Green All Around

  • The neighbor has a new group of pigs.
  • My friends daughter thought she saw me on tv, but it was just another bald man
  • Ants, well I am used to them crawling all around me.
  • Feels pretty good to vote from abroad.
  • Egg (my dog) is getting HUGE!
  • This week marks the one-year mark living in Samoa. Time flies when your having fun I suppose.
  • Thank you so much to everyone who has sent me letters and packages. You are some amazing people helping to make Samoa feel more like home.

When you think of Samoa what image comes to mind? For many of you it would likely be a white sand beach sprinkled with volcanic rock among crystal blue water. Some would state this image shows the natural beauty of Samoa, but I have to disagree. The beaches are spectacular, but I believe the true beauty of Samoa lies at its widely unpopulated green core. When you press inland there is and abundance of untamed wilderness. Across the country you can find waterfalls as tall as skyscrapers, lava fields, lush jungle, deep lava tubes, volcanic craters, and a vast expanse of vegetation. Created much like Hawaii, Samoa is more mountainous than many realize. Once you depart the coast you find yourself moving upward. The higher you go the more the world seems to change. The vegetation thickens, the temperature drops, the humidity thickens, and it all becomes green in a hurry.

As a person who grew up among the mountains, rivers, and waterfalls of North Georgia I feel at home in the Samoan highlands. I absolutely love the crystal clear waters found along the shore, but nothing compares to the cold clear water of a stream trickling down a mountain. I find myself completely mesmerized by, what the locals call, the bush. My home is nestled on a low part of the ridge, but if I move just several miles inland I find myself in awe by the view of ever expanding rolling green hills and giant banyan trees that dominate the skyline.

Several days ago I was able to take my bicycle out for a long ride down to the coast. I had wanted to do this for sometime thinking a dip in the ocean would be the highlight of the trip, but I was wrong. Over the course of my venture I found myself more interested in the people, the mountains, and scenery I passed while riding on the ridge. First, I was dumbfounded as I kept coming across my students a good 45 minutes into my ride. I had to be at least 10 miles from my school! I knew my school served neighboring villages, but this was much further than I expected. Second, wow! The rolling hills, the mountains being lightly touched by rain clouds, and the overall scenery is a lot to take in. What I found even more overwhelming was the realization that no one lives for miles in this part of the country. I am sure it wouldn’t be true, but sometimes I wonder if I just started hiking would I be the first to step foot in these areas? Lastly, when I finally arrived at the beach all I could think about were the stunning views I witnessed on my ride. The views of the bay from the ridge top, the dominant presence of Mt. Tafua Upolu, and the warm greetings I received from my students were on the forefront of my thoughts. I expect more of my upcoming rides will be spent on the hill rather than going down to the beach.

A few days later I found myself a part of yet another adventure. Early into my service I was told of an amazing river trek that involved the opportunity to casually leap from high areas. I was sold at cliff jumping. Several past volunteers described it as their favorite activity while in country. Hearing this, I just had to do it. Some of my fellow volunteers and I had been trying to fit in the hike and when this school break came along we made it happen.

We had to arrive early in the morning, as this would be an all day hike. The riverhead is approximately a 30-minute drive down the ridge from my village. After a beautiful cruise along the south shore we came to a river ford. This is where our hike began. At the ford two families and a pair of honeymooners who would be coming along met us. Once we were all introduced our 5 guides started us up river. Growing up I encountered countless mountain hikes involving cliff jumping and waterfalls but this blew them all away. Past hikes would have one, maybe two waterfalls, but during this hike the waterfalls were endless. After our first 15 minutes of hiking we were confronted with an unimaginable sight. A giant three-tier fall came suddenly into view as we waded around a bend in the river. The collective group let out an audible “ah” upon the view. The next hour was spent swimming and jumping from a variety of locations. When our guide told us to move on I thought there would be no way there could be anything better than this… I was wrong again.

The following 5 hours we hiked through bush and river alike to come across waterfall after waterfall. With each step we wondered farther into what looked like a prehistoric jungle. Giant ferns blanketed our views overhead, vines hung from all trees, and even the underbrush seemed to nip at our elbows. If we had turned a bend to find a brachiosaurus munching on some ferns I wouldn’t have been shocked. Unfortunately, the 6 year old in me didn’t get to see this view.

At each passing waterfall our tour guides became increasingly competitive. Two in particular felt the need to one up each other. These two boys began doing outlandish flips and other aerobatic wonders from great heights. I am all for jumping from high places, but they took it to an entirely different level. These guys would scale the falls like pros and subsequently search for a spot that had never been attempted. Even the lead guide was growing worried, but thankfully none of the boys pressed their luck and got hurt.

The hike concluded at the highest of the falls found far back into the jungle. Our tired bodies aching for food couldn’t resist one final test. The falls stood at an impressive 60 feet surround by green on all sides. Olly, our lead guide, looked at us and said, “alright, time to make the big jump!” I was hesitant at first, but I couldn’t back down now. Olly led us up a steep muddy path, which led us to a 70-foot outcrop overlooking the pool below. He informed us we can either jump here or another outcrop 20 feet below. I decided to take the lower of the two, as I didn’t feel a need to hurt my bum too bad. Without hesitation I climbed down to the outcrop and in a rush of fear, adrenaline, and insanity I took the leap. I fell for what felt like minutes to the icy cool water below. As I popped my head out of the water and took a large breath I was filled with excitement.

Beaches are wonderful, but for this mountain boy at heart nothing pleases him more than a simple hike through the valley. The vaiosina, A stream trickling down a mountain who cuts through the valley like a snake in grass is truly a wonder. If you were to ask me, “What is the most beautiful place in Samoa?” Without a doubt my answer would be the Lefaga district. The mountains, the river, the endless expanse of forest lead me to reminisce of the Appalachians, which I once called home. I am sure one day I will be standing among those famous peaks only to be reminded of the island I once called home.