I had a fabulous time on my vacation. It was more than I hoped for. The only sad news is that I lost my camera on the final day. I think I know where I left it and am hoping to get it back. The good news is that Donna took lots of photos, but since she wasn’t with me at Christmas when I visited the dairy farm I’ll just have memories, unless I can locate the camera. You’ll just have to imagine a lush, green place with lots of cows and the friendliest people I’ve ever met. Honestly, Kiwi’s make Canadians look surly.
The trip started on the oldest, smallest ferry. Luckily, a woman from my village was heading to Apia and let me sit on her rolled up sleeping mat. That boat has no seats and no overhead protection from sun/rain. I looked a mess by the time I got to the airport but didn’t care. I was on vacation!
December 23, 2011 – Flew with my BFF Chelsea who was going to meet her mom in Auckland. Sadly, her mom’s flight was delayed out of Jersey and she missed her connecting flights so was delayed a day. I was met at the airport by Lisa, a Kiwi I met when she and her husband Wayne visited my village. They took me to their house to spend Christmas.
December 24 – Breakfast was granola. I’ve never been a milk drinker. I’m not allergic to it, I just don’t care for it. Been that way since I was a baby and refused to drink milk. I discovered though, that if the milk is fresh from the cow and has all the luscious cream/fat and isn’t homogenized, that I like milk. Granola is too expensive for me to buy on the island, so the fresh whole milk and excellent granola were a treat.
Lisa and her two youngest kids and I headed for Rotorua, less than an hour away. We land luged. We wet Zorbed. We ate at MacDonalds. The weather was cool and perfect. Later, we stopped at a lake where the rest of the family was boating. Since it was freezing (by Samoan standards) and I had no “swimming togs”, I just enjoyed the boat ride while the kids knee-boarded.
On our way home Lisa and I stopped at the grocery store. She had to drag me out, since guests were expected for dinner and I was so busy ogling the fresh produce, cheese, meat, pastries, chocolate, etc. that I didn’t realize how long we’d been there.
That evening we had a barbeque with friends/neighbors who were delightful. I ate my body weight in grilled green lip mussels to say nothing of the steak and salad.
L & W’s youngest, an adorable and precocious boy, is a big fan of Santa. Before bed he left a letter for Santa along with cookies and a beer. Clearly Santa is my kind of guy. He also put out feed for the reindeer. I slept like a log under blankets (!) in the very comfortable room that the oldest daughter gave up for me to use.
December 25 – Seems Christmas morning is the same in NZ as the States. Excited kids, presents and everyone in their pajamas. The only difference was that Wayne was up at 4:30 a.m. to milk the cows. There was a letter to the family (and me!) from Santa, who was very grateful for the treats he’d received. Lisa and I had agreed not to exchange gifts but Santa left me some lovely soap and body butter made with Manuka honey, which is very popular in NZ. Lisa broached the “no gifts” agreement and gave me a great Tokeroa t-shirt.
After a leisurely morning, we headed to a neighbor’s house for their annual brunch for the neighboring farmers. It was mostly desserts, along with more mussels. The food was fabulous and the people amazingly welcoming and friendly. The house is set on a hill and had stunning 360 degree views of the surrounding area.
After brunch (which lasted to mid-afternoon), Wayne invited me to help him milk the cows. That’s been on my bucket list since I was a kid. I know, for most people it’s to see the Eiffel tower or something a bit more glamorous. My first book, which I received when I was 4 and still have, was a story about a young girl who lived next door to an old man who had a cow. She went to his barn every day to watch him milk the cow. He’d squirt some milk toward the cat, who’d stand on his hind paws to catch the milk in his mouth. Since reading that book, I’ve wanted to milk a cow. I came home covered in cow poop and very happy. BTW, I learned that one must be attentive when milking. Some of the bulls follow the cows into the milking shed. It is not good to reach between his back legs to grab a “teat” to attach the milking suction cup.
Later, Lisa and I relaxed on the patio as the kids and more daring adults tested out the paint ball guns that Santa had brought. The day ended with a delicious late dinner with the neighbors who’d come the night before and hosted the brunch. It was one of the best Christmases I’ve ever had. I felt welcomed and like part of the neighborhood. I was beginning to plan ways to barricade myself in “my” bedroom so I wouldn’t have to leave.
December 26 – Boxing Day. After a relaxed breakfast, Lisa and I headed to her school. We took a tour through the neighborhoods where her kids live. Many are Maori and Cook Islanders, along with a few Samoans. Lisa is clearly passionate about teaching and children. She generously shared a variety of teaching materials with me to help in my school.
I wanted to do some shopping on my trip to replace the t-shirts/skirts that I’ve literally worn out. It’s not good when the Pisi Koa is the worst dressed in the village. Lisa took me to a great store called The Warehouse. It’s sort of a cross between Target and Walmart.
I found a couple of skirts, two t-shirts and two pairs of board shorts – all on sale! The board shorts I wear under a lavalava, with a t-shirt, for everyday wear and use them when I go swimming. I also picked up 2 pairs of shoes. Because I have funky toes it’s hard to buy shoes in the best of circumstances, so I was pleased to find some sandals that were both cheap and easy to get on my hooves.
I found a bunch of materials for school. Activity books, mostly. I can copy the pages for the kids and leave the books behind for teachers to use when I’m gone. Bonus – they had a sale on chocolates, so I picked up some HUGE bars for my family and neighbors, along with a large boxed assortment for the teachers. In one trip to the Warehouse, I was able to buy everything I hoped to. Score!
Late afternoon, Lisa took me to the bus stop, along with a package of the cookies and goodies she’d made for Christmas. For $59, I took a very comfortable four hour bus ride to Auckland where I checked into Bianco Off Queen. Bianco is serviced apartments and I had a one bedroom with a fully equipped kitchen and a washer/dryer in the bathroom. Lovely.
December 27 – December 31. I did nothing. It was great. You won’t be getting detailed entries on these days because you would be bored to death. I did leave the apartment occasionally. I got my annual PC required dental check-up, got a haircut and wandered around. I bought food to bring back and cook. Steak and baked potatoes with broccoli for example. Along with a nice red wine.
Mostly, I demonstrated my superior skills as a couch potato. I lounged. I napped. I reveled in the cool outside air and sometimes used the air con. I caught up on new shows on the Discovery channel. I was ambidextrous in using the remote. It was stellar.
To celebrate New Year’s Eve, I drank a glass of wine and watched the crowds in the street from my balcony. I tried to sleep but had no luck. I was up all night.
January 1, 2012 - I left for the Auckland airport at 3:45 a.m. Donna’s flight was arriving early, at 4:40 and I wanted to make sure I was there when she walked out of immigration after a 20 hour trip. I was afraid I’d blubber when I saw her but was just too tired. I was happy to see her but just wanted to get back to the apartment.
We ate, napped and talked for the day. We spent a lot of time looking at brochures and trying to decide everything we wanted to do.
January 2 – Walking, shopping and eating in Auckland. I’d been told not to bother spending any time there, that it was a pit with nothing to do. I disagree. It’s a lovely city with great inexpensive bus service, tons of ethnic (mostly Asian and Middle Eastern) restaurants, theatres and plenty of stores to take your money.
January 3-4 – We hopped on one of the many buses that go from city to city and headed for the Bay of Islands. Scenery along the way was spectacular and the bus was full but comfortable. We spent the night in Bay of Islands and really enjoyed a relaxing time. We also met a charming Kiwi couple whom I hope to visit my next trip there. They’re planning to visit Savaii before I leave as well. We spent the night on an overnight cruise in the Bay. When we got off, we went on a helicopter tour of the Bay. Fabulous! I had nachos for lunch. Does the world not know that nachos involves a lot of cheese??
January 5 – Another day of strolling around Auckland. We found two Chinese massage providers at the Westfield Mall downtown. Inexpensive and awesome. We visited them several times.
January 6 - 7 – Another road trip. This time we took the bus to Rotorua. We stayed at a really great hotel – the Bella Vista. It’s a chain, in the same price range as a Red Roof Inn or Motel Six but so much nicer. Great location, really nice furnishings and full set of dishes, microwave and fridge. Plus, the owners were the nicest folks and gave us lots of advice on where to go and what to see. We soaked in a mineral bath, took a walk through a city park filled with bubbling mud and steaming water, visited a Maori “theme park” and ate.
January 8 – Our flight was scheduled for 8 p.m. so we checked out of Bianco Off Queen and stored our luggage. We went to Kelly Tarlton’s Underwater World in the pouring rain. It was expensive and about the size of a gift shop at Sea World and about as much fun. I’m glad we went because I always would have thought I missed something great, but it was small and “eh”. Not awful but certainly not great. The best part was the free transport from downtown. You ride in a van that’s been modified to make it look like you’re riding inside a Great White shark. Let me clarify…the outside of the van looks like you’re in a shark. The inside does not. That would be disgusting.
We headed to the airport at 5:30 p.m. Checked in with no problem. The counter person told me boarding would be at 11:35 p.m. I said “For an 8:00 p.m. flight?” “Oh, let me check. Yes, the flight is delayed until just after midnight due to a mechanical problem. The plane is on the ground here and they’re working on it.” Later, after we noticed the departure board had been updated and our flight would now be leaving five hours late, we were told the problem was weather and the plane was in Apia.
Long story, but we arrived in Samoa after 7 a.m. after another sleepless night. Rather than staying at the hotel near the airport that I’d booked (and paid for), we just caught the 8:00 a.m. ferry to Savaii. It was overcast, drizzly and gray. Precisely the weather we’d left in Auckland except it was hot and humid here.
January 9 – We picked up our rental car with no problem. Donna was very surprised that they only take cash, no checks and no credit cards. I knew that, so had stocked up on tala. We checked in at the Savaiian hotel which is in a village near mine. Nice place with great owners. We hung out and went to my house so Donna could meet my family and see the place. Plus, I had chocolate to give away.
Only my host brother and sister were home when I arrived. They both greeted me warmly. “You got fat in New Zealand!” was my brother’s greeting. Home sweet home. Sadly, he was correct.
January 10 - 12 – Road trip! What a treat to have a car here. No waiting for the bus. The ability to go somewhere after the buses stop running at 6 p.m. Sweet freedom. We headed toward Asau, on the north west part of Savaii. We stopped at the sea turtles and the lava fields. I think Donna was pleasantly surprised with both.
We checked in to our “over the water” bungalows at Vai Moana in Asau. I love the place. Nice people, some of the best food on the island and I love falling asleep to the waves lapping under my fale. Donna was expecting a resort – she got no air con, cold water showers and waves that kept her awake all night. She was even lucky enough to have several hermit crabs in her room.
We stopped at the blow holes on our way home and enjoyed a relaxing drive. We checked back in to the Savaiian, then headed to my village for lunch and a chance to see more people. Unfortunately, it was pouring rain so we didn’t do the evening stroll I’d hoped for. We would have seen many more people that way. But, we stopped at the home of one of my favorite teachers and Donna got to experience a real Samoan greeting, complete with hug and kiss.
Jan. 13 – Since Donna’s flight was scheduled for the wee hours of Jan. 14, we headed back to Upolu on the 10 a.m. ferry. We checked in at the Airport Lodge then headed to the Aggie Grey’s resort for lunch. We had the outdoor dining room and umpteen staff to ourselves, along with a stellar view. After a very long lunch, we headed back to the hotel where we changed rooms for the third time (first room had no air con, second room did but it didn’t seem to work and they gave us a complimentary upgrade to a very nice room) and chilled.
I hate drawn out goodbyes. Actually, I don’t like goodbyes at all. I put Donna in a cab for the short ride to the airport and went back to bed, after shedding a few tears.
Jan. 14 – After a few more tears – both because I hated to see my buddy leave and hated to see vacation come to an end, I left the hotel for the wharf. Hoped the pasi o va’a, which is the bus that goes between Apia and the wharf. It was hot, it was crowded and it was a reminder that I wasn’t living the palagi life any more. I stopped by the grocery store for supplies then headed to the house where my friends Denise and Otis were staying. Her final day as an employee of Peace Corps was the day before and I was going to see them for the last time. Another goodbye.
Jan. 15 – Denise woke up in the wee hours, sick as a dog. A friend with a car came over and took her to the hospital where she was given medication. She slept and worked on recovering for the rest of the day while her husband, son, Chelsea and a friend of her son hung out.
Jan. 16 – Our day started at 4 a.m. when Chelsea and I got up to say goodbye to Denise and her wonderful family. She was one of my closest friends in Samoa and I’ll really miss her. I’ll also really miss her smart and funny 13 year old son and her smart, handsome and kind husband.
After they left for the airport, I cried a bit again, then went back to bed. Chelsea and I slept for a couple of hours then got up to head home.
The bus ride to the wharf was packed and hot. The ferry to Savaii was packed and hot. I splurged and took a cab home. Denise had given me a ton of magazines to use at school and I just didn’t have it in me to schlep everything on the bus.
I got home to a filthy house. When you have open windows (no glass, just holes in the wall covered in wire) and leave on a beach, there’s sand. Everywhere. And when you live in the tropics there are bugs and spiders and mold. I spent three hours cleaning so I’d be able to sleep there that night. I’m allergic to mold and it covered my ceiling and countertop. I also had rat poop all over the bathroom. G – thanks for the wonderful soap you sent me for Christmas. I didn’t get to use it, but the rat must have liked it since he ate the whole damned bar.
I caught up with my family, cleaned, fixed dinner and did laundry. I also set the rat trap and caught a rat whose breath smelled suspiciously like goat’s milk soap.
It was a great break. I’m feeling refreshed, renewed and ready for the next term. It’s hard to believe that there’s only 10 months to go. I suspect time will fly by.