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My Interview With Adventuregirl

The first time we wrote about Stef Michaels (@adventuregirl) was early last summer when we stumbled across her active Twitter page. With over 1.5 million fans, Michaels has clearly made her mark as a social media butterfly and top travel expert. Her daily updates on her whereabouts and overall passion for travel could make anyone apply for a passport and feed their wanderlust!
Last week, I had the pleasure of interviewing her regarding her recent trip to Samoa. Read on below:
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1) My favorite part of any journey is when I learn something new about a place. What are some things you did not know about Samoa before you visited?

I try and read travel guides about a place while I am at the location. I don’t tend to research much beforehand, as I want to get there with no expectations or pre conceived ideas about a place written by someone else. I want it to be my own experience.

So, without research, sometimes I “faux pas”. For example, with this Samoa trip, one of the things I learned was that it’s NOT American Samoa- it’s actually its own country, established in 1962.

I initially thought, “Cool - I can interview some of the Samoan kids at football camps trying out for the NFL”! My guide was like, “Uh- that’s American Samoa, we’re formally Western Samoa, our own country, we play Rugby here!” Good to know - lesson learned. Yes, I can be blonde. Note taken. Thank you. ;0

I also loved how friendly the people are, rustic and natural the islands, and political details like their village chiefs are “real chiefs”, not just figure heads, and actually partake in the country’s political process.

Samoa is also the first place the sun rises and sets, due to where they sit on the dateline.

2) On Twitter, you mentioned you went to Savai'i, the largest island in Samoa. Did you meet any of the locals from the villages? How were you perceived as a tourist?

Yes, Savai’i Island- pronounced Sav-ay-ee (like Hawaii) is spectacular, a total throwback to another time. And yes, I met so many beautiful people from many of the villages.

I was warmly welcomed everywhere. That’s the thing about Samoa, they are self sufficient, proud, and warm hearted.

We stayed at Le Lagoto, this beautiful little hotel on the beach, and by the time we left we felt like family. We also went to a church on Sunday to photograph the islanders, who wear all white. They are a country steeped in tradition and who are deeply religious. It was hot in the church, and the local’s actually used their fans to fan us to make sure we were ok. So sweet and welcoming they are. That’s the expression I got when traveling all over the islands.

3) Over 6 months ago, a destructive tsunami tore through the island of Upolu, leaving villages and streets in ruins. How is the island recovering from this disaster? What notable changes did you see?

I went to a beach village in the South where the tsunami hit hardest. Driving in, the destruction was so apparent. In some places there was nothing but a slab of foundation left, other areas, demolished houses laying in ruin, some areas, nothing at all. What was also apparent and why so many people perished, was that there was nowhere for people to run to escape, the waves- a series of them, not just one, washed over roads, and took out cars, which people were driving in to get out, had been swept away.

Just behind the beach are steep cliffs, so climbing wasn’t an option and with only a 6 minute warning. Basically, there was nowhere to run. I spoke with the owner of the TauFua Beach Fale Resort, and listened as he numbly described what happened, how he almost died, loss 13 members of his own family and how his resort was demolished. At one point in our conversation, his voice cracked when he spoke of his four year old grandson who he had let go of as the waves hit, hoping he could surface and survive, only to learn later he had perished. Remarkable however, was his spirit to rebuild and go on, even though much of his village neighbors have decided to move away from the coast. He says he is rebuilding for his families future, and he’s confident that this won’t happen again in his lifetime, since the last one was 100 years ago.

Change is slow, rebuilding is on-going, and I only hope that a new escape route into the hillside can happen sooner than later, if nothing else, but for peace of mind for the locals.

4) Popular cuisine in Samoa consists of chicken, pork, coconut, shellfish and bananas. What were some of the dishes that you tried when you were there? Did you like it?

Well, I’m pescatarian- I only eat fish-no meat, so I ate a lot of local fresh catch of the day. I did go to a family’s home where they cooked outside in an Umu (cook house). They prepared a feast traditionally over lava rocks, covered everything with taro leaves and let the meal cook for several hours.

I think I saved a pig’s life that day. The night before the brunch, I found out we were eating pig, an islander staple. I had to mention to my guide I couldn’t be there while they killed it.

I showed up the day of the feast, and found out they had not killed the pig- and had opted to serve only fish. Again, there is that Samoan hospitality. I loved the coconut cooked in taro leaves served on top of the taro, and the fish was slow cooked Umu-style to perfection. Amazing.
5) What methods of transportation did you use to get around Samoa? Was public transportation easily accessible? Was it expensive/inexpensive?

Public transportation such as busses and taxis are readily available, and if you see one, hop on and ask where the driver is going. Routes can vary. Many islanders get on these colorful busses, that are more long distance to take them around the island to various villages. AND, WARNING! There is no air-conditioning, they are open aired, with bench style seating, and fill up quickly. It’s the perfect way to “get to know a Samoan” intimately! LOL. Knowing you’re a tourist- islanders will many times, give up their seats so you can sit. It’s definitely an adventure! It isn’t expensive, rates vary per destination, and our US dollar goes a long way. $1.00= $2.50 Tala.

The other option is to hire a guide to help show you around the island. I like to do this at the destinations I travel to, because not only are you helping the local economy, but often times you learn a lot from a local’s perspective.

6) So, let's say I am visiting Samoa for the first time, what are 3 things that you recommend I must see/do?

Oh my gosh! There is so much to do! Ok, so you will land on Upolu Island. Visit Janet’s in Apia- the capital city, for good shopping, and then onto the markets where you can pick up souvenirs like weaved baskets, coconut shell earrings, and make sure you pick up a fan (you’ll need it). Leaving Apia, head South towards the TauFua Beach area, if you don’t want to stay overnight- stop there for a beach day the views are stunning. Head to the Sinalei Reef Resort for lunch. Their chef, Ernst Broer, is a Michelin Star chef, whose epicurean talents were previously found in Cambridge, England and Napa. He was wooed by the Sinalei from Red Bull owner’s exclusive Lucala Resort in Fiji. It’s a must that you stop in and try his cuisine. I’m still dreaming about his “Mild Spiced Papaya Salad” creation.

Take a ferry ride to Savaii, make sure you see the blow holes on the South Coast, stay a night at La Latoga Resort, and relax on their pristine beach. Head back to Apia, use Aggie Grey’s Lagoon Resort as base camp, and take a day trip to the tiny “step back in time” island of Manono. There are no cars allowed on the island, just beautiful walking trails, beach side fales to lounge in, complete beautiful coves with pristine beaches.

Photo credits: Stef Michaels (@adventuregirl)

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Have you been to / lived in Samoa? Feel free to share your experiences below in the Comments section or drop me an email at katy@whereivebeen.com. Cheers!

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