Michael Anderson Landscape & Travel Photography Gallery.

The Journey Behind the Photography


The Archives




  • South Pacific- Samoa

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

    02.13.10 | Permalink | 2 Comments

     

    “If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea. ”    

     -Antoine de Saint-Exupery


    National Park of American Samoa

    The National Park of American Samoa.  The 50th US National Park.  Remote, extraordinarily beautiful and refreshingly different from any of the others.  It’s the only one south of the equator.   Of all the National Parks, only Aniakchak  in Alaska sees fewer visitors.  It’s the best kept secret in the South Pacific.  The park consists of three reserves.  One  protects an area of old growth tropical rain forest on Tutuila, the main island of American Samoa.  The other 2 reserves are way out here in the Manu’a Islands.  We are here at the entrance to the Ta’u island reserve.  Ta’u is a jagged shield volcano that rises 3,000 feet out of the sea.  One side of the volcano collapsed back into the ocean, creating some of the tallest sea cliffs in the world.  The only access is a narrow overgrown trail that leads out to the edge of the cliffs.  From there on, it’s boulder hopping and you’re on your own.   It’s one of the wildest, most pristine coastlines in the world.  Samoans believe the human race started on this island.  In a twist of the Adam and Eve story, Samoans believe their God Tagaloa created the first two people Fatu (heart) and Ele Ele (earth)  here at the sacred Saua site.  After they left to populate other islands, Tagaloa demanded that the Saua site be respected and anyone who failed to do so would meet with catastrophe.   Today the site is deserted, steeped in mystery and auspiciously marked only by a few weathered and windswept boulders.

    We picked up directions and a hand sketched map of the area from our new friend Mauga in Fiti’uta village and followed an old dirt path up a hill to the park entrance.  I have to admit it seemed very strange to walk up to a familiar US National Park sign rusting into oblivion way out here in the farthest reaches of the Pacific.  It felt like we had stumbled onto a relic of the 20th century in a future world where nature had reclaimed the land.   We started down the narrow path, giddy with the excitement of our discovery.  We turned a corner and were quickly immersed in a primordial old growth rain forest.  Misty shafts of light flickered down to the musty forest floor and exotic bird songs filled the shadows.  The forest growth was luxurious and I had never seen so many shades of green.  I saw a red hermit crab hobbling down the trail in a moss covered shell too small for his body.  The whumping of the distant surf line  was muffled by the forest, and despite the shrill calls of a rare blue crowned parrot, it felt quiet and peaceful under the canopy.  I stopped to rest on a black lava boulder.  The rock had absorbed the tropical heat of the sun so I had to shift around a little to get comfortable.  The humidity was intense but there weren’t very many bugs.  It was hot and still in the midday sun so we decided to cut through the forest to get a view of the coast and a taste of the cool ocean breeze.  After dodging a few nasty looking banana spiders and spitting out fine bits of web that made it into my mouth, we stumbled out into the open.  We were greeted by a blinding white beach and  luxuriant  turquoise water that looked pure enough to drink.   I brushed myself off and admired the view.  A gentle breeze was stirring the coconut palms.  We decide to walk along the coast for awhile, but rocky headlands eventually blocked our path so we headed back in to the forest to find the trail again.  We could see glimpses of the rising sea cliffs through the trees and the afternoon clouds finally covered the sun.  The trail climbed up over a hill and then down to another beach.  The end of the line.  We scrambled up the boulders of an outcrop and got our first view of the wild south coast of Ta’u. 

    The Lost Coast of Ta'u

    The Lost Coast of Ta'u

    It was a dazzling sight.   To our left was a black lava tube that funneled the powerful surf up through a narrow crevice where it blew out with the low notes of a saxophone.  A deep bay of sparkling highlights spread out before us in a wide crescent toward a rocky headland silhouetted black against the late afternoon sun.  To our right, some of the tallest sea cliffs on earth plunged down in green fluted ramparts to an isolated grove of coconut palms, lonely sentinels to a forgotten kingdom of creation.  The birthplace of Polynesia. 

    We boulder hopped our way far out into the scene, skirting the rising tide.  The air was cool now and we lied down on some warm black rocks and stared up at the sky.  Boomerang shaped frigate birds spiraled up the late afternoon thermals.  Thick white thunderheads rose up like elegant castles over the empty sea before us.  I thought about the early Polynesian mariners that set sail from here, straight into the void, fresh families in tow.  Born on this little island, this was all they knew.  This was their entire world.  They must have always wondered if there was anything else out there.  Other islands like theirs.  Taunted by the vast emptiness around them. 

     The stars came out after a spectacular sunset.  So many stars.  The same dark sky of the ancient mariners.  We turned our headlamps on and began the long walk back.  Through the trees I could see the southern cross.  The hum of the crickets seemed to ebb and flow and occassionally we would snap a branch underfoot and they would cease completely leaving us in damp silence.   Then Cheri’s headlamp began to dim and went out.  Then mine began to dim.  I forgot to replace my spare batteries after our last trip.  There was no moon and it was really dark.  We started walking faster and tripped a few times on the dark roots of the forest floor.  I saw something black fly quickly over my head, but it moved so fast I couldn’t make out any details.  We kept moving in the dim light.  Then we came to a clearing I didn’t remember from the hike in.  There were a few polished black boulders lying about. I didn’t recognize this at all.  I looked back, and we were still on a trail.  I assumed it was the trail.  My headlamp continued to fade.  Then something made a loud crash in the trees across the clearing and the crickets went silent.   My heart jumped.  Through the darkness I could see the white part of Cheri’s eyes widen as she looked over at me.  Then nothing.  We decided to continue to follow the trail we were on.  Then I saw an old rusty National Park sign lying on the ground.  This was the ancient Saua site.  We had missed it on the way in because of our detour along the coast.  There was another crash in the shadows, but this time it was closer.  My heart jumped again.  “What is that!”  A cool wind picked up and I felt a chill down my spine.  Two more crashes in the brush ten feet apart right in front of us.  We steeled ourselves and looked straight ahead squinting in the faint beam of my headlamp, trying to see what was there.  Nothing.  We stood still.  The forest was silent except for the wind.  Another black thing flew right over my head.  This time I saw it’s face.  It was the biggest bat I’d ever seen.  I could actually see it’s sharp little teeth.  One more crash and we started running in the dark.  I remembered what Litia told me about the Manua islands when we started this journey.  “My grandmother told me that ghosts live out there.”  Tagaloa had warned his people to respect the Saua site.  Now I know why it’s deserted!  We continued to run in the dark.  We crested a hill and as we shuffled down the other side we saw a beam of bright lights coming at us.  It was Mauga’s truck.  He stopped on the hill, got out of the cab and stood in the beam of the headlights.  His silhouetted figure created a long menacing shadow that advanced toward us. “Are you guys OK?   Why are you running?”  Cheri and I looked at each other.  We didn’t really know what to say.  “Come on.  Get in the back.  You’re dinner’s cold.”  We were being scolded.  We had been irresponsible staying out late, missing the dinner he promised us as part of our home stay deal.  We jumped in the back and drove slowly down the hill.  Half way down, he opened the cab rear window to talk to us.  

    “Did you get to see the Saua site?” 

    “Yes, but not until after it got dark.  We missed it on the way up.  Took a detour along the coast.  You know, it’s a little spooky out there at night.  We saw some pretty big bats out there.”

    I wasn’t sure how to bring up the other stuff.

    “We call those flying foxes.  Because they’re as big as a fox.  And they got teeth like a fox, too.”

    He hesitated.  “You know you shouldn’t be out there at night…”  Then he stopped the truck and turned around to face us.  “This is when the ghosts come out.” 

    I felt the cold wind kick up again, and another chill went down my spine.  Suddenly there was another crash in the bushes, right in front of the truck.  Cheri’s eyes got wide.  I looked over just in time to see a big coconut rolling out of the trees into the headlights…

     

     

    Click here for Part IV:  Hitching a boat ride to Ofu Island.  Is it really home to the world’s most spectacular secret beach?  http://www.michaelandersongallery.com/blog/the-long-way-to-paradise-an-exciting-journey-to-the-worlds-best-secret-beach-part-iv/

     

    Are the Manu’a islands haunted?  If it’s just falling coconuts and my active imagination, why do you think polynesia’s  ‘garden of eden’ is completely deserted? 

     

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

  • South Pacific- Samoa

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

    02.11.10 | Permalink | 3 Comments

     

    “Your vision will become clear only when you can look into your own heart. Those who look outside, dream; those who looks inside, awaken.” -Carl Jung

    Pacific Midnight.  Stars over the surf.

    Pacific Midnight.

     

    “Can you take this backpack with you to Ta’u?”

    “Excuse me?” 

    We were back at Tutuila airport.  We didn’t know this guy.  “You are going to Ta’u today, right?  Give this to Mauga when you get there.” 

     “Who’s Mauga?  How did you know we are flying to Ta’u?” 

     “Everybody knows.  It’s a small Island.  Mauga will be there when you arrive.” 

    This was getting creepy.  I glanced around.  People were tending to their bags and nobody seemed to be paying any attention to us.  He held the backpack out to me. 

    I stepped back a little bit.   “What’s in it?” 

    “Seeekrets” 

     “Secrets?” 

    “Yes, Seeekrets”.  I looked over at Cheri.  She gave a me a puzzled shrug.

    “I still don’t understand.”  “You want me to bring a bag of secrets for a guy named Mauga on the plane to Ta’u?”

    “Not Seeekrets.  Seeegrets”  He held out the backpack again. 

    Cheri grabbed my arm, pulled me closer and whispered “I think he’s saying ‘cigarettes’. 

    The guy smiled.  He was missing a lot of teeth.  I took the backpack and opened it:  Ten cartons of Marlboro cigarettes.  I made sure there was nothing underneath them.  “OK.  Who should I say is sending them?”

    “Little Tom” 

    Backpack of secrets

    Contraband: The backpack of secrets

    There were five of us on the plane and they weighed each of us carefully with our gear.  Samoans are big people.  When you make a flight reservation here, you are never confirmed until the day of the flight when the passengers are weighed.  If the person in front of you is extra heavy, you don’t get to fly.  Sometimes if you’re lucky, you get to fly but your luggage waits for a lighter plane.  We were extra lucky today.  These guys were lightweights.  We got to take all of our gear, including the backpack of secrets. 

    The plane to Ta'u

    The plane to Ta'u

    The flight was spectacular.  The rugged coastline of Tutuila spread out below us, with outcrops of sharp lava resisting the constant barrage of powder blue surf.  The plane continued to climb,  and I could see the towering cliffs begin to dwindle into the flat blue void with it’s relentless stream of waves cascading in from beyond the horizon.  I was suddenly aware of the ultimate futility of the island’s resistance to the vastly superior power of the sea.  It’s a fleeting gem in the grand scale of space and time.  We kept climbing and eventually the tiny island was swallowed up by the deep blue horizon.  I looked through the windows on both sides of the plane.  Emptiness as far as the eye could see.  The low hummm of the propellers droned on.  I nodded off for awhile.  Then a change in the tone of the engines woke me up.  We were descending now.   I looked out the window and I could see them.  Three tiny specks in the void.  The Manu’a islands!  As we got closer, the details began to emerge.  Towering fluted cliffs covered in jungle.  Rocky coves with dazzling pocket beaches.  Fringing turquoise reefs.  We passed Ofu and Olosega islands and now we were level with the top of the cliffs of Ta’u.  “Wow, look!  Whales!!!”  Cheri pointed down from the other side of the plane.  Humpbacks were cruising the light blue waters outside the reef.  Beyond them the color got progressively darker until it became the deepest shade of midnight blue I’ve ever seen.  We banked steeply, opening up my view of Ta’u.  I could see a slender waterfall streaming down one of the cliffs into a hidden recess.  Crystalline blue swells streamed over the shining black rocks into veiled fingers of sunlit spray.  We dropped quickly and I felt lighter in my seat.  The plane accelerated and we swayed side to side.  Rocky tide pools zoomed beneath us and suddenly we were level with the coconut palms.  We glided a bit and then we landed with a whining thrust of the engines. 

    Manua Islands from the air

    Manua Islands from the air.

    There wasn’t much to the Ta’u airport.  We grabbed our backpacks out of the back of the plane and walked across the narrow runway to a  shaded veranda attached to a tiny office.  It was very quiet.  I could hear the surf nearby but I couldn’t see it through the trees.  A truck pulled up and two rough looking guys walked over to pick up one of the other passengers.  I turned toward them and they looked up. 

    “Hey, do you guys know a guy named Mauga?  We need to talk to him.” 

    “D’pends on who’s asking.  You guys don’t look like  fishermen.”  He spat a little red chew onto the tarmac. 

     “We have a gift for him.  A backpack full of seeecrets”  I winked at Cheri. “Little Tom sent us.”

    “Basterd, it’s about time.  I’m Mauga.”  He held out his hand.  I shook it and  handed over the backpack.  “Nice to meet you…”  He was already digging for a cigarette.  He found one and lit it up. 

    “Hey, do you guys need a place to stay? I got a couple spare rooms up at Fiti’uta.”  He took a big drag.  “It’s close to the National Park.  Is that where you’re headed?” 

    “Honestly, we’re surprised we actually made it here, so nothing’s planned.  Can we camp up there?”

    “No. Ain’t no camping allowed out here.  Everything on this island is family land.  Even the National Park is leased from the chiefs.  But you can stay with me.  The trail-head to the park is just past my place. Forty bucks gets you a room and two meals.”

    “Are you a good cook?”

    “No, but my wife is”

    We all smiled together.  Hoisting our backpacks, we followed him to his Ford F-450 pickup truck and jumped in the back.  I wedged myself between my pack and a burlap sack of coconuts. Cheri sat on the other side with the dog.  Then we sped off.  I was sweaty, but now we had that onshore wind whipping over us and it felt wonderful.  The single lane road snaked around the island and the tall cliffs kept us cool in the shade.  The scenery was dramatic and the island was empty.  Fiti’uta village lies near the western tip of the island at Cape Papatele where the road ends.  It’s a tiny village of a dozen bungalows built up the hill with well tended tropical gardens in between.   Beyond the village is the windy Cape and beyond that lies the National Park.  It was almost noon.  We had just enough time to hike out to the end of the trail and get back before dark.

    The Story continues in Part III:  The Lost Coast of Ta’u  http://www.michaelandersongallery.com/blog/the-long-way-to-paradise-an-exciting-journey-to-the-worlds-best-secret-beach-part-iii/

     

    Have you ever broken any of the classic rules of travel with a positive outcome?  Would you have taken the backpack of ‘secrets’? 

    The Lost Coast of Ta'u

    The Lost Coast of Ta'u

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