22 August, 2012     

Blown away by Samoa

By Chloe Johnson

The ocean grumbles beneath volcanic rock before spewing water high into the air.

Like a humpback whale, the sea releases its salty water through blowholes as spectators flinch with fear at the unexpected and ferocious blow.

We're wisely standing several metres away from the Alofa'aga Taga blowholes where the ocean swells push water 60 metres skyward.

But the brave locals do things a bit differently.

A Samoan woman dressed in black shorts, a white cotton shirt and jandals walks up to one of the blowholes with coconut in hand.

She listens for the ocean's grumble and waits until the water gains pressure beneath the rock before throwing the coconut into the hole. It shoots up into the air, disappearing into the blue sky before crashing down on the rocks.

Its hard shell fails to crack rolling off the surface into the hungry ocean below.

The blowholes are just one of the many natural fascinations on Samoa's island of Savai'i.

It's the third largest Polynesian island behind Tahiti and New Zealand, but fewer than 44,000 people live spaciously on the land which spans 75 kilometres long and 50km wide.

Its raw beauty, natural history, and lack of commercial development attract hundreds of tourists each year - but it's so spacious you would be lucky to see them.

The island is only an hour's ferry ride away from the main island of Upolu and can be explored in less than a week.

Tour guide Warren Jopling, an 82-year-old Australian geologist who has lived in Samoa for 20 years, says cycling has become popular with tourists who can leisurely pedal around the island's 180km - and only - road in just a few days.

It's an adventurous idea but unfortunately time isn't on our side so we have borrowed the trusty wheels of a Samoan Tourism Authority people mover for two days.

With more than 450 volcanoes on the island and a passionate geologist as our guide it's not a surprise our first stop is the Saleula Lava Fields.

Our van parks on the side of the road next to a scruffy plantation, a sight commonly seen along the northeastern coast of Savai'i.

Behind the thin wall of overgrown trees is 100 sq km of cooled black lava which flowed from Mt Matavanu during the nation's largest eruption, between 1905 and 1911.

The sun's intense rays beat down on the black charcoal rock, once the town of Saleaula and home to five different villages.

Vegetation has begun to grow in the cracks where the lava has broken down into soil providing nutrients and a birthplace for nature to flourish.

Different patterns decorate the lava rock including roped braids and hollow tubes.

Warren says the patterns indicate different types of lava flow and the times they have taken to cool.

He points out pieces of broken up lava rock which pepper the field.

"The locals smash this up and use it to decorate their houses," he says.

Mt Matavanu can be seen in the distance but the volcano doesn't have steam pluming from a large cone and there is no lava bubbling inside.

Instead, it's a relatively small grassy hill rolling peacefully alongside its brothers and sisters. It's hard to comprehend how such a small hill caused this much devastation.

A Methodist church and graveyard which stood in the pathway of the lava flow remains half buried in molten lava rock.

The Samoans say the lava covered all the graves except one which belongs to a virgin nun.

It's true, the lava has flowed around the nun's grave leaving a gaping hole in the ruins.

We throw a flower on to her grave to pay respect before Warren kills the magnificent myth.

"Of course there is a scientific method behind the way the lava has flowed, but the myth is more exciting," he laughs.

TANU BEACH
With only a few hours of sunlight left and a calm ocean on the doorstep of our accommodation, we cool off before relaxing to traditional entertainment at Tanu Beach Fales.

The fale accommodation is one of the most popular on the island after growing from one beachside hut in 1990 to 25 today.

The family business is owned by Taito Muese Tanu but run by his children, including daughter Freda.

Made from wooden poles and thatched coconut leaf roofs the fales are a traditional way of sleeping in Samoa.

There is a thin mattress inside covered by a large mosquito net and one thin sheet. With 30-degree weather during the dry season there is no need for heavy blankets.

A single light bulb is the only source of electricity in the fale and toilets and showers are located in a clean communal block just metres away.

The still ocean is like bath water which gets cooler the longer you sit in it. The sand is gritty but the fine texture massages, and slightly tickles, your feet.

As the sun goes down the water shimmers like glitter as the fading sun catches the delicate ripples.

Lipstick pinks and blood orange close in on the blue sky, eventually turning palm trees into silhouettes.

Later that evening we join the other fale guests for a traditional dinner of breadfruit picked from the trees behind us, beef curry, yellow fin tuna and rice.

Our meal is complemented with home-made lemon tea made from the leaves of a lemon tree.

A group of young Samoan men dressed in lavalavas harmonise to the sound of their musical instruments.

Most of their songs are soothing Samoan tunes but the guys know how to entertain their guests, who are largely from New Zealand, by adding in a few Maori waiata.

The familiar songs entice guests on to the sandy dance floor led by the hip-swinging barefoot business woman Freda.

It's a pleasant evening apart from the mosquitoes who have decided it's time for their evening meal, settling on fresh European blood.

While some people are happy to do the swat dance to kill off the critters, I opt to hide under the mosquito net hanging inside my fale.

TAPA MAKING
Warren picks a red hibiscus flower and, as the only woman on our tour, hands it to me.

"It's for your hair," he says.

"Does it matter where I wear it," I ask sticking it behind my right ear.

"Well are you married? No, then it goes on your left," Warren says.

The flower behind the ear has been a long-standing symbol of whether you are available for men, like a wedding ring but less formal.

It doesn't really matter for our next visit though, which is to see women make tapa.

Tapa is a cloth made from u'a, the paper mulberry tree, and used for clothing, blankets and artwork.

The craft is practised by women only and skills and knowledge are passed down from mother to daughter.

Tapa maker Faapito Salu begins by peeling the outer bark layer off a branch of the tree. She uses a knife but traditionally this is done with the women's teeth.

She then stretches the fibre by scraping it against a piece of wood with water and the rough edges of a shell.

It's back-breaking work which requires strength and speed.

Faapito hands me the shell to see what it's like to stretch the fibre. Within seconds, I'm starting to break out in a sweat and can feel my lower back ache.

The flower in my hair has started to come loose with the aggressive movements of scraping the bark.

Faapito praises my technique but laughs at my lack of strength and speed. She takes the shell from my hand so we aren't there all night waiting for the final product.

Once the fibre is stretched she repeatedly folds the cloth, banging it against a piece of wood with a club. This continues to stretch the bark into a wafer thin material.

Her mother-in-law, Faamuli Salu, takes over by patching up tiny holes in the cloth before decorating it with Samoan designs. Faamuli has been making tapa since she was a little girl and passed down her knowledge to Faapito.

She lays the cloth over a board which has been carved by the men of the family and uses powder ground down from an oa tree to hand paint flowers and Samoan designs - a dried frayed fruit from a banana tree serves as her paint brush. The cloth can then be glued together with others to create a wall-sized blanket.

At the end of the session I decide to part with 40 tala (NZ$21) in exchange for one of these beautifully hand-made local craftworks.

It is the largest amount of cash that has left my wallet while visiting the attractions, and that's the beauty of Savai'i. It's inexpensive, it's natural and it's entertaining.

Perhaps next time I will spend a few tala on coconuts to throw into the ferocious blowholes.

CHECKLIST
Getting there: Virgin Samoa operates flights from Auckland to Samoa every day except Thursday.

Where to stay: Try sleeping in a traditional fale at Tanu Beach Fales on Savai'i. For something a bit more luxurious, try Sinalei Reef Resort & Spa on the main island of Upolu.

Further information: See samoa.travel.

Chloe Johnson travelled courtesy of Samoa Tourism Authority on Virgin Samoa.

Source: NZ Herald
  21 August, 2012     

More Acts Announced for Raggamuffin Samoa

RAGGAMUFFIN SAMOA is shaping up to be huge with the announcement of an additional seven artists, plus Samoa’s top traditional Au Siva (dance group) and Siva Afi (fire dancers) performers, creating over eight hours of entertainment on Saturday 8 September!
 
Joining SPAWNBREEZIE, SAVAGE & SWISS, will be MONSTA G, PETER GUNZ, SAMMIELZ, JOE COFFEE, BEN VAI & THE YNOT BAND, OZKI BAND plus many more great local acts.
 
First up GOLD-selling California-based rapper MONSTA, well known in Samoa for his hit record ‘This Is Love’ (featuring Hawaiian Reggae Star J-Boog). The Samoan and Mexican MC's debut video was filmed on location in Samoa and has been viewed over 1.5 million times on Youtube.
 
Legendary Pacific Island DJ and  "Fresh Off The Boat" founder DJ PETER GUNZ needs no introduction, providing the hottest poly mix tapes in the Pacific for over 10 years. Peter Gunz will be introducing his Reggae protege  SAMMIELZ at Raggamuffin Samoa, a new star on the pacific reggae scene with his hit ‘Let The Riddim Run’.
 
Renowned Samoan singer BEN VAI has been a big influence on a lot of upcoming artists in Samoa and features on albums from the likes of Mr. Tee, Zipso, Victor Keil, and more. While he was the backing vocalist for FIJI for many years, he is an established and much loved artist in his own right. He’s brought the YNOT BAND back together for Raggamuffin Samoa so expect some on stage magic!
 
JOE COFFEE (aka Eddie Williams) is an up and coming New Zealand-based Samoan artist who has recently recorded a single called ‘For You’, a Pop/Reggae hit due for release in Samoa shortly. The single’s video, also filmed in Samoa, will be launched at the Riggamuffin Beach Party.
 
Rounding off the line-up are popular young Samoan group OZKI BAND, who recently released an EP in NZ. Their brother is in the great NZ band Brownhill, but they are making their own path back home and are a welcome addition to the bill.
 
The RIGGAMUFFIN BEACH PARTY will be held at the stunning Samoa Hideaway Beach Resort on the south coast of Upolu Island on Friday 7 September. Jump on a bus at Y Not Bar in Apia and trundle across the island to this idyllic secluded beach for a day of fun and games with the Riggamuffin paddlers. Your ticket includes the return bus transfer, food and all the music and activities on offer. A cash bar is available for you to purchase a range of alcoholic beverages or soft drinks. Chill out or join in the action at Samoa Hideaway Beach.
 
Raggamuffin and Riggamuffin Samoa are part of the country’s annual Teuila Festival - one of Samoa’s most celebrated annual events. In the true essence of Celebrating Samoa, this year’s Teuila Festival from 02-08th September is an extension of Samoa’s 50th Independence Anniversary celebrations. Visitors during this time will be able to enjoy a multitude of events including traditional arts, carving, dance and Fautasi (longboat) races.

RIGGAMUFFIN BEACH PARTY SCHEDULE:
Bus Transfers Depart YNOT Bar, APIA                                     9.00am – 10.00am
Bus Transfers Depart SAMOA HIDEAWAY BEACH                 3.00pm – 4.00pm
 
NB: The Samoan buses and roads are an experience too! We recommend bringing a nice fluffy towel to sit on for comfort.
 
ENTERTAINMENT:
MAI FM’s DJ Infrared                                                                 
OZKI Band, Joe Coffee plus special guest appearances from the Raggamuffin stars!
 
ACTIVITIES:
Samoa Hideaway Beach is perfect for swimming and snorkelling so don’t forget your togs!
PLUS….
• Fun races with Riggamuffin Paddlers – get a team together!
• Beach volleyball
• Eating! It’s not a Samoan event without food. Your ticket includes your lunch
• Drinking! Please note that drinks are NOT included in your ticket but they are pretty cheap.
It will be a cash bar.
 
So all you need to remember is TOWEL, TOGS and TALA. Easy.
 
Book your tickets now online at http://samoa.travel/raggamuffin
Or at any Pacific EZY Stores in NZ
 
STA Travel Packages
If you want to grab a great package deal, there are still some available at
http://www.statravel.co.nz/raggamuffin-samoa.htm

Samoa Tourism Authority & Jacman Entertainment Present
RAGGAMUFFIN SAMOA
SPAWNBREEZIE / SAVAGE / SWISS
MONSTA G / PETER GUNZ / BEN VAI & THE YNOT BAND
SAMMIELZ / OSKI BAND
Plus Much More
Saturday 8 September,
Funway Park, Matautu, APIA
Gates open 4pm
 
RIGGAMUFFIN SCHEDULE
Monday 3rd September – Opening, Kava Ceremony,  mid-distance marathon
Tuesday 4th September – V12 Sprint Races 500m  YNOT Bar / Apia Harbour
Thursday 6th September – V6 Sprint Races, 250m, 500m and 1500m /Rock Da Boat Cruise/Riggamuffin Pub Crawl
Friday 7th September – Beach Party and Fun Regatta, Samoa Hideaway Beach Resort
 
Registration details at
http://www.teuilafestival.com/other-events/riggamuffin-samoa-2012/
 
MEDIA ENQUIRIES INTERVIEWS: For further details please contact
Jackie Sanders +00 685 773 9977 or +649 834 4945
Jackie@jacman.co.nz
  09 August, 2012     

Ride on time

By Dan Ah Wa

Sometimes the best part of going somewhere, is the getting there, writes Dan Ahwa, won over by by Samoa's one-of-a-kind buses.

There's no better way to explore Samoa's big island of Savaii than on a bright green bus with yellow window frames and roof, aptly named Paradise in Heaven.

The buses are such national icons they deserve their own museum... except that the museum pieces are out on the roads carrying people around.

They're the perfect demonstration of what is really meant by that old Samoan adage "fai fai lemu" - or "take it easy" - with their flexible timetables, boisterous nature, loud music and larger-than-life presence on the road. And I was keen to try them out. But how do you travel on a transport system based on fai fai lemu?

Tip No 1: "Most buses in Samoa go in the same direction as there aren't many roads, particularly on Savaii," explains my hotel manager Seti. "So people usually catch the bus based on their favourite colour or the bus that plays their favourite music".

Tip No 2: Each bus carries the name of the village that will be their final destination, so with the aid of a map you can quickly decide if it's going your way.

Tip No 3: Locals are more than happy to point you in the right direction. On my first journey I inquired whether I was waiting at the right stop to take me into Savaii's main town centre of Salelologoa.

Confirmation came with a cheeky grin and a request for a gold tala coin to fill a shortage of fare money. I happily obliged.

Moments later I waved at an approaching bus and had my first encounter with the true Samoan beauty of Paradise in Heaven, colourful, loud and unmissable.

I guessed it was probably one of the original buses as the seats, reminiscent of old church pews, looked like they hadn't been changed since it was constructed.

The entire ceiling was plastered with brightly coloured Hawaiian print fabric. The driver's rear view mirror was framed by plastic frangipanis. Small figurines of Jesus and Mary sat on the dashboard and the front window was framed with a row of hot pink fairy lights.

"They are good for driving at night" says the driver, who notices my look of amusement.

That first journey was a 45-minute ride from my beach bungalow style accommodation at Le Lagoto Beach Resort, in the village of Fagamalo, all the way westbound towards Savaii's main town centre of Salelologoa and on to the village of Palauli to check out the Afu Aa'u waterfall and the tapa cloth and fine mats being produced by local woman Taumuli Salu (a must-see while in Savaii).

The buses usually stop anywhere they like, and in some villages, you'll find handy bus stops that are just as brightly coloured as the buses themselves, with hanging banana bunches that provide a handy snack while you wait.

Midway through that trip we got to the village of Asaga and the bus started to fill up. I knew that Samoan etiquette prescribes that if an elderly person needs a seat and the bus is full you offer your seat to them. Indeed, the respect shown to elders is one of the most charming features of Samoan society. I gave up my seat to an elderly man who showed his appreciation with a toothy grin and a "fa'afetai" (thank you).

However, Samoans are almost as thoughtful to younger passengers and try their hardest to see no one has to stand up. Indeed, there may be some situations where you'll end up sitting on somebody's lap, or vice versa. If you are worried about your personal space it's best to avoid travelling at peak hours in the early evening.

Samoans generally pay before they exit the bus so it's a good idea to have coins at the ready. After a week of travelling by bus I got used to having spare change in my pockets. But I never went as far as the locals who put spare coins in their ears (lavalavas don't have pockets).

Part of what makes bus rides enjoyable is the insight each trip offers into local musical tastes, with Samoan rap or reggae blasting from the speaker systems.

My trip to Palauli included an accompanying soundtrack of Bob Marley, UB40, and Samoa's own version of Sonny and Cher, Penina Tiafau (if you want to feel like you're on your own Paradise in Heaven while commuting around by bus in Auckland traffic, this is the playlist for your earphones).

It's sometimes difficult having much of a conversation on a bus because most of the time you have to shout over the music. Rather, a bus trip is meant to be a chance for locals to enjoy their journey and indulge in their favourite pastime of people-watching. And when you're on an island as beautiful as Savaii you'll want to make the most of taking in the sights.

But I did manage to have a few delightful chats with school kids, farmers on their way to work on plantations and even a nun, who found my chosen mode of transport admirable, particularly when most tourists prefer the air-conditioned tour buses or rental cars.

"It's a good way to meet Samoans and make friends," she commented, and after making friends with several commuters on my bus trips I heartily agreed.

Upon exiting at my final stop I noticed one elderly woman who'd joined us from the beginning of the trip, sitting alone after everyone had disembarked, ready for the journey back to Fagamalo.

She'd obviously had nowhere to go and was just enjoying a day going back and forth on the bus.

I was quite envious. Once you're on one of these buses it's hard to get off. But luckily, if you do, there's bound to be another one along soon.

CHECKLIST

Getting there: Virgin Samoa has regular flights from New Zealand.

Where to stay: Le Lagoto Beach Resort.

Further information: See samoa.travel.

Dan Ahwa was assisted by Virgin Samoa and Le Lagoto Beach Resort in Savaii.

Source: NZ Herald
Photo Credit: Dan Ah Wa