It was on Thursday, as we were gathered around the kitchen table, enjoying a Perkins' family dish that I've been teaching Pastor Jim to make, that Pastor Jim brought up the subject of Saturday. "Since Anna's only here for two more weeks, why don't I take you girls on a tour of the island? Miss Emi and the boys will be up at the plantation all day, so I can be your chauffeur," he offered. Hannah and I were thrilled at the idea of a day of 'palagi' touristing--the only hard part was narrowing down the list of wonders we wanted to see. We couldn't done everything in one day, so we had to forgo a tree-canopy walk, a swim with sea turtles, and, as it turned out, taking another trip to the beach. Hannah suggested that we take time to visit the blowholes--holes in the volcanic rock of the seaside cliffs. The waves rush under the vents, and vapor blows up into the air, sort of like a geyser. Hannah said they were the most amazing thing she had seen in her time here, and I was willing to take her word.
So Saturday was set, we thought. But, at the last moment, Pastor Jim had an attack of the gout in one of his feet; his driving foot, unfortunately. He's been keeping it up and immobilizing it, as it's agonizing for him to even take one step. He encouraged us girls to go without him, saying, "You'll have a better time without any old fogeys along, anyway." We didn't exactly agree with his last classification, but we did manage to alter our plans.
This morning, I bounced out of bed just a few minutes after seven. I got dressed, threw my swimsuit (you can never tell) and a change of clothes in a bag, got my purse and cameras at the ready, and roused Hannah. I was more jittery than a kid about to leave on vacation! Hannah and I ate our mossi with peanut butter, and I had a cup of coffee, all the while feeling as if this were a needless waste of time in which we could be getting started. At 8:29 (we had planned to leave between 8:00 and 8:30, so we were right on schedule) we pulled out of the Civale's driveway, armed with cameras, a map, our purses, bags, and a bag of Hannah's teacher guides for her 3rd grade class (I told her she wouldn't get to look at them, and I was right). There's a dedicated teacher for you! We were to drive all the way around the island in a big, loopy circle, but our first destination was the blowholes. Asau is near the top of the island, and blowholes are almost at the bottom, so it would take us about an hour and a half to reach them. As you can well believe, the time didn't hang heavy on our hands (or tongues).
Driving in Samoa is a unique experience for sure. Since you're probably not going to pay the price of a ticket to come here and see it for yourself, I'll have to describe it for you. First of all, you're driving on the 'wrong' side of the road, so you feel a little backwards to begin with. As you're talking and driving, you whizz by people who are walking along the roadside--groups of men, coming back from their plantations, laden with woven baskets that are slung over their shoulders on poles, wearing Chinese-style woven hats; women in lava-lava's, fresh-picked flowers in their hair, holding diaper-clad (or less) children, their hands caked with dirt from working plantations; children, some barely old enough to walk, playing in the road, staring with big, brown eyes at the black car with the palagi girls inside. Suddenly, in front of you, there's a man on a bicycle; you carefully swerve around him. You come to a speed-bump, and crawl over it, wondering why they bother to put speed-bumps on a road that has no actual speed-limit. You go around a curve, almost hit a chicken that was imitating the bird in the age-old joke, miss it by an inch, and doge around an oncoming car that was way over his side of the line. We came within ten feet of (at different times) a small child, a man on a bike, a pig, a bus, a dog, and several chickens. Don't worry, though, Mom, because Hannah is an excellent driver, and the people here know to get out of the road quickly when they hear a car coming. There are so many curves and bends in the road that driving requires a quick eye and a good brake foot.
Finally, we reached the village of Tauga (Tonga, soft g), the home of the blowholes. Hannah had been to the holes once, but she hadn't been the driver, and she couldn't exactly remember where the entrance was. We lost our way for about twenty minutes, and had to pull into someone's driveway to ask for directions. Thankfully, the guy spoke enough English to assure us that we were on the right track.
We finally spotted the worn sign that marked the way to the blowholes, and we bumped down a rutted, stony drive that would have made a car mechanic wince in anticipation. The car survived, though. We were greeted by an old man with limited teeth and English, who gave us to understand that it would cost us ten (sefulu) taula apiece to get in (that's about $5 in American dollars). We happily paid the price, parked the car in the weeds, and began to walk down the sandy/rocky trail towards the ocean. We were not the only ones out to see the blowholes on a Saturday--some other tourists were ahead of us on the trail. They waved and said hi; Hannah and I agreed that it was so strange to hear that word!
It was a perfect day to walk down a tropical trail with a friend--partially cloudy, so the sun didn't get too hot (lucky, since we both forgot to put on sunscreen), with a gentle breeze that ruffled the morning glories at our feet. Butterflies flitted around us, and palm trees lined most of the trail. It was simply a paradise that morning. We soon got the ocean, where the waves crashed and boomed against the high, volcanic-rock cliffs--I climbed out on a rock that jutted out above the waves, looking cautiously over the edge and hoping that my Mom wouldn't have a heart-attack when she saw the picture Hannah was taking of me!
The blowholes are simply unreal. The waves pound against the rocks, sending spray up as high as forty feet and drenching everything in sight. As the spray drifts off, rainbows form by the dozen, the rocks sizzle with a sound like soda pop as the water burbles up from underneath, and little fish swim about in the tidal pools. You can see ripples in the rocks, like when you throw a pebble in a puddle, indicating the island's volcanic origins. Hannah and I climbed from rock to rock, trying to get close to the actual blowholes as they blew jets of smoke-like spray high into the air, but we were beaten back every time by the power of the waves. Hannah said that they had not been this high when she was there last time. Salt crystallized on our skin.
It was hard to leave, but, after we had been there an hour, Hannah and I decided to head back to the car and off to Salaloga, the biggest town on the island, to have lunch and go to the big market that is held there every week. We walked the trail back to the car, happy we had come but regretful that we had to leave so soon. We could have easily stayed there all day, enjoying the spray and the rainbows and the pleasure of being somewhere pristine and barely touched by the tourist industry. If that kind of thing were in America, they would charge you far more than ten taula to get in, I can guarantee you that!
The market at Salaloga was a new thing for me. Rows and rows of stalls, like a flea market, filled the warehouse-style building; at one end, there were pool tables where competitions were being held and food was being hawked. I suppose it was very much like an American bazaar, with the difference that the vendors were much more aggressive than their American counterparts! At one point, I could have sworn that a girl was trying to pick-pocket me in some way, as she bumped up against me really hard and followed me closely as I walked down the line of stalls; however, I held my purse tightly and ignored her, and she soon vanished into the crowd. There was a lot for sale, but I was only looking for the exceptional stuff, the things that grabbed my attention and said, "Wouldn't this be the perfect thing for so-and-so?" I found three items, most of them on the expensive-but-hand-made side, and had my first experience at bargaining and haggling over prices. I probably did a pretty poor job, but, hey, this is how these people make a living! For many of them, this is their sole means of support. I only saw one other palagi family at the market--a couple with two teenagers.
Finally, we were ready to go eat. Hannah, for whom this was the high-point of the day, recommended the Jet-Over Hotel down the street, saying, "It doesn't look like much, but wait until you get out back, and then you'll see!" And I saw. I don't know when I've seen anything so inviting and picturesque as the backyard gardens and veranda of that hotel. It was like something out of a travel magazine! There were lots of palagis, some from New Zealand, Australia, and, of course, the good old USA. There was a guy at the next table who was from Arkansas and had the accent to prove it!
Hannah and I both ordered hamburgers--if there's anything I've craved more than cake while I've been here, it's been hamburger and red meat. The French fries were wonderful, and the burger was different, but good in a Samoan way. It was almost like a cross between a hamburger and an egg McMuffin, with toppings of cheese, Canadian bacon, cucumbers (they were trying to pass them off as pickles, I think), green tomatoes, mayonnaise, and a fried egg! Oh, and one shred of onion. It was so good, though! And it was a nice change to have ketchup on our fries instead of in our pasta!
Then we went shopping. When we get out of the car, little kids mob us, offering to sell us bags of cocoa, fans, and bottled water. I feel so guilty telling them, "Leai, faafaatai" (No, thank you) and hearing their disappointed, "Manweo le aso" (Have a nice day). I bought some more skirts (they have really pretty, cheap skirts here!), some snacks for me, and some groceries for the family. Oh, and a block of cheese, for Hannah, since that's the one thing she misses most from the States. Then we drove back to Asau down the long, curving road, arriving just in time to pick up Miss Emi and her young helper, Koria, from the plantation trail.
It was a wonderful, exhausting, never-to-be-forgotten day--I hope you enjoy hearing about it as I enjoyed experiencing it!