28th July 2005: Pago Pago - American Samoa - a contradiction?

I can only properly update the www.intrepidofdover.co.uk website at a
reasonably fast internet cafe, and I am afraid that the mid Pacific is
inexplicably empty of these. But I found one in Samoa, so there are new
photos etc on the website now.

The guides and pilot books unite in condemning Pago Pago, the capital of
American Samoa as nasty
smelly dirty unsafe and industrial, a place where you hold your nose, ignore
the garbage, and don't walk at night. The 2 main employers are Tuna Canning
Factories -'Chicken of the Sea'; and Star-Kist, permanent home of Charlie
the
Tuna - and to Denis's great delight I have a
photo of him with Charlie Tuna. Fortunately even digital cameras do not yet
record the sometimes prevailing smell.... Pago Pago also has the Rainmaker,
for years the recipient of the worst hotel in the Pacific title.

The USA acquired American Samoa in 1900 when the local chiefs agreed to cede
their country (the main island of Tutuila with its port of Pago Pago, and
the 3 smaller islands of the Manua group 100 miles to the east) to the USA.
The Navy agreed to protect the rights of the chiefs in return for coaling
and fuelling rights in the port. In the 1970's, dissatisfied with the amount
of money the USA provided, American Samoans voted in a series of referenda
for a measure of autonomy. They now are nationals (not citizens) of
the USA, cant vote in US elections,and their only representative in Congress
can't vote either. They have their own constitution, supervised by the US
Federal Government, use the US$, are still allowed to export goods duty free
into the US,
(hence the tuna canneries - although this expires end 2005), but dont have
to pay US minimum wage standards. The minimum wage they do pay however
($3.60/hour) is 6 times the minimum
wage in most other Pacific islands ($0.60/hour). The independent country of
Samoa is 40 miles west, on 2 larger islands.

American Samoans are (relatively) rich, but uncertain about whether they
want to be American or not - what they want in life is essentially samoa
this and samoa that. Samoans are BIG - they play American Football  -
according to Denis most
American Football teams have at least one Samoan offensive or defensive
interior lineman -
blockers or chargers to you or me. But they also play basketball, rugby
(very well - they almost beat England in the last world cup), and
amazingly, Kirikiti (Cricket) which is played exuberantly on a 22 yard
concrete pitch with a bat which
most closely resembles a war club. A large number of Samoans are in the US
armed forces, and last week the 6th American Samoan died in Iraq, the
greatest
proportion of any state or territory. Most houses have a God Bless Our
Troops banner, and there are yellow ribbons around most trees. Most pianos
in USA are moved by Samoans, (according to Elaine) and if you want something
heavy moved in an awkward situation in the US, a Samoan is your man.

We entered the Port of Pago Pago (pronounced Pango Pango) after a really
great 3 day sail from Suvarov, averaging over 7 knots. The entry to Pago
Pago is a bit rough (large waves) but easy (wide entrance with a few dog
legs, good leading marks). The main harbour eventually opened up heading
west, and we found the customs 'dock' on our left. Its actually a derelict
bit of wharf, no notice or anything, the US Navy should be ashamed.
Immigration and customs showed up by car about 1.30pm -you need 5 crew lists
(I just wrote them out as they waited) and filled in 2 or 3 forms. Easy,
nice polite, took about 15 minutes, the
only 'bribe' a diet coke. Then Denis impersonated me, to see the Harbour
Master who also has to approve our entry. Total cost, $50 port fee, $25
entry and $25 exit fee. The wind whistles down the harbour, and most boats
at anchor drag, so we weren't keen to anchor.

We spotted a vacant berth on the inside of the small dock inland from the
customs dock, and went alongside there. 'George' who is a character, lives
on the
derelict 30 ft yacht at the east end of this dock helped and we paid
him about $5/day (instantly converted into beer) to look after our boat and
keep the kids off. The dock is full of rubbish but very convenient, and
there
was no-one else to pay.

We ate in Sadies almost opposite, famous from the Somerset Maugham story of
Sadie Thompson's brothel who 'entertained' guests there and dreamed the
American
dream. Now it has a bar - good clean American feel, hamburgers $8, beer
$2-3,
excellent fire and dance show on Wednesday, put on by the bar staff
themselves.

Provisioning was a disappointment, Nicky and Elaine went by bus to
Cost U less (Cosco look alike), Denis and I went to Ace Hardware, also 2
Tool shops just 30
metres from the dock, but we only got about 60% of what we wanted; but we
did tour
with Tyrone the Taxi to an idyllic village on the north side of the island.
Overall
we liked American Samoa, partly our expectations were low, but the people
were friendly, the facilities OK.

We found Peter a Kiwi skipper of a commercial longliner fishing boat in
Sadies bar, and he
gave us a 2 hour guided tour of his boat - 'Tahiti Rava'i' - fascinating -
they put out 35
MILES of line with a baited hook every 20 metres or so, set about 50 - 200
metres below the surface, the
whole line buoyed at mile intervals to keep it in place. They set the line
in about 6 hours, then start reeling it in. If they catch 50 tuna/day they
cover their costs, but money is really tight - the boat is fairly rusty
apart from the
fish preparation unit, and Peter's last trip was cut short because a local
crewman had ulcers, so they made no profit - we heard the violent shouted
arguments - you have to be tough to be a fishing skipper. There is no cash
for fuel until
Thursday, so the boat can't go out till then. If a marlin takes a hook, it
tangles a mile of line
which has to be cut free and retied.....The owners get 60% of any profit,
Peter gets 40% out of which he has to pay all the crew.

....I realise that I haven't included any account from Denis and Elaine in
these
emails. Well, to give you a different perspective, here is Denis:

'We planned a 6 AM, before sunrise, departure on Thursday to make Samoa
(Independent
Samoa) in daylight as it would be the last real sail for Elaine and me.  We
were off Pago Pago and in open water with sails set by 7 AM in time for the
'God Show' (sunrise).  Although 13-18 knots were predicted, we had 28-33
with higher gusts and big seas again.  With Elaine at the helm most of the
day, we ran wing on wing with the wind directly behind us and made a small
cove on Samoa before nightfall, travelling some 75 miles that day. We
grilled fresh Big Eye (a member of the tuna family) that night and retired
early, exhausted.  We had an easy 3-hour motor into Apia harbour on Friday
as
we had to charge batteries...meaning easy fishing, resulting in landing a
giant dorado/Mahi Mahi' (Denis Burger).

And Elaine:
'In Apia we had to tie up to a tugboat to do the immigration, customs, and
quarantine regulations before the whole place shut down at 3pm until Monday
morning (they're quite serious
about their religion here, despite there being a monument along the harbour
walk to the first European missionary who arrived here in 1830 and was
killed and eaten some eight years later). They don't let you off the boat
until they have processed your paperwork and Denis and I leave on Monday so
didn't really want to spend 90% of our time here in the harbour.

To reach the shore Andy had to climb onto the tugboat (gap, bouncing waves,
rubber tires, rusting hulks etc), go across the tug and then found that the
tug was attached to the wharf by a five foot long rope, so he had to do a
monkey
hang across it. All fun. After that, the customs officer (again in a skirt)
came on board and talked to us about what we had on boat, then let us in to
the country. We went to shore in the dinghy and had a cocktail at  Robert
Louis Stevenson's (author of Treasure Island etc) old colonial house, then
dinner
at home. Saturday, off to go shopping, so load into the dinghy again, fail
to find the dive shop for Denis (it had disappeared), visit the Tourist
Office (confirmed the disappearance of 6 of the 7 dive operations),
next the post office to buy phone card (to call the last potential dive
place), then FINALLY to the flea market. We bought some stuff, prezzies for
home. Back to the dinghy to find that IT HAD DISAPPEARED. Found it under the
concrete steps since the tide had gone down, so had to deflate it a bit to
get it out, then Andy took
it back to the boat to get the dinghy pump to pump out the massive amounts
of water in it (waves, and of course it had rained while we were shopping)
then come back for us. Meanwhile, we were entertained by watching the rat on
the adjoining slip, then we got to climb in over the slippery rocks and come
back to the boat.

And I thought that the wing mirrors on my car constituted
a major problem at the start of any shopping expedition. Anyhow, we are here
till Monday or later if the Air New Zealand strike messes up our plans, and
then are staying in a hotel in Fiji assuming that it's open since the Fiji
hotel and restaurant workers are on strike too......................'
(Elaine McCall)

Samoa is the last country on earth to see the sun set (at 170W the
dateline is just to the west of it), and it was slightly unnerving to read
the Australian Sunday papers on Saturday, the day before. I had an absurd
wish to rush out and place a bet on the horse that won. Samoa was originally
ruled by 4 family dynasties, but disputes between them in the 1870's caused
them to sell so much land to Western Powers that in 1899 Samoa became a
colony of Germany. New Zealand took over in 1914, until Samoa became
independent in 1962, but retaining
strong ties with NZ. It has a population of 180,000 on 2 main islands,
Upolu and Savaii. No army, navy or airforce, but the police band marches
to raise the Samoan flag at
0745 every day (Monday - Friday). Samoa also has about the highest
population growth in the world (3.8%/year) and perhaps coincidentally what
must be the highest proportion of churches, even the smallest village of 600
people had at least 6 churches. Denis tried to get me converted by some
Mormons from Utah who were missionaring - their church was burnt down last
year, now rebuilt. Methodists etc are concerned at the growth of Mormons,
and the Government is now
limiting the number of new cults (bit late really).

Samoa is working hard at developing in keeping with
traditional Samoan 'matai' culture which is based on family units owning
self
sufficient plantations, usually 3 acres or so in the village and another 5
acres or so up in the hills. All family children have a share in this land,
and seek to extend the power of each family, which depends on its size and
connections. Each extended
family elects a Matai (Head of the Family - male or female) who represents
them on the Fono (Village Council). Until recently (1990) only Matai could
vote, and even now only Matai can hold elected office. The Alii (High Chief
of the Village) is responsible for all law and order in the village (there
are no police outside Apia, the capital) and this includes keeping the
village clean and well ordered, and for example declaring no
fishing zones where fish stocks have been decimated by cyclones. A nice
example of how the system works was the contrast between American Samoa and
Samoa. American Samoa is richer, but has much rubbish
around. Whereas all Samoan households have to place their garbage on
platforms raised 1 metre above the ground, which prevents pigs and dogs
scattering it around.

Every family builds a Fale in front of their house, a wooden or concrete
tent shaped structure about 15 metres by 8 metres, with a floor and roof,
but no walls, just columns holding the roof up. This functions as a meeting
place and guest
house when all the extended family return home often at Christmas from NZ,
Australia, and America where they have been earning hard money. The rest of
the family who have been
tending the family plantation put them up in the Fale, and every house seems
to have one of these marquee like things in front of it. The average/minimum
wage in
Samoa is just $0.60/hour. The cost of living is low, but if a family want a
car or TV (for example) or pay the electricity bill, they have to send a son
or daughter to work abroad.

Denis and Elaine had to fly out on Monday, so while Denis dived, we had a
really good tour of Upolu Island with Paul from Green Turtle Tours
($40/person incl lunch for a whole day tour) on Sunday (which really should
have been a day
of rest and worship). As we went from village to village we passed smartly
dressed ladies in white dresses and hats, the
men in shirt tie and skirt (lava-lava actually, the traditional dress). Any
temptation to scoff at men in skirts was instantly subdued by the size of
the bulging calf muscles appearing below - most were bigger than Elaine's
waist.
We listened to a booming sermon (in Samoan) translated it amounted to 'Do
unto
others as you would they do unto you - or you will roast in Hell - Just do
as I tell you'. People attend service at 9am, eat a huge traditional family
meal cooked in an omu or earth oven, then sleep a bit until they waddle to a
3 or 4 pm church service. All work and sport are
discouraged, although a few shops (Chinese probably - there is increasing
Chinese influence) are open. There is also a quiet time from  6pm for 20
minutes every day.

We ate traditional village food (Taro - a potato like form of root that is
harvested every 6 months and if you leave the main stalk then produces
another crop 6 months later without any further intervention), coconut and
taro leaf, and pork. There were pigs and piglets everywhere - Vietnamese pot
bellied pigs, rootling around everywhere even on the sea shore. Most
tourists were Australian or New Zealand, often young people staying in Guest
Fales ($22/night including meals), mid range hotels are $50 for a double
room. Tourist numbers are up  25% from last year, perhaps a reaction to the
Bali bombings, but also because Samoa is good value - early tourists were
GI's on leave during WW2, and we would thoroughly recommend it for a
holiday.  We toured RL Stevenson's mansion above Apia (he
died here aged 44 in about 1894), clearly already a very rich, but also very
sick man (he had tuberculosis). One Samoan dynasty made him an honorary
chief - another famous visitor was Margaret Mead the anthropologist who
wrote
her famous 'Coming of Age in Samoa' aged 23. Subsequently people have
claimed she was duped......

It is really fun having friends on Intrepid, but it's sad when they have to
leave. Denis and Elaine had fitted in very well, and other boats commented
on the gales of laughter coming from Intrepid.  They certainly learned a lot
about cruising, we will miss them. Now we cruise Samoa, Tonga then Fiji
where James joins us as part of a RTW tour, then to Brisbane where Intrepid
will rest for 5 months. She had her 5th birthday on 21st July 2005, an
experienced lady now with 30,000 miles under her already.

We send you all our best wishes from an unusually quiet Intrepid at anchor
in Apia Harbour.

Andy and Nicky (and Elaine and Denis, now in Fiji).

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