“Those who dwell among the beauties and mysteries of the Earth are never alone or weary of life.” -Rachel Carson
I opened my eyes and looked up at the ceiling. My mind swirled in the familiar disorientation of waking up in a foreign land. The room was narrow, the walls were old and spartan. I sat up into a shaft of morning light that streamed through a narrow window near the roof. It was the sound of the surf that brought me back to Ta’u.
I settled back on the pillow, waiting for Cheri to wake up, listening to the waves and feeling content. Suddenly there were footsteps in the hall and a hurried knock on the door. Mauga leaned in. ”Eli is a fisherman who is going to Ofu island today. You can go with him in his boat. He leaves in 15 minutes.” I looked around. Our stuff was strewn all over the room. We had to move quickly. Back at home, this sort of rushed chaos can be stressful, but out here it’s invigorating. I love feeling just a little bit off balance while traveling. It affirms the sense of freedom, spontaneity and adventure.
We shouldered our packs and jumped in the back of Mauga’s pickup truck, barely getting our feet off the ground before he accelerated down the dusty road toward the dock. It was a quick drive. We pulled up at the edge of the harbor just in time to see Eli the fisherman lifting a large icebox of bait over the gunwale of his boat. We thanked Mauga for the ride and walked down the short ramp to greet him. Eli looked up at us with a charismatic grin. “Welcome aboard!” He took off his sunglasses and shook our hands. He was ruggedly handsome and fit, with penetrating brown eyes and a mischievous smile. He wore a white T-shirt rolled up over his head like a bandanna. Despite the fact that I could smell alcohol on his breath at seven in the morning, he had the look of someone you could trust. He had an intimidating air of confidence.
I handed him our packs and he stashed them under a tarp in the front. Our gear was ragged from months of travel, but it looked new and squeaky clean against the other gear in the boat. “OK, ladies first!” he looked up at Cheri and held out his hand. He was careful to pull the boat against the dock while he guided her arm and she stepped into the boat. Then he turned and reached for my arm. I felt like a self conscious novice as I accepted his hand. I wanted to be gracious, but I didn’t need help getting into the boat. I wanted to be part of the crew, not a tourist on a sightseeing trip. “Is there anything I can help you with?”
Eli looked at me and paused, gauging my question. “You can throw a bowline onto that tarp to keep it from blowing off.”
A bowline knot. I vaguely remembered tying them when I was learning to climb many years ago. I tried not to hesitate. “Sure.” I reached over and tried to recall the mnemonic “the rabbit goes out of the hole, around the log and back into the hole…” I flipped the loop of rope back and forth in my hand. I looked back at Eli. He quickly averted his glance. This was a little test and I knew it. I flipped the rope one more time and it all came together. I pulled on the tarp and cinched it tight.
I smiled and turned to look back at Eli. Three new fishermen had just arrived at the side of the boat and Eli was busy helping them load their gear. His back was to the boat and they were speaking in Samoan. They continued their conversation and ignored us at first, but then they got in the boat and were very gracious. They stepped over the gear reaching out to shake our hands. Their hands were rough with callouses. We introduced ourselves, but then Eli started the engines, drowning out the rest of our conversation. So we looked around and smiled a lot. And then we set off.
The harbor was calm, but it only took a few minutes to reach the big rolling waves of the open sea. The tall green cliffs of Ta’u slowly receded behind us and the sharp outline of Ofu island began to rise over the horizon. Trolling lines were tossed out and I could see the vibrating white filaments slip diagonally down into the clear deep water. Eli reached down and pulled two bottles of Vailima Beer out of an ice chest, popped them open and held them out to us. Then he winked and took a big swig. With the motor wailing and cold beer for breakfast, we sat together without speaking and gazed out at the timeless scene before us. The sky felt huge and empty. And the sea was the color of cold blue twilight waiting for the light of day.
My thoughts drifted back to the beginning of this serendipitous journey and the random events that brought us out to this tiny speck on the earth, far out in the vast Pacific, trolling a line in a rusty old boat with a group of crazy fishermen.
Time to ponder. It’s one of the greatest gifts of travel. Time to absorb and digest the multi layered fabric of experience that makes up a great journey. Time to consider our place in the world and the direction we are headed. Time to look back and consider the journey thus far. Back at Lalomanu Beach, we made a decision to come here based solely on intuition and an old map in someone’s discarded guide book to the South Pacific. But what was the basis of that intuition? A capriciousness nudge in the right direction? Did we end up in this tiny little speck of ocean by choice or by chance? If you believe in destiny, then you know that Fate gives us two choices. The one we should make, and the one we do. But we never find out if we made the right choice. That’s the irony of Fate. Still, we always end up where we are meant to be in the end. Intuition is the force that guides us there.
The jagged green peaks of Ofu island were now looming over us, and we got our first glimpse of the turquise lagoon with it’s dazzling white sand beaches, surrounded by a lush forest of tropical fruits and flowers. The view was stunning. If Ta’u was indeed the sacred point of all creation, then Ofu had to be the Garden of Eden.
Eli maneuvered the boat through a break in the reef and then we pulled up on a small beach below Ofu Village. We grabbed our packs and stepped off the boat into the knee deep water, sloshing our way up to the sand. We dropped our packs and looked around. Some of the villagers had came down to meet us and Eli asked one of them to give us a ride up to Vaoto Lodge, the only place to stay on the island. We were greeted by Deb and her husband Ben. Deb’s father Tito was a Matai, an island chief, and this was the family land. The location was breathtaking.
We dropped our packs in our room and walked down to the beach. Sunuitao Peak dominated the horizon, a perfectly sculpted pyramid of rock, elegantly positioned at the far end of a long crescent of white sand beach. The tranquil waters of the lagoon were luminescent, with more shades of blue and green than I thought was possible. Stately coconut palms cast perfect shadows over delicate ripples in the fine white sand, broken only by the path of our own footsteps. Far out on the edge of the reef, a steady tropical breeze blew thinly veiled spray off the crests of the curling waves. It was South Seas perfection. True paradise. The kind of place you dream about but never expect to see. And we had it all to ourselves. We waded out into the warm turquoise water and then we dove in. The water was sultry warm. I could hear the quiet tinkling of the coral fish and bubbles under the surface. We came back up and embraced each other, spun around in the shallows, and then fell back in the water laughing in sheer ecstasy.
We had found our paradise. For a brief moment in time, this little beach had became our entire world. Nothing else mattered. Beyond this magical island, the vastness of the sea knew no bounds. We had entered an alternative world steeped in mystery that still had room for legends and ghosts. Where the will of intrepid travelers can either follow or challenge the hands of fate. At that moment it seemed that fate had delivered us to paradise. But in the end, fate did not deliver us to Ofu. The plans of destiny were much grander than that. What fate did was spare us from the deadly Tsunami at Lalomanu…
The next entry in the series “The Samoa Tsunami: Dodging a Bullet of Epic Proportions” can be found here: http://www.michaelandersongallery.com/blog/the-samoa-tsunami-dodging-a-bullet-of-epic-proportions/
To go to the beginning of the series, click here: http://www.michaelandersongallery.com/blog/the-long-way-to-paradise-an-exciting-journey-to-the-worlds-best-secret-beach-part-i/
For more information on visiting Ofu Island go to www.VaotoLodge.com
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