A few nights ago a guy on another boat asked me, "What is the most stunning thing you have seen in (Western) Samoa this far?" I had to think about it. The snorkeling is nice, but nothing compared to the Tuamotus. The hiking is cool, but much more dramatic in the Marquesas and even American Samoa. The locals are nice, the food is good and cheap, and there are a few unique tourist attractions that are worthwhile. But stunning? I was stumped.
This is not to say that I am not having a good time - I most definitely am. This could be due in part to the fact that I made friends with the crew of the 100 foot luxury motor sailor at the end of the dock. The two brothers from South Africa and the chef from Los Angeles are holding down the fort while the owner of the boat is back in the States, that is to say, partying hard every night. Let me tell you, those Saffas are a hearty bunch. I don't even try to keep up with them, but stay well entertained with their ridiculous stories and funny accents (I am a sucker for funny accents).
For my transition sentence I was going to write, "Fortunately not all of my recent adventures have involved liver damage..." or something like that, but then I realized that the tour of the Vailima brewery we took yesterday and the dance show we saw on Wednesday night both involved drinking.
The tour of the brewery of Vailima "Samoa's very own beer!" (TM), was quite cool. (Not to be confused with Robert Louis Stevenson's plantation of the same name.) Of course we all showed up wearing sandals, but were required to wear real shoes, so the management provided all 7 of us with work boots, neon reflector vests, and ear plugs. The tour was led by one of the microbiologists who explained the fermentation process as well as all the steps the beer goes through before it ends in my glass. Most impressive. The tour ended with us receiving a glass of the beer that was brewed today. It was probably the freshest beer I have ever had.
There is one funny quirk about Vailima beer. Their "export lager", which is delicious, has an alcohol content of 6.7% and can only be found in American Samoa and New Zealand (I think). However, they only sell a watered down version with 4.9% alcohol content - which is still good but not as good - here in Samoa. It is illegal to sell beer with any higher alcohol content here. Fortunately we stocked up with a bunch of cases before we left Pago Pago.
While Samoans don't hold their alcohol very well, they dance very well. All of them. Every time we go past a school there are kids outside learning dances or singing songs. In their culture it is cool to do the traditional dances and sing the traditional songs. Fire dancing is popular here and every Tuesday night the ice cream shop up the street, which only sells beer and ice cream, has a traditional fire dancing show. My favorite were the little boys who were about 8 years old, spinning batons on fire that were nearly as tall as them. The older guys were a bit more skilled, throwing their batons back and forth, catching them behind their backs, and sitting on the fires to put them out (yikes!).
The Samoan dancing is different from that in French Polynesia. As my friend Noel put it, "it seems like the men are on speed and the women are on valium." The men do not stop running in place, jumping up and down, beating their chests and whooping. The women's dancing, on the other hand, is very sedated with slow, graceful movements. Needless to say, the men are much more fun to watch, but they are all spectacular to hear. Their voices harmonize beautifully and can fill a huge room without any microphones. If you are ever in Samoa it is worth it to go to a dance show - or you can go to church to hear the same amazing singing. And ask for forgiveness for drinking too much Vailima the night before.