Einstein, upon hearing our plane had propellers, opted to stay grounded and invited his friend Mark over to hang out and go to the beach. I suspect he needed “me” time. He seemed to have missed us some though when we got back.
We set off on Saturday morning instead of Friday after work, as the flights are less than flexible. We meet up with some friends at the airport and were in the air by 10 am. We had been forewarned about some crazy in-flight phenomena when the air was turned on. If I hadn’t been warned I would definitely have been in a panic kicking myself for not packing my pocket fire extinguisher “just in case.” Here’s a video so you can experience it firsthand.
The flight was fun because you could actually see our island from above. The flights in and out of Pago to Hawaii are at night so you don’t get to see where you’ve just moved to, when you come in.
We all broke out into applause when the plane managed to land on the tiny swath of dirt hacked out of the jungle that passes as a landing strip. O.K., actually, it’s a regular landing strip, just incredibly tiny and because you are in a tiny plane (which by the way is their “big” plane-the small one apparently has benches instead of seats) you can see the landing strip over the pilots shoulder.
We were greeted by the airport staff-who are also the Vaoto Lodge staff. At the lodge, we were shown our bungalow. Basic accommodations, but clean and the beds are comfortable. Oh, and your view is the ocean. We threw on our bathing suits and jumped into the ocean in front of the lodge. Later, we headed to the National Park Service of American Samoa beaches down the road to do the same thing.
The water was crystalline. You couldn’t believe you were in water. The picture of my feet is underwater! You could see fish swimming around you while bobbing in the water. I bought an Aquapac, which you are supposed to be able to take water shots with, but I wasn’t too skilled with it yet, but there are few fun pictures, just no underwater coral and fish.
The coral is so incredibly healthy. There are nice stands of coral around Tutuila but there is a lot of bleaching and coral death from a starfish invasion years ago. Oh and pollution and global warming probably hasn’t helped much. There is also very little perfect white beach sand in Tutuila, that’s because it’s all in Ofu. It is soft as powder and there are miles of it.
The view is fabulous with the unique mountains there. The place is barely inhabited and as it is untamed you can see why the place has a reputation for ghosts (aitu). Another visitor heard her voice being called from the forest. She said the island’s ghosts were said to only come out after noon, not in traditional night hauntings. I wondered if there was any coincidence in that heat stroke sets in around that time as well. Probably not.
There are few cars on island. Really, you can walk anywhere you want to go. I went running both days on the road, only being passed a couple of times. The lodge dogs accompanied me on my second day, viciously chasing the one or two trucks that dared to pass us.
We did hire the lodge truck for our adventure to “The Bridge”. In between Olosega and Ofu there is, yes you guessed it, a bridge. And this bridge is known for its jumping. Now, I am not a heights sort of person, so I swore I wasn’t going to jump off any darn bridge. One rum and coke, a little sun, and a whole lot of group encouragement and the next thing I know I am on a bridge, holding Markus’s hand and looking over the edge of a barrier meant to keep people on the other side of it. Here’s a video of the grand event. And great news, I’m not paralyzed from the waist down! Yippee. (the picture of the water we jumped into I stole (uh, hem borrowed) from Aaron.
I saw my first reef sharks after our adventure at the bridge. They were in very shallow water in front of the lodge. They were about four feet long and had black fins, none too surprisingly my field guide identifies it as Black Tip Reef Shark. It was exciting. I ran to get Markus, who immediately broke into a sprint, flinging backpack to the ground, and donning fins and mask in a running Superman-type change, flinging himself into the water, to see the sharks. Who immediately disappeared. Too bad. I was hoping to see some Ace Ventura action, “That’s NOT snowball!” I didn't get any pictures either.
As every review of a stay at Vaoto Lodge reports: the food rocks. Large helpings of comfort food. We brought a bunch of produce with us and they did us up good. Ooooooh, and the chocolate cake, I wish I’d eaten more.
The rest of the time was spent resting, reading, playing games (luckily we went with folks who can appreciate a lively game of Apples to Apples). The others, being young and able to stay up past 9pm enjoyed stargazing (when the skies are clear the stars are amazing) and skinny dipping. The boys were also able to rustle up a bonfire on the beach which, despite my cola, I was only able to enjoy for 10 minutes before I fell into a comatose state.
It was a great place to be. Multiple times I caught myself thinking, “I wish this was how life was on Tutuila.” I probably would go crazy with boredom but the idea of being on a virtually carless, garbageless, and cannery-less island is very appealing. Anyone who makes it to American Samoa to visit us, will get a free visit to Ofu from me, because after flying all the way here you can’t miss Ofu.
Here are a couple Ofu blogs from friends that went with: Weaver and Aaron.