“Life is uncharted territory. It reveals its story one moment at a time.” -Leo Buscaglia
“Have you ever been to the Manu’a Islands?” I asked Litia.
“No. But they are supposed to be extremely beautiful. And my grandmother told me that ghosts live out there.”
Cheri and I had been exploring the beautiful Samoan island of Upolu in the middle of the South Pacific. As we made our way around, we found a beautiful beach called ‘Lalomanu’ far out on the tip of the island and decided to stay in one of the fales there. Fales are traditional Samoan dwellings that consist of a thatched roof, a wooden floor and open sides that can be covered by lowering a rolled blind of coconut fronds.
It was absolutely idyllic. White sand, palm trees, turquoise water and small restaurant that served local dishes. We ate dinner with other travellers who had been island-hopping through the Pacific and listened to their amazing stories of adventure – though after a few days of lounging and photographing, those conversations were making me restless. We went for a swim and as I looked beyond the reef, I could see the faint outline of another island, which my map told me was Tutuila Island in American Samoa. Nobody here had been to American Samoa; everyone had been hopping across the South Seas, but nobody knew anything about American Samoa.As I looked at the map a little closer, I noticed three tiny islands beyond Tutuila and in very small print over ‘Ofu’, Ta’u’ and ‘Olosega’ were the words ‘National Park of American Samoa’. These were the Manu’a Islands and they were protected by the park. In the open-air restaurant I found someone’s old tattered copy of The Lonely Planet’s ‘South Pacific’ guide: five of the 928 pages were dedicated to these tiny islands. However, there wasn’t much information there – most of the section was dedicated to the main island of Tutuila and Pago Pago which had a seedy reputation. The tiny Manu’a islands supposedly had “very little infrastructure” but there was “striking scenery, untouched beaches and some of the highest sea cliffs in the world.” That’s where I wanted to go.
I asked Litia, the owner of our fale camp, about the Manu’a islands and the National Park. She told me that Samoans believe their god Tagaloa created a man and a woman on the remote Manu’a island of Ta’u and all Polynesian people are descendants from them. The islands were sacred and beautiful. And mysterious. “My grandmother told me that ghosts live out there.”
Two days later we finished our journey around Upolu and were back in Apia, catching a small prop plane to Tutuila. When we arrived at Tutuila airport we asked about flights to the Manu’a islands.
“Yes, it’s possible. To Ta’u, maybe tomorrow. Come back in the morning.”
“In the morning.”
The friendly owner of the lodge walked us up to a spartan room above the kitchen. There was a small bar in the back and she offered us a couple of Pina Coladas. We took them and walked out to a small strip of white sand between the black lava rocks. The wind was blowing hard and we occasionally got smacked by the sea spray. The sun was setting underneath the cloud layer and the rays were intense. The Pina Coladas were strong and we were the only people there.
Have you ever deviated far off your original travel plans in search of adventure? How did everything turn out? Are your best travel memories from planned or unplanned adventures?