Samoa: First Impressions

Posing in front of the main Apia bus station, dressed in a traditional sulu: men's wraparound sarong.
Posing in front of the main Apia bus station, dressed in a traditional sulu: men’s wraparound sarong.

I have now been in Samoa for one week, and it is quite an adventure. We arrived in Apia, the capital, early in the morning after a 6 hour red-eye flight from Honolulu, and went straight to the University of the South Pacific, our new home. After checking into our rooms, we left for downtown Apia, being dropped off with partners at random points in the city so we could navigate on our own. My new friend Danielle and I were the first to be dropped off, and after walking for a solid forty minutes in the opposite direction, we decided to catch a bus to get downtown, and finally explored the city.

I would like to stop here for a minute and talk about one of the best experiences I have had so far in Samoa: the bus. The busses in Samoa are a real treat for any adventurer.

A view of the inside of one of a bus in Samoa.
A view of the inside of one of a bus in Samoa.

They look almost like brightly decorated school busses on the outside, but on the inside they are made of wood and have open windows, all the while blasting Samoan reggae-pop. The busses are often overcrowded, and when this happens, many Samoans practice what I learned is called “stacking.” Complete strangers may come up to you and sit on your lap (speaking from first-hand experience). It seemed odd at first, but with a good attitude and some humor, you get quite used to it. And with busses picking up anyone on the side of the road who wishes to get on (letting them off wherever as well), and for an extremely cheap rate (about two tala or 1 dollar), why wouldn’t you ride the bus?

More brightly painted busses...
More brightly painted busses…

After getting adjusted to the university, the city, and the transportation, I have come to really love Samoa. The scenery is beautiful, and everyone is extremely friendly and hospitable. Whenever I walk down the road I am continuously greeted by smiling men, women and children who find my broken Samoan and my “palangi” (Westerner) status one of the most amusing things one could imagine. Though it has been quite an adventure, I am now beginning to feel more adjusted to Samoa and the Samoan culture.

And even MORE busses!
And even MORE busses!
The beautiful Upolu coastline from the air.
The beautiful Upolu coastline from the air.
The beautiful Upolu coastline from the air.
The beautiful Upolu coastline from the air.

And even MORE busses!

Ancient Polynesia in Hawaii

Aloha from Hawaii! I cannot believe that week one has already drawn to a close, and even though I have not yet gone abroad to Samoa, (I am in Hawaii right now for a pre-departure orientation), I have already had a wonderful taste of Polynesian culture. On Saturday, my group and I took a tour of the island of O’ahu. Although I love Honolulu, it is nice to finally escape the heat and congestion of the city, and experience some off-the-beaten-track destinations. One of these that we were fortunate enough to visit was the Pu’u O Mahuka Heiau. A heiau is an ancient Hawaiian temple, where people could pray for success in war and agriculture. This heiau had a direct connection to Pele, a Hawaiian volcano goddess. Though many heiaus were destroyed after the introduction of Christianity (especially on the island of O’ahu), the Pu’u O Mahuka Heiau has survived since it was built in the 17th Century. All along the side of the heiau were small rocks with a ti leaf tied around them. When I asked our guide about the significance of this, he said it was an ancient practice that has made a resurgence since the Hawaiian renaissance of the 1970’s where one offers the rock to Pele, and either says a prayer, or makes a wish. It felt truly special being in a place not many tourists in Hawaii are able to go, and I feel that by being able to see a real heiau and ask a local about the significance of it, I was able to better appreciate the native Hawaiian culture on a deeper level.

IMG_2824

IMG_2818

IMG_2810

IMG_2816
An offering to Pele.