So, after crossing the international date line overnight, we were back to the 18th March! This one we would be spending ashore, in Pago Pago, American Samoa. Interestingly, Western Samoa (where we would have been yesterday if it hadn't been for Cyclone Pam), is the other side of the date line. As someone pointed out to us on the island today, this means that if you want to celebrate Christmas/ New Year/ your birthday twice in a row, you just take a 30 minute flight over there for the first one, and then fly back the next morning and celebrate again when you arrive!
I got up at 6.00 to watch the sail in, as I remember it being spectacular last time we were here. And sure enough I got wonderful views of the island as the sun rose, with its green rugged hills and curving coastline, with just a few lights scattered along the shore showing the limited number of villages. I saw the international airport (with 2 flights a week to Hawaii!) with its tiny runway right by the sea (I wouldn't fancy landing there!) The main town is a little more populated, and we soon saw the harbour with its tuna fish factory (stinky!) and container port where we docked.
We didn't have a tour booked until the afternoon, so we went ashore on our own after breakfast to look at the town itself. We walked along the coast firstly towards the main town, where we saw the Sadie Thompson Inn (made famous by Somerset Maugham), and a number of pretty churches, lots of beautiful houses on the hillside, the local market selling fresh fruits and handicrafts, and some wandering chickens! We then walked in the other direction, stopping in first at the Ocean centre, belonging to the National Marine Sanctuary, which had displays about ocean life and information about local and national initiatives to help preserve coral reefs and make the oceans cleaner. We continued our walk to see the small beaches of Utulei, where we dipped our toes in the warm water. As we walked, we also enjoyed looking at the variety of beautifully decorated local buses with a wide range of pictures and slogans written on them!
We then went back to the ship, via the handicrafts market which had been set up just outside the port. The crew had been having a safety inspection during the morning, and waiting to greet us on the dockside was an inflatable lifeboat! Let's just say I hope we never end up in one of them! (We were later informed that they had passed the inspection so I guess it was deemed sea worthy!) We went back onboard for lunch, and then went ashore again to meet for our tour - East Side Island Drive. Last time we we're here we did a tour which exploded the western side of the island, so now we were going to see the rest of it! (The island is only 18 miles long and six miles wide!)
We got onboard our local bus, which was beautifully colourful and specially decorated with flowers on the outside for us. It had what the islanders like to call 'natural air conditioning' (the open windows!). We had one of the luxury models with padded seats - apparently some of them have wooden benches! Each bench was designed for two small people (or half a Samoan as JL joked! The population like their food and are very proud of their size!) We set off around the harbour, with lovely views of our ship on the other side. We passed the town cemetery, I held my nose as we drove past the tuna factory, and then we were on our way along the coastal road. The views along this road were absolutely gorgeous - the picturesque white sand beaches, the turquoise waters with crashing waves, the palm trees lining the road, and the cliffs as we climbed higher and higher. We passed the famous establishment called Tisa's Barefoot Bar, which is owned by a local couple and is very popular with travellers. There were a number of small islets along the coast, and the next stop was a viewing point for one of these - Camel rock, so called because of the double hump look it has! We continued on our journey to a beach where we all descended and started taking photos and paddling in the warm waters - until we were suddenly called back into the buses and we noticed a grumpy looking man shouting at our guide. It turns out we had stopped at the wrong beach - this was a private one and the owner was demanding payment for all of us! We carried on for a few minutes to the correct beach, which was just as beautiful, and also had views of a fascinating dome shaped church on the hillside. This was the furthest point of the trip, and after a little while enjoying the views we headed back along the same road (the island only really has one main road from west to east!), this time with views of the inside of the island - lush rainforest, scattered with small houses, many with family graves in their gardens as is the tradition in these islands. We eventually stopped at a place called Two Dollar Beach (which now costs five dollars to visit due to inflation, but has kept its original name!). Here we were treated to a cultural show, with male and female dancers performing traditional dances telling different stories. It was hosted by the largest man I have ever seen in my life - he was as wide as he was tall, and very proud of it! There were four very fit male dancers who performed much of the show, and for one number they came into the audience to get females to give flowers to - and guess who was chosen?! I accepted my flower happily, and then to my horror was dragged onto the stage area, along with the 3 other chosen women. We were given chairs to sit on and treated to a private dance each by one of the men (maybe it wasn't so horrible after all...!). We were then pulled up and encouraged to copy the moves of the dancers, which involved much squatting and swaying, something my legs struggled with after my legs, bums and tums class the previous day, but apparently I coped better than the others! [JL: photo on Facebook of course!!] I was finally released back to my seat as the show continued. Eventually it was time to go back to the ship. On the journey back we were entertained by our guide who decided to teach us some traditional Samoan songs (which I'm pretty sure we were taught four years ago when we were here!)
When we got back onboard we watched from the balcony as two long canoes set out into the harbour (we were told they were teams from rival schools who were rehearsing for an upcoming towing race). We then went along to one of the pools for the sailaway, which today was a dance special. Both my line dance class and my party dance class were performing some dances, as were the tap dance group and the ballroom dancers. It was really good fun! As we finished, the ship sailed out of the beautiful harbour and we waved goodbye to Pago Pago. We had a late dinner and then went to the show - a comedy magician called Stephen Garcia who was most entertaining. Another wonderful day. :-)