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  • South Pacific- Samoa

    The Long Way to Paradise: An Exciting Journey to the World’s Best Secret Beach. PART I

    02.11.10 | Permalink | 4 Comments

    “Life is uncharted territory. It reveals its story one moment at a time.”  -Leo Buscaglia

    Liquid Landscape

    “Have you ever been to the Manu’a Islands?”  I asked Litia.

    “No. But they are supposed to be extremely beautiful.  And my grandmother told me that ghosts live out there.”  

    Cheri and I had been exploring the beautiful Samoan island of Upolu in the middle of the South Pacific.  As we made our way around, we found a beautiful beach called ‘Lalomanu’ far out on the tip of the island and decided to stay in the ‘fales’ there. Fales are traditional Samoan dwellings that consist of a thatched roof, a wooded floor and open sides that can be covered by lowering a rolled blind of coconut fronds.  It was absolutely idyllic.  White sand, palm trees, turquoise water and small restaurant that served local dishes.  We ate dinner with other travellers who had been island hopping through the Pacific and they had some amazing stories of adventure. After a few days of lounging and photographing, those conversations were making me restless.  Cheri and I went for a swim and as I looked beyond the reef, I could see the faint outline of another island.  I got out my map and realized that the rocky silhouette was Tutuila Island in American Samoa.  Nobody here had been to American Samoa.  Everyone had been hopping across the South Seas, but nobody knew anything about American Samoa.  As I looked at the map a little closer, I noticed three tiny islands beyond Tutuila and in very small print over ‘Ofu’, Ta’u’ and ‘Olosega’ were the words ‘National Park of American Samoa’.   These were the Manu’a Islands and they were protected by the park.  I ran back to the open air restaurant and found someone’s old tattered copy of The Lonely Planet’s ‘South Pacific’guide.  Five of the 928 pages were dedicated to these tiny islands.  There wasn’t much information there.  Most of the section was dedicated to the main island of Tutuila and Pago Pago which had a seedy reputation.  The tiny Manu’a islands supposedly had “very little infrastructure” but there was “striking scenery, untouched beaches and some of the highest sea cliffs in the world.”  That’s where I wanted to go. I asked Litia, the owner of our fale camp about the Manu’a islands and the National Park.  She told me that Samoans believe their God Tagaloa created a man and a woman on the remote Manu’a island of Ta’u and all Polynesian people  are descendants from them.  The islands were sacred and beautiful. And mysterious.  “My grandmother told me that ghosts live out there.” 

    Waterfall on Upolu Island, Samoa

    Waterfall on Upolu Island, Samoa.

    Two days later we finished our journey around Upolu and were back in Apia, catching a small prop plane to Tutuila.  When we arrived at Tutuila’s airport we asked about flights to the Manu’a islands.  “Yes, it’s possible”  “To Ta’u, maybe tomorrow”.  “Come back in the morning”  “What time?”  “In the morning.”  Cheri and I looked at each other.  “Is there a cheap place to stay here near the airport?”  “Yes, Go with him.  He’ll take you to Mailiu Mai. It’s a five minute drive”  We walked with his friend out to his car and we got in.  After 2 minutes on the paved ring road around the island we turned off onto an unmarked dirt path.  Cheri and I looked at each other again.  The winding rutted road led forward into a thick grove of coconut palms. I unlocked my door and decided to make some conversation with our driver.  “Did you grow up in Samoa?”  “Yes”  “Have you ever been to the Manu’a Islands?”  “No.  Nobody goes there.”  “Why?”  He shrugged but didn’t answer.  

    We continued down the bumpy road toward the coast.  The warm smell of salt air began to cut through the damp mustiness of the juggled interior.  We rounded a bend and the rusty gate of Mailiu Mai came into view.  And what a view it was!  Powder blue surf was pounding the black lava coast, shooting spray 30 feet into the air.  Dark clouds hung low over the restless sea and the salty spray from the waves cooled our sunburned skin.   Powerful fountains of white surf shot up like a series of domino’s through the black rocks and down the mountainous coastline. The black-green cliffs of Rainmaker mountain disappeared into the clouds above the bay.  It was dramatic, ominous and beautiful at the same time.  We paid the driver and asked him to come back in the morning so we could return to the airport.  The friendly owner of the lodge walked us up to a spartan room above the kitchen.  There was a small bar in the back and she offered us a couple Pina Coladas.  We took them and walked out to a small strip of white sand between the black lava rocks.  The wind was blowing hard and we occasionally got smacked by the sea spray.  It felt really good.  The sun was setting underneath the cloud layer and the rays were intense.  I took off my sunglasses and looked around, engaging the scene.  We sat in silence for awhile.  Then the sun finally set.  I took another sip.  The Pina Coladas were strong.  And we were the only people there.


    The Story Continues with Part II:  We’re getting closer to paradise.  Next stop:  The mysterious island of Ta’u:   http://www.michaelandersongallery.com/blog/the-long-way-to-paradise-an-exciting-journey-to-the-worlds-best-secret-beach-part-ii/

    Have you ever deviated far off  of your original travel plans in search of adventure?  How did everything turn out?  Are your best travel memories from  planned or unplanned adventures?

    The Coastline at Mailiu Mai

    The rugged coastline of Mailiu Mai.

    This entry in Michael Anderson’s Travel Photography Blog is copyright 2010.  All Rights Reserved.  May not be reproduced without permission.

  • The 2009 Samoa Tsunami

    Lalomanu Beach: Utter Devastation and a Glimmer of Hope.

    02.03.10 | Permalink | 1 Comment

    Samoa Tsunami: Smoking ruins of Lalomanu Beach fales. Samoa.

    Lalomanu Beach, Samoa.  Five days after the tsunami.

    We had stayed at Litia Sini’s beach fales on a previous trip to beautiful Lalomanu Beach in Western (Independent) Samoa.  After 5 days of being stranded on the relatively unscathed island of Ofu, we flew back to Apia, and hired a taxi to see if we could offer our help to Litia and her family.  We knew from radio reports that Lalomanu was hit hard by the tsunami.

    We couldn’t believe our eyes when we got there. The entire beachfront (about 100 small cabins called ‘fales’) and four full size villages around the fales were simply gone. A few concrete foundations and lots of broken pieces of tin roofing and timber were all that remained. Mature palm trees were snapped off at the four foot level and there was a mountain of smoking debris against the cliff that rises up off the beach. Stunned villagers were just beginning the cleanup, having focused first on rescues and then on funerals earlier in the week.

    All that remains of Litia Sini's beachfront restaurant.

    All that remains of Litia Sini's beachfront restaurant.

    We heard heart wrenching stories from them. The oldest surviving member of the Taufua family lost 13 close family members in one day. He was hard at work dragging debris across the beach, saying, ‘It’s time to survive and cleanup. Mourning will come later’. Several people that would have lived ended up drowning after having stayed back to knock on fale doors and warn people of the approaching wave. As the sun began to set, the Tafua family began piling rubble in to large heaps to burn. Cheri saved a wrinkled picture of two Samoan women before it was raked into the pile. Black smoke was drifting over the turquoise water into the tropical sunset.

    As it got dark, one of the locals heard me asking about the heroes of the Tsunami rescue. He introduced me to ‘Otele’ and we stood next to one of the beach fires and talked a long time about his experience that morning. He worked at Tafua’s Fales and was up early that day. He felt the powerful earthquake and when he looked around, he was concerned that nobody seemed to be getting out of the fales. At that point he looked to the sea and saw it sucking back toward the reef. He immediately started running door to door to get people out of the fales, banging and yelling “Tsunami coming! Run! Run up the hill! Run NOW!!!’ Then, just before the 25 foot high wall of water approached, he turned and made a dash for the hill behind the camp with a New Zealand woman tourist he had just warned. They couldn’t get up the hill fast enough and the wave hit them. The ‘wall’ of water, as he described it, crashed into the line of fales and was now full of splintered timber and sharp pieces of tin roofing. He and the woman were battered by the waves and the debris, just out of safety’s reach. He suffered some contusions and abrasions and lost a couple teeth, but the New Zealander was more seriously injured and the wall of water began to recede and suck her backwards. He held onto her arm with one hand and a palm tree with the other and saved her life.

    Samoa Tsunami Hero:  Meet Tele

    Samoa Tsunami Hero: Meet Otele

    We sat in utter silence as he told the story. There was nobody else helping them out on the beach. Everything was being moved by hand. He said he needed to get back to work although it was now after dark. I asked to take a photo of him, suggesting that people really needed to hear his story. He shrugged off the suggestion but ultimately agreed to a couple shots and then his friends all started calling him ‘movie star’ and they all laughed, mocked each other and wrestled a bit. Then three of them asked to have their photos taken as well, all doing their best imitation of James Dean. Then they thanked us for coming to help, punched each other in the shoulder and went back to work, still laughing. It was a poignant ending of a powerfully emotional day.

    They say it is a Samoan tradition that you never say goodnight without a smile on your face, and that was true here once again, even on this day, in this twilight, on this darkest of nights.

    Defiance at Lalomanu

    Defiance at Lalomanu

     Want to help the families of Lalomanu Beach?   Please visit this website for details:  http://tinadesuza.blogspot.com/2009/10/thanks-to-all-these-wonderful-people.html

    Addendum: February 11,2010.  The fales are being rebuilt and are open again!  http://www.facebook.com/pages/Aleipata-Samoa/Taufua-Beach-Fales/274691898784?v=wall

    Tafua Devastation

    Devastation at Taufua Fales.