“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
“Can you take this backpack with you to Ta’u?”
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?”
“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?”
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 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.
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’?
This entry in Michael Anderson’s Travel Photography Blog is copyright 2010. All Rights Reserved. May not be reproduced without permission.