Pattys Most Excellent Adventure Part III

Time to get adventurous again; in 2003 I decided to retire early from the IRS and accepted a job with the American Samoan Government in their tax office.  I arrived there in April on a flight from Hawaii that landed at 9:00PM.  My new boss picked me up at the airport and dropped me off in an apartment and left.  There I was alone in the jungle again and I started to become frightened.  What in the world had I done – the jalousie windows were all open and the sounds from the jungle were so scary.  I didn’t have a phone and I didn’t know anyone to call anyway.  It was a long night.  I had no TV, no AC, no Ben & Jerry’s Cherry Garcia FroYo.  Do you know what it is like not to be able to just go to the store and buy whatever you like?   I really had to adjust. 

However, American Samoa turned out to be a great adventure and one of the greatest times of my life.  The people there are warm, friendly and funny.  American Samoa is a country rooted firmly in tradition but pragmatically modern at the same time.  I joined a gym and started dance aerobic classes and had fun, no AC in the gym either.  Every day was so different from what I was used to and full of the wonder of a different world and culture. 

Jack came for a visit and stayed a couple of weeks but couldn’t stand the high humidity.  The humidity and temperature were both close to 100 on any given day. He spent the days with a portable air-conditioner on one side and a fan on the other and a beer in his hand.  Most days he would walk over to Malia Mai Beach Resort and order a Vailima (beer) and read books all day.   Susan also came over before Jack left and stayed about a month.  The three of us had a great time visiting and exploring the islands of Upolu and Savaii in Western Samoa.  Susan was very popular with the locals and received 3 or 4 proposals during her visit there.  One of the proposals was from an 80 something year-old guy that showed us the blow-hole on Savaii.  He ran out, dropped a coconut into the hole and it blew about 200 feet in the air.  We about fell down laughing and when Susan reached into her pocket and pulled out a wad of cash to tip the guy he asked to marry her. 

Susan and I also flew to New Caledonia and Isle de Pine which is a French Possession with a stopover in New Zealand.  There is a tower in Auckland similar to the Space Needle and one of my biggest regrets is not stepping off the tower.  They would put you in a harness and somehow you just dropped down to the bottom on a bungy cord.  Maybe if it hadn’t been dark or if Susan had dared me; anyway, that is still on my bucket list.  What a time we had visiting the boiling mud pools and touring caves filled with glowworms.  New Zealand is defiantly a vacation must.

 While in Am Samoa, Susan volunteered at the local Community College where she helped a professor in the English as a second language department.  A whole year after she left I was being introduced to someone and they said, “Oh, this is Susan’s mom?”  No one seemed to care about my work in the tax office.  It seems like I am always known as Jack’s wife, Traci or Susan’s mom, Rene’s and Kai’s mother-in-law and now Gabriel and Sams grandmother; only when I was with the IRS was I known for myself, no one wanted to claim me then.

That first Christmas I flew to the Philippines to join my daughter Traci and her family.  I met so many of Rene’s wonderful relatives and spent time with my grandsons riding in “jeepneys”, which are colorfully decorated little buses similar to the ‘Chiva” buses in Panama, and exploring Naga City.  On New Year’s Day I headed back to American Samoa but got stuck in Hawaii for a week due to a hurricane that was ravaging Samoa and flights were suspended.  Oh well, I figured I should make the most of my time and took some surfing lessons, my first scuba diving class, and went parasailing and hiking.   I continued in the tax office in American Samoa for almost two years but not all it was work.  Jack came for one more visit and we learned about snorkeling on Ofu Island and stayed with some wonderful people there, Marge and Tito, who owned the local B & B.  They had cabins on the beach and served local island fare at their house.  One night while Jack and I were sleeping something came in the window and landed on our bed.  Jack catapulted out of bed like a shot and turned the light on to discover Marge’s cat had come for a visit.  I continued with my scuba diving and received my Open Water Diving Certification but never did so well at surfing even though I continued to take lessons every time I got stuck in Hawaii (my instructor looked like George Clooney and was a fireman with Honolulu Fire Department).

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One final excursion before I left American Samoa for good was a trip to the Cook Islands, which included “One Foot Island,” with friends, Fred & Fran Niedo and some of their extended family.  This really was a dream vacation; I went scuba diving, pearl and ukulele shopping, and went cross island hiking with a fabulous character named “Pa”.  I will never forget that trip and the wonderful memories.

Working in American Samoa was quite an experience.  We frequently had chickens wandering through the building because the steel roll down gates were all rusted and didn’t work; everything rusts there.  I worked with some of the most interesting people; some chiefs, Miss American Samoa and other, just friendly, warm people.  They taught me all about their culture and let me join in their activities.  I attended festivals called fia fias, fire knife dancing contests, and even tried to learn their traditional dance called the Siva.  The Siva is like the Hula and tells a story with your hands and movements.  I performed at my ‘going away’ party and it seemed to go over ok.  Some of the Chiefs that were there told me that they appreciated that I tried to learn their culture and honor their traditions.  There is one airport in Pago Pago and Hawaiian Airlines flies there twice a week; it lands at 9pm and takes off at 11pm.  It seems like the whole island shows up at the airport to greet family members coming or going.  When you leave American Samoa everyone you know shows up with gifts for you and it is just like a party.  There is a large Filipino community in American Samoa and they kind of adopted me since my son-in-law is Filipino.  They invited me into their homes and included me in their church activities.  In fact, I just visited with Fred and Fran Niedo a couple of weeks ago here in Medford, one of their daughters has moved here with her family.  It was great to see them again; they are both in their eighties and are just such warm friendly people.  I’m lucky to have had the privilege to know them; they helped make my stay in American Samoa so memorable.

While in American Samoa I lived in a compound called “Freddy’s Beach” which was owned by an American Samoan chief who performed the first fire knife dance in Las Vegas.  The compound was filled with government employees from off island.  Some were French, British, Tongan, Indian and American; it was a very diverse community.  Susan and I really enjoyed hiking with the young British scientist who lived in the apartment above mine and a French scientist neighbor.  One week-end we hiked to a French Monument at Massacre Bay on the other side of the island.  It was a very strenuous hike and what a kick it was to listen to the constant bickering between the two guys, British vs French, they really knew how to needle each other. 

Here is a Flickr posting from Susan on our hike:

                       One memory from American Samoa that I would like to forget is almost drowning at Sliding Rock.  I went hiking with a friend from the office, a young surfer-dude lawyer named Benton, and we were snorkeling in the small pools left in sliding rock after the tide goes out.  Benton explained to me that a rogue wave might come in and knock me off my feet but not to worry because it would only carry me to the next pool.  Sliding Rock is a huge lava formation covered with some type of black sea plant that turns to slime when it is wet.  Well of course a rogue wave did come in and knock me off my feet and carried me to the next pool.  Just as I was trying to stand, another rogue wave came in and carried me to the next pool and so on until I realized there were no more pools, just the edge which dropped off into shark infested waters.  Well I dug my feet into the coral and hung on long enough for a wave to come in from the other direction and finally I made it back to shore.  I was covered with blood from all the little coral cuts and pretty shook up.  Benton got there to help me and said, “I thought you were a goner when you went down that last waterfall and I was trying to figure out what to tell Jack;”… typical lawyer.  Later I found out that many people have drowned in that same location just the way it almost happened to me. 

Maybe that is why Benton let me join him during a vacation to New Zealand… trying to make amends.  Benton rented a house in Oakura, NZ for a month so he could go surfing.  He invited me to join him and I did.  When Benton wasn’t surfing we went hiking and traveled by bus, train and ferry as far south as Christ Church.  We took a train across island and did some hiking in the Southern Alps where they filmed LOTR.  New Zealand is a beautiful country and I had wanted to return ever since Susan and I spent a few days there when returning from New Caledonia.  Oakura is just south of New Plymouth which has a great outdoor theater similar to our Britt Theater.  While staying in NZ we went to a Stevie Nicks concert at the outdoor theater and it was so much fun; before that I didn’t know Stevie Nicks was Australian and she is very popular in NZ.  We happened to be in Kaikoura, NZ on St. Patrick’s Day and yes they do celebrate it at the local pubs, which are the best places to eat in NZ anyway.  There is a great boutique winery in Kaikoura where they store their wine inside natural limestone caves.  I almost forgot to mention the avocados that we ate almost every day.  It was avocado season when we were there and we would stop at a local farm and buy these huge ripe avocadoes so cheap, it makes me hungry just thinking about it.  One of the foods you can usually buy in a NZ pub is a ‘pastie’ and they are yummy.  We were looking for a place to eat in Wellington and we stepped into a pub and their special for the day was vegetarian pasties with mango chutney; I still remember that excellent meal.  I was pleasantly surprised that it is not that hard to be a vegetarian in NZ.

I guess being a vegetarian was one of the biggest problems I encountered in American Samoa.  I think I ate a grilled cheese sandwich at “Moms Café” almost every day for lunch.  For dinner sometimes I would drive through Kentucky Fried Chicken to order coleslaw then go to the Pizza Hut for bread sticks.  I could cook my own vegetarian meals but eating out there was always a problem for me.   McDonald’s, Pizza Hut and KFC are recent additions to American Samoan Cuisine and were instant hits.  I think McDonald’s is American Samoa’s largest employer now with about 300 employees.  Everything considered, my experience in Am Samoa was very positive and I hope to return for a visit one of these days.

One of the best perks during my time in Am Samoa was meeting Jack in Hawaii every few months for a little R & R.  We found Coconut Willy’s Bar in the International Marketplace and it became one of our favorite hangouts.  Kevin Mau is a local entertainer and covers Elvis, Santana, Jimmy Buffett, and CCR just to name a few.  We were just walking through the marketplace and we heard this great music and discovered a real Hawaiian treasure.  CWs closed this year but we have some good memories from our time spent listening to Kevin and watching the great local dancers that always danced to his music.  I try to return to Hawaii at least twice a year to replenish my soul and soak up the calm atmosphere.  Another treasure I picked up there is “IZ’ (Israel Kamakawiwoʻole);  I can listen to “White Sandy Beach” anytime and my blood pressure drops at least 20 points.  Even writing about Hawaii calms me; the sound of the waves, the smell of the jungle, and walking on the beach in the moonlight makes me want to hop on a plane.

Back home again in 2006 and excited about finding a new adventure so I went to SOU to join another Natural History Field Trip.  In order to join the class you have to have the professor’s approval so I just went down and asked to join – to my surprise the professor said “No”.  He also said that he thought I was too old and would not be able to keep up with the class or contribute anything important.  “Too old”!?  Really!!!?   Well that was very upsetting at first but then I decided there must be something out there left that I could still attempt so I went online searching.  Luckily I found volunteer vacations listed on the REI webpage.  I decided to check that out and gave them a call to see if I could join a backpacking trip to the Eagle Cap Wilderness and they said “Yes”.  I didn’t tell them that I had never really been backpacking.  Off I went to GI Joes to their sidewalk sale and bought a special deal – a tent, a sleeping bag, and backpack for $99.  Not very smart and I have learned since then that the right equipment is very important for a good backpacking experience. 

Here is a link to a Flickr group for the Eagle Cap Volunteer Vacation:

A volunteer vacation through the American Hiking Society is not actually a typical vacation.  It consists of you paying to take a vacation to volunteer to do trail work in different areas of the country and you also have to pay your expenses to get there.  I have done over a half dozen since my first one in 2006.  I found out I’m not too old to backpack and can actually give back by helping to maintain the trails.  Let me get back to that first volunteer vacation where I was such a novice.  I had about a week to get ready and so I packed up my gear and we headed to the Wallowa Mountains.  Jack drove me to Joseph, OR and we camped at Lake Wallowa for a couple of days before my trip.  We attended the Blues and Brews festival at the lake and took the tram ride to the top of Mt. Howard.  Then Jack dropped me off at the ranger station in Enterprise, OR and my new adventure began.  We backpacked into Eagle Cap Wilderness along the Hurricane Trail for 5 or 6 miles and set up our camp.  We carried our own equipment but a Forest Ranger came along on horseback and brought tools and cooking equipment carried by four mules.  Luckily I met a very nice experienced backpacker, Diane, and she taught me how to set up my tent and gave me a lot of good advice about camping.  One thing I discovered is you can’t use power tools in the wilderness so the work is all done with hand tools like pulaskis, McLeods, and cross-cut saws.  The mules were used to haul dirt for us when we need to fill in a trail and they are great to work with as long as you don’t try to mix them up.  I learned the hard way that they have a favorite working partner and they will kick or strike out when mad.  Luckily I learned my lesson with a strike and not a back-leg kick.  Also in the wilderness there are no latrines so you have to learn to dig cat holes; enough said about that.  We cook our own meals at the end of the day and enjoy the camaraderie by the campfire in the evening.  There is always a day off for sightseeing so we headed up to Echo Lake about 8,000 ft altitude for our day of rest.  Anyway, as you can see, my first backpacking experience was fun, exciting, and addicting.   The next year I signed up for 3 volunteer vacations.

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One Comment on “Pattys Most Excellent Adventure Part III”

  1. […] Patty’s Most Excellent Adventure Part III      (by Patty) […]

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