Sunday, May 1, 2011

What did the monster say after he ate Fiji?...

Well, April 13 in Australia was pretty crazy. And by crazy, I mean long and uneventful. We got to the airport at about 8:15 am because we didn’t want Nicole to go by herself (and she had an earlier flight). There, we met up with Anna and sat at the airport waiting for our 6:35 pm flight. It really wasn’t too bad. I got some blogging done, and luckily, Sydney airport offers free wi-fi (unlike freaking Auckland airport. That place is wack.) It really wasn’t too painful though. Those 10 hours actually went by pretty quickly—it’s amazing what free wi-fi will do for you.
Hungry Jack's - the Australian Burger King
We finally got on our flight at 6:35 and were off to Auckland. We arrived at 11:30pm Auckland time, and sat around (wishing we had free wi-fi) for 7 hours waiting for our 6:30 am flight to Samoa.

Those 7 hours went by surprisingly fast, and I wasn’t even tired. I didn’t even bother trying to sleep and when we boarded the plane I was unusually awake and excited. Of course, I started watching a movie, and I was out like a light after just a few minutes. Apparently, I was really tired after all. Unfortunately, I was on an airplane, so that sleep only lasted me about 35 minutes and then I was awake again and not able to fall asleep the rest of the flight. Once we got closer to Samoa, Nancy and I looked out the window and saw the gorgeous water and the island off in the distance. It was pretty exciting! I had never seen something so beautiful!

Such a tiny airport!
Pilots in lava lavas

When the plane landed, we were welcomed into the tiniest airport I’ve ever seen (yes, tinier than Long Beach) by some very friendly lava-lava-wearing, barefooted Samoans. When we got to the baggage claim, we were greeted by live Samoan music right there in the baggage claim! We exchanged our money (which was fun because the exchange rate is AWESOME! 1 WST (Western Samoa Tala) equals about 44 cents, so we basically got double of whatever we exchanged. It felt pretty good. Haha. After we had our money and our bags, we went through customs, which consisted of telling a girl that we had some candy in our bags and then we were on our way! We got outside and found a shuttle that would take us in to Apia where our motel was, and he gave us a deal since we were smiley and cute Americans. It only cost us 15 WST (about 6 USD) each for the 45 minute drive from the airport to our hotel. That was pretty exciting. We took one main road the whole way, and our driver honked and waved at literally every person we passed. It was pretty funny. He also gave us a ton of info about everything we were passing by which was pretty interesting. He pointed out his house, his garden, and his church. And when we passed by the temple, he pointed it out and said “This is Salt Lake City, Samoa—they are the richest church on the island.” He was great. We got to our hotel, and extended our booking for the rest of the 4 nights we’d be here (because initially we’d only booked 1 night) and then lugged our bags up the stairs and got settled in our rooms. The rooms were surprisingly nice—each room had a double and a twin bed, a fridge, TV, and a private bathroom.  They were also air conditioned which was AMAZING considering it is 90 degrees and extremely humid every day (and yes, this is their fall/winter now).
Once we had got settled in, we got changed into our togs and were off to find internet and the beach. The lady in the office of our motel told us how to get there, but because there are no street signs or addresses, it was a little tough. We found the internet, but for some reason, we decided not to buy cards to use back at the hotel (probably because it was a little more expensive than we were hoping). But after we had used our 10 minutes in the café to email our families, we were off to the beach.

Finding the beach on an island should be a simple task, but in Apia, beach is a very loose term. After walking about 45 minutes around the harbor, we reached the “Palolo Beach Reserve” which cost 2 WST to enter. We reluctantly paid the $2 (which is really only like 88 cents) and we went in to the beach. Again, it wasn’t quite what we were expecting. There was no sand—just rocks and broken shells and coral. Walking barefoot was pretty painful, but we put our stuff down and got in the water. The water felt amazing and there were a ton of fish swimming around us. We swam and floated around for a while, and then we were decided to look through our tour book to see if there was anything close-by we should check out. We found out that there was indeed a beach just east of where we were called Vaiala Beach. So we packed up our stuff and set out to find this Vaiala Beach.

We walked, and walked, and walked a little more until we came upon a little motel and the Vaiala Beach Cottages. This is when we realized that Vaiala beach was not much of a beach. There was no sand, and it just wasn’t at all what we were expecting. So we turned around and decided to head back to town. At this point, we were being followed by 2 stray dogs, and it was making us a little nervous. We tried to shoe them away, but they just followed us. The kept following us all the way into town (about a 40 minute walk) and on the way, some other stray dogs tried to attack them and we were right in the middle. It was pretty scary… We finally got into town and went into the tourism office just West of the Harbor.  Our new dogs waited patiently outside the door for us for about 35 minutes. We talked to one of the ladies in the tourism office for a while and she gave us some good ideas of what to do while we’re here so we started back to our motel. We stopped for McDonald’s on the way (which is even cheaper than McDonald’s at home, but unfortunately, doesn’t offer free wi-fi).

Of course, because of the lack of street signs and the roundabout way we had taken to get to town to begin with, we were a little lost. Everywhere we walked, there were men cat calling, whistling, and yelling “Hey blondie” to us. It was making us all a little nervous and since we didn’t know where we were going, we were starting to get a little scared. Random guys driving taxis pulled over every minute asking us if we wanted rides. Knowing they were only interested in ripping us off because we are American, we turned them down and continued walking. It took us about an hour to find our motel when it should only be a 20 minute walk and when we got inside, we all went into one room and broke down crying. At this point, none of us wanted to be here anymore. Samoa was nothing like we expected and we were all homesick, scared, and uncomfortable being here. We talked for a while about what we should do, and we decided to try and find a way to get an earlier flight. Of course, none of us had bought internet, so there was no way we could get any information as to how to get home. It was an awful evening with all of us just crying and wanting to go home. We said a prayer together and decided that we would get some sleep and in the morning, we could get internet and find our way home.

The next morning, we woke up and decided to go to the temple. Luckily, this is only about a 20 minute walk from our hotel, and it is just down one main road, so we didn’t even get lost. We got to the temple and talked to the man at the front desk who hardly spoke English. But we figured out that if we wanted to do baptisms, we would have to come back a few hours later. So we headed over to the mission home to try to get some information about where to go to church on Sunday, and to get a phone number of someone we could call if we got into trouble. We ran into a missionary—Elder Merrell from Salt Lake City, UT and he gave us a ton of information. He told us we could fill our water bottles in the mission home (because they have filtered water, unlike most of the country) and gave us his phone number in case we needed anything. Just as we were about to leave, a girl in her mid-late twenties pulled up and asked us if we wanted to tour the island with her. We were so relieve to find someone who was not only wanting to help us, but was female, and LDS. It was wonderful. So we hopped in the car with her and found out she works for a tourism company. She gave us a pretty good deal on some tours and we booked tours with her for the rest of our time here. She drove us back to our motel to get our togs and then we were off to the Sliding Rocks.

The Sliding Rocks were pretty much amazing. We got there, and after going down about a million stairs, there were 5 waterfalls going into these really deep pools and it was all surrounded by lush, green, jungle. Luckily, there were some local high school-aged girls there, because all 4 of us were scared to go down the waterfalls. They showed us how it’s done, and we bravely went down. All I could think about was the fact that our international health insurance was expired, and that if anything happened to one of us, we would have to climb back up a million stairs to get help. But it turned out to be a lot of fun! And aside from a few scratches and bruises from the rocks, we were all fine. We stayed there for a few hours and then Tina picked us up and took us to the temple.

We got to the temple, and the second counselor of the temple presidency was at the front desk. We were so relieved that he spoke English so well, and we got right in to the baptistry. There was a huge group of youth there already doing baptisms, so we just got in with their group.  After we did the confirmations, we talked to the priesthood that were doing the confirmations. Turns out, their group was from American Samoa, and one of the men actually used to live in Carson! He played basketball at El Camino and was excited to hear that I was from Torrance. But he wasn’t nearly as excited as I was to hear some familiar names.

Doing baptisms, all of us felt so much better. We all felt so at home in the temple, and I was so grateful we were able to do that. It was definitely much needed. After we finished, Tina picked us up and gave us a ride back to town so we could get internet and dinner. The internet café was closed, but we were got McDonald’s again and headed back—this time with some directions—to our motel. We even made it without getting lost! Tina was supposed to pick us up later for institute, but she was running on Samoan time, so she was very late. 45 minutes late in fact. When she got here though, she told us institute had been cancelled because of an activity they were going to have later in the week, so she said she could take us somewhere else if we wanted. But we all decided we would rather just relax in the motel for the evening. So we thanked her, and told her we’d see her at 9am the next day for our tour.

It was a great evening of relaxation and fun. We all sat in one room again and wrote in our journals and talked for a while. It was so nice to just sit and talk. Once we had all finished our journals, we decided to pop some popcorn and watch Hot Rod on Anna’s computer. That movie never fails to put me in a better mood. All in all, Thursday was a MUCH better day than Wednesday had been…

Friday morning we woke up to have breakfast and get ready for our 9am tour of the island. We got a phone call from Tina around 8:30 telling us that our pick-up time had been postponed to 12:30. We were a little annoyed about this because we had already paid for a full-day tour, but none of us were in the mood to argue about it. So we just accepted it and decided to go into town for internet. By now, we were experts in finding our way around the town. So we went straight to the internet café, and even stopped off at the flea market on the way home. There wasn’t a whole lot we wanted to buy there, but we did get some fans and Anna and I bought beads to put in the windshields of our cars. That was pretty exciting. Everything is super cheap too, so it felt great not shelling out tons of money for souvenirs.

After the market, we headed back to the motel and just laid in our air-conditioned rooms waiting for 12:30 to roll around. Just as we were starting to worry that she wasn’t coming and that she’d scammed us out of a ton of money, she showed up. She took us to this really good Samoan BBQ for lunch and we ate about twice as much as we’ve eaten for the rest of the trip collectively. It was wonderful. Haha. Then, we were off to our activities.

The drive alone was magnificent. We were right on the coast and surrounded by green and it was just glorious looking at the beauty of it all.

We stopped off at a beach and we went swimming for a while. It was so warm! It felt wonderful.

After that, we went and saw a really beautiful waterfall and took lots of pictures.

Then, we went to this way cool cave pool place that was actually kind of scary when you went inside… but it felt really nice and it was gorgeous.

On the drive home, I was just so content staring at the ocean. I loved it! We got home and had another fun but relaxing evening hanging out at watching “So I Married an Axe Murderer.” It was wonderful! I’m so glad we came here and I’m having such a wonderful time!

Saturday was a day full of crazy adventures. Tina picked us up at 4:30 am and we caught the 6 am ferry to Savai’i—the big island of Samoa. It was a very long ferry ride (almost 2 hours) but we saw a beautiful sunrise on the way, so it was totally worth it.

When we got to Savai’I, we got a rental van and drove on the coastal main road towards the swimming turtles. It was gorgeous along that road—the water was the most beautiful bright turquoise and the sand was bright white. It was incredible!

When we got to the swimming turtles, we had to pay 5 WST (about $2) to get in (deal of the century!). We were pretty excited, and only a little bit nervous to swim with them. As always, Tina was in a bit of a rush, so we hurried and got some good pictures and we were on our way. It was pretty legit.

Next, we stopped at a gorgeous beach to swim for a while. The water was so warm and the view was just breathtaking. It looked like a backdrop! I could hardly believe I was really there!

After that, we drove through the lava fields and went to this gorgeous waterfall that you can swim right up to. It was way cool and the water felt great!

Then, we had Samoan BBQ for lunch again and we headed back for the ferry.

We all decided to lie in the sun on the top of the ferry for the ride back and I quickly fell asleep. It was a great nap and it made the ride go by so much faster.

We got back to our motel at about 4:30pm—exactly 12 hours after we’d left. What a day!

Sunday we got to go to church in a Samoan ward. It was really cool listening to all the meetings in another language, and the feeling I had there was yet another reminder that the church is true everywhere in the world. It was incredible.

The next morning, we were off to the airport for another ridiculously long day of travelling and we made it safe and sound to LA at 3pm on Tuesday. 

All in all, it was a wonderful trip and I'm glad I was given the opportunity to see these beautiful countries. Memories were made there that I will NEVER forget!