Fourth of seven parts
The Manu'a Islands had their choice of becoming a protectorate of Germany, New Zealand or the United States and chose the United States. The resulting group is known as the American Samoan Islands. Two other islands, Savaii and Upolu, chose to stick with Germany, then later became an independent country. The major populated islands of American Samoa are Tutuila, Ofu, Olosega and Ta'u.
American Samoa is the only U.S. territory south of the equator. The total land mass occupies some 76 square miles and the population is about 60,000 up from 40,000 a decade ago. The vast majority of the people live on Tutuila, with about 150 on Ofu, 150-plus on Olosega and 500-plus on Ta'u.
American Samoa is an unincorporated territory. Its indigenous people are American nationals as opposed to American citizens; they can work anywhere in the United States and, once there, apply for citizenship which is routinely granted.
Samoans elect their own governor and lieutenant governor. In the bicameral legislature, the representatives are popularly elected while the senators are chiefs chosen via the traditional matai system.
Tutuila lies some 2,600 miles south and slightly west of Hawaii. You can fly there from Hawaii on the twice-weekly Hawaiian Airlines flight, or via New Zealand and Western Samoa. Boat traffic is sparse, except for cruise ships, with a spasmodic ferry to the Manu'an Islands and slightly more regular service with Western Samoa.
The island is defined by the harbor at Pago Pago and Rainmaker Mountain. The harbor is primarily utilized for freight and fish processing (with two major tuna canneries). The Rainmaker, or North Pioa, mountain soars to more than 1,700 feet. Further demographic information can be obtained from the following web sites:
members.tripod.com/~blssooalo; samoanet.com; and NPSA_Administration@nps.gov.
Tourism infrastructure here is almost nonexistent. The Rainmaker Hotel was a first-class resort in the late 1940s but has been run by the government for about eight years and has suffered a marked decline. There are $65-a-day harbor rooms for the fishing fleet, $85-a-day beach rooms for unsuspecting federal government employees, and a couple of $135-a-day cottages for tourists. When you check in at reception, your immediate predilection is to reglue the wallpaper. The restaurant is good and the staff is polite, but this is not a star hotel.
The other accommodations on Tutuila are mostly bed and breakfast establishments. A friend put us in the Taalolo Golf Resort and Lodge because he did not feel we were up to the traditional Samoan Fale tali malo, or guesthouse. The lodge is a home next to the golf course with pretensions of grandeur. Accommodations cost $75 for a bed behind a screen, $95 for a bed in a room with a door, and $135 for the master bedroom with a toilet. The lodge has two sitting areas, but the upholstery is filthy and the odor promotes respiratory distress.
Breakfast was cereal, toast, juice and coffee. Dinner was available from $16.50 for curry chicken to $21.95 for utility-grade beef. This was three times the price of food at the excellent restaurant a mile down the road. The problem was getting to and from the restaurant, as most of the roadways do not have sidewalks, there is no bus service after 5:30 p.m., and taxis are expensive.
I talked to several private contractors and federal government officials concerning accommodations. Since they expect no more than a relatively clean bed and some privacy, they generally stay for $45 to $60 at the Airport Motel, Barry's B&B and a handful of other establishments a one-time tourist is not likely to find. If they are lucky, they can cook for themselves in their establishment's kitchen; otherwise, they go out for meals. Vehicles, which rent for about $75 a day, are a real pain but give you the advantage of being able to go out when and were you want to.
One alternative to the whole mess is to participate in the National Park Home Stay program. For $60 per couple, you get clean accommodations, full board and, most important, hosts who want you to experience and enjoy their lifestyle. Home Stay is adventure tourism, and I recommend it highly in American Samoa. To learn more, e-mail to NPSA_Administration@nps.gov, and check out the Home Stay web page at www.nps.gov/npsa/homestay.
Actually the island has an excellent transportation system from 6 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. You can jump onto a private bus and ride locally for $.25, and to the end of the line for $1. This is a real boon for visiting the spectacular shorelines and mountains. We spent several hours entranced by the power of the waves breaking on the lava outcroppings at Shark and Turtle Bay. After around 5 p.m., however, and definitely after 5:30, you are on your own and at the mercy of the taxis, which seem to charge $3 to $2 per mile, depending upon the distance.
A problem for the tourist is the inactivity of the government tourism office and the lack of a tourism infrastructure. The tourism office has a web page, www.samoanet.com, but the hotel listings were last updated in March 1998. There doesn't appear to be any functioning Chamber of Commerce, and we did not find any tourism literature. The only printed information we were able to obtain was distributed at the National Park Visitor Center in Pago Pago.
Tutuila does have a Cost-U-Less, with prices very similar to those in the Virgin Islands. We found two big differences: a paucity of fresh vegetables, and extremely inexpensive electronics and bicycles made in Asia.
To our surprise, just about everyone we talked to asked us if we were going to Western Samoa and advised us to run, not walk, to that destination. Almost everyone stressed the adherence to the true Samoan culture and the fact you receive three Samoan dollars for one U.S. dollar. On the other hand, we met two physicians who owned a private clinic in Western Samoa but came to American Samoa to get dental care and to purchase women's clothes.
We found that many Samoan women adopt children. One of the emergency medical technicians we met had four children of her own plus three she had adopted. A typical Samoan family appears to extend throughout Western Samoa, American Samoa, Hawaii and California.
Many middle-age Samoans were educated, raised and even born in the United States. Having come home to take care of their elders, they decided to stay. In time, they will become the elders and call some of their extended family to care for them. There are also many Western Samoans of some relation who have come, been sent for, or been sent to American Samoa to "find a future." The result is a true hodge podge of people who have begun to stress the fragile Samoan environment.
When asked what the limiting factor was, I was told: water. Although the mountains are precipitous and the land is lush with vegetation, the fresh-water lens is in danger of salt-water intrusion, which will ruin the wells and limit the available drinking water.
Bottom line: American Samoa is not ready for tourism and may be too fragile to ever attempt to develop a major tourist industry. Samoa's location and scale do not encourage tourism from any continent. While there are many good, low-cost restaurants, there do not appear to be any first-class or even second-class kitchens. Generally speaking, most American tourists will be extremely disappointed in Tutuila as a tourist destination.
Next: Immersion in the National Park Home Stay program and learning to accept fa'asamo, the "Samoan way."
ISLAND HOPPING: TUTUILA IN AMERICAN SAMOA
Fourth of seven parts
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