Saturday 5 February 2011

Pago Pago, American Samoa

Pago Pago (pronounced Pango Pango) is the main town on the island of Tutuilia, in American Samoa.  It’s situated in the South Pacific, and is officially in the middle of nowhere.  We’re quite lucky to stop there, only around 8 cruise ships stop every year, and the number of tourists is relatively few.  Nevertheless we had a great day, although we did very little.  All told, there isn’t much sight seeing to be done here, and all the ship excursions were very similar, so we decided to appreciate the beauty of the island and the people as much as possible.  Before leaving, I’d read about a small bar and so with no better suggestions, Katie and I, along with Trevor and Jean, who also had no other plans, decided to venture over there.

After a couple of false starts with taxis and local buses, we found a chap with a bus who agreed to take us for a fixed price which sounded reasonable.  His bus, like all of them, had basic wooden benches with no padding and very few other creature comforts apart from a banging stereo complete with subwoofer and substantial amplifier.  It played UB40 that would have made the windows rattle if there had been any.  We paid him up front, and he headed off in the direction we thought was correct.  Then he turned around.  After much discussion, and map consultation, we found that the guy who lived on the island, was correct!  The drive took about 30 minutes, and passed some stunning scenery.  Evidence of the Boxing Day tsunami which struck in 2009 was still there.  We’d be told to set our expectations low, but it wasn’t that bad, just the odd derelict building, no worse than Barbados on a good day.  I’m sure the physical scars were the easiest to see and to repair.

We found Tisa’s Barefoot Bar in the small village of Alega.  I’d read about it online before we left the UK, it was recommended on TripAdvisor as the number 1 thing to do in American Samoa, out of 3 other things.  Tisa’s bar was lucky not to be badly affected by the tsunami despite it being directly on the beach.  The south west facing beach meant that the waves bypassed it.

It was a magical place, both from its sheer natural beauty but also because the moment we stepped under the wooden arch and descended into the open air bar, we felt immediately at home and relaxed.  The wooden structure, all built by Tisa’s partner, sat right on the beach, with thick rainforest jungle on the other side, it made for some beautiful views.  There were 2 other customers there when we arrived – Ian and Suzie also from our ship, and 2 guys building a traditional Polynesian oven.  They were using hot rocks to cook the food and then covering the whole thing with big banana leaves to keep the heat in.  We were told this was going to be our lunch when it was ready in a few hours.

For the next few hours, we relaxed on the beach, and swam and snorkeled in the sea.  We couldn’t venture too far out, because there were some strong currents and large waves, but the fish kept us amused, as did the occasional heavy down pour.  The first caught us out while I was taking pictures, but we were both in the sea for the next one, and just sat it out as the rain lashed down around us.  The rain was warmer than the sea and we were wet anyway.  We were the only 2 people on the beach, everyone else was standing “inside” at the bar, sheltering underneath the banana leaf roof.

Lunch was served at 1pm, after everyone had woven their own plates from leaves.  It consisted of everything that had been cooked in the hot rock oven.  We had Papaya, Banana and “Bread Fruit”.  These were the staples.  Then to accompany these, we had Prawns, Lamb, Chicken, Octopus and various coconut based sauces and mixtures.  It was all eaten with our hands out of our veggie plates.  Sometimes, you get the feeling that all this cooking and demonstrations are purely there for the tourist experience, but I genuinely felt that this was as authentic as it gets.  After speaking with Tisa over lunch, we found out that they live there, and treat the bar almost like an open house.  The number of visitors that they get means that it’s not a big commercial operation, more a way of life.

The day finished too quickly, and Tony our private tour guide had turned up to take us back to the harbor.   It rained again as we got off the bus in Pago Pago and we had to shelter in various places to avoid getting drenched.  The rain came down for about 20 minutes, and created streams of water where the roads used to be.  The market stalls that had been set up for our benefit on the docks had water running through them, but the locals didn’t seem to mind.  Overall, I have to say, the experience of today was one of the best we’ve had so far.  It’s always nice to do something off our own backs rather than jump on a pre-organised tour, it gives you more of a sense of achievement!  The Samoan people were so very friendly and helpful. We heard a lot of stories from other passengers about complete strangers helping them to find their way, point them in the right direction etc.  Our innate western suspicions of foreign taxi’s ripping you off, or taking you to the wrong place were completely misplaced here, the local people could not have been more friendly.  From speaking with Tisa, I think it comes from a deep rooted cultural respect for each other.  Even the kids held the doors open for us.

We’ll put some pictures from Pago Pago online soon. 

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