I was asked by the Minister of Tourism from the Islands of Samoa if I would visit them to advise if they are ready for the American tourism market. I was honored, and went for an eight day visit. I had been recommended to them as a specialist, a journalist, and had visited most of the South Pacific many times.
All I knew about Samoa, was that it is the closest island to the equator, and an hour from the Kingdom of Tonga.
I flew from Los Angeles to Apia, the capital, and the flight was full of people from Tonga and Samoa returning home from visiting their relatives in the States.
Samoa is 100 years behind some of the other South Pacific destinations, but it was better than I had expected. No posh resorts, high rise buildings, big names, fast food, and no traffic lights, although they did have some paved roads. I inspected 13 hotels on three islands. This is a place you would go to just collapse, and do nothing. There are very few tourists, and those were all New Zealanders. The ocean was the warmest I have ever been in, and I was told you have to be an expert if you want to surf -- the reefs are very dangerous. There was no one on the beaches, and it was hot and humid. The temperature doesn’t change all year, hovering in the high 90’s.
The Samoa culture is strong, and you must wear white on Sunday to go to church. The churches were packed, and you get fined seven pigs if you miss the service. There was wonderful singing and dancing during the service.
There was nothing to buy. The quality of goods in the markets was poor, and the selection of fruit and vegetables was what you expect to find in the tropics. The menu was chicken or fish.
The villages are very segregated. There are large thatched pavilions (fales as they call them) with no walls. Men sleep in one, and women and children in another. They bury their dead in the garden in front of the main pavilion, in large tombs decked out with flowers. Before the missionaries changed their custom, they used to put the deceased in a canoe, set it on fire and push it out to sea.
The ferry between Upolu and Savii was an experience. I went on the new boat, and it was rough for the two-hour journey. The other boat lets islanders take their animals onboard, so it was like Noah’s Ark, with goats, cattle, chickens and everyone sitting on the deck.
The most interesting place to see was the pineapple plantation home of author Robert Louis Stevenson, who lived on Upolu for several years and is buried with his wife on a hill behind his home. It is now a museum.
The nicest hotels were Aggie Grey’s and Sinalei. The owner of Aggie Grey’s was supposedly the model for Bloody Mary in the movie South Pacific. They put on an outstanding show, and Mrs. Grey’s daughter was one of the star dancers. The family made their fortune selling hamburgers to the U.S. Marines stationed on the island in the Second World War. This was a popular destination for the Peace Corps.
The show “Survivor” was filmed here.
Because it’s off the beaten track, there are no bargain packages which include air and accommodation like there are in other parts of the South Pacific, which I think is a drawback. If you have been everywhere else in the South Pacific and want an adventure and a long journey to get there, then by all means try Samoa. The government executives I met with thanked me and said they will rely on getting their tourists from New Zealand and Australia, which are a lot closer.