Thursday, October 13, 2011

Paradise Found!

I live on a tropical island in the South Pacific. It has been 3 months since I landed here and I still can’t believe it. It feels weird to say that I live in American Samoa. At the same time, hearing coconuts falling from trees (I actually almost jumped out of my seat today when one fell right outside my window at school – it’s so darn loud and unexpected!), seeing men wearing “skirts”, and feeling chilled when the temperature drops below 80 degrees is all pretty normal to me now. I know how to catch a bus and how to tell the driver when to stop. I know the names of and understand the different coconut cream dishes (palusami, pikaki, etc…). Pronouncing Samoan names is becoming easier and I am even extending my own Samoan dictionary (hardly, but still…getting there). The challenge of classroom management and dealing with 105 16 and 17 year olds is getting a smidge easier every day and I’m still going to school with a smile on my face. I think I have finally settled into my island life.

What better way to celebrate such an accomplishment than taking a vacation! This past weekend was one of the most surreal 4 days I have ever had. If you were not aware, the Samoan islands consist of both American Samoa and Western Samoa, but they are two completely different places. They have a different currency and are not associated with the United States. The main two islands are called Upolu (Oo-pole-oo) and Sava’ii (Saa-vaa-ee). Last Friday, myself and a few of my friends escaped to Upolu and proceeded to spend the next several days in a stupor that can only be summed up as “wow.”
The currency in Western Samoa, aka the tala (taa-laa). Pretty!

After a crazy week at school, Friday couldn’t come soon enough. We ended up getting out of school a couple hours early (I’m starting to get used to the fact that school just might end at a random time). Abby and I quick changed out of our teacher attire and booked it to the nearest bus stop…and a bus never came. We started to walk in the general direction of the airport and eventually got picked up by one of our fellow teachers.  20 minutes later we were at the airport and in line to check in and get our boarding passes! Our flight was supposed to depart at 4:40. We didn’t end up flying until 5:15. Island time, people. The plane we flew was the smallest plane I have ever been on. There were a total of 19 people (including the pilot and co-pilot) and they had to place us in our seats depending on our weight. (When we got our boarding passes, we had to stand with our luggage on a scale…hahaha). Laugh out loud, right? After a quick 30 minute ride, we were landing in Apia, the capital of Upolu. Flying over Upolu was incredible…it’s SO big compared to American Samoa. Sava’ii is even bigger! The first thing I noticed was that Western Samoa is a lot less industrialized than AmSam. There was so much free land – a nice sight to see instead of buildings and roads everywhere. When we got off the plane, we grabbed our backpacks, and instead of taking a taxi, we decided we would be true backpackers and walk to our motel. We walked for a looooong time, asked many people for directions, and eventually found it, only to realize that we were at the wrong branch of the motel. After getting a ride to the right branch, we checked into our rooms, dropped off our bags, and headed to the nearest restaurant. We dined on some delicious Indian cuisine (butter chicken and naan = extremely yummy) and a bottle of wine before heading back to get some sleep – we had all had a long week at school and needed some rest.

Peter, Lauren, and Abby in front of our teensy tiny Polynesian propellor airplane.

This was the view from my seat. Squished!

Enjoying some good wine with good friends (Lauren in purple and Abby in black). You'll notice the signs in the background for the food. The Chicken Tikka Marsala was 16 tala which meant that it was less than 8USD. Sweet.

On Saturday morning, we were up bright and early to check out the market in Apia. As we walked around Apia in broad daylight, I have never been so overwhelmed in my entire life. This was a religious weekend and holiday for the Samoan culture so everyone had come into town to do their shopping. Not only does Apia have stoplights (WEIRD! Forgot about those!), but there were so many cars and buses, and people EVERYWHERE. Abby and I panicked a little and were happy to get out of there. I don’t have a lot of pictures from the market, but I did come home with a lot of beautiful, hand carved and painted coconut shell jewelry! Following our market trip, we dined on some fresh fish and chips (talk about DELICIOUS!) and hopped into a taxi --- we were headed to Lalomanu (La-low-maa-nuu) out on the east side! The ride took exactly an hour and a half and I spent the entire time soaking in the beauty of the island. The houses, the fales, the people (especially the little kids – “Palagi!” – it’s adorable to see a little Samoan face light up when you wave to them), and the unlimited number of palm trees. I even saw COWS and HORSES! First stop lights and now big farm animals!
Delicious fish and chips...and a huge bottle of water. It was SO hot this day.

We eventually pulled up to Taufua (Taow-foo-aa) Beach Fales, the place where we would spend the next 2 nights and wow-ee was my jaw dropped. Words can’t describe the beauty of Lalomanu. You know the typical beach screensaver shot on your computer? That’s where I was. WOW-EEE! I really can’t explain it. I slept in a HUT on the BEACH. It took me 10 seconds to get out of my bed, walk down a few stairs, down the beach and BAM – OCEAN.  I fell asleep to the crashing of waves. I dined on lobster and octopus and the most amazing potato salad I have ever tasted. I saw breathtaking sunsets and sunrises. I saw 2 humpback whales!!! I took long walks on the most amazing white sand beach. I sipped from a fresh coconut right off the tree. I swam (in my swimsuit – yay for not having to wear a tshirt and shorts!). I sat on the beach at 3 a.m. by myself and looked at the stars. I snorkeled and saw beautiful fish! I made friends and danced with a bunch of awesome, fun Samoans (who were all my age!). I watched some handsome, perfectly toned, Samoan men siva (dance) and throw fire around. I saw a shooting star. I enjoyed some fruity beach drinks. I spent the weekend in turquoise blue water. WHAT A ROUGH LIFE!
Our fale is on the left. Yes, that is the ocean...right behind it! EEE!

Our fale had mosquito nets but I didn't get bit once so I slept without it. Early Monday morning, a huge storm rolled in - lots of rain and wind. It was crazy loud and the waves were HUUUUGE.

I'm standing in front of our fale and looking right. We would go for walks on the beach at dusk...and we would usually walk between 20-30 minutes one way. Lalomanu Beach is really long! The big fale on the right is where we would eat breakfast and dinner. The place is packed with people every weekend so we sat at huge tables and they served the food family style. It was a great way to meet people (99% of the people are palagi's - a lot from New Zealand and Australia).

I'm standing in front of my fale and looking left. There's another fale resort down from Taufua on the left. That big island out there just sort of sits there. No one lives there but someone goes out there to collect coconuts and other stuff...spooky.

Kasey, Lauren, myself, and Abby before dinner on Saturday night.

Oh my DELICIOUS. Besides lobster and octopus, we also had fish, chicken, pork straight off the pig (literally), lots of Samoan dishes, eggs, toast, oranges, beans, potato salad, rice, tortillas, bbq chicken, pancakes, curry, etc. etc. etc. I ate like a queen!

This was a highlight to the weekend. Half naked Samoan guys performing traditional dances and throwing fire around. We later danced to top 40 songs and hung out with them. It was swell.

Anyone care to join me on my return trip?

Snorkeling buddies. Right after we took this picture, it started raining. Swimming in the ocean when it's raining is SO FUN!

Needless to say, coming home was really hard. I could have stayed there for a few more weeks. But, I had to come back to reality and to teaching. Our flight home was sad – I wasn’t ready to part from my vacation and I was so exhausted. Lying on a beach all day is tiring! The landing into Pago Pago was awful. I was a little scared for my life for a few seconds…holy turbulence and shaking airplane. But, no worries. We landed.
My seat on the way home was right behind these guys. Sweet!

This week is Midterm week so thankfully I don’t have to do any teaching. I’ve got a fridge full of fresh papaya (sprinkle a little lime on it and it’s absolutely mouthwatering) and a heck of a lot of laundry to do. Life is life in AmSam and I’m gonna keep living it!
Gross on the outside.
Delicious on the inside!
It took me forever and a day to cut the whole thing, but boy is it worth it. SO GOOD. Also, earlier on in the day, one of my students said, "Miss, you're turning brown." Thank you?? Do I look brown to you?

Fa soifua!


JanBo said...

If it was hard for you to come "home" from Upolu, what's it going to be like to come HOME from American Samoa? If you keep having the experiences you are having, I wonder if you will come home! Nice vacation, Quinn!!

Rebekah Clark said...

OH QUINNIE!!! It sounds sooo amazing. Love hearing about all of your adventures. Makes me miss having you as a roommate and the randomness that could occur. I love you so much and yes, I want to come visit:)

Jovan and Rich said...

Sounds like an amazing trip!

Anonymous said...

Connie Garrison said....we miss you so much but staring at half naked men can't be all bad. In fact, sounds like you are doing just fine and living a dream life. It will be over before you know it and you'll be back in Illinois wondering why you yearned for this place.

Alexis Coppleson said...

A Chicken Tikka Masala for only 8 dollars? Wow, that's really great! I've heard luaus in the Islands do tend to become a smorgasbord. And the beach... simply to die for! Mmmhhmm..