Updated: Nov 16
Thursday, 12 October 2023 - traveling
After twenty months of flying coast-to-coast-to-coast, chasing special lands across the country, I was ready... for my final exam, to see how well I'd learned my air-travel lessons.
1. You have to make a 6:04 a.m. flight in order to connect to a flight that only happens twice a week (so if you miss it, you're screwed). How do you ensure you'll wake up in time?
A: Ask the hotel's front desk for a wakeup call to 3:30 a.m.. Then set the alarm clock in your room for 3:35, because the chances of actually getting the call are inversely proportional to the importance of the flight. (Remember, this is the final, not a midterm!)
2. The car rental outfit told you that someone would be on the lot to check in your return at 4:00 a.m.. What do you do when no one is there?
A: Leave the keys in the well and hope that no one steals it. Then send an angry email to Thrifty during your next layover.
3. You enter your ticket's confirmation code into the kiosk at the airport to get your luggage tag, and it says 'error'. Your response?
A: Call over an agent, and hope that you haven't gone to the wrong airport. (Yes, been there, done that, 'nuff said.)
4. Airport workers direct you to the regular TSA line, not the TSA Precheck line. In moments, you realize the line is moving at the same rate as congealed molasses. Your response?
A: Take off your shoes and remove your laptop. By the time you could walk across the airport to the right line, it would be backed up also. (This is the final exam!)
5. In Honolulu, it takes a full hour before your luggage appears on the carousel (after over 90% of the other passengers have already grabbed their bags and left). You still need to haul it the length of the airport to check it in on the twice-a-week flight. Is this a problem?
A: NO! Because you passed up all those flights with a layover of less than 90 minutes in favor of the 6:04 a.m., 2½-hour layover flight.
6. Your flight to Pago Pago, American Samoa is delayed an hour because one of the crew 'has a problem with their passport'. You now arrive at 10:45 p.m. local time, and it takes a full hour before your baggage shows up on the carousel (after over 90% yada yada yada). You began this travel marathon 25 hours ago. Can you find a bright spot in this situation?
A: Yes - the line for customs has disappeared. Now go wake up the snoozing customs official and be gone!
There. Do I pass?
Friday-Monday, 13-16 October 2023, American Samoa
First things first: you're saying it wrong. Stateside, people pronounce these islands as suh-MOE-uh. Once I listened to the local radio, I realized that people here pronounce it SAH-moe-uh.
It seems fitting, I suppose, that I should end this quest in a land so different from my other journeys. To introduce this foreign part of the U.S., I'll use this post to provide a primer for this territory, and cover my adventures in a following post.
American Samoa is one of two US territories south of the equator.
(The other is an uninhabited island, so it hardly counts.) It consists of the main island of Tutuila (home of 97.5% of the population), Aunu'u, the Manu'a islands of Ofu/Olosega and Taʻū (60 miles east of Tutuila), and two atolls. The islands are the remnants of the rim of a long-ago volcano. Thus, steep slopes and precipitous cliffs dominate much of the landscape.
Pago Pago Harbor sits within the old crater, providing an important deep-water port in this part of the South Pacific.
Getting around: in Kotzebue (Alaska), my fellow park-chaser Michelle had warned me to rent a car. "They have colorful buses that run all over the place, but the schedules are hit-and-miss. You may have to wait an hour to catch one that goes to the National Park. And they don't run on Sundays."
Given that warning, I rented a car. (Avis was the only major rental chain on the island, though local outfits also rented.) Driving posed no problems, though it stood in sharp contrast to the long drives in Colorado. One 'highway' ran end-to-end on Tutuila, which (coupled with extensions on either end) went all of 40 miles. Mostly, it snakes around the coast with no straightaways, and even through the flat western section it curves up and down small hills.
I saw no traffic lights in all my driving. Speed limit tops off at 30 mph, though I only found speed limit signs for 15, 20, or 25 mph. Not that I needed the reminder - I never had a moment when a higher speed seemed reasonable. Traffic flowed smoothly at that rate (except at rush hour).
There are two side roads which take one over the rim to the north side of the island. These roads are very steep, with one of them heading to the National Park. On the other road, a bus took a switchback too fast and rolled onto its side sometime in the past. Rather than removing the wreck, officials instead stabilized it with poles and left it on the shoulder, a public service safety reminder.
(The radio also featured many PSAs about driving safely. I did not personally notice any problems, so maybe they worked.)
Businesses: Don't expect to see large-scaled tourist infrastructure here - no high-rises, no splashy resorts, no districts full of t-shirt shops, and I noticed only one museum. Instead of big chain supermarkets, small marts with 3-4 short aisles of food dotted the landscape. The largest buildings were churches,
and they had several.
As I drove halfway around Pago Pago Harbor, my wandering took me past several non-descript, white aluminum-sided buildings, with people taking breaks outside their doors, and a distinct smell of fish permeating the air. Wait, what's that statue? OMG, it's Charlie the Tuna! I've discovered the Starkist tuna-canning factory, which provides the chief export from the islands.
But people gotta eat, and even this paradise can't hold off American capitalism forever - they did have a McDonalds and a Carl's Jr., both with hard-to-miss signs. Signage, however, is intermittent on the island. For dinner on Friday night, I noticed the Paradise Pizza and Restaurant listed on my tourist map, right at the corner of Hwy 1 and Hwy 16. However, highway signs are small and often difficult to locate - I could not find anything denoting Hwy 16, though I figured it had to be the road at the left-turn lane on Hwy 1. At that corner stood a good-sized one-story building with picture windows and a parking lot - but absolutely no signs of any kind to identify it as the Paradise (or as anything else). I had to go inside to confirm they really served food there - and good food it was, as I ordered Veggie Curry and Taro Tots (yes, like Tater Tots made with taro).
No wonder I never felt like going more than 25 mph, as I tried mightily to piece together my directions!
Directions never got any easier. As I searched Google for places to snorkel, here is how one web site directed me: "To reach Fagateale Bay, turn left off Hwy 1 on the dirt road to the landfill. After passing the landfill on your right, drive downhill, take a right at the first fork, then a right at the second fork, and enter the Fulmaono land. Get permission from the family there, and they can direct you to the water."
And there lies another conundrum - little land lies in the public sphere, as most of the island is owned by communities/villages (known as an 'aiga). If you see a beach you'd like to visit, for instance, you should ask permission from someone in the nearest home. You will usually receive such permission, sometimes for a nominal cost of a couple of dollars.
Many (if not most) of the 'aigas I saw had two or three dogs roaming their property. Most seemed friendly - though the directions to one of the National Park trailheads said, "Drive to the end of the road and park past the last house, since the dogs may not be friendly."
Along with the scores of dogs I saw, I counted only two cats.
Being in this island idyll, with temps in the 70s, good moods came easily. The island music gently flowing from the car radio provided a perfect complement. Except on Sunday, though, when the morning is filled with syndicated religious music, and the afternoon belongs to the Rick Dees Weekly Top 40 Countdown. (Rick Dees?!? Geez Louise - the man who made his mark with Disco Duck in the 1970s? He's several years older than I - what's he still doing on the airwaves?)
A word about the National Park of American Samoa: with over 90% of the land owned by 'aigas, the government had no land with which to form a park.
Thus, the 1988 act authorizing the park identified prospective park lands. In 1993, the NPS and the natives came to an agreement: the park service would lease the lands for 50 years, with each 'aiga retaining ownership. In this manner, National Park of American Samoa became our 50th national park.
Not to mention my 63rd and last park...