Monday, January 11, 2010

Holiday Fun

My Mom and my Aunt Sandra came down for a visit about three weeks ago and then we all went to New Zealand and Australia for a week each country. It was a great vacation; I needed a little break from tropical islands (not that they aren’t great, but a little change is always good).

Vacation started out really interesting and the end to the Samoa part ended in true Samoan style as well. I was waiting in the hotel for a car to be dropped off so I could go pick up my visitors from the airport. The rental company said they’d drop it off at 4 pm. So when 4:15 rolled around and no car, I called them. No answer. It was a Sunday…of course no answer, even if the advertisement says open 7 days a week until 4:30. This shouldn’t have surprised me. I called around to other rental places…few answered phones it being Sunday and the few who did either had no cars or wanted my first born for the car. So when the time came and I still had no car I jumped in a taxi and headed to the airport. I explained what happened and my mom and aunt didn’t seem to mind. We called other companies Monday and got a car. At least that worked out.

Well, trying to get the car back was fun as well. We had a flight out early Christmas morning, 12:15 am. We wanted to drop the car off Christmas Eve at 8 pm. We made sure this was ok and we weren’t going to ruin any Christmas Eve plans and took the car for our 4 days in Samoa. We show up Christmas Eve at 7:40 to drop the car off. No one is there. We call and call, no one picks up. We debate what to do…leave it here where who knows what could happen to it next to a busy road or take it to the airport. By the time 8:30 rolls around we decide if they aren’t home to take the car back, then we are taking it to the airport and figure it out later. We left a nice note and went to the airport. We called them the next day and they didn’t seem to mind at all us taking the car and hour outside of town to the airport when that wasn’t the agreed upon plan, but then again they weren’t home to take the car and this is Samoa where people are incredibly laid back. Adventure with cars…at least the driving on the left side of the road with the wheel on the left as well after not having driven in a year and a half went well.

Samoa Vacation:

Mom, Sandra, and I went up to Robert Louis Stevenson house. I’d been up there before for the 4th of July party, but had never been inside the house. The house is gorgeous and the grounds are even more beautiful. Well worth the time to check out if one is in Samoa. We checked the markets out and they were impressed by the variety of fruits and handicrafts one can buy. They enjoyed seeing the police band march from the police station to the government building to raise the flag. Not everyday some one sees this, unless you happen to live in Apia of course.

We went to Savaii and enjoyed Manase. Funny story: We didn’t have reservations for the ferry and were waiting in line. All of the sudden they had us motor up to the front, skipping at least 15 other cars, to literally squeeze in the back of the big boat. It was a tight squeeze and I was worried we were going to take the mirror off. The guys at the ferry are very good at giving directions and even the Samoans were impressed by the tight squeeze with no damage to anyone’s car.



Another fun Samoa story: I called the place we were staying three times for various reasons and confirmed each time we needed 3 places to sleep. We go to check in…only a double bed. Why does this not shock me either? We had to stay in a totally different room, instead of a beach fale right on the water. No big deal really, but kind of frustrating when I told them at least 3 times we needed a room for three.

We drove around Savaii and my mom and aunt enjoyed the beautiful scenery that is Samoa. We stopped at the Taga blowholes which are always impressive. We drove to Salelologa and waited for the ferry. I had to back into the little boat….that was a little scary, but again, those guys are good at directing the cars onto the ferry.

We drove to the resort on the southside of the island and finally got our beachfront fale. One can’t get out of Samoa without staying in a fale complete with mosquito netting. My mom and aunt found this cute, but didn’t want to make it a regular thing (understandable).

We had lunch the next day with my host family. We were all excited about this. My family has heard a lot about my most family and visa versa. My mom and aunt especially enjoyed the two girls, as usual they were showing off…funny kids. I took them to see where my house once was…I think they were a little shocked to see it in person; it is a little hard to believe. My mom and aunt really enjoyed driving through Le Mafa Pass, gorgeous scenery. They were impressed at the beautiful mountain scenery (even being West Virginians).

We headed to the airport after dinner in town and we eager for vacation in New Zealand, even if it meant skipping Christmas (crossed the International Date Line).

New Zealand:

We took a city tour bus we could hop on and hop off so we could see just what we wanted. First stop was Takaparawha Regional Park...gorgeous views of the city and surrounding bay and a beautiful garden in the middle. We stopped at Kelly Tarlton’s Underwater World for some views of fish, sharks, and penguins. The baby penguins were so fuzzy and cute. The Auckland Museum had a great display of Maori and Pacific treasures as well as Greek and Egyptian artifacts. Last stop was the Skytower, 328 metres tall. Awesome views of the city and harbour.

Auckland was a cool city, very modern and clean. I enjoyed the shopping, sandwiches (hard to get good ones in Samoa), good coffee, etc. 1.5 years on tropical islands re-adjusts the perspective on things and going to a huge, developed city like Auckland was great.

Wellington was pretty too. We took another bus tour we hopped on and off. We drove past the Beehive and parliament buildings, botanical gardens, and some wildlife parks. Just not enough time for everything. We did stop at the cable car and took that down to the city center…that was fun. We of course did some more shopping. We went to Te Papa and enjoyed the Pompeii exhibit. They had some really neat interactive computer exhibits where you can look at 360 views of the excavation. Also a really neat 3-D movie.

Wellington was hosting the Unicycle World Champs so everywhere we went we saw unicycles. Big, small, kids, adults…so many unicycles!

We had dinner at a steak and seafood boat. I ordered a steak and a red wine; both were spectacular. The steak was one of the best I’ve ever had and my face apparently showed it. My aunt said I looked like a kid on Christmas morning. Good steak is hard to come by and expensive here in Samoa…so 1.5 years without a good cut of meat was rough. My tummy was very pleased that night.

We took the ferry over to the south island. Amazing! It is so beautiful crossing the strait. So many postcard opportunities. We then took a train from Picton to Christchurch. This too was amazing! Sheep on the hills, fur seals on the rocks, black sand beaches, so many birds of prey on fence posts and in trees. I was jealous of all those camping in such scenic areas. But the sleet would have made things not so much fun…although 1.5 years in the tropics, I rather enjoyed the cold when we got to hop off the train for a bit.

We walked around Christchurch and enjoyed the most English city outside of the UK. They had cute architecture and even the red phone booths one sees in London. We toured the cathedral and took a gondola up to mountain to take in the views. The Southern Alps were beautiful in the distance and the harbour surrounded by mountains was breathtaking.

Australia:

First stop was Cairns. I finally got my dives on the Great Barrier Reef. I’ve been waiting years to do this, a lifelong dream actually. It was spectacular. So much diversity and the fish are huge! Massive triggerfish and parrotfish, schools of fish surround you. We saw a rather large White-tip Reef Shark, 6-7 feet long. Tons of anemones with anemonefish and clownfish. Nudibranchs, soft coral, sea whips, etc. Oh, talk about a kid in a candy shop!

Cairns is an interesting city, feels a bit like Key West (without all the Key Lime Pie unfortunately). The wharf is really cool, lots of little restaurants one can eat at and watch all the boats come in from their day on the GBR. There’s a little lagoon pool that overlooks the actual lagoon there, lots of people enjoying the warm, sunny weather. And they have Baskin Robbins….that happened, mint chocolate chip…awesome!



We moved on to Sydney after Cairns. We took a tour bus up to Blue Mountains. Gorgeous! We saw the famous Three Sisters rock formation and the valley in the Blue Mountains. Blue Mountains is apparently a combination of the Smokies (due to the bluish hue similar to that of the Smokies) and the Grand Canyon. I’ve never been to the Grand Canyon so I can’t vouch for that, but it does remind me of the Smokies. We enjoyed the walkway in the bottom of the valley as well as the skyway, which overlooked a beautiful waterfall and had a transparent floor, the cable car, and the world’s steepest railroad (you are pretty much going straight up the side of the mountain, not a usual flat track by any means).

We toured the Sydney Opera House; I love the concert hall, especially the organ. We walked trough the botanical gardens a bit and walked in Circular Quay (complete with street performers). We went to the Rocks, the birthplace of Sydney, and toured the small museum to get a better feel for how Sydney came about. The Rocks is a cute neighborhood, lots of old buildings from Sydney’s founding and quaint shops and cafés.

We even got to see Wicked at the Capitol Theater. I enjoyed the musical and realized how much I missed aspects of palagi culture. A night at the theater was great. We went up in the Sydney Tower before Mom and my aunt left for Hawaii. This tower isn’t quite as tall as the Auckland Skytower, but still impressive views of the city. I had 24 hours in Sydney alone and didn’t do much. Some shopping and walking around, wish I had made the flight a few days later to have more time to really do something. I enjoyed just relaxing and being in a big city.

I’m back out to the village today. Not sure what to expect. I’m sure the girls in my host family have missed me and were asking where I was the whole time I was on vacation (my host sister says they do this). But vacation is over and it’s back to work.

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