Bati Bleki for November 12

SAMOA THE TREASURED ISLANDS OF THE SOUTH FACIFIC. So the last time we spoke I was in Sydney Australia, admiring the nicely sculpted legs of Aussie joggers. On our last day in the city we took a ferry from Circular Quay to Manley beach, which is an hour away at the mouth of the giant harbor facing the Tasman Sea, the birthplace of surfing. We sat on a bench and watched the novices attempt to get on their boards, at this quaint and charming Key West-like town, with a long sea-side promenade. They dry practice, on land, even before getting wet. If surfing is your thing, Manley Beach is a good starting point! The following day we flew Virgin Samoa to a legendary place, in the Pacific Ocean, half way between Hawaii and New Zealand, just below the equator, Samoa, ten little islands which to this day adhere totally and completely to the Polynesian lifestyle, Bida Dushi, or in the soft and sweet language of the island, Samoa Fa’a. Just to give you an idea of the language: Tuilaepa Fatialofa Sailele Lupesoliai Matielegaoi is the name of the Prime Minster & the Minister of Tourism.

TALOFA LAVA, WELCOME TO PARADISE. We got a first taste of what it’s like, landing at 6am in the Faleole International Airport which reminded us of Aruba, forty years ago. The customs & immigration people, in flip flops and tattoos, were wearing what looked like longish dark blue skirts. Later we figured that sarongs rule. In the street, in bed, in the ocean, the Samoans wear hand-printed, what we would call batik wraps, lavalavas; and on official duty and on Sundays to church, lavalavas with pockets – what we saw the officials at the airport wear, straight mid-calf skirts, tied/tucked around the waist. Unabashed Mariza Garcia asked. Yes, of course. They are wearing shorts underneath. Our barefoot taxi driver in a colorfully printed lavalava delivered us to the Ministry of Tourism, located in the heart of Apia, the main town, there we waited in the shade of the coconut tree for the office to open at 8am, to see Josie, a lady with a fresh flower in her hair, an official with the Samoa Hotel Association who in ten minutes gave us a crash course for an unusual island experience.

VAIALA BEACH, ON UPOLO. We stayed in simple cabanas right next to the beach, and the Palolo Marine Reserve, filled with tropical fish like we’ve never seen before. When you think about accommodations in Samoa, think Easter camping in Aruba, and you got the picture. The Samoans live in Fales, open, raised-off-the-ground, wood and thatch-roof huts, and so do the tourists. Life here unfolds in full view of your neighbors and your ever-so-important village. This is a tightly-knit society of 180.000 people, living in 362 identical villages, blessed with over 400 assorted churches — Iesu Keriso enjoys a super strong presence here — and possibly one chief, one Matai, for every ten people. And the Matai who are the elders, rule; upholding the unscheduled, unrushed and unhurried, siesta-laced life style, where climbing a tree to fetch a coconut is considered a satisfying, full-afternoon activity. No internet, no computers, no flat screen TVS, no chocolate, no cookies, no Diet Coke. No airco! We left our camp every morning in our flip flops and lavalavas, to explore what always looks like a Jurasic Park movie set, the island is so lush and green and flowering. Cayenas grow like trees, and trees stick their heads up in the blue-blue sky. Gorgeous. Simple amazing. While the Fales are bare, with just skinny rubber mattresses under mosquito nets, the gardens are rich and luxurious. And the Samoans are dedicated weeders. They whack their gardens with a passion, as cutting the grass is a national sport, you can watch it grow here, nature is so abundant.  We ate papaya, mango and coco every day, fresh fish, eggs, corned beef, and taro chips, taro cake, taro bread and taro loaf. Their ceviche, yum, called Oka, marinates delicate fish in lemon juice, coconut cream, salt and onions. Incidentally, I found out that Taro, we call it here Elephant Ear, has been growing on my patio for years, and I never knew we could eat it!

RUGBY, NOT FOR SISSIES. Mariza dragged us to watch the finals of the Marist Samoa International 7’s Series, a yearly two-day event sponsored by the local beer company, Vailima, with 24 teams. These people are tough, and they are playing a brutal contact sport with no protective gear! The DJ spun Neil Diamond’s Sweet Caroline for the award presentation, when the Green Machine won the trophy, followed by Tom Jones’ Delilah, and ABBA’s Money, Money, Money. They just love Karaoke style music in Samoa!

LAUIULA BEACH FALES IN SAVAII. We caught an old ferry, you know the type you always see capsized in cyclone storms or tsunamis to go to Savaii, an even prettier island. Mariza said I sounded and looked like Rain Man without my iPhone and iPad. I must admit, I felt a bit lost, a bit disoriented, all that wholesome food and unspoiled nature, fresh air, and zero noise, resulted in true sensory deprivation!

GRATITUDE. In the movie Intolerable Cruelty, divorce lawyer George Clooney explains that the gold digging Catherine Zeta-Jones found her silly billionaire husband with the help of a third party. Clooney sets out to find her helper, her Norgay Tensing, the man who helped her, like the Sherpa without whom Sir Edmund Hillary could not have conquered Mount Everest.  Mariza Garcia and Guy Nardin were my guides without whom I would have never made it to Samoa. Thank you for the waterfall, blowholes, lava fields, beaches and gentle mythological-size giants we’ve met, truly the sweetest people on the planet.