American Samoa: Aunu'u Island and Relative Pricing

Many people mentioned Aunu’u Island as being a must visit destination while we were on American Samoa. It is not in the National Park, but due to the size of the park and the lack of hiking trails we had pretty much maxed out many of our ‘in-park’ opportunities.

The night before our Aunu’u adventure our host family told us that the bus only left Vatia at 9:30am, which was strange because we remember hearing about an 8am departure as well. Oh well. We woke up a little after 8am for breakfast and learned that there was an 8am bus as well.  Hmmm., curious.

We ate; got our backpacks ready and they let us know that the boat to Aunu’u should be about $5/roundtrip per person. We got on the 9:30am bus to Aua, the term bus is a very loose term. I am used to a bus line that has predetermined stops at preset times. The busses are all run by the same department/agency and work together to provide consumers with reliable and predictable bus service throughout a city.

In American Samoa it seems that each of the ‘busses’ are privately owned. The run their own route regardless of when or how other busses are running the exact same route. In places like Vatia there is only one bus, so you don’t get any options. In places like Aua there are dozens and dozens of busses all running on seemingly random schedules. The busses are all painted and decorated differently, it seems that the individual drivers get to set the theme. They also select the music. When we got in the bus in Vatia he cranked the volume on Gangsters Paradise by Coolio. 

As we neared our destination he was scrolling through songs and I saw a healthy Glee section, quite the wide array of music. Another bus that we rode in was playing a kung fu movie complete with broken beer bottles rammed into legs, faces pressed against stoves and automatic machine guns shot in the face of motorcyclists. There was some kung fu in between, but the best part is that this bus was picking up kids heading home from school. The volume was fully cranked, but I digress.

From Aua we had to go east towards Auasi, where we would catch our ferry. I bought a knock off Coca Cola at the local mart and asked the clerk when the busses ran, she had no idea, so we waited. A taxi cab came by and offered us a ride for $20, we said we wouldn’t pay more than $15, which he agreed to. He dropped us at the ferry stop and I stupidly only had a $50. He ‘had enough’ change to charge us $30 for the fare. I pointed out a $5 bill in his cup holder and he ‘found’ $5 more in his wallet. Still overcharging us compared to our agreed upon price.

We got on our boat and paid the roundtrip fair. The boat driver said, $4 each way/per person. Since we were with Cole and Elizabeth it was $16 each way, or $32. He offered to charge us $30 as a ‘discount’. We landed on Aunu’u Island and went for a walk around the island. Due to the transportation challenges in getting over there, we arrived around 11am and had to leave at by 2:00pm to make sure that we could make it back to Aua in time for the only bus heading back to Vatia.

Aunu'u Harbor

Aunu'u Harbor

We started walking around the island and passed a huge taro patch, we later learned that Aunu’u is known for having delicious taro due to the lake that they have in the middle of the island. Most of the rest of the hike was rather non-descript, other than to note the fact that it was incredibly hot. We wanted to make it to the backside of the island, but were afraid we wouldn’t have enough time to make it back to the boats; instead we headed to the beach. Instead of sand there were tons and tons of dead corral, I suppose in thousands of years it will erode into a white sand beach. There were tons of hermit crabs that I proceeded to play with, for a good amount of time.

Playing with Hermit Crabs: Volume 1

Playing with Hermit Crabs: Volume 2

Playing with Hermit Crabs: Volume 3

The surf was pretty big and it took some swimming and getting beaten up by waves to make it out into corral where you weren’t constantly being pounded by waves. While swimming I saw the exact same fish that we had for dinner the night before. One of the common professions in American Samoa is spear fishing. It’s a means of making money and putting dinner on the table. It was interesting to see the fish in the water; it was a vivid blue with yellow stripes. It also has two chin fins that make it look like it has swallowed a shrimp.

Striped surgeonfish

Striped surgeonfish

After about 15 minutes I started to feel the lack of fins, wetsuit and snorkel would not be to my benefit and swam in. Trevor stayed out a bit longer and saw a small black tipped reef shark.

We got out of the water, dried off and headed back to wait for the ferry. Our roundtrip tickets only worked with our ferry, there are three. He said that he would meet us at 2:00pm, but he was on the other side and the other boat captain said he probably wouldn’t be over for awhile. As the next boat came in, full of locals, we lined up to get in letting the new captain know that we had already paid a roundtrip fare, he didn’t seem likely to take us back until one of the people getting off the boat said that we should be able to go back.

We got back and took the bus to Aua where we would connect to Vatia. As we got off the bus in Vatia we noticed that we were being charged $2 a ride, compared to $1 like everyone else. In American Samoa they call white people palagi, pronounced pa-ling-e. It’s not a derogatory term, but you could definitely tell that there was a palagi price and a local price. I suppose that is island life anywhere.