2007 October 25-29
We’ve turned the corner on our visit and are now getting ready for departure. This next bit is written for cruisers who might consider coming to American Samoa.
We would compare the food provisioning to Panama City where you can get nearly everything. I’ve spent a week reconnoitering via the buses, to scope out the supplies and sources. However, the boat supplies are scarce to find, even in this enormous and busy harbor.
Getting supplies shipped into the country has resulted in varying reports from good to great. Some folks waiting for medications coming via Federal Express have had their stuff returned, resent and now are waiting. We had a friend send us my prescription glasses sent via US Postal Service, Priority mail, General Delivery and the glasses arrived with no problems in three working days. Others will have sails, boat supplies and other major refitting items sent in via DHL. Whichever method you choose, it is worth the extra expense to insure with tracking numbers.
On the island there are several Napa Auto supply shops, several hardware stores (including an ACE, True Value and a Do-it Center), and a Tool Shop. John should be able to get plywood. While on the bus, I passed the only Marine store, east of the Pago Pago Yacht Club, not a full chandlery, but a stock of bottom paint is on the shelf. Fishing supplies are sold in the abundant trinket shops or shops that have assorted items with the label, “Made in China”. The Tropic Trader store has many fisherman’s supplies and even Croc flip flops, if you are in need of those.
Today, I even found molasses and that’s a real success effort, if you love to make gingerbread. American product brands are abundant and almost every thing you want is available at USA prices without the sales tax. The Chinese, Korean and East Indians’ own most of the local stores. So, there are plenty of Asian ethnic food products. On the other hand, as a Samoan shared with me, there are many stores owned by these ethnic groups, but few good restaurants making the cuisines of these countries. Shop owners and the chefs don’t always settle in the same place.
There is the bulk buying warehouse store, just like COSTCO. It is called Cost-U-Less, but the locals call it “Cost-U-More”. Fresh meats, mainly beef and pork, are best at the Cost-U-Less, just frozen chicken and fish, none fresh. Many familiar brands: Gold Medal, Brach, General Mills, Kirkland, etc. No membership fee required shopping at Cost-u-Less. I’ve been there so often to scope out the stock that several of the sales people know me, especially when I dropped a $1,000 last Saturday and then returned on Monday for chicken that I’ll be canning today. “Aren’t you the lady who was here on Saturday with the “big order”? Yup, and I’ll be back one more time when I come get the fresh produce which is suppose to arrive on a container ship at the end of the week. Saturday’s provisioning could not have been so smoothly achieved without the support and help of Jennifer on s/v Purrrfection. The family is now living in American Samoa so they have cars. She generously offered to let me fill her car to the brim and take me the 20 miles back to Pago Pago Harbor from Tufuna. She knows and understands the trials of provisioning a boat for 6 to 8 months and her compassion was greatly appreciated, especially since we had to do it during a torrential rainfall.
Fresh chicken is almost impossible to find, except those running on two legs in the yards. And you can forget finding fresh fish in the shops, except a few lagoon species that I wouldn’t trust! Almost all meats are frozen as it arrives on container ship. Not much in the way of lamb from New Zealand or Australia, which was a big disappointment. The Samoan’s love corned beef, so we found it in cans of all size and frozen in vacuumed packets.
Locals recommended I provision for bulk products (e.g. TP and canned goods) at the Aveina Brothers retail store, as it is a few cents cheaper than Cost-U-Less. It is about a $7.00 taxi fare from Aveina Brothers’ to Pago Pago Harbor or a .50 bus ride. Just make sure you check the expiration date on the canned goods, as this does seem to be a second hand distributor with some old stuff. Although, this was the place where I found molasses, canning lids, brown rice, whole-wheat flour and whole cranberry sauce.
I’m splitting my provisioning needs around the community, both warehouse shops and at least six other shops (Super K, Young Mart, K Market, etc.) and the few sparse pickings at the Farmer’s market (mostly just eggplant, breadfruit, pineapples, coconuts, bananas, banana leaves, and occasionally a bag of cucumbers or tomatoes). This will help distribute our funds to both the big and little enterprises and support the local economy.
Fast food, bakeries and pastry shops are favorite roadside stops on the island. Some are open 24 hours and we can only figure that between the canneries and the all night shipping traffic, there is enough activity around the island to keep them hopping all night. For the Fast food lovers, there is a KFC, Pizza Hut, Carl’s Jr. and McDonald’s out in Tafuna area. McDonald’s opened their McCafe while we’ve been here. It is stylish and competitive with Starbucks, even had cheesecake and burrito wraps. We frequent the roadside greasy spoon at the Seaside Bakery, a gas station side operation that is open 24 hours a day and provides fresh donuts, cinnamon rolls, cheese bread, loaves of old fashion white bread, take out meals for $1.50, and generous scoops of coffee, mint chip, macadamia nut and pistachio ice cream.
Recently, our favorite afternoon haunt has been the Fagatogo Square Café where there is free wireless connection during the month of October. At the other Café, Don’t Drink the Water, there is Internet connection but the fees are $5/hour if you bring your own computer or $10/hour to use their sole computer.
The other abundant retail enterprises are sewing shops. There are dozens and dozens of stores selling fabric and custom sewing services. There are only a few shops selling fabricated apparel. Obviously, the skilled labor is abundant and inexpensive. Everyone wears custom-made lavalava skirts (the men) and long puletasi dresses (the women). There are one or two second hand clothes stores. The Filipinos’ seems to be the seamstresses of the island.
To give you an idea of the cost of fabric, we purchased some soft, light linen fabric to make Gaby some Turkish style pants for a mere $1.50/yard at 60” width. She’ll have new pants for under $8, not a bad deal. She will make the pants as part of her Home Economics class. There are also heavier linen fabrics for $15/yard, so there is quite a range of fabrics available. Much of the fabric is cotton from Asia; good quality and inexpensive. I have not seen any sumbrella for boat works.
Propane is available in Aua village. John will take a bus to the filling station later on in the week.
Bus fare is .25 for students. For adults, one pays based on the distance of your travels, anywhere from .50 to $1.25. All the buses stop on command, even though there are a few designated bus shelters. To get off the bus you tap-tap on the wood ceiling with a quarter or pull a colored (often pink) cord that squawks. All the buses are individually and uniquely decorated. Exterior paint is applied in the full 101crayola spectrum on these trucks converted into buses. The interiors are finished plywood with personal statements stapled on the clapboard façade. Some have gigantic American Flags hanging from the ceiling, others have fabric full of roses, and still others have assorted colors of feather boas stapled to the ceiling. All buses have the music blasting with country western or Polynesian beats. On the dashboard is a blanket or a box where you toss your fare at the end of your ride; I often felt I was at a carnival booth, tossing to win a prize—one’s safe arrival. The speed limit is 25 miles/hour so there are rarely vehicle accidents. The stretch around the cove is considered the “freeway” where all the vehicles get up to 25 or 30 mph, as there are no stores or bus stops on this curvy stretch of road to slow up traffic.
The buses run frequently, Monday through Saturday, day and night. Fewer buses at night, but there are a few to assist with shift changes at the canneries. During the daytime, I’ve never waited longer than ten minutes for a bus. Yesterday, I boarded a full bus where every seat was taken except a slot in the back. No one is allowed to stand on the bus. On Samoan buses, the bench seats are not wide, so often one very large woman, 300 lb woman, can take up an entire bench. Today, I plunked myself down in the back row, I heard a teenager mumble, “You’re old.” “Huh?” “Well, you’re old. So, she (another teen sitting at the front of the bus) should’a moved back here.” I nodded with understanding. But she shook her head and repeated herself. “You’re old. It is out of respect that we (the young) are suppose to give up our seats to the old.” I suddenly felt very old. Of course, as soon as a seat vacated up front I moved forward. She nodded in approval. Later, when I shared my experience with John, he mentioned how he often noticed the shuffling of seats when we boarded the bus. I’m not sure I liked the clear announcement of my age, but the respect was graciously accepted.
On Sunday, you’ll see buses on the road but they are dedicated to transporting people to the many churches on the island. There is no public bus service on Sunday.
It is great to have an alternative like the buses. There are taxi’s on the island, most hang out by the airport. Perhaps, it is so obvious from our attire that we are “yachtee’s therefore we are never approached by taxis. There are about four places to rent a car, some for as low as $45/day.
There is enough daily rain in the sky to keep a sufficient balance of potable water so we haven’t had the need to go to shore to transport water. Potable water seems to be plentiful and free from the Pago Pago Gas Station. John has been flushing our water maker system to keep it fresh, not willing yet to pickle it since our departure is eminent.
And there is the “marina”, opposite the cannery on the Bay. I’m not sure if it should be called that, but someone referred to it that way. It is a set of about ten slips hung off a dock that parallels the shoreline and another set of six slips that are perpendicular to the shoreline. Boats occupy all the slips; ninety percent of these are derelict boats that don’t look like they’d make it out the harbor. The boats are not abandoned; fresh laundry hangs from most of them. Best we can tell, there is no management of the “marina”. This is where we tie up our dinghy when we go into town. Safe by day, but we don’t know who would keep a watchful eye if your dinghy were left there at night.
An efficiently managed Laundromat is a stone throw away from the dock of the “marina” and least crowded Tuesday-Thursday and open 24 hours, closed on Sunday.
The Yacht Club is down the way, east of central Pago Pago. It is a couple of miles from the “marina” to the yacht club, we have walked it or we take a bus from the Terminal. The Yacht Club is opened six days a week. On Saturdays, there are classes for teaching sailing or canoe races. Friday nights seem to be the social hub for yachtee’s and all island “palagi” (Samoan nickname for visitors or “white” people) to gather for Happy Hour every week. No surprise, this is a typical Yacht Club with a trading library, big screen TV, bar, dining hall and friendly members. Membership is $100/year with available use of their kayaks, canoes, and sailing dinghies. They welcome guests and especially cruisers.