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