There is no camping on American Samoa, on the entire island. You can’t camp in the National Park and you can’t camp anywhere else. This makes things rather tricky when you consider the fact that hotel rooms are $90-$130 a night, on the cheap end.
Thankfully, though, the park offers a Homestay opportunity. The park provides a list of names and telephone numbers and you are supposed to get in touch with someone so that you can stay at their house during your time on the island. In all of my contacts with our family beforehand I found it to be very difficult to communicate. I learned that American Samoan’s may speak English, but there is a definitely another language that they speak more prevalently. I initially learned this while trying to contact the family and not being able to communicate with whoever answered the phone.
Before getting to the island we had been in touch with Cole and Elizabeth Donelson, who are two similar National Park adventurers. They are doing all 59 National Parks to celebrate the NPS centennial and we also realized that we would be in American Samoa during the exact same dates. It also turned out that we had contacted the exact same family to stay with for the homestay!
We were scheduled to come in Friday, but missed the flight due to our standby status. American Samoa only has two flights that come in per week from Hawai’i, they arrive on Friday and Monday at 9:30pm. Since we missed Friday, we would try again for Monday. Cole sent us a Facebook message letting us know that they had arrived and that we would see them Monday evening at the family’s house.
Trevor and I came out of customs and exited the airport terminal not really knowing what to expect. Would Cole and Elizabeth be there? Would the family be there? Would they recognize us? It all happened pretty smoothly, two girls popped out and asked if we were Trevor and Darius. They were daughters in the family we were staying with.
We hopped in the back of the truck that they directed us to and then we went off down the road. From what we were able to communicate one of them was a sophomore in high school and the other had just graduated. Other than that we sat in the back of the pickup in pitch darkness as we frequently passed other cars and zoomed around the city of Pago Pago not being able to see anything. The place that we were staying was on the far side of the island. We passed a container shipping yard and a Sunkist Tuna plant. At one point we stopped, we thought because it was starting to downpour and they wanted to move some of our bags into the bag of the pickup, at the same time someone hopped in the back of the pickup as well. We drove on, with our new passenger, not knowing what was happening. We went from driving on flat roads to making our way up some steep hills. The car sounded like it would explode at any second. It was working so hard and making such terrible noises that I was sure we would go from forward to backwards at any moment and we would have to hop out of the car to push. Miraculously though, we made it!
We pulled into the family’s yard and were welcomed by the Seuli’s. While we had told them that we were happy to camp they took us inside and gave us a room to share. Cole and Elizabeth were there; we were at the right house! We met Emma and Sakhalia, the grandparents and matriarch/patriarch of the house. We had a quick meal of hot and spicy ramen bowls, papaya and taro and then went to bed, as it was nearly 11pm.
We did some hiking during our first day (to be covered in another blog entry) and then came home. In the morning we had asked about the papaya, the taro and where they got all of the fresh fruits and vegetables. They told us that they had a family plantation up in the hills where they harvested everything. Interested, we asked if we could see it. Egypt, the boyfriend of one the daughters, was told to show us the plantation and show us how they gathers some of the things. We hiked back from the house about 4-minutes and then up the hill until we were surrounded by banana trees, taro, papaya, mango and coconut trees. It was surreal to see it all right there, less than 5-minutes away from their house. Egypt showed us how they climb the coconut trees and started hacking footholds into place as he went up the tree. Afterwards, Egypt took us up to a waterfall where there was a huge swimming tank. The tank was about 12 x 8 feet and 8 to 10 feet deep. He walked up and jumped in the 3 by 3 foot square hole on the top. We followed his lead to do the same and found ourselves immersed in the most refreshing water.
Most of the days we would spend exploring. We would come home and spend time with the kids before dinner. After dinner we sat on the floor and played games with the kids. Usually it was some form of patty cake, or the slap game or other games that could be played with your hands. The older kids knew how to play, but the younger ones were generally confused about the rules and would simply want to clap their hands several times before they would get bored.
Our last night, though, was highlighted with a 'talent show'. The kids showed us a traditional Samoan dance...
and then surprisingly broke into the Whip and Nae Nae...
and then broke into some old classics.
The grandfather told us a poem in Samoan and then proceeded to sing something to the tune of ‘I’m a little tea pot’, based on his dancing I think it actually was a ‘I’m a little tea pot’ the entire family, including us was laughing at his dancing and antics. After they were done, we were notified that it was ‘our turn’. Our turn to demonstrate our talents, I opted to do a headstand and Cole sang a song from his elementary school talent show called ‘Fried Ham’. Without having much more to offer they turned on the electric slide and had us dance to that, none of us knew the actual dance, so one of the girls had to get up and show us the actual moves, my elementary gym teacher, Mr. Woodrick, would be so disappointed. After the talent show we shared a huge jug of rocky road ice cream and the room was full to the brim with smiles and laughter.
The next morning we all packed our stuff to head back to town. Our flight wasn’t until 11:30pm, but our plan was to head into Pago Pago, visit the National Park Visitor’s Center and then explore town before heading to the airport.
We said goodbye to the family, hugged and exchanged addresses! After arriving in Pago Pago we met the Park Ranger responsible for the Homestay program and let her know what a wonderful time we had, we finished all of our requirements for the Junior Ranger program and headed towards the airport to make our way back to Hawai’i.
Thank you for being so kind and generous and sharing your family with us!