Monthly Archives: November 2010

How’s the Weather?

Pretty dang nice, thanks for asking.

Just to make all you frozen Minnesotans and Wisconsinites jealous, a few shots from our day at Larson’s Cove.


Thanksgiving, Tomatoes, and Bananas

Maybe that breadfruit tree isn’t the problem- our internet connection seems fine today.

This Thanksgiving it was too hot to cook the traditional turkey, so we went and cooled off at Sliding Rock with Lisa, Joe, and Sarah.  Afterward they came over to our house for dinner.  Joe and Sarah brought some barbecue chicken, Lisa brought a broccoli casserole,  and Mary made some roasted brussels sprouts and a pumpkin pie.  I grilled some wahoo (a local variety of tuna) and some potatoes.

It was a delicious meal, and it was a lot of fun to be able to cook and eat Thanksgiving dinner outdoors with bare feet.

My garden is coming along pretty well.  The topsoil in our yard is about two inches deep so all of my plants will have to stay in pots.

We’ve had fresh tomatoes almost every day for over a week, and plenty of basil too.  The eggplants got off to a slow start but they seem to be getting perkier.  The one on the far right is a decoy-  the neighborhood dogs pee in whatever I have at the end of the row, so I put some dirt and a stick in an extra pot to give them a target that isn’t one of my plants.

It’s not much of a garden by Midwestern standards, but it’s my first attempt and I’m really happy with how well things grow here.

We harvested one of our banana trees yesterday.  Each tree only produces one bunch of bananas, so you cut the whole thing down.

Banana plants are really soft and not woody at all.  It only took one swipe with the machete to take it down.

Soon a new plant will start to grow from the stump and produce another bunch of bananas in about a year.  Here are some that were cut down a few months ago:

The last step is hanging up the bunch where bats, rats, and birds can’t get to it:

Internet Problems

I haven’t posted anything new for a while because our internet hasn’t been working.  According to the guy who came this morning to try to make it work again, the antenna on top of our house is being blocked by one our breadfruit trees.  Hopefully, someone will come early next week and either move the antenna or cut down part of the tree.

In the meantime, we can only go online a few minutes at a time when the wind is blowing the tree out of the way.  I’ll have lots of new stuff for you guys once our connection is more reliable.

Termites, Softball, and Puppy

Mary and I were having a quiet evening at home on Wednesday when we started hearing tapping sounds on the kitchen lights.  We turned around to see thousands of winged termites flying in our house.

Regular wood-eating termites don’t have wings, but every so often a colony will produce a batch of winged termites who swarm around looking for place to start new colonies.  They covered every bit of our kitchen and laundry room, and we got quite a few inside our clothes.  Since they were attracted to light, we turned on the patio light, turned off everything inside the house, and opened the front door.

You can see some geckos on the white trim around the door.  They were having a feast.  I sprayed the termites with Raid as they swarmed under the light.  The whole ordeal was over within about 15 minutes but it was pretty exciting.

My softball season ended on a low note this week.  Because of the way they rescheduled games that had been rained out, we had four games in two days on Thursday and Friday.  I was really looking forward to that, but on Tuesday I sprained the heck out of my ankle playing soccer with one of my PE classes.  It’s still pretty swollen and painful so all I could do at the games was coach third base.  We won two out of four to bring our final record to 4-11.  Not very good, but it was a really fun season.

Aside from making new friends and the fun of playing the games, one of my favorite things about softball here was the stadium.  This is what the center fielder gets to see:

Regardless of our poor record, I will always be able to say that I was the best left-hand throwing third baseman in the Panamex Pacific American Samoa Coed Softball League in 2010.

We decided to keep our puppy.  We realized that if were going to give her away, we needed to have done it weeks ago.  She’s very comfortable here and is as attached to us as we are to her, but she’s still extremely scared of everyone except Mary and I.  She’ll get over that eventually but it would break our hearts to see her go live with someone she’s terrified of.  This is what she looks like now, at the age of (we think) 8 weeks or so:

The biggest challenge, aside from the fact that puppies in general are little tornadoes of destruction, will be transporting her back to the mainland.  We’ve talked to some people who have done it and they say it’s possible but difficult and expensive.

We’ve named her Palolo.  For those of you who haven’t heard that Samoan word before, I’ll have a whole post about it sometime in the next few days.

Sliding Rock

Last Sunday we went with some friends and their kids to a place on the west coast of the island called Sliding Rock.  The lava rock formations are really cool and there’s a big, deep tidepool full of little neon fish.  Mary took over as photographer for the day.  I’ll let her pictures speak for themselves.

When we were leaving we finally saw our first humpback whale!  It was about 200 yards offshore.  It came up and blew out of its blowhole three times.  Then we saw its tail completely out of the water, which even experienced whale-watchers don’t get to see very often.  The whales are starting to migrate north right now so it was great to see one before we missed our chance.

Mount Alava

On Saturday Mary and I hiked up Mt. Alava with Jeremy and Ashley (and their dog Annie).   At 1610 feet above sea level, Mt. Alava is the third-highest point on Tutuila.  Unlike Matafao or Rainmaker, it doesn’t have the classic “volcanic peak” look- it’s simply the highest point on the Maugaloa Ridge, which runs about five miles above Pago Pago Harbor between Fagasa Pass to the west and Afono Pass to the east.

There are two ways to get to the top:  A long, relatively easy dirt road that branches off from the road to Fagasa, or a shorter, steeper climb from the village of Vatia.  We chose the Vatia route.  Here is what the National Park Service sign at the start of the trail had to say:

The first section of trail was very steep but gave a nice birds-eye view of Vatia.

After gaining several hundred feet of elevation in the first quarter-mile, we were glad to find such a nice place to rest.

A wild pineapple growing alongside the trail.

The middle third of the trail wasn’t as steep and we moved pretty quickly.  Then we got to the ladders:

I lost count of how many there were.  At least 20, and most of them very steep and between 10 and 30 feet high.

We took another break at  a flat spot that gave us a great view of Pago Pago Harbor to the south and Cockscomb Point and Pola Island to the north.  It was really cool to be able to see the ocean on both sides at the same time.

Then, more ladders.

Jeremy, despite never having climbed the trail before, kept saying “I think this is the last one.  We’re pretty much at the top.”  Eventually he was right.

On the top of Mt. Alava were a fale, some TV and cellular antennae, and stunning 360-degree vistas of the central part of the island.

Rainmaker Mountain towering over the village of Aua.

Matafao and the town of Fagatogo.  Mary works in the white building just to the right of the two white piers.

Farther down, there are the remains of a cable-car system that used to cross the harbor.

The north coast of the island and some yellow flowers.

This shot is a good view of how narrow the island is at the back of the harbor.

The walk back down was faster but just as difficult.  We did the whole trip in 3 1/2 hours, even with some long breaks, which is pretty good considering that the sign said it could take 2-3 hours just to get to the top.

I hope Mount Alava was the just first step towards conquering the “Big 3” of Tutuila Island.  Before we leave American Samoa, I’d like to climb Matafao and Rainmaker.  If that isn’t enough, there is Lata Mountain on Ta’u in the Manu’a Islands-  a 3170 ft peak on an island not much larger than ‘Aunu’u.



Day 96: the author gets a little introspective

After three months in American Samoa, it’s started to feel-  well, not like home, but it feels like we live here. We know our way around the roads pretty well. We know that TSM Market is likely to have what passes for good broccoli here, while Cost-U-Less is the place to go for milk and yogurt that aren’t expired. Things like the vicious dogs and constantly flooded streets have gone from fascinating to frustrating to just part of daily life.

Our time here still feels, in a sort of abstract way, like an adventure. When we first got here, we were constantly going around thinking “Wow!  We’re going to spend a year living on this beautiful, remote, exotic island in the South Pacific!” But lately our thoughts are more along the lines of “I guess I need to return my library books and get the oil changed on this beautiful, remote, exotic island in the South Pacific.”

Frequent readers have probably noticed a recent decline in the number of pretty pictures and stories about incredible new experiences. The reason for that is simple: we haven’t been doing awesome stuff very often lately. The past few weekends, rather than snorkeling at new beaches or exploring new waterfalls, we’ve just been getting together at some other palagi’s house to grill some burgers and trade stories from our lives back in the real world. It’s been fun, and we’ve met some really great people.  It just doesn’t lend itself to interesting writing or photography.

I don’t think we’ve got ourselves in a rut here already, but there’s a path where the grass isn’t looking real healthy. There’s no excuse for that- we’ve met some folks who’ve been here for years, who claim to have seen all American Samoa has to offer and now just drink, complain, and count down the days left on their contracts while doing their best to approximate the life they left behind and can’t wait to get back to. That isn’t us, and I hope it never is. It’s ok that we’re no longer constantly in awe of the very fact that we live here. We’ve come to the point, though, where we may need to occasionally remind ourselves that there is still plenty of awe to be had on this island and it’s worth the minimal effort of getting off the couch and looking for it.

And still, sometimes I see something breathtaking when I least expect it. Today I had to go to KS Mart to buy a mop. Whether you live in Toledo or Tahiti, buying a mop is one of the least exciting things you can do. And between our house and KS Mart lies Senator Daniel K. Inouye Industrial Park, which is exactly as scenic as the name suggests. As I drove I thought about how ugly all of the buildings are here (aside from the churches, which are almost always magnificent). If there was a name for the general architectural style here it would be something like “Abandoned Shopko” or “Late 20th Century Welding Shop.” Being a U.S. territory has brought some good things to American Samoa, but it has aesthetically (not to mention ecologically) ruined huge swathes of this island.

Anyway, I bought my mop. Driving home, the crumbling concrete high school football stadium was on my left.  On my right, acres of gravel piles surr0unded by rusty chain link fence.  Suddenly, a line of clouds crested the ridge of the mountains and began to roll down the near side. The setting sun came out, and everything was bathed in the most beautiful pink light.  The clouds looked like cotton candy. Matafao, Rainmaker, and the lesser hills glowed a gentle green that seemed to come from within the rainforest itself. I nearly drove off the road. It was a much-needed reminder:  Sure, the potholes and mosquitoes are annoying-  but if you keep your eyes open, once-in-a-lifetime experiences can happen almost every day.  Even when you’re just out buying a mop.