Tag Archives: American Samoa

Visa Run – My One Day in American Samoa

30 Nov

Since a student visa costs $200, I thought it’d be cheaper and more fun to do a visa run to American Samoa. It’s not really either of the two, but I still had an unexpectedly good time.  For those who don’t know, American Samoa is the island next to Samoa that was claimed by the U.S. and is now a U.S. territory.  The Samoans in the NFL are from American Samoa rather than Samoa, which is rugby-crazy instead.  Most of the Samoans in the States are probably from American Samoa as well.

I wasn’t terribly excited about this trip, because my colleagues and pretty much every Samoan I asked said that American Samoa was uglier than Samoa with no real beaches and there wasn’t much to do.  Hmmmph.  Since the hotels, even the cheaper motels with cockroach infestations, in American Samoa run about $80-130 per night, being a cheapo or practicalist, I tried to book a flight where I never had to leave the airport—I could land in American Samoa and immediately fly back to Samoa.  But those were booked out because of Thanksgiving weekend and so I did the next best thing, booked myself for less than a day—22 hours, to be precise—in American Samoa.

The plane ride to American Samoa was amazing!  I took a 15-seater prop plane out of a tiny airport that does not meet FAA standards (we literally shot out of the mountains with a short runway.)  A Samoan woman who was too large for her seat gripped and patted my knee in fear for half of the trip.  I love Samoan displays of affection, they are so touchy-feely!  I sat literally behind the cock-pit and since there was no door, I could see out of the pilot’s window if I semi-stood up, which I did for half of trip and nobody bothered to stop me.  From my window, which rattled constantly because it was next to the propeller, I could see the turquoise and aquamarine pools created by reefs—it doesn’t usually look like this color up close.   Samoa looked lush and green and very much exotic—the kind you can appreciate from far away.   In comparison, as we neared American Samoa (35 minutes away), American Samoa was much smaller, more mountainous and—I could tell this from airspace—richer.  The roofs were not rusted, like Samoa’s, but a nice white.

The plane..how cute!

I could've tapped a pilot on the shoulder...


Samoa from above

Lalomanu Beach...one of the best in Samoa which was tsunami-wrecked

On land, American Samoa seemed like a community from the tv show Lost.   Or, if you’ve never seen Lost, it was like a small Texas town transplanted in a jungle.   The place was football-crazy!  There were spirited hand-painted signs, the kind that high-school cheerleaders make for homecoming, hanging from houses, the main road, businesses, everywhere.  There really isn’t much to do (it’s like living in College Station.  Ooh, diss!), but I loved it perhaps a little better than Samoa, because air was clean, the temperature was less hot, the roads were less dusty, and there were so many mountains.  I couldn’t stop staring at how gorgeous and dramatic it looked.   The main area of town had a seawall and looked a bit modern—it’s amazing how a place sparkles when it’s touched up with a bit of construction and modernity—perhaps that’s a bit of an arrogantly American thing to say, but I did feel a bit comforted looking at a scene somewhat familiar and without run-down shacks.

So what did I do in American Samoa?  Well, my original “plans” went somewhat awry.  I put plans in quotations, because as usual, I hastily threw something together the day before and assumed it would work.   I had planned to stay at Tisa’s Barefoot Bar in a fale, wooden hut, on the beach and either visit the tuna canneries (apparently American Samoa is home to both the Starkist and the Chicken of the Sea canneries, which produce half of the canned tuna fish, around $500 million worth for the U.S.  But due to the recession and the minimum wage hike in American Samoa, one of the canneries is closing down, cutting out 2,000 workers, who I heard might come to Houston now) or hike along the national park Saturday morning.  But none of this happened, because of an airport delay which prevented me from getting to Tisa’s.

Luckily, I ran into a family at the airport, on their way back from vacation in New Zealand, and they graciously offered to take me to their home up in the mountains.  Their home was a classic American house, but it seemed like a king’s palace in Samoa—there was furniture which looked Crate and Barrel, a modern electric oven, refrigerator, a 32-inch television, and all those other luxuries which I didn’t know were available in Samoa.  (They aren’t…the family, the Gurrs, imported everything from America.)  It was surreal seeing the children’s rooms color-coordinated in pink and candles in the bathroom.  I felt like I was staying with the Kennedys of American Samoa.  The Gurrs lived next to all of their families and as soon as they came home, children and neighbors came streaming in from every direction and were offered and fed ice cream, cookies, and milk.  It was great.  The dad went wild boar hunting the next day—I wish I could’ve stayed longer to see the hunt.

I went home to Samoa safely and had another airport delay, of course.  It was a little strange, because the airport was empty and almost deserted, save for the few passengers waiting.  All of the airport workers were out to lunch and I couldn’t check in until half an hour past my original flight time, when they came back from lunch.

Bad photo...sorry, American Samoa is much prettier than this!

Parking Lot that was hit by tsunami

The Gurrs and me