Samoa - where laid back is an understatement
While much of Polynesia is the picture-perfect tourist paradise, que crystal clear blue waters with palm trees gently swaying alongside cheesy couple, the small nation of Samoa retains a cool down-to-earth vibe.
Welcome to Samoa
Western Samoa is a tiny speck of an island – well actually two islands, Upolu and Savai’i, with its counterpart, American Samoa lying to the East. After a recommendation by friends, Samoa seemed to tick most of our boxes – affordable, surfable, kid-friendly.
The island, with its laid-back vibe, doesn’t have an excessive offering of five-star resorts, making accommodation more affordable than other neighboring islands. It also definitely means things are more on the funky side than the luxury side. Hard not to wonder if tourism is a little dried up though – a lot of it feels sun-faded, as if its seen better days.
There's a good mix between tourists and everyday people, lending it a nice friendly atomosphere. Herein lies the charm of the island, there’s not a lot of distraction on offer. Internet and WiFi are shoddy, villages (even the capital for that matter) are tiny, and while there are classic tourist attractions, they don’t exactly take up all of your day. Quite simply there’s not a whole lot to do except enjoy the beautiful surroundings, especially the sea.
Upon landing we were greeted by a gust of warm tropical air and shouts of excited family members from across a small fence blocking the airport off. Quite refreshing from the usual tired looking employees dodging eye-contact in the sterile western airports we’ve grown accustomed to. There was even a live band playing island tunes to brighten the mood as we waited to pass through immigration.
The scene outside the airport was even more celebratory, with lots of Samoan’s returning home from time spent abroad. People and cars were all jostling for space in an easy friendly manner.
It was all pretty much the opposite of the angry, crowded, honking New York airport I so lovingly get to call home.
Our host was waiting outside for us and right off the bat ranked as one of the calmest persons I’ve ever met. ‘Talofa. Hello. Welcome. Do you need anything,’ he asked?
‘Erm, a cash machine,’ we demured, as much to our naive surprise there wasn’t one at the airport, or at least not one that worked.
‘Ok – no problem, I'll drive you to the capital Apia.’ (It wasn’t until several days later we found out how out of the way this was AND that the guy’s wife had just given birth to their seventh kid. On another aside, they named the baby the Samoan equivalent of Viggo, Viko).
With that we were off on the small two-lane road running along the perimeter of the island. The party atmosphere continued, despite it being a Wednesday night. People cruising along sitting in open car trunks, all types of animals crossing the road from horses to chickens, dogs to pigs, shops open late.
‘This is islalnd-style’ we were told with a genial laugh.
So, aside from the relaxed nature of the place, perhaps this is what makes Samoa so appealing - it has its very own islalnd-style which isn't always the case. Not that I am any qualified expert, I’ve only visited a grand total of two islands in the Caribbean in my life. From what I can gather though it seems a lot of places catering to Western tourists offer up the same cookie-cutter style resorts devoid of character. Everything, barring the native floral arrangements, can feel oddly similar at these hotels. It's luxury without a lot of love.
Not so in Samoa, I can assure you.