Friday, August 26, 2011

Vailima Brewery

 Notice Our Very Stylish Footwear!

In the Samoa Visitor Guide, a  4”x8”, 100-some-odd-paged color pamphlet filled with advertising and things to do and see in Western Samoa, I found the entry for the Vailima Brewery.  It said that while no formal tours are available, if you call the brewery they will arrange a tour.  The receptionist spoke English but with a very heavy Samoan accent so it was difficult to understand her.  I did understand that she wanted me to send a letter requesting a tour to which I sputtered that we were on yachts, just visiting for a few days and departing soon.  She then asked if we could come next week and I repeated that we would be gone by then.  She then asked if I wanted to talk with Production or Engineering and I said whoever could arrange a tour.  After being on hold for too long, she came back on the line and asked me to call back later.  I persisted and was finally granted a tour at 3pm that afternoon.

Ruthie, Corie and I plus two other couples from other boats climbed into a 10-passenger taxi, with me riding shotgun in the left seat.  The driver’s name was Rambo.  We arrived at the brewery a few minutes early which was a good thing as they were disappointed that all of us were wearing flip-flops (everybody wears flip-flops in Samoa) – safety rules require steel-toed shoes inside the brewery.  No worries, though, they brought out very fashionable steel-toed shoes for everyone, along with fluorescent-colored safety vests – also required.  If the plant was in the production mode, we’d also need hard hats and safety goggles but they had met their target so the production side was shut down for the weekend.  We still had to wear hearing protection inside, though.

Our tour guide was Iki (pronounced ‘Icky’) and she is also one of the plant’s microbiologists.  By no means a large brewery – compared to many – it still employs over 130 people and runs 24 hours per day.  They also bottle Coke, Sprite and Fanta on the same production line as their beer.  Unfortunately, no photographs were allowed to be taken inside the brewery and I missed some great shots of the mammoth tanks that hold the wort, grind the malt and age the ‘bright’ beer.

At one point, Iki opens a valve at the bottom of a large, cone-shaped vat and into her hand pours a tan-colored goo – the yeast they add to the sugared wort which feeds on the sugar and converts it into carbon dioxide and alcohol.  It tastes sweet.  Towards the end of the tour, we stop in Iki’s lab (where she spends most of her time) and she pours us all a taste of Vailima Lager.  It has a mild hop flavor, a slight earthy aftertaste and an alcohol content of 4.9% - the maximum allowed by Western Samoan law.  However, they also brew a lager for export which has an alcohol content of 6.7%, which I like much better.  We bought five cases of the Export in American Samoa before we left there.

Once the tour was over, I had the receptionist call Rambo to pick us back up.  The seven of us stopped at the little restaurant across from the marina for, what else?  A cold Vailima.  Which turned into two cold Vailimas and was then followed by an excellent serving of fish and chips.  On our way back to Rutea, we stopped to chat with Christof and Helena on Valentina, a 36’ Bavaria from Finland.  They convinced us to come aboard and have a gin and tonic with them.  With a smile and a wink, Christof said he doesn’t believe in canals so they sailed around Cape Horn to get to the South Pacific.  They plan on sailing around the Cape of Good Hope to get back to Finland.

Three boats left this morning for Savai’I, the largest of the Western Samoan islands.  I was kind of curious as to how they were doing so I called Whistling Oyster on the VHF.  “We’ve got easterly winds, 20-30 knots and big, confused seas,” said Martin, “but other than that, it’s not too bad.”  We’re going to wait to leave here until Wednesday when the weather is forecast to be milder.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Western Samoa vs American Samoa

After an easy overnight sail, we arrived in Apia, Western Samoa, this morning.  I guess sometime in the late 90s, they decided to drop the ‘Western’ prefix but everyone still refers to it as ‘Western Samoa’.  The first obvious difference is that here there’s a marina, complete with new docks that have all the conveniences of home, e.g., power, water, showers, etc.  Once tied up, we were visited by five different representatives of the various governmental agencies that claim to have an interest in our arrival:  Quarantine, Health, Port Authority, Customs and Immigration.  I lost count as to how many forms we had to fill out – part of the reason for that is I didn’t have one particular form from American Samoa so I had to follow the representative from Customs to his headquarters and explain (plead) my situation to the Assistant Chief Executive Officer.  Perhaps she saw that by the dirt beneath my nails I wouldn’t lie so she gave me a break and didn’t fine me.  Hallelujah!

We walked from the marina through the city of Apia, getting cash at an ATM (the Samoan tala is equal to $.44USD), stopping to peruse the flea market and the public market, both very interesting experiences.   Of course, we nearly got hit by cars several times as we’re not used to cars driving on the left side of the road.  After walking in the heat (it’s very hot here – after all, we’re only 13 degrees south of the equator) for what seemed like forever, we arrived back at the boat, just in time for late afternoon cocktails.  While sipping a refreshing iced beverage, I thought about the differences between American Samoa and Western Samoa.

In ways, they could be twin brother and sister (geologically, that might be an accurate analogy) as they both look similar from a natural history perspective.  But from my point of view, from a sociological perspective, they’re almost as different as night and day.  For one thing, the people look different as the American Samoans are much larger and heavier then their Western Samoan cousins appears to be.  But they also act differently.  The American Samoans, while friendly, don’t seem to be as industrious or interested.  On the other hand, we had hardly stepped out of the marina gates in Apia when a taxi driver stopped us on the road, acted like he was our long lost friend, and proceeded to hustle us for a driving gig.  This confrontational approach happened several times during our short tour, eliminating the possibility of an isolated aggressive individual.

The streets are clean and well-kept in Western Samoa while in American Samoa trash lines almost everything.  Western Samoa has five-story modern buildings while the Rainmaker Hotel, once the premier hotel in American Samoa, lies abandoned four years after it was destroyed by fire.  There’s an organized downtown in Apia, Western Samoa, with sidewalk cafes and upscale stores.  Many people in American Samoa think McDonalds and Pizza Hut are about as good as it gets.  In American Samoa we could barely get our anchors to hold due to all the trash on the bottom of the harbor and in Western Samoa we’re tied up to a slip in a modern marina that’s even equipped with fire hoses – I used one to wash down the boat!

So, from my limited observations, I see it this way:  Western Samoa is the twin sister who’s smart, fashionable and career-minded.  American Samoa is the twin brother who still lives at home, eats too much junk food, plays video games all day long and never finished high school.  Perhaps I’m being too harsh and, after all, I’m neither a sociologist nor a very keen observer.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Go Figure!

 Local Police

OK!  You figure out where we are!

Most people arrive here by air as it is located in The Dangerous Middle!  Mother’s Day and Father’s Day are observed on a Monday and taken as a Holiday!  We are GMT minus eleven hours.  The policemen wear lava lavas.  There are over 18,000 Matai (Chiefs) in over 362 villages.  Driving is done on the left side of the road.  Robert Louis Stevenson is buried here.  Home of the award winning Vailima Beer and home of traditional Fire Dancing.  Host of the only marina west of Papeete and east of Figi, paid for in Tala.

Mai fea?  Loe!  You guessed it!  The motu of Samoa where Fa’a Samoa (the Samoan Way) still continues to thrive!  We have been welcomed to the heart of the south pacific where the pace of life is gentle and traditional social customs still preside.   Considering that the western Missionaries have been the most powerful agent of social change here –ever- Samoa keeps a foot in both the traditional and modern worlds.

From our marina slip (the first one since Mexico) we can see the Beach Road of Apia along which are cell towers, malls, banks, hotels, Consulates, a clock tower and tourist bureau.  We can also see the painted, long canoes practicing their paddling on the harbor to the beat of a drum!  Just behind the new buildings are the old flea market, fish market and ramshackle shop after shop of Chinese goods packed so full that you can hardly squeeze down the aisles!

Aside from the National Park, all land outside of Apia  is owned by extended family units whose head is a Matai.  When visiting just about any beach or waterfall you need to ask permission of the local chief.  Village protocol extends to only quiet activity on Sundays, no activity during prayer curfew (6-7 in the evening), when sitting in a fale (house) only sit cross legged- never point your feet at someone and of course, never wear skimpy clothing or your host may be fined!

The big city is a bit of a different story!  The people here hustle!  Aside from seeming to work hard, we are constantly approached to see if we are in need of or want something!  I think Corie has received more requests for dates in the past 24 hours than she has in her cumulative dating life!  Although city attire is fairly traditional we have still seen many bare knees and shoulders and the kids don’t hesitate to whip off their lava lavas (under which are shorts) to snap it at another kid!  Everyone has a cell phone up to his ear but that doesn’t stop almost everyone we pass from saying “hello!”.

We are once again on a learning curve in a new country.  We are trying to figure out what to do and see here,  how best to travel around the island, where to shop, what to eat and how to read between the cultural lines when people offer their services (especially Corie!)!  It’s fascinating and overwhelming all mixed up together like a hot, spiced, tropical stew!  Fortunately for me, we have the luxury of thinking all this out within the comforts of home, surrounded by things familiar.  Tomorrow being Sunday (when everything stops) we will get out the guide books and plan how best to enter this next tropical paradise and once again, go figure!

R of Rutea
Apia, Samoa

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Dinghies and Buses

 Will it ever run again?

We reached a significant milestone on Rutea today when Ruthie and I got the outboard running again.  The raw water impeller failed (it was only 10 years old!) when we were in Bora Bora but the spare that we had on hand was the wrong part and we could find no replacement.  This means we’ve had to row our dinghy everywhere or count on the generosity of other cruisers to give us a ride.  Not only does our dinghy row poorly but we’ve had issues with oarlocks.  Ask me about our sad oarlock stories some day over a couple of cold beers. 

All the important stuff . . .

Yesterday we did a major provisioning and we were working out the details over the radio with another boat.  When Pete on Down Time, heard our dilemma, he chimed in to shuttle us back to Rutea when we had finished our shopping.  We took the bus to the Cost-U-Less store and after spending far too much and loaded with huge boxes of food, we hired a taxi to take us back to the dock.  We called Pete as he told us to but he didn’t answer.  Lucky for us Bob on Braveheart had been lurking on our conversation and came in his dinghy.  There wasn’t room for all of us and the food too!

 Corie and Lars on the bus

With the dinghy repaired, we’re now free to move about the ocean again.  Even though we’ve been here nine days, it seems like we haven’t scratched the surface of exploring the place.  The bus system here makes it so easy to go places plus they’re an adventure in of themselves.  There are hundreds – maybe thousands of buses – on this small island.  They are all independently owned, operated and decorated.  Most of the chassis for the buses are either Toyota pickup chassis or for the larger buses, perhaps a full-sized Ford truck chassis but the coaches are made locally out of wood.  Most have plywood seats and vertical seatbacks – they’re wide enough for two skinny people or one Samoan.  Many of them have a DVD player at the front of the bus and rock concert videos are popular.  The outsides of the buses are often painted wildly or sometimes have a more polished warning about drinking and driving.  Most of the buses have names with something in Samoan the most common but others will have religious sayings and some will have the names of cartoon characters.  The drivers honk their horns often and it’s not unusual for a driver to get off their route to drop a passenger off at their home or work.  You pay when you get off the bus and the fare is always $1.00 regardless of how long you’ve traveled.  We have found the drivers to be pretty safe but with a 25 MPH speed limit for the entire island, it not likely that someone would get carried away.
'420' Baseball Cap on the Bus Driver

We’re thinking about heading to Western Samoa on Wednesday or Thursday.  Our guide books and the anecdotes from other cruisers have been positive.  Plus, I’m getting ants in my pants.  We’ve enjoyed Pago Pago but it’s time to move.  Plus, we need to make our jump to New Zealand in about 10 weeks and there are lots to see before we head there.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Pago Pago Isn't for Everyone


Things aren’t necessarily easy for cruisers here in Pago Pago.  Take our friends, Rolande and Angus, aboard the cutter, Periclees.  They just arrived late yesterday afternoon from Suwarrow Atoll, where we saw them last.  Angus bought the bare hull of Periclees and did all of the interior, rigging and systems himself.  They’re from Canada and have been out sailing for quite a while.  While we often keep to ourselves, Rolande and Angus are very popular and seem to have a ‘date’ almost every night.  From our point of view, Pago Pago would be almost perfect for them yet they left the harbor within 24 hours of arriving.

Last night was rough for them.  At 0300, they were reanchoring their boat as the wind had picked up and was gusting to the mid-20s (not unusual).   They made several attempts and finally seemed to get their anchor to stick but I know from experience that it’s hard to get a good night’s sleep after your anchor has dragged.  The thought will haunt you relentlessly, “Will it drag again?” as you struggle to capture some elusive sleep, all the while knowing damn well that you’re up for the balance of the night, regardless of how many justifications you come up with that you’re secure.  This morning, Periclees abandoned the idea of anchoring and grabbed the only mooring in the bay that was available. 

There isn’t much information on American Samoa for cruisers but what little there is is shared.  In that information is a mention of the moorings but cautions that there is no known maintenance on them.  So now Periclees is kind of between a rock and a hard spot:  Their anchor won’t hold and they’re attached to a mooring of unknown security.  Besides that, the mooring is very close to Alice, a rusted hulk of a small tuna seiner (about 100’ long) that looks like it hasn’t been sailed for years, that’s tethered to it’s own mooring.  Now Periclees is between a rock, a hard spot and Alice.

A group of us went out for dinner tonight.  Besides Rutea, there was Aeolis, Savannah and Down Time.  From where we were sitting, we could see Periclees leaving the harbor and we understood, without saying anything to each other, how they must have felt, leaving a destination without provisioning, exploring or relaxing.  Perhaps they’ll have better luck in Apia on Western Samoa.  We wish them fair winds and calm seas.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

American Samoa

Rutea in Pago Pago

Ruthie has always been very adept at delivering less-than-ideal news. Most of the time, she'll find some positive thing to say first before she drops the hammer. It was slightly different at 0500 this morning in that there never was a negative situation, only something that I forgot to take care of before I went to my bunk. Ruthie had specifically given me instructions to select a route into Pago Pago, which I had done. Except that I didn't look far enough east and, sure enough, we found an area that I had ignored and we had to divert about 3 miles out of our way in order to clear a spot with only 30' of water.

But Ruthie was judicious when she told me, "It looks like we can sail again and shut down the engine." (Always a good thing.) Then she says, "I found the shallow spot on the chart I wanted to avoid. I want to route us around it - should I change the route on the chart plotter or just divert with the autopilot?" Since I had been awake for a while, I got out of my bunk, got dressed, donned my harness and made my way into the cockpit. A light breeze was filling in from the north and it would be the first beam reaching we had seen in a long time. The main was already fully hoisted so I unfurled the genoa and almost instantly we were doing 6+ knots per hour with the engine idling in neutral. The seas were flat calm and it was sailing at it's finest. The lights of Tutuila Island - the largest island in the American Samoa chain and where Pago Pago Harbor is - could been easily seen. While Ruthie sipped her cup of tea and I gulped down my cup of hot cocoa (I haven't had a cup of coffee since early March), we were treated to a beautiful sunrise. As we sailed parallel to the south side of the island, a pod of dolphins swam along side. I hailed the port captain on the VHF radio and requested permission to enter the harbor which he granted along with a warm welcome.

Exploring Fagatogo

The island itself is densely covered with palm trees, banana trees, breadfruit trees, etc but is not as steep or dramatic as the Marquesas. The entrance into Pago Pago Harbor is about in the middle of the 18-mile long island, on the south side of the island's east/west orientation. The harbor entrance is very wide (easily enough room for little Rutea and the enormous Iver Exporter, a huge tanker that was entering at the same time) and clearly marked. The harbor takes a sharp dog-leg to the west at the northern end and that's where the tuna fishing fleet is moored and the canneries are located. We could see the streets were busy with car, truck and school bus traffic. We tried to hail the port captain again but he was busy with the tanker that was pulling in so we proceeded to the area where the yachts were at anchor. Pago Pago doesn't have a very good reputation for good holding ground and after five attempts to set our anchor (one time the anchor came up with an old tire fouling it) we finally got it to grab, albeit closer to some other boats than we would like. By this time the wind was blowing between 20 and 25 so it made all the chores a little more of a challenge.
Being slightly anxious about our anchor holding, I decided to go into town to check us in by myself. Plus, since we still have no outboard for the dinghy, rowing in the windy conditions would be difficult and the additional weight of another person would just make it that much harder. About 600' feet upwind from Rutea was a little grass-covered picnic area and I tied the dink up to a tree there and walked into see the port captain.

The check-in cha-cha had me visit five different offices but it gave me a chance to see a little of the town. Small and busy, some parts new and some in disrepair, I was able to walk the entire length of the town in half an hour. The center of town is the commercial dock where the containers are off-loaded, sorted and shuffled, and where the work is done to the great piles of fishing nets. Teams of men, working and sweating in the sun, are weaving the bobbins of cord through the house-sized mounds of nets. The fork lifts that lift the containers buzz around like so many bees, their diesel engines screaming. People I pass on the street are friendly and it seems that everyone acknowledges one another with a nod or a greeting. I bought some fresh fruit at an outdoor market (our boat being without any fresh produce for several days) and dripping with perspiration, made my way back to the dinghy.

Our friend Lars on Twister had arrived just moments after we did (even though he had left Suwarrow two days ahead of us) and came by to visit in the late afternoon with a cooler full of very well iced Vailima beer. A Samoan-made lager, the Export brew could almost pass as an ale and we enjoyed Lars' generosity and the refreshing drink very well. Since the wind had died to almost calm, we rowed back into the picnic area and found a nice restaurant for dinner, our first meal out in nearly a month. The stark contrast between the primitive Suwarrow with it's two small buildings and no streets to the harbor of Pago Pago with it's bright street lights and a row of large diesel engines near where we're anchored that provide electricity to the island was not lost on us as we rowed back to Rutea. Still, there's much to be discovered here.
At 8/6/2011 2:43 AM (utc) Rutea's position was 14°16.32'S 170°41.77'W
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Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Farewell to Suwarrow

Having barely had our fill of fresh coconut water, grated coconut meat, coconut pancakes, banana pancakes and fish from the lagoon (Parrot fish, Grouper and Tuna) we have torn ourselves away from this beautiful and isolated Atoll of Suwarrow and are heading west towards American Samoa.

How beautiful? Pelagic blue water blends into aqua water and laps onto a white coral sand beach. Behind the beach are coconut palm trees with brilliant green fronds, hibiscus flowers and Tamanu trees. In front of the beach is a coral reef with blue, purple, green and white coral and tons of tropical reef fish including the humuhumunukanukapuaa. While snorkeling one day we were lucky enough to see a Manta Ray with a nine foot wing span! The Suwarrow Yacht Club sits in the center of the island where the Park Rangers, James and John hold court. The building is wood with a tin roof and open on all sides. There is a cook station in the back with a propane stove as well as an outdoor cook station for grilling fish. The only furniture is a very large table with benches all around which hosts many pot-lucks, lazy afternoon conversations, musical jam sessions and serves as an office for checking in/out of the Cook Islands. Several steps away is the cement building where Tom Neale lived for nineteen years as a hermit, although he was not the only one to live this way on Suwarrow.

How isolated? Well it takes the Rangers three days to get there by a large power boat from Raro (Rarotonga). Last year when the Ranger's single side band radio conked out, their headquarters forgot to pick them up at the end of the season! Finally a fishing boat picked them up- three weeks late! Once when a former ranger was feeding the sharks and had an overzealous shark take a chunk out of his side, it took a helicopter five days to get there, pick him up and get him to Samoa! James was once visited by a young man who wanted to see the tree his father tied him up in (twenty feet off of the ground) when a cyclone came through and waves started washing over the island. He wanted to make sure it was as big and safe as his father had told him! No cyclone warning system here other than lick you finger and stick it up in the air....

Other than swimming, snorkeling, bird watching and meeting people from all over the world- what made Suwarrow really special was getting to know the two Cook Island Rangers. They are both full of stories, can live survival style off of an atoll, and are full of facts and figures about Polynesia. They are extremely protective of the atoll and have found a way to share it with the yachties without compromising its' fragile environment.

The squally weather with dark skies reflected our feelings about leaving as we sailed out of the pass yesterday morning. As we passed shark cove and waved to James, beautiful, fat rainbows arched over the atoll also reflecting the way we felt about another over the rainbow experience. Strong winds the rest of the day helped us make good time our first day out towards Am Samoa! Today the skies are sunny, the sea is again pelagic blue (and calm) and we have a beautiful ten to fifteen knot breeze. The spinnaker is flying off of the port beam and Rutea is gracing the swell at about 6 knots.

It's hard to imagine what is ahead of us! There is very little written about Samoa for cruisers and I only started reading what little info I have a couple of days ago! What I do know is that there is shopping and we are down to our last two onions and some very sad carrots! Beyond that- we expect it to be different and we will keep you posted!

R of Rutea
13.43 south
166.21 west
At 8/3/2011 9:40 PM (utc) Rutea's position was 13°38.55'S 165°56.17'W

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Tuesday, August 2, 2011

En Route

To American Samoa! Current Position as of 8/2/11 at 3:17 UTC is 13 degrees 21 minutes south and 164 degrees 00 minutes west
At 8/3/2011 3:00 AM (utc) Rutea's position was 13°20.96'S 163°58.41'W

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