The weather was still a bit iffy today; aside from the cyclone, I think Savai’i is more lush because of the tropical rainfall. It cleared up around when we headed across for breakfast and we decided that despite the intermittent rain, we would do the scheduled plantation walk. Our usual waiter was also doing double duty as the tour guide for the walk – it will be a real loss to the resort when he leaves at the end of the month to pursue his tourism and hospitality course at university.
We headed across the main road and inland to the village houses. We had noticed that there didn’t seem to be as many people down in the village as in previous villages but wondered whether it was because there was higher alternative employment within the resorts. As it turns out, after the tsunami in 2009 the village elders decided that for the safety of their people that the village should be moved inland – a pretty smart move, we reckon. They still come down to the shore to fish but it is amazing what has been developed in the last three years.
One of the first things that we looked at was the type of wood used for meeting fales. There is only one type of wood that is considered suitable (as it is a hardwood and grows straight) and you better beware if you try and pull the wool over the matai’s eyes. Even if you paint it the same colour as all the rest, the chief knows the improper wood by the sounds it makes when struck. If you don’t fix the issue by the end of the day, that’s a 50 pig or ST$1000 fine for your family.
We learnt that there are three different types of mango trees and that Samoans will only eat the mangos that they pick off the trees; they do not consider any fruit that fall off the trees to be healthy, they leave them for the animals. We saw two different types of coconut palms and learnt that one is for eating and the other for weaving baskets and thatching – not to be mixed up. We got to smell a fresh nonu fruit – noni juice is considered to be good medicine here but I think I would have to be pretty sick before I had it, it smells like really strong trees. We saw the systems that they have for growing yams – they grow them for five years until they are as long as your forearm. I think all the yams that we have in New Zealand are around the size of your thumb!
We got to see the sties where the villagers keep their pigs at night. During the day, they truly are free-range pigs, being let out to forage early in the morning through little holes in the volcanic rock walls of their sties. At night they are called in for dinner time – there are three different ways to call a pig. One is drumming a bucket, one is using the mouth and a slapping, kissing sound and one is a call. The idea is that you use a different one from your neighbours and that the pigs will follow the call particular to them. Sometimes the pigs will get confused and enter the wrong pen but then the rest of the pigs will refuse to eat until the strangers are chased out. Ownership is identified by little cuts on the ear or the tail of the pig. Such smart animals!
We saw pineapple and tapioca growing and got to play with “shy grass”, a low lying plant whose leaves shrink when touched. It’s apparently a big hit with the primary school kids when they get let out of school. We got to see three different types of Taro – there is no difference in taste, they are just different varietals and only the soft baby leaves of the white taro are used as a salad green. We were shown the flax-type plant that is used to make mats and our guide showed us how to prepare the leaves before it is boiled, even though that is traditionally women’s work. The leaves are boiled to make the color prettier and the finished product more soft and durable. Having walked on the mats at Villa Vailima, I can definitely vouch for how soft they are. Along our walk we also learnt the seven different varieties of banana grown there (one for each of us on the walk) : palagi, boila, baka, misiluki, bubblegum, ladyfinger and Samoa. I think I am forever going to remember our fellow tourists by their banana names rather than their real names. I was misiluki!
When we arrived at our guide’s house, it was time for our coconut education. First our guide climbed the coconut tree. The light rain meant he only got around halfway up but that was much farther than any of us would have managed. He then husked some coconuts for us and Papa M and the other man of the group then had the job of splitting them open using the back of a heavy knife. They then took turns with the guide scraping the flesh out of the coconut. Finally our guide used some fibres to show us how they would then create coconut cream. Apparently the dried pulp from this process then makes excellent chicken feed. It’s great to see how little waste occurs in the islands.
Another afternoon swim was had and we headed down to the swimming hole created by the resort next door – they’ve dug out a section of beach so that it is still swimmable at low tide. It freaked me out a little bit to be in the strong sideways current without being able to touch the bottom (I’m not a confident swimmer) so we headed back up the beach to the shallower waters in front of our resort.
We dined at our resort restaurant again. The resort next door apparently has a much wider range of meals but we like the “eat local & in season” ethos of our resort. Papa M had a delicious pasta dish (admittedly with a little NZ Parmesan) and my pan-fried fish was excellent. Sitting in our bungalow that evening, it was a little sad to think that we’d be leaving Fagamalo and Savai’i tomorrow and Samoa itself the following day!