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Stories articles and news abot Alison and Digby Gotts


The Samoan Experience
Three days in Tafua
EcoTour Samoa
The Samoan Election
Pruning the Mangoes
Climbing Mt SiliSili
Fourth week in Samoa

Samoan Observer Articles:

Why is there no fruit on my mango?
Want more mangoes next year?
Green oranges or orange oranges?
In search of a Samoan Orange
The Hardest Cut
Rambutan - hairy thing from the forest
Rambutan revisited
Abiu - the emporer's golden fruit
Avocado - fruit or vegetable?
Carambola - star of the rainforest
Durian - the extreme tropical fruit
Rollinia - lemon meringue pies growing in the garden
Sex and the single pawpaw
Soursop - a taste sensation
The mulch story
Do it yourself pest control
The joys of soapy water!
The hungry fruit tree
Positive insects


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.

The people

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 don’t 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 food–large 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 scales.

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 great gusto.
  • 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 fiafia
  • 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)


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Last updated November 6, 2014