Monday, August 6, 2012

Uafato: The Last Frontier

I’ve described my former Peace Corps village for the past two years as one of the most remote areas in Samoa. Although that still holds mostly true, I have discovered a village which tops the list and most certainly holds the title of the “Last Frontier.”

It’s a village I had always know about, and had heard was a long ways away. Looking at it on Google Earth made it look impressive and almost served as a dare to conquer the journey. After nearly three years of living in Samoa, this past weekend, I finally made the journey there by foot from my former village. But I wasn’t alone; I’ve learned to take along helpers to make these excursions more bearable.

As the crow flies, Uafato is only about 4 miles from my former village; however, with all the twists and turns of the ocean’s shoreline which we followed, it was more like a 16 mile trek! Saulo, Milo, Neueli, Satupa’i and I left Saturday morning around 8a.m. under some nuisance rain clouds. However, they soon parted and gave way to the full force of the sun which becomes taxing after a while.

For the trip the boys had brought along a small knife for opening coconuts, and I had bought some loaves of bread, peanuts and cookies to snack on along the way, since I knew we weren’t going to be bumping into any McDonald’s. Neueli decided on wearing long pants to protect his legs from all the thorny weeds, although the other boys and I decided to deal with the cuts to avoid the uncomfortable sweating and warmth caused by the long pants.

We had been traveling for about an hour when Saulo pointed out a tree along the edge of the bay. I looked over and there was my name, carved in capital letters into the trunk. Saulo said that this past February he had been over there in the bay and carved my name into the tree. Seeing that tree, I realized that he was thinking about me, as much as I had been thinking about him and the others I was missing earlier this year after I had left Samoa. Although I had left and was living on the other side of the world, Saulo had taken the time to carve my name into a tree in one of the most far-away places one can travel to. You can believe that I won’t forget that tree is there when I leave later this year. I told him I would be carving his name into a tree when I get back to Michigan!

We continued along, walking through a handful of small villages as we circled along the bay. We stopped at several small road-side stores called fale’oloas, trying to get our hands on some Coke, Sprite, or anything to quench the thirst we had. The boys were able to drink water from the small streams, but I wasn’t going to risk drinking water that hadn’t been boiled, so I held out and we finally drank some coconuts later in the trip.

As we left the bay and headed out towards another rocky point, the sealed road soon ended and we were walking on uneven rocks and dirt that increased in steepness, and then would drop low for a while, before climbing. The scenery and bends in the road looked so similar to the boys’ village, and often times they or I would comment on how it was almost an exact replica of a portion of our road.

Only Saulo had traveled to Uafato before, since his grandma and uncle live there. For Milo, Neueli, Satupa’i and I, it was our first trip. As we walked along and the boys complained about the heat and steepness of the road, they kept asking Saulo how much further. We finally reached a high spot in the road that had a sharp bend in it and when the boys made the turn, there was Uafato. I wish I had had the video camera rolling then to record the expressions they had when they made the turn, but it was a synchronized “aaaaawwwwww.” I was impressed that even Samoan teenagers would be captivated by scenery you think they would have grown accustomed to seeing, but luckily they still hold some fascination for the beauty of this country.

The village was situated by itself in a small bay with high mountains flanking every side covered in lush green tropical foliage and amongst it all, one of the highest waterfalls I’ve ever seen, stretching from the top of one of the mountain peaks down to the land below. Our rocky and uneven road didn’t improve any as it twisted down towards the village, but our eyes were off the road at that point and focused on the village we were headed to.

As we reached the first houses, I felt this feeling as though I had left Samoa and gone to someplace even more remote, even further away in this world. In some ways I felt like I was on a different planet. I looked around and recognized it as Samoa, but something felt very different about it. We followed Saulo to his Grandma’s house (she didn’t even know we were coming, since Saulo had forgotten to call her) and in true Samoan spirit she opened her heart and her house to her guests. Her and Saulo looked happy to see each other with big smiles on their faces. She quickly shuffled some woven mats around for us to sit on and had Saulo go out front to climb one of the coconut trees so we could have a drink. She complimented us on walking all that way in the sun, and apologized for the bad condition of the road, but she said, “The road may be bad, but the village is nice.”

That evening the boys helped prepare the evening meal, making the coconut cream, scrapping the taro and building the fire. Walking back to the Samoan kitchen and seeing all the boys there we started to laugh as they and I both realized they were supposed to be on “vacation” but here they were doing the same chores they are stuck with every other day of their lives. But I think they enjoyed working together after the long trip. I had bought some chicken at the local roadside store and gave it to Saulo’s grandma to cook. I had also taken some cocoa Samoa which she prepared for dinner that night. It was a great meal and we all enjoyed each other’s company that night. The boys even had the chance to play rugby and volleyball with the kids in Uafato, so they felt right at home. And it’s just a suspicion, but I think they enjoyed visiting with some of the girls!

Sunday morning I woke up with pink eye, which made for an interesting twist to the weekend. Saulo and I were the only ones who remembered our church clothes so he and I went to church while Milo, Neueli and Satupa’i stayed behind to fix the toana’i meal. Saulo and I were greeted warmly at the church and then went back to his grandma’s to eat chicken soup, fish, taro and rice! We drank a few coconuts and then I said our thank you to Saulo’s family for having us unexpectedly and said I’d like to come back again for another visit later this year. We gave hugs and then we were off in the blazing heat around 1p.m.

As we climbed back up that winding road, the boys shouted goodbye to Uafato and their voices echoed around the mountains. With only two cars in Uafato, we weren’t expecting any lifts along the road, so we forged ahead and at least knew what was ahead of us the second time around. Covering our heads with t-shirts and ie lava lavas, we bore the brunt of the sun and once again made our regular stops in the shade. By the time we got back over to the bay, it was nearly 4:30p.m. and we had decided to take a different road to get back to our village. Lucky for us that we took that road because a truck came along and gave a lift for part of the distance which saved us about 1.5 hours of walking time over a mountain pass.

By 6p.m. we were walking back into our own village and I think all feeling proud of ourselves for having made the journey. We had done it together and as friends. In one of the last stretches of the road, Saulo commented to me on how far we had traveled, and how just earlier that day we had been in Uafato. I realized that to him, having grown up in such a small country, a trip like was similar to me taking a car trip to Florida from Michigan, and I realized what he was saying about traveling “great” distances in a certain period of time.

Although all the boys enjoyed the trip to Uafato, they all agreed that next time we should plan on going in a vehicle. Although the vehicle will be nice, nothing will beat walking along that amazing road and having that chance to slow down and be present with nature’s surroundings and with great friends. But now we can say we traveled to the “last frontier.”

About an hour into our walk, heading into the bay.

Saulo and I next to the tree he carved my name into earlier this year.

One of the waterfalls on our way to Uafato. It's the dry season now so they aren't as impressive; I'd like to make the trip again in November.

Walking around the bay to get to Uafato.

Satupa'i, Saulo and I on the beach heading to Uafato.

A lone coconut palm on a small rock island.

The whole gang about half way to our destination.

Satupa'i working on the taro for dinner.

Saulo and I had the highest seats of honor for dinner at his Grandma's. The other boys had to help serve the food, which Saulo got a kick out of!

I woke up with pink eye on Sunday morning, as you can tell from this wonderful picture of me!

Saulo and his grandma before church.

Walking back from church.

Neueli trying to act cool for his own picture.

Milo and Satupa'i before we left Uafato.

Trying to keep the sun off our heads on the way back home.

In the bay as we made our way home on Sunday afternoon.


  1. That is some boss name carving on that tree!

  2. I was born and raised in Uafato :)
    You can reach me via

  3. I and my father travelled to Uafato from Apia on foot in 1974 and it took us almost the whole day. Loved it to bits!!! I don't mind doing it again but this time with my children.

  4. I miss my village!,, But I gotta move on!