Saturday, August 29, 2015

$1 = American Samoa Bus Rides

How you not love a bus with flames painted on the outside?
No two buses are painted alike in American Samoa.
Part of what I love about Portland Oregon is its enthusiastic acceptance of alternatives to traditional commuting..... Portland's mass transit -- light rail, bus, and even a street car is a model many US cities aspire to.  Walking and bicycling are also popular options in its temperate albeit all-too-often-rainy climate 

And how can you not love a bus with green feathers and
fuzzy green dice inside?  American Samoa bus drivers like to express
their personality in the choice of decor.
Part of what we love about sailing is seeing the world while casting a smaller environmental footprint.  We mostly sail under wind power, and rarely start our engine outside of entering and leaving anchorages.  

When ashore, most of the time we walk.  Once in a while we bicycle and when local mass transit's an option, we're thrilled.  It's usually quite inexpensive and gives us a much better taste of what it's like to do more than just pass through.  St Lucia offered our first taste of a different, private entrepreneurial approach to mass transit (click this link for more about that).    Cuba certainly takes the prize for the greatest and quirkiest variety of transportation (click this link for photos).

This cruising season, we took the bus some in Panama but never quite felt like we got the hang of it. 

American Samoa bus rates, as posted
inside some of the buses.
Since then, most of the time it just wasn't a viable option, if it was an option at all... until we got to American Samoa.

Here the local buses feel like a semi-open air school bus.  Called aiga (family buses) they're privately owned and operated.  

Far from the homogenized buses, each bus reflects the personality of its owner.  Most are blaring the driver's favorite tunes, though I saw a high schooler stick his usb-based music selection into the driver's stereo, with the driver's blessing.  While I've heard about TVs on buses, out of 20+ rides so far, only one had a TV on board.  It was playing a local station, with what looked like a slapstick show of sorts, in Samoan.

The only American Samoa bus I've ridden (so far) with a TV.
Getting to most places in American Samoa costs $1; sometimes less, but not more than $2.50 one way. There's one main road that goes through the island, and several side roads that are part of the official or unofficial route.  Sometimes the buses are empty, other times they are quite crowded, especially when school lets out (mid-afternoon) and around quitting time (Monday - Friday at about 4 pm). The buses are done running sometime between 5 and 6:30 pm.  They don't run at all on Sundays.  Not sure what time they start, as I confess to not being an early bird on American Samoa when it comes to getting off the boat.  

Hot pink carpeting and colorful leis decorate
this American Samoa bus.
The buses travel along a predefined route -- mostly, but may deviate from it, typically for regular customers.  You are unlikely to find a formal map or schedule anywhere, though it doesn't take too long to figure out which bus to take where, especially if you have a map and know what town you need to go to.  Usually locals and drivers are willing to help out, especially if you're looking for a well-known destination like Cost-U-Less and KS Market or Laufou Center (Carl's Jr., Blue Sky phones, etc., across the street from a True Value hardware store)  From Pago Pago harbor, Tafuna will generally be cruisers' go-to bus line, sometimes Leone, with a lap that overlaps a part of the Tafuna route but passes by Ace Hardware.

This American Samoa bus is a kaleidoscope of
colors, textures, patterns and objects.
The most reliable places to catch buses are at bus shelters (covered and with a bench), or a bus sized bump between the road and the sidewalk.  There are also a number of stops buses make to pick up and drop off passengers that are not marked.  

Whether at a bus shelter or a potential bus stop, buses are flagged by placing your arm in front of you and toward the street, hand out straight, palm down.  Sometimes it's hard to read the bus route to tell if it's the wrong bus until they've already pulled in to pick you up.  A head shake generally is the fastest way to flag the driver you made a mistake and are waiting for another bus.

Given the stateside inclination toward more formalized mass transit with maps and published, scheduled routes, and the risks to drivers given the litigiousness in general in the US, it's hard to imagine a system like the one in American Samoa working.  That's the US' loss.  There's a certain rough charm to American Samoa's system, and it helps provide cheap transportation while dramatically reducing the number of cars required and on the road.  

Best of all, it's a good opportunity to spend more time with the people who live here, observe and sometimes make conversation.  After all, that's part of why we travel, not just to hang out others a bit too much like ourselves.

Mountain view near American Samoa airport, taken from the bus.
Location Location
We're currently anchored in Pago Pago, American Samoa (S14.16.472 W170.40.456). We opted to skip our first potential weather window to Tonga,our next stop.  In part we chose to spend more time exploring American Samoa as a place to live and work for a while when we're done sailing.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Galapagos Gross-Out – Belated Creepy Crawly Stowaways

Garbanzos from Galapagos.  The hole marks the spot
where a bug bore in.
The Isabela Galapagos inspector spent a lot of time shaking his head over our pre-Galapagos bug-bombing “self-inspection” and explanation.  The norm is to get a professionally applied pesticide treatment the port before Galapagos and present a certificate.  We are cheap and figured what was the difference between us bug-bombing our boat and a professional, besides $65+ and a piece of paper?  He eventually passed us, though he was clearly uncomfortable about it. 

Garbanzos from Galapagos, with some undesired "extra protein."
The real issue for us wasn’t what pests we brought in to Galapagos, but the ones that were most unwelcome stowaways.  We’re not sure precisely what they were (see image a little further in this post).  They weren’t weevils, ants, or pantry moths (click here to read about the last of our pantry moth invasion).  They were black and tiny – only about ¼” long and a third as wide.  If they were cockroaches, they were tiny ones, that stayed tiny, and slow moving, thankfully.  If you know what they are – please let me know, to better warn others more specifically.  

These garbanzos were bug free, unlike the unsealed local ones
purchased in Galapagos.
But there were a LOT of them.  Wayne periodically counted how many he killed in day, and at one point he killed 30 in a short time.  Counting them would gross me out that much more, so as a general rule I refused to.  I will go out of my way to relocate spiders, and am a bit too cavalier about my general boat housekeeping, but bugs that eat my food, as un-Zen as it may be, if they persist in quantity, my approach is pure genocide.

Eventually I traced them to three sources. 

All of them were local, unbranded products which came and remained in unsealed bags purchased in Isabela Galapagos.  Most of my at risk of infestation foods (click here to read about past infestations) are in secure containers*, but given space constraints, sometimes that doesn’t happen.  Regretfully, this was one of those times.

The three sources of infestation were white rice, garbanzo beans (used for hummus - click here for my recipes), and dried hominy (for the Mexican soup, posole [also known as pozole] -- click here for my recipe).  There were more moving black critters in them then you’d find white “snow” in a shaken snow globe.  There was powder, too, where they’d eaten into or out of and hatched from its contents.

Interestingly, the branded, sealed but merely plastic bagged white rice, dried garbanzo beans, and dried hominy were completely unaffected by the invasion.  And there’s no sign of them infesting anything else, such as other kinds of dry beans and dry lentils, even if it too was less securely sealed.

Ewwwww!  Later may add a video of these guys.
Getting rid of the critters was an even more disgusting process than taking them out one by one when they appeared.  The sheer sight of so many writhing vermin alone was momentarily stunned me with revulsion.  Plus, I didn’t want to douse the boat with pesticides while we were inside and often the bugs were escaping over fabric covered cushions which would not fare well with insecticide or bleach. 

Eradication Process
  1. First I grabbed a securely sealable container large enough to enclose the food package they’d infested.  Then I grabbed my tongs, tossed the package inside and sealed it shut.
  2. Then quick as I could, nailed the crawlers with whatever worked – my fingers, paper towels, wetted sponges or handiwipes….
  3. Next I cleared the cupboard where the infestation occurred of all its contents, temporarily relocating them to the cockpit. 
  4. After that I sprayed the emptied cupboard with bleach water and thoroughly cleaning it. 
  5. I left the cupboards open for several hours, keeping a sharp eye out for formerly lucky escapees and eliminated them, too.
  6. The other cupboard contents were washed and wiped, killing more strays in the process, then, eventually returned to their proper place.
  7. The contained critters were submerged in a bucket of saltwater, their contents slowly opened underwater.  The containers were swished in the bucket repeatedly to clear them of their inhabitants then set aside.  The bag of infested food was torn open underwater in the bucket and also rinsed rinsed repeatedly.  The bucket was repeatedly refilled, under the cover of darkness, its contents (less the plastic) dumped overboard until everything was bug-free.

Cupboard organization, a benefit of bug purging.
In Suwarrow, we heard other boats were also plagued with infestations from products purchased in Galapagos.  As well, at least half of the eggs we purchased in the Galapagos spoiled and needed to be discarded as well and we heard of other cruisers who fared far worse with theirs.  Other than better fresh produce than we expected, viable frozen chicken, decent cold beer and cheap quinoa grains, our Galapagos restocking was at best, disappointing, especially at the Soggy Paws Compendium lauded Albatross Market.

The moral of the story:  beware unbranded, unsealed products and if possible, secure them in an inescapable container*.  If not, monitor them closely and undertake full and thorough combat ASAP.

*A secure container is a locked down Tupperware-esque container.  Most of mine are Lock&Lock brand and they’re so secure you could store soup in them upside down, no problem.  Weevils in particular are able to “drill” through sealed plastic store bags and closed Ziplock bags.

The silver lining?

Cleaner, more orderly cupboards and a better inventory of provisions to use.  And once again, may this blog spare you a repeat of our unpleasant experience or at least appreciate that along with cruising’s spectacular highs, there are some lows.  This was one of ours.

Pristine Suwarrow, Cook Islands.  The kind of place where
bug purges are best consummated under the cover of darkness.
Location Location
The bugs originated in Galapagos(S0.57.924 W90.57.750) at were finally eliminated and this post was written (we hope!) while we were in Suwarrow, Cook Islands (S13.14.907 W163.06.470).  This blog was posted in Pago Pago, American Samoa (S14.16.472 W170.40.456), where we're currently anchored.  Tonga is our next stop.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Wanted: Blacktip Shark Wearing Hinano Hat

cruising life, cruising humor
Wayne, hatless, holding our tattered flag at Suwarrow before we
ceremoniously burned it at the potluck (where he lost his hat).
It's said grass never grows on a busy street, which might explain the rosy patch atop my dear husband's head, a head best protected by a hat.  I love my fair-haired captain even though he has great difficulty remaining one with his hat.  And his Crocs too, but that's another story.

My hope was that paying a bit more for a Hinano hat for his birthday might up the odds on his typically lousy hat karma.  No such luck.

Life is short for a black hat at a potluck that ended into the starry night.  Tino from Axiom even spotted and returned the hat to our boat, unbeknownst to us until the next day.  Alas, while we looked and looked and couldn't find it.

south pacific sailing destinations
Pair of blacktip sharks circling our boat in Suwarrow.
Did one take Wayne's hat?
"You know, the hat I had the longest was the one we paid less than $2 for at Next Adventure," Wayne mused, a bit ruefully.  "Do you think we could find a Dodger's hat that cheap?"

Meanwhile, I'm positive one of the blacktip sharks circling our boats in the anchorage took it.  Somewhere, there's a blacktip shark wearing Wayne's Hinano hat.  If you could persuade the shark to give it back, we'd be most grateful.

south pacific cruising destinations
Satellite photo of Suwarrow from Wikipedia; I added
the red text and arrows.  The light colored sections are
shallow reefs and atoll islands.  The dark blue is deeper water.

Location Location
This is a catch-up post, of our stop in Suwarrow, Cook Islands (W13.14.907 S163.06.470). We sailed 460 miles there from Maupiti, French Polynesia (W16.26.838 S152.14.690) on July 29th, 2015.  We arrived on August 4, 2015.  We left Suwarrow on August 10, 2015, sailing about 650 miles to Pago Pago American Samoa (S14.16.472 W170.40.456), where we're currently anchored.  Tonga is our next stop.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Pago Pago: Tropical Americana, South Pacific

hiking South Pacific
Pago Pago American Samoa viewpoint, about 1600 feet above the harbor.  Wayne misses the Bahamas, especially our "high elevation" hikes there, which topped out at a whopping 206 feet.  Lucky for me he's still a good sport, ready to climb the highest mountain with me, and here in the South Pacific, there's lots higher than 206 feet!
cruising destinations between french polynesia and tonga
American Samoa is Northeast of New Zealand,
East of Australia, North of Tonga.
American Samoa is not usually initially on most cruisers South Pacific itinerary, even though it's reputedly a little more weather-friendly track from French Polynesia to Tonga.  Yes, Starkist Tuna does lend a certain periodic pungent aroma to Pago Pago.  And the harbor's opaque olive green water is not exactly swimmer-friendly.  Still the more popular neighboring Cook Islands and Western Samoa increased their cruising fees, which are a bit steep for folks like us briefly passing through.  

In our case, our stop in American Samoa was prompted by the desire to replace my dead Macintosh and receive it wholly through a US mail system.  

cruising destinations between french polynesia and tonga
The upper section gives a view of all the island of
American Samoa.  We're on Tutulla, in Pago Pago's
deep, protected harbor.
Once the decision was made, we figured we'd make the most of it.  

We ordered up a lot of boat stuff (chocks, instant on hot water heater, handheld VHF radio...), electronics accessories (especially new DC chargers for our laptop computers), a few sundries for the galley (spatter guard, coffee pot, replacement lid to a pyrex dish).  All in all, a lot of little things niggling item that will make our lives safer and  more comfortable.

7 Reasons to Consider Visiting American Samoa (especially for US citizens)

  1. The locals are incredibly welcoming.
  2. We availed ourselves of the first laundromat we've been able to access in 8 months -- the last was in December in the naval marina in Key West, Florida!  It was awesome!
  3. We're able to replenish our supply of gluten-free snacks, especially crackers, Fritos and tortilla chips, and there's a military exchange where we can buy cheap booze.
  4. The bus system rocks!   You can get around to most places for $1 or less each way.
  5. We can much more easily call home, mail home and connect to wifi.
  6. The primary language is English; that also hasn't been the case for us since leaving the US in December.
  7. The island is lush, with striking mountains and good hiking.

Sadly, every day we spend in American Samoa is one less day we will spend in Tonga, as we need to leave Tonga for New Zealand by November for cyclone season.  While we are making the most of our time here, we know are not doing it justice.  We are rushing through our to-do lists, watching for the right weather window to sail to Tonga, where we hope to spend about 6 weeks.  But we are glad we came to American Samoa.

south pacific cruising destinations
How you know you're in America again... Prominent McD's
in Pago Pago harbor, American Samoa.
Location Location
We arrived in Pago Pago, American Samoa (S14.16.472 W170.40.456) August 15, 2015.  

There will be some catch-up posts, from when we left Maupiti, French Polynesia on July 29th, 2015 and sailed to Suwarrow, Cook Islands, and then to American Samoa. 

Please pardon the delay as I stumble through Apple's updated operating system on my new Mac, trying to figure out anew how to resize photos, and move them from my library to an accessible folder for my blog.  Plus the backup PC I was using and wrote several posts on passage decided to check out without warning. Looking into resolving that technical glitch, too.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Low Larders & Ripe Fruit Inspire Creative Cooking

“Oh no we can’t sell you half of these,” the Bora Bora
proprietor insisted.  As a result, I bought nothing.

One oddity common among most Polynesians – they don’t like to bargain.  

In my case, the issue is usually not about price, but quantity.  Much as I love starfruit (“carambole” in French Polynesia), the two of us can eat only a few each a day.  If it ripens faster than that – and everything ripens quickly in this tropical climate -- it will rot.  When I ask if it’s possible to buy a less than a dozen or so at once, usually the proprietor instead slips me a few more and asks if I can buy 5-10 papayas or mangoes, too.

Red bananas are best cooked in a fire pit, so I
don’t buy them.  These were for sale in Bora Bora.

When I can, I split my purchases with other cruisers, sometimes simply give them whatever I know we can’t eat in time.  Usually though, we find we’re frequently more adventurous incorporating local fruit and veg into our diet than our fellow cruisers.

Fresh starfruit, canned hearts of palm, chopped dry salami,
kalamata olives, scallions and home-made vinaigrette.
Affordable fruit, good use.
Much as fresh and local appeals, sometimes, when “family sized*” portions are required, I just have to walk away.

*It’s not usual for Polynesian families to number around 25 members.

For families who buy meter-long baguettes by the dozen, I suspect my desire to purchase such meager portions seems a little crazy.  But there’s just the two of us, and I hate waste.

These bananas and mangoes ripened too quick for us to consider
a repeat purchase for passage food in Maupiti.

Location Location
Written in Maupiti, our last stop in French Polynesia (S16.26.838 W152.14.690) and set to post while we’re underway on an 1,100+ mile passage to Pago Pago, American Samoa.  We hope to stop for some R&R at Suwarrow in the Cook Islands along the way, though we expect no wifi in that remote location.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Polynesian Fire Pit Meal on Maupiti

Granted, these and bicycles are more common
than cars and trucks on Maupiti.
“There are no cars on Maupiti,” my relatively recent LonelyPlanet guidebook claims.  It’s incorrect unless trucks, the 4-wheelers of choice, don’t count as cars.  It is true that overall Maupiti’s resisted large scale tourism, sticking to a few small, simple pensions scattered about the island and motus. 

Maupiti Heiva traditional Polynesian games:  These guys
line up with their spears, aiming with great concentration.
There is a post office, and airport, a ferry, several small grocery stores, some fruit stands and a once monthly morning visit from a bank which we discovered the afternoon they left.  There is no ATM and for the most part credit cards are not accepted.  We arrived like most cruisers on an expired visa and less than $20 in cash.

The coconut on a pole they aim at in traditional Polynesian games is a
tough target! This was a Maupiti Heiva event.
This year Maupiti’s pensions organized a big Heiva visitor’s welcome in the form of traditional crafts, games and a traditional Polynesian fire pit meal.  The competitions included a good-natured rivalry between the pensions and the cruisers.  

Maupiti Heiva fire pit oven just before it’s
unburied at Maupiti’s Heiva event.

We happened across the event on a cycle ride around the island.  We dallied a while and to watch the banana bunch relay races, the coconut spearing competition and the unearthing of the fire pit meal.  

Maupiti Heiva Unearthing the oven pit…
first dirt, then burlap, then banana leaves.
As we already partook in a traditional Polynesian meal with the Pacific Puddle Jump in Mo’orea at the Bali Hai we chose to save our last $20 for passage food though the Maupiti meal was less expensive and looked better than Bali Hai’s.  Chow time was a good time for us to move on , though we heard the festivities were fun and lasted well into the evening.
This cage of food was cooked in a fire pit
at Maupiti’s Heiva event.

Visiting kids check out the just emptied fire pit at
the Maupiti Heiva event, a traditional Polynesian meal.

Locals and visitors pitch in to serve up the just cooked fire pit
meal -- red bananas, breadfruit, roasted pork, and
tapioca mixed in coconut milk.
Cruiser Oliver of Inspirity was delighted.  This was his fifth trip to Maupiti and the first time he was aware the island hosted this kind of event.

Of the several events we’ve attended in French Polynesia, Maupiti’s was the best blended of local and visitor involvement.  

Maupiti Heiva meal buffet line:  red bananas, breadfruit,
possion cru coco au lait, roasted pork, and tapioca
mixed in coconut milk.

We hope Maupiti continues to offer these kinds of events which are sure to encourage more visitors to come by and appreciate the gifts Maupiti has to offer.  Like Huahine, we prefer laid back less touristy islands where locals are quick with a welcoming smile and wave.

Note:  Banana races and fire pit meal unearthing videos to be added later to this blog post when there’s faster wifi in American Samoa.

How we got around Maupiti when not
walking, kayaking or taking our dinghy.

Location Location
Written in Maupiti, our last stop in French Polynesia (S16.26.838 W152.14.690) and set to post while we’re underway on an 1,100+ mile passage to Pago Pago, American Samoa.  We hope to stop for some R&R at Suwarrow in the Cook Islands along the way, though we expect no wifi in that remote location.