ECOTOUR OF SAMOA- 7 Days with Steve Brown
By Alison Gotts
This trip visited 4 islands of Samoa Upolu, Savaii, Monono, and Manua, and provided a
good ecological and cultural introduction to Samoa. We travelled by bus a customised
local bus built to Ecotour Samoa specifications and painted in a continuum
of colour starting yellow at the front, orange, red, brown, black at the
back, and inside traditional wood carving of the struts by one of the
famous Samoan wood carvers. This bus was guaranteed to attract attention
and kids from the villages would wave and laugh when they saw us coming.
We stayed in budget accommodation beachside fales
at the waters edge every night. Fales are traditional Samoan houses
a rectangle with rounded ends and rounded roofline and no walls. Coconut
blinds are able to dropped down on all sides
or raised to give you privacy, to let in the wind, or to show off the
view. The owners of the fales also fed us a nights
accommodation and 3 meals usually all for 50 tala ($A25).
We went to the main forest conservation areas, and the
natural features of note the blowholes, the craters, the lavaflows,
the coral reefs. We were invited into Samoan
homes to see how Siapo is made (tapa), how Samoan cocoa is made, how the
fine mats are made, how food is cooked in the
umu. We joined in the locals dancing at the fiafia, and had campfires
on the beach singing samoan songs. We walked
along beaches, around islands, climbed mountains, and paddled the kayaks
into mangrove estuaries, and out to remote islands in the lagoons.
There were nine of us all together Steve Brown, the
owner of Ecotours Samoa, is an Australian who originally came to the Pacific
as a volunteer to work in natural resource management at Tuvalu. He has now been
in Samoa for 10 years, and is married to Ava, a Samoan who lectures in teacher
education at the university. He is very passionate about rainforest conservation
and sustainable village ecotourism projects. He speaks basic Samoan and
with his outgoing personality, the local village people greet him as an
old friend with much joking and ribaldry.
Ernst and Marlene came from Germany a retired
couple who travel extensively around the world every year and very interested
in learning about the natural environment, and enjoying the peace and
quiet of the places we visited. Kente and Soo a young Japanese couple,
not yet married, both having just graduated. Kente was a kayak instructor
in Japan and did beautiful
Eskimo rolls while wearing his goggles so that he could look at the coral
while upside down in his boat. Soo giggled a lot.
Charlotte and William are ecotourist students from Holland, working with Steve for 5 months
as part of a training component of their degree. William was not comfortable
in the natural environment, especially if any exertion was involved, being
a heavy smoker and overweight. Charlotte was very buxom and wore bikinis
which led to the massed intake of breath by the assembled Samoan audience,
whenever she went swimming.
Polauta was the second staff person, who works full
time for Steve a young Samoan man, 30 years old, not married, and speaking
beautiful English. He was a gem great company, and a very easy personality.
While I was craving a glass of chilled white wine, Polauta was dreaming
of a cup of kava. And then of course there was me and you can add the
best descriptive phrase. Digby joined us for the first 2 days (the weekend)
but then had to go back to work.
What did I learn from the trip?
My Samoan accent has improved considerably and I can
now make basic pigeon type sentences to get my meaning across and people
actually understand me!! Being with Polauta for the
7 days meant that I had access to a good tutor as I needed to learn another
phrase. This was good for breaking down the barriers and getting
a few Samoan looks of surprise as I compliment them in their own language.
I developed an appreciation for Samoan protocol which
I did not have before how to enter a fale, how to sit, when to speak,
how to dress I now feel more confident about travelling around the villages
on my own, without causing offence. (Although as a guest, especially a
Palangi guest, they will forgive you just about anything). I learned how
important the rituals of introducing people and giving farewell speeches
of appreciation. I can now keep my lavalava up without falling down for
at least half an hour before I have to rewrap myself. (I learned that
rewrapping lavalavas is a continuing activity of Samoans.)
I learned how to relax and let go I did not have to
worry about the organization details, coping with the unexpected I could
just cruise, and let the days go by and be looked after. An unexpected
bonus from being a member of a tour I must be getting old as the attraction
of being an independent traveller wears off, and I think that it is
worth paying the extra money.
I ate Samoan food prepared by Samoans and really enjoyed
it baked breadfruit (we stopped and bought some sweet chilli sauce to
help it go down), taro in coconut milk (which I really like better taro
varieties than at home I guess), banana pancakes, Samoan cocoa, coconut
and sago porridge, corned beef jaffles. At homes where we stopped they
would send a young man up the coconut tree and cut down green nut for
us to drink a really refreshing and thirst quenching drink.
I developed an appreciation and awe for the amount of
time and effort that Samoans put into their daily life weaving the mats
and making the tapa requires a huge amount of preparation of the raw materials
before you even start. Making cocoa over a hot fire,
constantly stirring the beans so they dont burn and then using a grinding
stone until it is pulverised to liquid really time consuming.
With my western mindset I found myself thinking of ways that the labour
could be reduced. If only the wood carvers had a router! They could make
this wood block stencil for the tapa in a quarter of the time.
The major thing that will stay with me is the genuine
warmth and friendliness of the Samoans towards us. It reminded me of Nepal so many times over the 7 days. Their hospitality is based on giving
of foodlarge quantities. We arrived unannounced at different homes when
Steve saw something interesting happening an invasion of 8 palangis,
and always they welcomed us and wanted to feed us to receive us with
the full pomp and ceremony that Samoan protocal demands. Steve always
left gifts frozen chicken, cans of corned beef, money to balance the
Some highlights of the trip
- Throwing coconuts into the blowholes
which erupt and shoot to 30 metres.
- The 3 young Samoan men from the
village who had never been to the blowholes and travelled with us on
the bus, entertaining us by singing and dancing down the aisles with
- Climbing the rainforest tree and crossing the swing
bridge to look down on the forest canopy.
- Watching the 4 year old girl dance the Siva at the
- Climbing to the top of the lighthouse island and
looking back along the edge of the lagoon.
- Paddling the sea kayak from Monono
Is to Upolu, in the rain early on Sunday morning and hearing
the sound of singing from a church choir as we paddled into the shore.
- Watching the young man stripping the bark and making
the cloth for the siapo (tapa)