TGIF 03/06/2020 Apia, Samoa

Still kind of weird thinking we are one day ahead of the everyone at home. No, we don’t have the winning numbers to (yesterday’s) lottery!! Today was a nice day in which we drove to the opposite side of the island to do the Coastal Walk. The walk, an approximate 2-hour round trip, was a hike that weaved in and out of the jungle to bring us to the edge of a lava cliff along the ocean. When we hit the end, we discovered a large lava field perched on the edge of the ocean. On the trip back, we took a detour unintentionally and ended up cutting our time in half. We walked on a well-groomed trail instead of navigating the lava rocks and jungle. Rarely does that happen. Usually getting lost means a death march. We then made a quick trip to the Pickled Lam to thank Annie and give her a Blue Ridge Parkway pin for her kindness and honesty in returning Kathy’s bag which she had left at the café few days earlier. We are going to gift her our plane tickets to American Samoa, since we can give them away, but cannot get a refund. She was very gracious and kind. We hope she is able to advantage of the opportunity and take some time off to visit American Samoa with her son, Malachi.
We then made a quick trip back to the hostel for lunch. Post-lunch, we set off to visit the National Museum of Samoa. There we learned about the history of Samoa dating back to the 1800’s and up through independence in 1962. A nice talk with the assistant curator who explained some of the more current displays in the bottom portion of the museum. This included some artwork from the local students. We learned more about the history of Samoa during our visit to the museum than the entire 8 days we had been in Samoa talking with the locals and our “tour guide”, Henry. All of the tour guides and visitor center staff we met seemed to either make up answers or shrug “I don’t know.”

We made it home for dinner where Dave made his NOT so famous mac and cheese, but it was great nonetheless. (Dave insists it is the best to be found on the island!) The season of Lent in another country can be hard, especially when milk comes in a cartoon and is stored on the shelf – not refrigerated. Dave is craving a big glass of chocolate milk and this just might be our first purchase in Australia, if we get there. Dave just hopes the milk comes from a cow, not a kangaroo!

Two days down, two days to go Apia, Samoa 03/04-05/2020

Everything seems to slow down in the heat of the South Pacific. You walk a bit slower, you sleep a bit later, you take longer to eat – everything just seems to go in slow motion. Two days seems to have slowly drifted by while we worked on staying cool (usually failing miserably.) Yesterday, we spent the morning at a cultural show where we learned about the many traditional aspects of Samoan life. We started out by making our plates for the lunch they would be serving us. Dave’s plate was half the size of Kathy’s plate and she soon took pity on him and traded plates with him. Bigger size more food. You know what Dave says, “Fat boy’s gotta eat!” Dave is petite compared to the locals, so this adage may no longer apply to him. The next demonstration was the making of clothes by a local Samoan woman. The process was pretty impressive, starting with a small tree stick, stripping off the bark, and turning the cambium into cloth! We were so taken by her skill that we bought one to remember our visit with her. Next stop was the wood carving. Kathy was tempted to buy a really cool wooden bowl, but “where she would put it in her luggage” is always on her mind. Reason prevailed and she wistfully walked away from the table to go to the next pavilion for the next demonstration. This demonstration was how the meal we would eat is prepared. In Samoa, men do all the cooking. Kathy now understands why it is so bland! The meal was put in a fire and consisted of taro roots, Samoan bananas, fish, and something like spinach. Kathy and Dave went for the vegetarian option and decided to pass on the fish. The last pavilion was a demonstration of tattooing in Samoa. Tattooing is considered an art that men do as they come of age. Using a hammer and pointed object, we watched as the ink was “hammered” into the man’s thigh. It looks as painful as it sounds. No film was allowed so you will need to Google it to watch the process. Last stop was the large pavilion where we sat down and received our meal and watched a native song and dance show. It was not the best meal we have had, but also not the worst. Fortunately, we did not have to pay money for it, so it was good it was free. Pretty boring all and all. The spinach-like concoction was good. Dipping both the taro and the banana in the concoction helped the flavor. Later in the afternoon, Dave went running down to the post office to see about mailing our Samoan souvenirs home. No such luck. He needed to go to the quarantine office to get a certificate from them. Dave came home feeling hot and sweaty while Kathy was curled up on the bed enjoying the sweet air-conditioning.

Thursday saw us just driving in the morning to explore the island because it was raining. Coming back, we came through a police checkpoint where Kathy got to witness a bribe in process. Last stop before coming home was the quarantine office where Dave got our item sprayed and made ready for the trip back to NY. The office sealed the envelope and gave Dave a certificate from the office. Now time to return to our hotel. Along the way, we stopped at a bakery for some fresh buns for PB and J sandwiches. Kathy was in heaven with the buns, they were soft and freshly made. She salivated as she squeezed the buns to see how soft they were. Ahhhh, the rain had stopped, and a decision was made to walk to the post office in downtown Apia. The ~~ 1.1 mile walk to post office was hot and muggy, but it was a welcome relief to be out and moving. Arriving at the office, Kathy parked herself under the air conditioner while Dave waited to send the package. For the second time he was denied. Dave had not brought the certificate with him and the post office required that in order to send the package. Walking back carrying the same package, Dave grumbled about not knowing he had to have the certificate to mail the package. Grabbing the certificate, we headed back to the post office for the third time, another walk in the muggy heat. Dave said, “I bet we will get to within 100 yards of the post office and it will start to rain, smearing the inked address and shredding the certificate.” While it was not hard, we did get spritzed on by the rain. Finally, SUCCESS!! The envelope was stamped and mailed and should hopefully be sent tomorrow. In part to celebrate, and in part just to cool down, we stopped at McDonald’s for ice cream. Our next stop the visitor center, where Dave pulled out all the interrogation techniques he had, trying to get information on Samoan history. One thing Kathy learned by watching him, all the techniques in the world do not work if the person does not have a clue. We are amazed at how many people we have met who are not familiar with their country’s history. Next, we were off to dinner at a restaurant recommended to us. We were not surprised……it was closed. Walking back, Dave said, “How about Roko’s?”, a restaurant we have passed multiple times walking back and forth from Apia to our hostel. Kathy begrudgingly said, “Ok.” Great decision. Kathy had vegetarian spaghetti with olive oil and garlic and Samoan chili peppers. This is one of her favorite meals but in this case, it came with a twist. Dave had unique chicken cordon bleu – sorry Jill forgot pictures again – and we both enjoyed our meal. Also dining in the restaurant were a couple of Mormon missionaries. One was from Kathy’s old stomping grounds of Utah. Now it’s time to relax and eat our Samoan “Oreo’s”. Night all.

03/03/2020 Apia, Samoa Tour Day

Time to be a tourist in Samoa. While so far our days in Samoa have been spent wandering around and exploring this island nation, we decided today we needed to get a “guided” tour. On a bright and early (and sunny, finally!) morning, the tour guide picked us up at our hostel to begin our tour. Climbing into his cab, the journey began. First stop – a gas station where Dave had to finish paying for the tour so that the guide could fill his tank. The next stop was his Aunt’s home where he picked up some coconuts and bananas. The bananas were crawling with ants and Kathy wouldn’t let them sit in the backseat with her! Instead, the bananas rode the dashboard obscuring the windshield just a bit, or so Kathy imagined. The coconuts were put aside to try out later!! The first stop on our sightseeing trip was a waterfall called Papapapaitai Falls, which was a tall, thin falls which cascaded down through a lush valley of ferns. Next stop was the national park in Samoa called O Le Pupu-pue where we swam in the waterfalls and just played. The waterfall was called Togitogiga Falls and was an impressive group of falls that came together to then cascade down one side of lava rocks and end up in a pool at the bottom. Out next stop on the journey was the To Sua Ocean Trench, which was a large swimming hole with a very steep climb down a wooden ladder. The trench is sink hole with a lava tube out to the ocean and is affected by the ocean currents. Ropes were set up in the sink hole for people to hang on when the currents get too strong. This helps to keep from being swept out the lava tube and out to the ocean. After the swim, and thoroughly dehydrated, we were offered our coconut milk. Henry our guide chopped off the top of the coconut with his machete and presented us with the drink. The jury is still out on the taste – was it salty, sweet, or just different? Next stop was lunch at a resort at the other side of the island where Kathy and Dave deposited the remains of their coconut milk and coconuts into a handy garbage can. Lunch was somewhat normal, a club sandwich for Dave, and vegetarian nacho’s for Kathy. Nice break from a busy morning. Next stop was Falefa Falls, a smaller fall that was on the grounds of the theological university. Small falls, but intriguing for its beauty and lush gardens. The last stop on our trip around the island was the Piula Cave Pool which is a natural spring water pool where you get an opportunity to swim with some fish. The water was quite a bit colder that the other pools and was refreshing on our feet. Spending time relaxing by the pool, we chatted with some folks from Malaysia while our guide napped in his air conditioned car.

Phew! The tour was over, and we were back “home” at our hostel in the heart of Apia. Who knew we would consider a hostel a “home away from home”? But it does have air conditioning! A power nap was on the agenda and then it was time to figure out some dinner. We decided on pizza from a local restaurant which was good, but still not the Little Italy pepperoni pizza, which we miss desperately. A quick stop for cupcakes and then a lovely night discussing traveling with a couple from Denmark.

03/02/2020 Apia, Samoa—Building a wall of Rocks!!

Another day, another rock. Normal start of the day. Breakfast is the pretty much the same, yet unique. Today we had the same fruits, coffee, and toast, but instead of fried runny eggs— they offered us hard boiled eggs. They were cooked all the way through, despite what Kathy imagined, but she still could not eat them. They also had “crepes”, (we think?) or were they very doughy tortillas? Just not sure, but we tried them with jelly. If only they had syrup, it would make almost anything more palatable. Especially good old genuine maple syrup from the Cornell maple farm in Lake Placid! Next, we were off to the airport – an hour drive from our hotel – to speak with someone about a refund for our flights. All we got was – “You need to go into town and speak with the manager.” Dave’s first rock of the day!! Not feeling it at that moment, we came back to the hotel to have PB and J sandwiches. Creamy peanut butter, for those who know Dave, is not just a rock, but a BOULDER. He survived, somehow.

Deciding to play for a bit, we headed to the Robert Louis Stevenson museum which highlights the great Scottish author. RLS lived here for four years prior to dying here in 1894. The tour was the highlight of our day, as the author was also a resident in our village of Saranac Lake for ~~ 6 months prior to coming to Samoa. It was a wonderful connection and we enjoyed our visit. Dave even brought a brochure from the Saranac Lake museum and presented it as a gift to the Samoan museum. It was proudly put in a display case prior to us leaving. We thoroughly enjoyed our time at the museum and would recommend it to anyone who is in the area.

It was now time to see if we could get a refund for the flights to American Samoa which we were denied being able to board. We walked to downtown Apia, during alternating periods of rain and then bright sunshine to somehow raise the humidity even more, and eventually arrived at the airline headquarters. We were then told, “Fata is at lunch.” Who goes to lunch at 3:30 PM when the office closes in one hour, we wondered? We waited and finally he arrived at 4:10 pm. We were told to wait some more. Finally, at 4:35 PM, we were ushered back to his office where we were point blank told, “No.” and we should have read the conditions of the flight. Another rock in Dave’s growing stack of rocks!! Dave tried to argue the point but was unable to budge the man from his stance.

Time for dinner now. We decided to go to a nearby pizza restaurant which was recommended. “Closed Monday” declared the sign on the door – another ROCK!!! A quick trip across the street to a local hotel to have dinner at their restaurant. “Yes” said the nice lady at the front desk, “It is down the hall and up the stairs. Upon arrival – not open yet. Another ROCK!! We made a decision to try the Pickled Lam Delicatessen – which was our next stop. We were rewarded with a good pizza, cupcakes, and the best service ever!! Kathy inadvertently left her bag at the restaurant. The hostess walked down to our hotel and brought it to Kathy at the hotel. What amazing hospitality! A great way to end the night!! And the cupcakes were great!!!
Kathy and Dave are trying to make lemonade with all the lemons we have been getting. The bounty has been great lately, and our cup runneth over! We’ll keep on a’drinking.

03/01/2020 Ahhh last words, what more could we ask for? Apia, Samoa

What more could we ask for? Or, what more could Kathy ask for? What Kathy wanted was some food she could recognize. Breakfast did not start out that way. While coffee is easily recognizable from country to country, pancakes, not so much. Our “pancakes” today consisted of round fried dough that was cold and had no maple syrup. In our world, we call them plain donut holes. Dave described them as a cross between a plain cake donut and a bagel. Fresh coconut, pineapple, and some very ripe bananas were also part of Kathy’s breakfast. Dave did eat some fried eggs over easy and swabbed up the runny yolk with a slice of toast. Kathy pushed her plate away after the display and nursed several cups of coffee in hopes of calming down her churning stomach!!

Then, it was off to the beautiful church we had visited previously in the week. We enjoyed our hour-long mass, which lasted from 09:30 to 11:00 am. Not a person in the congregation fidgeted or looked at their watch, unlike in the US. Lots of dedicated parishioners surrounded us and the church was packed. It was interesting. Instead of going up and standing in line to receive the eucharist, we walked up, knelt on a kneeler with several others, and then the eucharistic minister gave us communion. We watched before approaching to make sure we knew what we were doing. Upon leaving the church, we were approached…accosted…intercepted…whatever you want to call it, by a fellow church goer who wanted to sell us a tour. (We will be going out for a full day tour on Tuesday to all the hot spots and to get the low down on the community!) Then, during a walk around town, Kathy promptly spied a McDonald’s and, with pleading eyes, begged Dave to let her enter and order some fast food. He acquiesced and Kathy gobbled up a Big Mac, fries, and a strawberry shake…. sweet bliss! Big Macs taste the same the world over!! Dave tried to order some chicken tenders. He was denied the 6-piece tenders and the 8-piece tenders, as they only had the 10-piece nuggets available. It was frigidly cold in the restaurant and it was SO nice. While walking, Kathy commented that she is jealous of the 21 inches of snow that fell in Western NY. Dave and Kathy then walked around town, sweat dripping off them towards the end, and finally collapsed for a catnap in their air-conditioned room.

An afternoon swim in the rain in the pool was a unique experience and we had fun just playing around. Another walk, and then Dave made mac and cheese for dinner. We again appreciated a sense of familiarity. Kathy made a not-so-feral cat happy by sharing some of her mac and cheese with him. The cat looked adoringly at her and wandered around her feet. All the while Kathy is thinking: don’t let him on your lap — he has fleas. Kill joy that she can be!!! Fleas, though, could be more of a kill joy so probably a good decision. Dave spoke with a man who is from Pennsylvania, but currently living in American Samoa. He had worked as a lifeguard for the National Park Service at Cape Hatteras for about 8 or 9 years. Dave discussed all the parks he had worked for and the man pronounced Dave a legend and wanted to buy him a beer. Kathy loves him, but “legend” might be a stretch!! Dave, however, believes he is a “Legend in his own mind.”

02/26-29/2020 Island Life, Christchurch, to Auckland, to Samoa, and then we got a ROCK!!

We started out the day, before heading to the Coral Sea in the South Pacific, just completing items done for our next stage in the journey. We did laundry, figured out what we were taking and what we were leaving, and just having a nice dinner. Thai food – yum. Sorry, Jill, I forgot to take pictures. But you will like the next ones.

Bright and early, before the sun had even started thinking about waking up, we were on our way to the airport where we dropped off our car and started the process of getting out boarding passes. “Process” is a good word. We were given the 3rd degree, almost turned down, and then finally they said, yes, we can go to Samoa! It came with an advisory that we would probably be questioned some more after we get to our layover in Auckland. We were told, “Don’t be surprised if they send you back”. Auckland was a breeze!! No one said a thing and we breezed from one flight to the next.

Arrival in Samoa!!! It is hot…like really, REALLY, hot…like Florida muggy hot!! You felt the heat the minute you stepped off the plane where we then had to go through the gauntlet of questions about our health: where we were coming from, how long we were there, and, oh, yeah, “Can you prove you were in New Zealand for six weeks.” Dave got his passport stamped in NZ, but Kathy’s  was an E Visa and no stamp and no proof. I think they took pity on Kathy and saw her panic—they let us both in. Phew! that was just the first hurdle. Then we needed to have a medical screening. This included getting our temperature taken. Kathy was cold! Could be the lingering terror as she had boots and thermal socks on, and  still registered ~~34 C. Another hurdle down. Now, on to Customs where Dave got his bag searched. Finally, now it’s on to find the rental car. Unique to say the least, but we have our beat-up, low budget car that got us to our next destination.

This was a resort on the beach, not an AirBnB, as we had reserved. We have a six-sided room that had no air conditioner and no bathroom, but we do have the beach inches from our front door. A unisex bathroom was just across the way for us to shower, shave, brush our teeth, wash up and use the toilet. The bathroom had no door, but at least it had stalls for the two commodes and one for the shower. We played in the infinity pool, played in the ocean, and walked the beach. We met a family from Australia who are vacationing here and had a lovely chat. The beach was covered with hermit crabs. I was reminded about our two pet crabs that escaped! I think they dug a hole and ended up in Samoa. They look happy!! Dinner started with an amazing rum drink for Kathy and lime soda for Dave. This was followed by a fish dish with rice for Kathy and burritos for Dave and ended with a banana ice-cream dessert. Tomorrow, we plan on kayaking and maybe running into town. Stay tuned for pictures as we have no internet here!! Are you surprised? If they don’t give us a bathroom what makes you think we’d get the internet?

Ahhh, the resort life has ended, and we are off to the airport after days of lollygagging on the beach, eating casual dinners, and just playing. We kayaked, swam in the infinity pool, and did some reconnaissance in Apia for our return un 5 days. We felt we got a good feel of the area.
American Samoa here we come…….or not. American Samoa will not let us in! Apparently, due to the coronavirus, we have to self-quarantine for 14 days in Samoa before they will let us fly to American Samoa. Dave opened Incident Command and we spent the next four hours in the hot, open airport trying to plan our next steps. Can we get refund for the flights we were not allowed on? What about our hotel in American Samoa that is paid for? What about a place to stay here? Do we get a rental car or take taxis everywhere? And a myriad of other “ifs”. We were fortunate to get our same, old, smelly rental car back (at least we had filled it with petrol!) We were also able to get a room in the place we were going to come back to in 5 days after American Samoa. We are waiting to see if we will get a full refund for the hotel in American Samoa. We will be spending another 8 days in Samoa, so we should be just like the natives soon.

We knew that glitches would happen on the trip, but we did not expect a global pandemic. Totally came for us out of the blue!! (Or, out of the “red” since it started in China…) This was not on Dave’s “Hazard Vulnerability Analysis”. Doom on Dave! But, at least we are quick thinking and we will make some lemonade. We have a car, a room with its own bathroom and air conditioning. What more could we ask for?