The spotlight fell unhappily on Samoa when a deadly tsunami struck the tiny South Pacific nation a month ago. But travel editor Susie Boswell suggests it’s still worthwhile saying Talofa (“hello”) to Samoa sometime soon.
The mid-morning refreshments I enjoyed in the restaurant at upmarket Coconuts Beach Resort on the south coast of Samoa’s main island were welcome on a steamy tropical day.
Our host, owner Barry Rose, leased the land for the resort 20 years ago this month. After a tour of his new over-ocean bungalows, known in Samoa as fales, and a stunning honeymoon villa, we drove across the way to Sinalei Reef Resort for a seafood lunch and cool drinks, to inspect its superb oceanfront presidential suite, honeymoon fale and new beauty spa. A notable feature of Coconuts was its robust stonework, much of it volcanic lava rock (pictured, in an alcove at the restaurant entry). At Sinalei the quality of hardwood construction was remarkable in a country where the buildings in general are often, typical in the tropics, flimsy: simple backpackers’ accommodation, for example, is merely a thatched roof over an open wooden platform on sand at the water’s edge.
It’s hard to believe the buildings we stood in were wiped out by the massive tsunami that struck Samoa a month ago, horrible to reflect on the terrible loss of lives of so many locals, some just infants, as well as Australian women visiting the two resorts, and on the terrible effects on so many souls.
I was a guest in Samoa of Polynesian Blue, Virgin Blue’s sister airline. We stayed at the famous Aggie Grey’s – at the original hotel and at its newer lagoon resort; we drank and dined with charming young Aggie Grey, grand daughter of the original hotelier, who hosted the likes of Marlon Brando and James Michener in the room we stayed in; we toured Robert Louis Stevenson’s house, climbed to mountain waterfalls, cycled on the neighbouring isle, Savai’i. One paramount impression was of Samoa’s narrow winding roads and the fact that a huge immovable pig was often standing in the middle as we rounded a bend. Another was of a deeply religious people with big families and their common custom of erecting crypts in their front gardens, where dead relatives repose … ever part of the family, as it were. (Still another impact was the preponderance of German tourists: western Samoa is a former German protectorate and many Germans still visit here).
Samoa’s the best part of a day behind Australian eastern time: it was just before dawn here when the earthquake and tsunami hit, shortly before 8am local time when the thundering tidal waves belted the stuffing out of the Samoan shoreline and all in their path. Sose Annandale, gm of Sinalei, our host there, lost her sister-in-law Tui, the owner’s wife, in the tragedy.
But let’s not write off Samoa as a destination.
Located close to the equator with an equable year-round climate, it’s a politically stable country where English is widely spoken, neatness and cleanliness are the order of the day and smiles, normally, the lingua franca. A flying time of around four hours ex Sydney makes the journey a comfy hop.
Why suggest Samoa when it has just been so devastated? For one thing, news reports indicated to me that the resorts I’d visited were laid flat, never to rise again – yet when I visited their websites to send a goodwill message I found courageous postings by management updating visitors on the exact extent of the damage, advisory notes for intending guests, and promises that the resorts would be operating again as soon as possible. The information I’d got via the TV news was not completely correct.
This is one of those times when travel agents come into their own. If you’re looking for a budget-priced honeymoon or holiday and want to help our Pacific neighbours get back on their feet, keep an eye out for special Samoa deals. Tsunami aside, I’d recommend anyway confirming with an agent that the accommodation you choose offers a standard of food you’re happy with. Some of the taro selections I tried at some budget hotels didn’t suit me, but other travellers found the indigenous menus fine. Samoa doesn’t have the same experience with internatonal tourists as, say, Fiji … but it certainly has the friendliness and charm – and it would nice to see those Samoan smiles spread wide again.
Story by Susie Boswell.