Friday, September 30, 2011

We've made it to the big time!  Lattitude 38 just came out with their Pacific Puddle Jump recap and we're quoted a few times as well as have some pictures.  The article starts on page 98...  A nice article to share the afterthoughts of everyone that crossed the big pond this year.  Enjoy!

We’ve been here in Samoa a week now, rented a car and have seen the island.  I feel like we’ve done Samoa (at least Upolu, the main island).  Everyone feels the need to compare American Samoa to Western Samoa and I guess I fall into that category too.  Where I differ from other cruisers, is that I feel like American Samoa is the underdog and is misunderstood and maybe gets a bad rap…therefore, I really, really, really want to like her more.  With that said…whoa…it’s hard not to like [Western] Samoa.  First things first…those who say Samoa doesn’t have trash, haven’t been around.  Granted, American Samoa is a lot worse (reminds me of Puerto Rico), but Samoa isn’t the most pristine place I’ve ever been to.  We were driving around the outer parts of the island and I saw whole piles of plastic with beer bottles piled up and down the road.  The people are about the same.  I don’t find Samoans to be any friendlier than American Samoans (they’re all friendly).  Here in Apia (the main town), they appear to be a little jaded by tourists.  This is a big destination for New Zealanders and Australians (kind of like Hawaii for Americans), so they definitely have their eyes open for tourists and just barely put up with us.  But once you get to the other side of the island and away from Apia, they are very friendly, yet reserved (just like American Samoa).  One of the really neat things (and unusual for us Americans) is that the police don’t carry any weapons.  None.  Not a baton.  Not pepper spray.  And certainly not a gun.  They carry a notepad with a pen.  If you get in trouble, they ask you what village you live in and they tell your chief.  They let him take care of the discipline.  Cool, huh?  And apparently, that’s enough to keep a fair amount of order around here.  The food isn’t any more expensive if you eat local and not try to get the imported stuff or eat at fancy restaurants.  We ate at the yacht club last night and got an enormous amount of food (3 dinners to include, shrimp, sashimi, and poke) along with a glass of wine and 2 beers for less than $40.  We found a movie theater and they play first run movies while you can relax in the air condition – very nice given this place is the hottest we’ve been to yet in the S. Pacific.

Family picture at the Robert Lewis Stevenson Museum
I’m rambling a bit just to get my point across that while we don’t mean to poo poo American Samoa (loved it there, spent 6 weeks)…we are REALLY diggin’ Samoa.  We rented a car and have been able to see most of the island now.  We visited a museum, some cave pools, waterfalls, beautiful beaches and today we attempted a resort crash and were only half successful (they let us swim at their beach, but not their pool).  But it was absolutely beautiful.  We ran into other cruisers with the same idea, and I have to say, we stick out.  Not in the way you would expect, with backpacks and long hair.  This place is full of New Zealanders and they, too carry backpacks and have long hair.  You can tell a cruiser because he/she’s the white guy…with a tan!  But seriously, we've seen how they live in their fale's (think "pavillions" at home) and we've seen the traditional way of life here - at least as much as you can from a tourists point of view.
The Robert Lewis Stevenson Museum.  His house, now a museum.
He's buried at the top of a big mountain behind the house.  Beautiful

Jake, hanging out with day when he has to read Treasure Island, he'll
say "hey!  I know that guy!"

Walking up to the tomb felt like we were walking through the jungle.
It was quite the hike.

One thing I wrote about already which deserves a second visit is the Samoans enthusiasm for Rugby.  The schools are peppered with homemade signs, “Go Manu!”….some children we saw where skipping school altogether getting ready for the big game against S. Africa tonight.  The place across the street from the Marina has a big tent set up with a big screen and tons of pregame activities planned, to include fire dancing (they start at 4:00…the game doesn’t start until 9:30).

After all the fun and games are over, we eventually have to leave.  For any cruiser that might be behind us, there’s one bit of information I hadn’t read before coming here….duty free alcohol.  Here’s the process.  You go to La Well (on the street that T’s in front of the flea market) and get a price list.  Decide what you want.  Write a letter to customs (can be hand written if you have to) that says basically that you are requesting permission to purchase duty free liquor in the amount of  “blah blah blah (write down exactly what and how much you are buying from the price list).”  Drop it off at customs (right behind the marina) and pick it up the next day/afternoon with the approval stamp.  Take that to La Well  and purchase said liquor.  They will deliver it to the Customs building for you.  When you check out, customs releases your goods and you’re on your way.  We found the prices to be not quite as good as Tahiti, but still fairly cheap compared to most other S. Pacific islands (think Trader Joe’s in the states, minus two buck chuck).

Tonight we’re off to see the pregame activities across the street.  We’ll be sporting our Manu t-shirts hoping to get a good seat for the firedancing.  We have another 4 or 5 days here so we’ll be provisioning and making our way north, opposite of everyone else.  It will be a sad goodbye, but hopefully just a “see you next year” kind of thing as most people come back up to Tonga and/or Figi for another season.  Looking forward to our new adventures off the beaten path!

More pics...

The beach where they filmed the 1951 Gary Cooper film "Return to Paradise"
The guy said "Welcome to Paradise!.... that will be $10 tala!"

Jake, trying to stay awake for the fire dancing.

These were the amateurs.  The professionals dropped the baton, caught themselves on fire,
almost burned down a second story of the hotel and dropped the baton in the pool.  The amateurs
were looking pretty good!

Cave Pools

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Do they take their Rugby serious or what? Go Manu!

But I get ahead of myself....  We arrived around 9:00am to Samoa and while it wasn't the smoothest entry (the port control was on a coffee break), we made it into our slip with no drama.  The cool thing here is that the officials come to your boat so you don't have to go all around town looking for everyone...or so we thought.  We had Agriculture come, the Health inspector and Customs came within a respectable amount of time.  Around 1:00, we headed out to find Immigration.  That proved to be harder than we thought but eventually, with the help of a local policeman and his kind offer to 'drop us off,' we arrived in style in the back of a green pickup truck.

Yesterday, we ventured to the Palolo Deep National Marine Reserve which is just a few hundred yards from the Marina.  It's supposed to be the best snorkeling around (since the tsunami wrecked everything a few years ago) so we paid our 4 Talas (about $1.50) each and spent the afternoon at the beach.  It was ok...very sad, if that's the best there is though.

My token tourist picture today...the clock
tower in the middle of town.
Today we set off to the Market...we got side tracked by a movie theater.  It's hotter than heck here - the worst since our summer in the Sea of Cortez - so we ducked in for some AC and saw The Zookeeper.  Pretty hilarious for Andy and I, a bit over Jake's head, but he like the talking animals.  We finally got to the market and I loved it.  We'll have to go back with Andy's camera.  It was a bit more like Mexican markets only it was full of coconuts and bok choy instead of prickly pear and avacados.  But there was a different vibe about it...more carribean style than latino.  The one thing we could not miss though was the number of people with Samoa flags painted on their cheeks, flags flying from trucks and a few guys painted head to waist with the Samoan flag.  Today is the day Samoa plays Fiji in the Rugby World Cup.  Yep....a big day.  When we got back to the boat, a couple of cruisers told us they were going to go up to one of the restaurants and watch the game.  Sure...that should be fun.  Nevermind my kid doesn't know the difference between Rugby and baseball (I know, I know... everyone who knows me from childhood can't believe that as they all sit at their kid's football game right now, but it's true.  And yes, my brother and father are appalled).

Wow, these people are extremely patriotic...they LOVE their team.  We had to politely ask our host (waiter) if he wouldn't mind if we got another beer (can you serve me) because they were so into the game.  They actually sat down and watched it with us.  The game baffles me as it looks like football without the pads or the rules, but I have to say, it's much more exciting.  The good news is (for Samoans at least) that Samoa kicked butt and won 27 to 7.  To say the streets are excited tonight would be my biggest understatement yet.  Horns are honking, girls are hanging out the windows (in tanktops, none the less...a big no no here), and "Go Manu!" is the chant of the evening.  Go Manu!

Our waiter.

I'm not sure if she worked there or not, but he was
definitely a waiter.  They were having a great time.

Holland America drops off plenty of tourists.
We haven't explored enough for me to give a proper opinion of the place yet, but I had an experience tonight that mirrored an experience in American Samoa and I still think it's funny.  Jake thought the restaurant was too loud so he went on the deck to play.  I went out to check on him and three girls were out smoking a cigarette (another common activity).  After talking for a bit, I asked them what should we do while we're here in Samoa (pronounced SA-moa)?

"What do you mean?"
"Well, what is fun?  What should we go see? do?"
LONG pause....  "Like what?"
"Well, like, what is there to see in Samoa?"
Keep in mind, Samoa is a big tourist destination for the Kiwis.  We've seen a lot of New Zealanders and a whole cruise ship pull up in here.
"ummm.... just enjoy yourself"
Always good advice, but um, we live on a sailboat and don't have jobs....enjoying ourselves is never a problem.
So another lady steps up and says.... "What do you mean?"
"Well, we're here.  What should we DO?"  I know, saying it louder doesn't make it anymore understood, but I didn't know what else to say.
Finally, one of the girls tells us we should go to a local beach.  Great.  Good idea.
We had that same experience in American Samoa.  They looked at us like we had horns growing out of our ears when we told them we liked their island.  You can imagine what they said when we told them we went hiking!

Anywhoo....enjoying our time so far.  The marina is ok/decent and we're still in the "getting a kick out of it" stage as opposed to "gotta go" all is well.  We'll try to take more pictures next week.  We're planning on renting a car and figuring it out ourselves.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

9-21-2011, Underway...finally

One of the worst things about American Samoa is the anchorage.  It’s known for it’s nasty bottom full of stuff to get your anchor stuck on.  We’ve heard of people pulling up tires, clothes, lawn chairs, cables, chain, you name it.  Andy has dove on quite a few people’s anchors since we’ve been here, to help them pull it up, and the largest obstacle he’s found yet has been a 30’ sailboat where someone was wrapped around the mast.  So to say that I was worried today when we finally decided to leave (yes, we did decide to leave), would be a gross understatement.  Much to my surprise, without too much effort, we were able to pull both of our anchors up (we had a Danforth in tandom with our CQR, our customary way of anchoring here in the S. Pacific) in about 15 minutes.  A huge relief as I wasn’t quite sure of the logistics of Andy diving on it and me doing both the driving and running the anchor windlass at the same time.

The wind is pretty light out here, anywhere from 8 to 14 knots so our speed is SLOW.  I think we’re averaging 4 knots tonight, although we do have a double reef in.  We always start our nights with a double reef in the main sail so as not to be surprised by any squalls that might pop up.  I would rather go slow and make up the time later than get caught with our pants down, so to speak, and scrambling at midnight (which is inevitably when all the squalls will come).  It’s an 86 mile trip to Apia, (Western) Samoa (they dropped the ‘Western’ so it’s just Samoa, but I feel the need to specify for some reason) so we decided to do an overnighter instead of trying to squeeze that all into one day and potentially coming in at night.  We’re told there is a pretty nice marina there and you actually can’t anchor there anymore, so you have to go to the marina.  We’re looking forward to that and I know Savannah can’t wait to have a bath!  The bad part is, we’re running out of money this month.  My trip home put a huge dent in things as did the diesel, groceries, propane, etc.  So we have to stay in Apia at least until the first of the month so we can get paid (thus being able to pay our marina fees as well)!  It’s been a long time since that happened!  The good news is we’re stocked to the gills and won’t be missing any meals.

Lately we’ve been doing a lot of planning, thinking, speculating, trying to get a good handle on our plan.  Our friends Sherry and Dave on s/v SoggyPaws have a pretty extensive hobby of researching places they’re going (I call it a hobby because I know they don’t get paid anything, but the amount of information they have is truly mindblowing.  I can’t imagine how much time this takes,  And to top it off, Sherry puts it all together for cruisers to share and add to), and they gave us quite a few documents/information they’ve dug up on the Gilbert Islands as well as the Marshalls, our ultimate destination for cyclone season.  I’ve been reading all of that stuff tonight on my watch and unfortunately, it brings up more questions.  As anyone who knows me or has read the blog for any length of time knows, I am a planner by nature (and profession, if I still had one) and I like to know what’s coming ahead.  Since we’ve started cruising, I’ve laxed a bit in as much as I don’t mind just knowing what’s coming ahead in the next few islands, as opposed to our whole year.  I always do research before we go, but never to the extent of the information I have now.  I’m rambling, only to say that sometimes I think ignorance is bliss.  Andy and I had our whole plan figured out and now I read about what other people have done and say, hmmm…. For example, the only official place to check into the Gilbert Islands on our route is Tarawa (there are other places but they’re way too out of the way for this particular trip, not news to us).  You are not supposed to go anywhere before checking into Tarawa.  Well, Tarawa is about 2/3 the way up the chain of islands.  So you essentially miss quite a few places by being legal.  Other points to note are that they are pretty strict on this rule.  Apparently, in the past, there have been accounts of captains being kept in jail for disobeying.  However, in one article I read, the captains of several boats got Visas ahead of time and when visiting the islands along the way, they just showed their visas to the local chiefs/police and that appeared to be fine.  Tarawa still says it isn’t fine, but if they don’t ask…  So that leaves one with a decision to make.  We don’t set out to break the rules, that’s for sure - I get some serious heartburn over that kind of thing – but on the other hand, to pass all of those atolls makes you feel like you’re really missing something.  Our original plan was to skip them going up, and get them in coming back down as Tarawa will be an easy first stop then.  But alas, even this has it’s issues now.  Apparently, they will only give you permission to visit one additional atoll after checking out.  So we have to pick one.  And technically, it’s only for three days, but I did read that most places welcome you for much longer as they don’t see many boats in these parts.  Too much to think about...see what I mean about ignorance?

As always, when underway, what I lack in pictures, I make up for in quantity of words.  I get bored and extremely chatty with my laptop at night.  When I was home, my mom and I talked a lot about the planning we do (I think some folks think we just sort of show up with no idea of what to expect, usually not) so I thought this might be a good subject to expand on, and it’s what’s on my mind tonight.  In the meantime, we’re going to check into Samoa and enjoy our stay here while sorting out the details.

Monday, September 19, 2011

American Samoa by car

We keep thinking our time here is coming to an end so we finally rented a car to do our provisioning and decided to keep it a few days and tour the parts of the island that we haven't seen yet.  And what a beautiful island it is.  We got our maps together and Lonely Planet guide and off we went.  I think we've been on just about every paved road possible to drive on.  

What's really neat is as you get past the hustle and bustle (relatively speaking) of Pago Pago, you enter a whole new world.  There are traditional villages and the landscaping is gorgeous.  The rainforest bleeds down into some of the villages and you see various different kinds of trees and fruits.  One of the fascinating things is how many churches there are here.  And they're not all just Catholic like a lot of other islands.  We saw a Korean Baptist church.  Numerous Seventh Day Adventists, Church of God, Church of Christ, Assembly of God, you name, they have it, well, with the exception of Jewish or Muslem...haven't seen those.  But there are literally over a hundred churches here.  It makes the bible belt look like it needs a bit of a revival.  And everything really does shut down on Sunday (even the beaches).  The other interesting thing (of which I failed to take any pictures of) is that when someone dies (presumably of some sort of importance), they are buried in the yard.  And not just any old tombstone will do.  Some of the monuments were truly unbelievable.  We saw one that was 3 stories high, and another with a whole house built around it and lights on the outside (as in icicle, Christmas lights).  There are marble graves, painted cement graves, and even graves with stairs built into them.  Needless to say, it is very different from where we come from.

We spent a good amount of time driving around the National Forest here.  We were able to read a few park signs and call it a nice science field trip for Jake, justifying a day of skipping school.  We learned that  fruit bats are the only native mammals here in American Samoa.  And the breadfruit tree has almost as many uses as the coconut tree (which would boggle your mind)!

We were able to see the island at a very leisurely pace of 25 miles per hour.  That's the maximum speed limit on the whole island.  And everyone is very courteous, letting people pull out in front of them, or slowing down for a pedestrian.

Today, we did our final provisioning and stopped by the National Forest Office.  We stopped by there several weeks ago and they gave Jake a booklet for him to complete to become a Jr. Ranger here in American Samoa.  We had also offered up some underwater pictures from Andy to help with their publicity/spreading the message type thing.  So we dropped those things off and got Jake's certificate and badge, of which he was very proud.

As our trip here comes to an end, we reflect back and really think we've done almost all we could do here.  We've hiked just about every trail we know of, Andy has done his share of diving/snorkeling, and we can give directions to any major (and not so major) shopping joint you might need.  We've frequented the military exchange as well as gotten our fill on fast food.  I think it's about time to head on.  We're waiting on "one more package" and then we're off to Apia...Western Samoa.  From there we'll head up to Tuvalu, then off to the Kirabati Islands and finally spend the cyclone season in the Marshall Islands.  

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Slippery Rock, American Samoa

I'm not sure who thought sliding on a big hard rock would be fun, but apparently, it's a popular place here in American Samoa.  Another family here (with older kids) invited us to go exploring with them on Saturday to this infamous "slippery rock."  After a long discussion with the bus driver and an even longer ride, he dropped us off by some water with a lot of rocks (very pretty water, very pretty rocks).  We had six kids and 5 adults and off we went in search of the slippery rock.  Well, they were all pretty slippery at first, seeing as it was raining and the tide was going out, but then we hit the mother load.  Every kid that stepped foot on it, fell.  Then the older kids got pretty good at running and sliding.  My worry wort of a self had stomach aches the entire time and lucky for me, my kid fell early and didn't think it was all that much fun.  We found a tide pool instead and eventually all the kids came to the tide pool to play.   They put on their masks and explored every crevice.  Rhett on s/v Solara found a few baby eels that occupied their time for a while.
That's Jake flat on his back on "Slippery Rock".  Looks fun, huh?
The big kids loved it, but I'm pretty sure this place would be
roped off in the States.

See the little guy jumping?  Imagine him
in that same pose  with a butcher knife.
Unfortunately, I missed the photo op.
There were some locals a ways away that were fishing and their kids were playing in a much smaller tide pool.  You could see them slowly inching their way closer, curious about our kids.  Eventually, they were right there and the kids invited them in to play.  At first it was kind of cool until we moms looked up and saw a little guy, about 4, on top of a big rock about to jump into the tide pool, that was all of 2 feet deep.  As if that wasn't enough to give us a heart attack, he was holding a foot long butcher knife!  No, I'm not making this up.  And away he went off about a 5-6 foot drop with all the gusto you would think a 4 year old would have, butcher knife and all.  I'm guessing he had the knife because his parents were fishing and someone was going to use it to clean the fish, but they had about 8 kids and apparently, it's easy to lose track of where the knife goes.  After a few jumps and hearing the crazy white people yelling "Knife!," the sister or mother or someone came over and took the knife away.  All was fun again and the kids played for another hour or so.  They jumped, they played 'Marco, Polo,' and basically had a great time.  Once the sun proved to get the best of us, we decided to head on back to Pago Pago for some ice cream.

All in all, it was a wonderful day and I'm so thankful there are other kids here and other people who like to explore.  Today is Jake's actual birthday so after chocolate chip pancakes for breakfast and time to play with his new toys, we're going to head into McDonald's for lunch and a nice swim in the local hotel pool (for $5/person they let you use the pool) with Dharma and Rhett.
Daddy and Jake putting together his new Hero Factory character this morning.
Jake with "Meltdown."

A few of the parts we had shipped in didn't quite work out for various reasons so we'll be here another week waiting on some mail.  I can think of far worse places to be :).

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Getting comfortable

Jake and I at "Blunt's Point" an old WWII
site where you can see the old guns.
It appears we are getting pretty comfortable here.  We've been on several hikes, had a birthday party, met some kids and are even regulars at the library now.  Why are we still here?  We're waiting on some packages.  One of the benefits of American Samoa is that it has a US Post Office here.  I was lazy when I went home and mailed a few heavy items instead of carrying them in my suitcase.  I opted not to send them priority because not only was I being lazy, I was being cheap (to be fair, I saved $150).  Because of all of this, we've been waiting for 2 weeks for our packages.  At 3:00 am this morning I couldn't sleep so I checked the status of the packages and they said they were still in San Bernadino.  So I emailed my dad and asked him if he could go to the post office and see if he could find anything out for me.  I don't know if he did it but suddenly at 1:00 today, it says they were delivered to Pago Pago on September 2.... hmmm.  So Andy has gone to the post office to see if they're there.  We're crossing our fingers.

In the meantime, we've all met some new friends.  There's a boat here from Alaska, s/v Solara, with two kids (Dharma - 8, Rhett - 12) and Jake has been spending a lot of time playing with them.  Much like Jake, they haven't had a lot of kids to play with as they went from Seattle to Hawaii to Fanning Island to here.  Andy and I enjoy their parents as well so it's been a nice match.  The kids are adorable and so much fun to be around.  Robin and I took them all hiking to a waterfall the other day.  It ended up being a long bus ride and a hike up a road through some mean dogs only to find it's on private property in someone's backyard.  But here's where the Samoan hospitality comes in.  A guy came out of the house after hearing the dogs growling and told us he would take us up there.  So he did.  And he hung out with us the whole time, presumably to keep the mean dogs from coming up after us (some of them were his).  Who does that?  No one where we're from...invite a few strangers to your backyard, cancel your plans, show them around.  But that seems to be typical around here.  We didn't stay long as even though it was really nice, you still feel like you should probably hurry as you're interrupting their day and to be really honest, the dress here is somewhat conservative and I just didn't feel comfortable swimming around in any bathing suit, much less the bikini I had on.  So Robin and I watched while the kids swam until they got too cold and then we left.

Our "host"

Dharma, enjoying a brownie
Yesterday we had Jake's 6th birthday at Tisa's Barefoot Bar and Restaurant.  I tried to pick a place that would appeal to both kids and adults as there are more adults than kids here and I was pretty sure that's how the party would be as well.  Jake makes lots of friends no matter the age.  Luckily, the tide wasn't too high and the surf was pretty calm yesterday so the kids got to play on the beach the whole time.  Since Tisa's doesn't serve food unless you make a reservation, they allowed me to bring our own snacks as long as we bought drinks (never a problem for a bunch of cruisers).  So I made some brownies, brought some fruit for the kids and some snickity snacks for the adults.  We had about 15 adults and 6 kids there and everyone seemed to have a good time.  I know Jake did.  This was his first birthday in 3 years where there was actually more than two people present and they were under 40.

I didn't get any good pictures of the boys, but I did
catch Dharma and Mya having a good time.

Andy just pulled up and we have our packages, so we may be heading out early next week.  We need to fix some things at the top of the mast (hence waiting on the package with the parts), provision and get a few last minute things but other than that, we're ready to go.  I keep reading other blogs about Western Samoa and getting excited, so we're getting antsy to check it out ourselves.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Andy's run in with the law

Andy has been going out to a reef about every day to do a dive and take some pictures.  This has gotten to be a routine that he does in most of our anchorages.  Jake and I do school in the morning while he goes and takes pictures.

Yesterday, he headed out to his little "nemo" spot and three policemen on jet skis decided to come chat him up.  At least that's what Andy thought...
"Where's your life jacket, sir?"
"Ummm....I have my full wetsuit on and was going to do a dive.  I don't have one."
"Where's your dive flag?"
Andy quickly saw where this was going... "I guess I don't have one of those either."
"Where's your buddy?"
Well, shoot.... "Ummm... I'm a ex Navy Diver and I, uh, well, I don't have one.  I know it's a good idea, definitely, but not totally necessary."
"Who do you work for?"
"No one, I'm just freelancing, taking some pictures."
"Where's your boat registration?"
This is never going to end, is it?  "Ummm... well it's registered under the big boat back in the anchorage."
"OK.  Do you have a radio?"
"Yeah!!  I have one of those!"
At this point, Andy is pretty sure he's going to get dragged to the pokey.  Then the guy says, "Well, be careful.  If you get in any trouble, call us on channel 16 or dial 911 and we'll come help you out.  Have fun!"
"uh...Thanks!"  And off he went.

They turned out to be very nice but it was a quick reminder that we are back in the land of the US with the laws to go with it.  Had that been the Coast Guard...well, we're just glad it wasn't.

It turned out to be a very successful dive with more strange critters.  Enjoy!