An hour and a half elapsed since the departure of Mulifanua, the ferry “Lady Samoa III” docks at Salelologa, near the southeastern end of Savai'i.
Convenient because it shortened the navigation, the destination forced us to take an additional land route, towards the north coast of the island.
The usual precautions taken by guide Anthony McCarthy mean that we arrive at the hotel with sunset already set to the west of Matautu Bay. It proved to be only part of the reward.
The Samoan reception team that Anthony was part of, had gone to great lengths again.
Accordingly, we hurriedly installed ourselves in a speak (traditional hut) almost on the beach.
We left her and plunged into the warm Pacific Ocean. We bathed and refreshed ourselves while the firmament that enveloped Savaii gilded, rosy, became fiery.
We come out of the water, into an environment that is still hot and humid, with Venus, as always, in the lead and several other stars joining her.
As night falls, Savaii surrenders to a silence that only one or two unsynchronized roosters dare to break. Worn out by the turns and walks in Upolu, we leave office work undone.
We slept like rocks until 7:30 the next morning, on a Friday.
By that time, several old and colorful Samoan buses were already driving along the North Coast Road, full of children on their way to school.
Aware of how much he had to show and teach us around Savaii, Anthony hurries us to breakfast by the sea.
“Boys, we should be leaving by now, let’s get on with it!” she shoots, in joke mode, in the deep voice that matched her Polynesian solidity.
It so happened that the beauty and functionality of one of the places he wanted to take us to, the blowholes of Alofaaga depended on a certain tide.
Savai'i: North Coast Road Below
So we traveled south almost antipode, circling the island, the only way to reach it. Inland, the great mountain and volcano Silisili (1858m) rose above lush slopes that made any intersection and shortcut impossible.
The Silisili is just a zenith. All of Savaii forms a vast shield volcano, the largest in the South Pacific, with craters, fumaroles, lava tunnels and other formations scattered across the island.
The craters in particular extend from Tuasivi on the east coast to the western end of Cape Mulinu'u.
As we would see, some have proven to be more destructive than others.
We crossed successive districts with names of complex pronunciation: Gaga'em Auga, Fa'asal'el'e' Aga, Palauli and Satupa'itea.
On the east side of Palauli, Anthony gives us an invigorating break at the Afu Aau waterfalls, which supply a lagoon with cold, crystalline water, somewhat hidden at the edge of the rainforest and protected by Tafua.
For some time now on the South Coast Road, we pass the black sand beach of Nuu.
The Blowing Holes of Alofaaga
In the heart of the village of Taga, a detour to Cape Auisui takes us to a rough coastline, made of solidified lava, porous and pitted.
A local guide welcomes us there. Anthony salutes him, thanks him for coming. Make a payment to talas, the national currency of the island.
After completing the transaction, the host takes us to the blowing holes of Alofaaga. “I will then go into action. Prepare the machines!” So we do.
The man grabs two coconuts. At a time when the waves receded, he throws them into one of the blow holes.
When the waves fill the lava bottom and the orifice again, they make the coconuts shoot skywards, higher than the explosive gushing of the water.
When the coconuts land, close to us, practically grated, we take one or two pictures of the final product.
We say goodbye and head back to South Coast Road. Shortly after, the three of us agree that we are starving. “It was a good place to finish it.”, reassures us Anthony.
“There is a humble family a few kilometers away that serves Samoan food, more or less traditional. Whenever I can, I like to stop there”.
Anthony orders us roast chicken, served with boiled plantain and taro, all artfully wrapped in banana leaves.
The Prolific and Vertiginous Tree Climbing of Falealupo
In a semi-forced way, due to lack of time, food on board, we continued towards the western tip of Savaii, Cape Mulinuu. Before reaching it, we cut to Falealupo.
In a patch of local forest, we experience a walk over wobbly walkways and rope bridges, elevated among the trees.
Anthony confesses to us that he suffers from vertigo. Still, he strives to complete the course, at his cautious speed.
When it ends, it's time to take the South Coast Road again towards the Manase area, where we would spend the night.
Friday Afternoon and the Excited Return of Schools
On the way, we stopped at a school.
At that time, an official wearing a lava lava (typical skirt) was picking up a Samoan flag from the pole. Children left the classrooms for a rugby pitch.
From there, they walked to homes or boarded providential vehicles.
We followed a pick up loaded with teachers and school staff. And a small truck with a box full of students. Happy that the teaching week is over, everyone waves and greets the outsiders with rejoicing.
In the middle of Asau Bay, the South Road becomes the North Road again. This one bends into the lush interior of Savaii, here and there, dotted with banana groves and taro plantations. It only returns to the coast, over Sasina.
Shortly after, we enter Manase. Driving us since 7:30 in the morning, Anthony claims his rest period.
Another late-afternoon downpour washes our minds of conscience problems for not going out again to discover, on our own.
After all, we had another day and a half allocated to Savaii. Starting the next one early and refreshed seemed like another good idea.
As almost always, the aurora gives us good weather.
Savai'i and Intense Samoan Rugby
He is also a practitioner, Anthony takes us to a regional rugby tournament, Samoa's main sporting passion.
Taking place in a field walled by basaltic stones, surrounded by coconut trees, taro plants and other tropical vegetation.
The tournament is worth what, above all, the warrior honor of the players and the towns they represent is worth. The players take it with such determination that one of them is seriously injured and is evacuated by ambulance.
It doesn't happen to everyone, but, however they apply, some Samoan players find themselves recruited for the best professional teams, especially in Australia and New Zealand.
Photographing rugby with that competitive and frantic pace, ends up tiring us out. Luckily, the next stop was at a marine lagoon in Sato'Alepai.
We share it with green turtles, who are more than used to human presence, stimulated by the gifts of papaya that visitors usually make them.
Nearby, a community of family and friends played a clumsy volleyball over a grassy garden.
That Saturday, the communal time for sports and leisure, over grass and around banquets, seemed to last forever.
Just like the circumnavigation of the island which, being the largest in the Samoan archipelago, began to seem endless.
The Church destroyed by the lava of the Matavanu Volcano
We advanced to Sale'aula. Its immense lava field extends for a few more kilometers.
It was formed in 1905 by the eruption of another of Savaii's volcanoes, Mount Matavanu.
On its way out to sea, a thick torrent of lava entered the doorway of a church which the London Missionary Society had erected in 1865, just thirty-five years after the society landed in Samoa.
Lava built up inside. It caused the collapse of the roof and the impression of beams and pieces of iron on the ground, which later solidified.
In its destruction, we find an unusual and unmistakable monument to the supremacy of Nature over faith and human will. And yet we soon found how the proselytizing determination of the London Missionary Society prevailed.
So much so that, under the action of John Williams, one of his missionaries, Samoa became predominantly and officially Christian.
Safotu and his Colorful Christian Life
We arrived on Sunday morning. Functional churches on the island claim the presence of believers.
We are impressed by its architectural exuberance, the white and blue temple of Safotu, with its twin towers and a cut pediment above an L-shaped nave.
We photographed him when, after Mass, a colorful crowd of faithful dressed in their best dresses and combinations of lava lavas and shirts rush down the stairs.
They form a Samoan posse that stretches out North Coast Road.
We follow them towards Manase, where we return to the southeastern tip of Savaii, in time to catch the ferry back to Upolu.
From Upolu, we also visit Manono, the third island of Samoa, not counting “Americana”.
This one is a whole other Samoa apart.