrived back at the pier, Pago Pago had completely nestled itself deep in my heart. With only minutes to board the ship I grabbed the first souvenirs I could find from the markets still set up; a couple of postcards (we’ve been collecting them from every port as cheap memento’s for a future scrapbook), and a traditional hand-made fan. What could be more fitting?
Another towel creature