MatadorU student Abhimanyu Sabnis packs his camera and heads to Samoa.
When MatadorU offered me a spot on a press trip to Samoa, organized by the Samoa Tourism Authority, I jumped on it. And I was not disappointed. Here are 20 reasons why I would recommend a visit to the Samoan islands:
I was able to explore the cultural and natural features that make Samoa special on their own terms, without being surrounded by too many tourists.
Automobiles are off-limits on Manono Island (1.2 sq mi, population ~900) as part of an effort to preserve the culture. Our tour was met with a traditional welcoming ceremony, where we were served kava, an herbal drink used to honor visitors.
Fia Fia Night at Aggie's
Every Wednesday night, Aggie Grey's Hotel puts on a cultural show featuring the traditional fia fia dance. If you're strategically placed in the audience like I was, expect to be pulled onstage to perform for everyone.
Samoans are fiercely proud of their culture and way of life. Their friendliness and willingness to teach me about Fa’a Samoa led to many fascinating conversations.
Full-body tattooing sessions
I knew I had to witness a Samoan full-body tattooing session. Only when I saw the needles being hammered into the skin by the artist did I start to comprehend the excruciating pain I'd heard accompanies the process.
Traditional umu meals
We were fortunate enough to enjoy an umu meal hosted by the Samoan Tourism Authority. Watching the breadfruit, taro, and fish in coconut cream cooked slowly over a hot volcanic rock oven, and then eating the delicious meal afterwards, was quite an experience.
Everywhere I went I was greeted with a smile, and an interesting conversation always followed.
Food and flea markets
Samoan markets are a great place to meet locals, in addition to browsing goods and buying souvenirs.
Seafood is a major part of the Samoan diet, so I made sure to try the different varieties. The oka (lime-marinated tuna, served chilled) is probably one of the most delicious seafood dishes I've ever tasted.
Samoans are enthusiastic church-goers. On Easter Sunday, we dressed ourselves in our best whites and headed to service, surrounded by the high-spirited congregation and sharing in their festivities.
The waters of the South Pacific
The warm waters of the South Pacific are an excellent stress buster. I found myself spending hours swimming, snorkeling, and kayaking.
Papasee’a sliding rocks
The smooth, mossy surface of the Papasee’a waterfalls form a perfect slide down the rocks and into the pools below. We didn’t believe it was safe to ride down the rocks on our butts until we saw our guide go first without injury. A few minutes later the local kids put us to shame, surfing down the rocks like pros.
The Taga Blowholes are old lava tubes within the lava fields that line the shore. Here, we watched as the water spurted high into the air every few minutes.
Diving into To Sua Trench
After a hot day in Samoa, this wide blue trench was an inviting sight. A short climb down the ladder and we were blissing out in the warm water.
Robert Louis Stevenson Museum
Taking the tour around the museum was a great way to learn about the years Robert Louis Stevenson spent in Samoa--his work, family, and the great relationship he had with the Samoan people.
The Cross Island Road cuts through Upolu Island, leading away from the shore and into the countryside. On our drive, we were rewarded with spectacular views of mountains and lush green valleys.
A worthy stop along the Cross Island Road. Here, we watched as the water dropped 500 feet into a volcanic crater.
Saleaula Lava Fields on Savaii
Mt. Matavanu erupted between 1905-1911, destroying entire villages and leaving a huge swath of land covered by lava. Walking across the lava fields was a grim reminder of Mother Nature's ability to wreak havoc.
Hiking Mt. Matavanu
The hike to the top of the Mt. Matavanu volcanic crater added a nice perspective after visiting the lava fields, and gave impressive views of the island and crater.
Watching the last sunset in the world
Lying just east of the International Date Line, Samoa has the last sunset in the world. Although we weren’t able to travel to the westernmost point of the Samoan islands, we still got to catch the sun setting over the South Pacific.
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Abhimanyu has big dreams of trekking around the world and exploring its beauty, culture, and people through his camera. Originally from India, he now calls Boston home, where he works as a cancer researcher. Check out his photography and travel adventures at shutterfeet.com or follow him on twitter @shutterfeet.