At the time I visited, Samoa (a polynesian group of islands, about 1500kms south of the Equator), was known as Western Samoa and American Samoa.
After a 5 hour flight from Australia, I arrived in Apia (the capital). I was fortunate to be able to stay at the historic Aggie Greys hotel. Aggie Greys sits on the harbour, and dates back to 1933, when Aggie Grey first opened a business. When the marines became customers in the 1940’s she started serving them hamburgers and hot dogs, and her legendary status in the Pacific was born.
To read more about Aggie, an absolutely incredible lady with so much drive and dignity:
In traditional colonial style architecture, the building proudly dominates the landscape. (This photo dates back to when I stayed some years ago, but it is now managed by Sheraton (rebuilt and renovated,relaunched under their brand in 2016, following terrible cyclone damage that destroyed much of the building in 2012)
With Samoa's tropical climate, the humidity was so high that by day 3, I learned that if I was to survive I needed to get up very very early to get my exploring underway. I would set off exploring at 7am, and then by late morning when the heat was more than I could bare, I would return to Aggies for morning tea, English style, white wood panelling, closed shutters and overhead fan.
Speaking as a self confessed cat lady, I was surprised but not unhappy to discover a multitude of cats wandering the hotel unfettered. Even in the dining area with my evening meal, I would feel a cat brush against my legs. Apparently, Aggie Grey was a great cat lover, and the cats held esteemed and protected status at the hotel. I wonder if it is still the same under the Sheraton umbrella or has this now stopped?
A wonderful thing about Apia was the lack of tourism development. In the township the bustling locals filled the streets. A feature of the city was the buses, bright hues and filled to the brim with passengers. The CBD was coloured both by distinctive architecture and the friendliness of the local people. More than once I was approached by the locals and invited to a meal with the family.
I now regret not stepping into the local McDonalds, if only to see the local flavour and any adaptations to the menu.
The local style of housing, the fale, was new to my eyes, coming from western culture with its ever increasingly growing in size, brick homes. The fales were round, with a domed roof and supported by posts at the side. As we drove by in the bus, I could see the bright colours of the TVs glimmer (as there were no walls, a bamboo blind would be lowered depending on weather conditions.). The local favoured transport also seemed to be the Pick Up, new to me then as Australia at that time had its ute, a lower and smaller version.
Robert Louis Stevenson, the famous writer of Treasure Island and The Strange Case of Dr Jekyl and Mr Hyde was quite an identity here. He had the misfortune of a history of bad health (thought perhaps to be tuberculosis), and left Scotland in search of warmer climates that might help his wellbeing. He eventually moved to Samoa, and built his home where he lived, and died here at the young age of 44.
His home has been restored, and opened as a museum. His life is fascinating and it is well worth reading more about him.
A 4km journey by boat across calm waters took us to Manono Island. Amazingly on this journey, there were other Australians who happened to be very good friends of my very good friend, from a small country town in the goldfields of Victoria.
There are 4 villages on Manono, and approx 800 residents, living in open air fales. Here I enjoyed a wonderful presentation of traditional customs such as cooking and weaving.
The Return to Paradise movie was filmed on Samoa in 1953. It starred Gary Cooper and told the story of a drifter and his clashes with a missionary and his impact on a remote Polynesian island. The magnificent scenery of Samoa served as an authentic backdrop and Islander villagers were used in the scenes, although apparently their relaxed approach to life led to some challenges during the filming!
Samoa was a true journey to unspoilt Polynesian life, where natural beauty, tradition and the charm of the people holds steadfast, and remains one of the most treasured places I have ever had privilege of visiting.