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American Samoa – Travel Logistics

We struggled to find a lot of information on visiting American Samoa, so in an effort to help other people who also plan to make the journey to this remote place, we are happy to share some travel logistics here.

Flights — Flights to American Samoa are limited, departing the U.S. only a couple of times each week.  We flew American/Hawaiian Air from Los Angeles [LAX] to Honolulu [HNL] to Pago Pago [PPG].  We chose to spend a full week here but would have happily stayed longer if our schedule had permitted.  Given our limited time, we got to the island of ‘Aunu’u — more about this below — but we didn’t have the time to venture to the islands further away.  It should be noted that visits to these really remote islands are dependent on the local plane at PPG being operational, which was not the case when we were there, so in the end I’m rather glad we hadn’t booked lodging on Ta’ū or Ofu!

View from our balcony at Sadie's by the Sea
View from our balcony at Sadie’s by the Sea

Lodging — There are only a couple of hotels on the island.  We chose Sadie’s by the Sea because of its beautiful location next to the harbor and the additional amenities we saw on the website, and we were very happy with our decision.  Hosts Tee & Tom were incredibly kind, gracious and accommodating, making suggestions for us and helping us get to places we otherwise wouldn’t have known to visit.  The little lagoon was a wonderful place to swim and relax, and the swimming pool was nice, as well.  From here it was an easy walk into town [2k; about 20 minutes] which we made pretty much daily.

Tom & Tee also own and operate the Sadie Thompson Inn which offers lower priced rooms but doesn’t have the amenities of Sadie’s by the Sea.  This hotel is a few minutes closer to the town area, but it’s not on the water which is what we wanted.  The Tradewinds Hotel appeared newer and fancier and convenient to the airport, but this area is a 25-minute drive from what we wanted to do and see and I’m glad we didn’t choose that one.

Meals — We ate most of our meals at the restaurant at Sadie’s — the Goat Island Cafe — where we enjoyed delicious food (fresh tuna & fruit to die for!) and drinks and wonderful island service.  Another popular place is the DDW Beach Cafe which an easy 5-minute walk from the hotel and we had a nice lunch there one day.  The Sadie Thompson Inn does house Sadie’s Restaurant, arguably the best restaurant in the whole of the region, and dinner here one evening was a delicious treat.  There are a few other restaurants on the island [including two McDonalds which we did not frequent] but we were quite happy with Goat Island Cafe for the views, flavors, variety, hospitality and convenience, so didn’t feel the need to go find something else.

 

Tisa’s Barefoot Bar — This place deserves a special shout out because it’s such a wonderfully cool place.  If we had a car we would likely have frequented it every day, but because it’s 12k east of Pago Pago and the harbor — it’s in the little village of Alega — it took a fair amount of effort to get to.  Still, as the photos show, this place is dreamy and relaxing; Gilligan’s Island has nothing on Tisa’s!

 

Tisa’s Umu – An umu is an earth oven, and this is the traditional island way to cook.  Tisa’s Barefoot Bar features a Samoan feast cooked in an umu once a week and it is not to be missed!  Once you get to the island, find out what night Tisa’s Umu is and make your reservation to be treated to delicious food in an idyllic setting on an evening you won’t soon forget.

 

‘Aunu’u [ow-NOO-oo] — About a mile southeast of Tutuila’s eastern tip is the volcanic island of ‘Aunu’u, the smallest inhabited island of American Samoa.  A chance meeting of Pica “Peter” Taliva’a in the barber shop lead to an invitation for us to join him and his family at his home on ‘Aunu’u where we had the honor of sharing the morning with him, his son Sam, and a few other members of his family.  Peter is the chief of his village so the experience we had with him showing us his island and preparing us local foods in an umu (our second umu experience of the week) was uniquely special; one we still think about and cherish.

 

Navigating the Island —  As there is really only one primary road [Route 1] that winds east-west and sticks mostly to the southern edge of the island, navigating the island of Tutuila isn’t too difficult.  The airport is about one third of the way in from the western end of the island; the city center of Pago Pago and the National Park are about two thirds in; you access ‘Aunu’u from the eastern end — check out a Google Map.  There are a few other inward roads [Route 5, Route 6] that lead up into more remote little villages up from the coastal road, but these felt almost private and there was really no good reason to go up into them other than to see what life in those little villages is like — i.e. no cafes, shops, restaurants anywhere other than along Route 1.  We are walkers so found the ~2k|20-minute walk into Pago Pago very easy from our hotel.  Sadie’s has a shuttle van that took us to/from the airport, and when available (which it mostly was), to other destinations like the park’s trail head and some coastline destinations.

Aigas are the little buses that help islanders get around the island.  They are not really buses as we know them; they’re actually locally-converted trucks with a cab & some seats atop the truck bed area, but they’re great fun and island visitors need to experience at least one ride in them.  Some aigas are fancier and nicer than others, but all will take you “somewhere” on the island.  There’s no printed schedule or map of where each goes — just the village name on the front windshield [but that didn’t really help us as we had no idea of where these small villages were!] — and it didn’t appear that they were on a set time schedule.  We’d simply go stand by the sign that indicated a stop, and when a bus pulled over that was heading in the general direction of where we were going (basically east-ish on Route 1 or west-ish on Route 1), we’d pay the nominal fee and hop on.  We felt very safe on the few we took, if not all that entirely comfortable as some of them were pretty old and didn’t have much padding!  But they were, indeed, fun, and everyone was very nice to us and helped us get to our destination, for we clearly stood out as tourists!  Aigas were a really fun way to observe the locals riding with us.

 

Overall — We really enjoyed our time in American Samoa!  We researched in advance as best as we could, but unlike many of our other JollyOutThere adventures, we didn’t have very many of our logistics nailed down when we arrived at this far-away place.  But from the moment we were greeted by our driver following a very long flight and late-night arrival at the airport to the time we were dropped off to fly back a week later, we had a most wonderful experience.  We enjoyed the laid-back island atmosphere.  We always felt safe.  We enjoyed meeting and interacting with all those who were helping us enjoy their island.  We appreciated the kind hospitality of everyone, particularly Tee and Tom of Sadie’s, the NPS rangers, and Pica/ Peter a village chief on ‘Aunu’u.  We loved the food and the weather and the views and the hiking and the island tales and everything else.  We approached our stay with a sense of adventure and with an “explorer’s spirit” as instructed, and because of this we were most genuinely rewarded with an awesome experience!

 

National Park of American Samoa

National Park of American Samoa our 59th and final national park!
Receiving our 59th park certificates from NPS Ranger Pua Tuaua

Our 59th and final park!If we didn’t save the best for last, we certainly saved one of the best for last!  Nearly two-and-a-half years after we began our journey to visit all of the national parks, we have finally visited our last one — The National Park of American Samoa.

This was our last park primarily because it was the most difficult to get to.  It is south of the equator in the South Pacific Ocean; closer to Australia than to the United States.  Hawaiian Airlines flies there just twice a week from Honolulu, so our routing took us from Los Angeles to Honolulu for an overnight, and then on to Pago Pago [pronounced PAHNG-oh PAHNG-oh] the next day.  Elapsed travel time to reach this island chain was just over 24 hours for us, 12 of which were in the air.  Clearly, traveling to this national park requires commitment!

Because we had some difficulty trying to find out how to best visit this final park, I am going to provide more logistical details in this post for those readers who plan to tackle American Samoa at some point.  In fact, I will write two separate posts — this first one will focus on the geography and our experience in the park itself; the second one will share more of the fun, cultural things we did during our week-long stay in American Samoa, and provide some hopefully helpful information and links for travelers who plan to make the trip here themselves in their own quests to visit all 59 [at the time of this blog post] of our incredible national parks.

Samoa IslandsHistory and Geography — The Samoan Islands are part of Polynesia, and while they have been populated for over 3,000 years, they have only been known to the western world for a little more than two centuries.  Samoa is referred to as the Heart of the South Pacific, and it is believed to be where all Polynesian people originated.

The Samoan archipelago includes the independent nation of Samoa (formerly called Western Samoa) and American Samoa, a US territory approximately 60 miles to the east.  While both share a common language and culture, each has distinct natural features, and fun fact: because the international dateline separates these two nations, American Samoa is one hour earlier than Hawaii and Samoa is one entire day earlier.

Matafao Peak, at 2,142 feet, is the tallest peak on Tutuila
Matafao Peak, at 2,142 feet, is the tallest peak on Tutuila

American Samoa consists of seven primary islands: five rugged, highly eroded volcanic remnants and two uninhabited coral atolls.  Visitors fly in to Pago Pago [airport code PPG] which is located on Tutuila [too-too-EE-lah], the main island, and this is where most of the 70,000 residents of American Samoa make their homes.

The view from atop Mount Alava of Pago Pago Harbor
Pago Pago harbor and the villages of Pago Pago and Fagatogo as seen from the top of Mount Alava (which we climbed!)

Pago Pago Harbor is a collapsed volcanic caldera and it is one of the largest natural harbors in the South Pacific.  A steep mountainous spine runs the 20-mile length of the island with a few notable peaks including Tutuila’s tallest mountain, Matafao Peak (2,142′); Rainmaker Mountain (1,718′); and Mount ‘Alava (1,610’) looming over the harbor.  There are a couple of main villages with hotels (just four on Tutuila), restaurants (maybe a dozen, including two McDonalds that, like in mainland U.S., are a favorite of all the children), markets, office buildings, banks, etc., around the harbor, and then many smaller, more primitive villages scattered around the perimeter of the island.

National Park of American Samoa — The National Park of American Samoa consists of 9,500 acres, virtually all of which is rainforest, on three islands.  Tutuila is where the Visitor Center and the largest tract of park land can be found.  Ta’ū (tah-OO) and Ofu (OH-foo), 60 miles east of Tutuila, are sparsely populated islands where a couple of villages have only a few hundred people.  American Samoa’s tallest peak, Lata Mountain (3,170′) can be found on Ta’ū, and Ofu features sand beaches and coral reefs with a mountain backdrop.  In addition to the steep cliffs and rainforest area, another 4,000 acres of the park are offshore and under water.

Visitors to the National Park of American Samoa see land that is largely undeveloped, and the facilities found in most national parks are lacking here.  A few park information kiosks and placards can be found, but by and large, this park is enjoyed “with a bit of the explorer’s spirit” as the park brochure suggests.

NP of American Samoa Visitor Center
The Visitor Center – closed on this day, but we posed with the poster I made and came back on another day

As is always the case when we visit national parks, we attempted to make the Visitor Center our first stop, but after walking a mile from our hotel (in temperatures in the high 80’s and with lots of humidity) we saw the sign on the door that they were only open Mon-Fri from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.  But not to worry, we took photos of ourselves by the front door, then using our “explorer’s spirit” meandered around the town some and hopped on one of the “aigas” — the unscheduled buses (more about these in my second post) — to go explore around the town.

A couple of days later when we came back to the Visitor Center, we were very impressed with the educational content on display, and very pleased that a school with 5th – 8th graders had come on this day to learn more about the park on their island.  We engaged a bit with the students, and the teacher,  Faia’i Vaeao, and made a plan to stay in contact with all of them at the Peteli Academy.  And as a very nice surprise, once the rangers knew that this was our 59th park, they asked us if we could come back the next day as they would have something for us.  We obliged and were absolutely thrilled when Rangers Pua Tuaua and Pai Aukuso-Reopoamo presented us with special certificates proclaiming that we had been to all of the national parks!

I’ll conclude this first post by sharing some of the photos we took while hiking on one of the few trails in the park area; this one took us 3-1/2 miles up through the rainforest and along the ridge line to the top of Mount ‘Alava where we enjoyed incredible views of the island before hiking the 3-1/2 miles back down.  We were joined by several new friends we made at our hotel, Sadie’s By The Sea — I’ll be writing more about that in my next post; this one is long enough!

Rendezvous at Last!

Laura & Beth
Laura & Beth — we finally meet after several years!

Back in my working days at HP I had the opportunity to get to know and work with a lot of really great people, but there were a handful of absolutely fabulous colleagues that I really enjoyed collaborating with.  Beth is one of the handful and I loved working with her.  Together we were the global sales and operations managers of a virtual team we had in place around the world to take care of the international needs of several NYC-based private equity firms’ portfolio companies.  It required a lot of clear and careful communication on our parts, then a lot of trust and follow-up in all of the folks around the world, all of whom were executing the plans we put in place for these U.S.-based multi-national companies.  Early morning calls with Europe… late evening calls with Asia… month-end sales reporting to senior leadership… quarterly business reviews with the PE firms… it was often tedious and seldom fun, but Beth was always with me and I honestly felt that as long as we were on the same team together there was nothing we couldn’t get through.

We worked together on this high-profile segment of HP’s global business for a couple of years until I took advantage of HP’s Early Retirement Program back in August of 2012 at which time I left.  But as I knew we would do, Beth and I kept in touch because throughout our work and near-daily calls together we had developed a really nice friendship.  I learned about her family and she of mine.  I felt like I knew Beth, her husband Wayne, and their daughter Hazel although I had never actually met any of them.  

But alas, last Saturday early evening Fred and I pulled Charley and Toad into their beautiful subdivision in north Phoenix, parked in front of their house for a few hours (I wonder if the neighbors had sudden flashbacks of The Griswolds?!) and I was finally able to meet Beth face-to-face after six-plus years!

First fondue course with Hazel, Wayne & Beth
Our first course — cheese fondue

Beth had all of the meal prep done when we arrived, so we were able to have a nice house tour and catch-up over a glass of wine before Wayne and Hazel came home from Hazel’s volleyball tournament.  And then it was show time!  We were treated to a most-delicious four-course meal out on their beautiful back patio — cheese fondue as a first course… wedge salads came next… coq au vin fondue for our main course… and a perfect pot of chocolate fondue to finish off the meal.  It was such a fun treat!

Our evening was wonderful thanks to the White family’s amazing hospitality.  We’ve already planned our return to the area and are looking forward to connecting with Beth and family again.  We had miles to go before we slept that night — a little over 100, to be precise, as we had to be in Sedona by morning — so we took off, but we were sent away with full bellies, big smiles, and some nice leftovers.  Thank you, all three of you, for welcoming us into your house and treating us to such a wonderful evening.  We won’t be waiting six more years to connect again!

Snow days!

Enjoying Vermont
Ready for some snow fun!

It’s official — we are in love with Vermont!!!  We love visiting Pam & Stan, our friends with the beautiful home on top of a mountain where the views are serenely spectacular!  We love their friends whom we’ve gotten to know through various functions including dinner parties, kayaking afternoons on the town lake, a turkey supper at the Pomfert Town Hall, a pancake breakfast at the Barnard Town Hall, stunning home tours and friendly cocktail parties.  We love Vermont’s scenic byways, back roads, barns, bridges, general stores, old churches and town halls.  We love the healthy lifestyle the people who live there embrace.  We love the liberal politics.  We love the locally-sourced, farm-to-table approach to food.  We love the ‘buy local’ approach to buying other products.  We love maple everything.  We simply love it all…!

Old Barnard barn
Beautiful old barn in Barnard

Skating pond in Barnard
Skating on the lake in Barnard

The serenity of Vermont
Wintertime atop the mountain

This was our first wintertime visit to Butler Mountain and while we were disappointed we didn’t get dumped on like most of the east coast did with Winter Storm Jonas, there was enough snow for us to get out and play in this magical white wonderland.  And in addition to the we’ve-come-to-expect-it great meals cooked in and eaten out (it must be all that organic food!) and Stan’s famous Stantinis (think: cosmopolitans on steroids), we also enjoyed a spaghetti supper at the Barnard Town Hall to benefit the Barnard Volunteer Fire Department and First Responders, cocktails and conversation at Dana & Linda’s (can’t remember the last time we were at a party until 1 o’clock in the morning!), hikes in the snow, cross-country skiing, snowmobiling, and a fabulous afternoon making and eating pizzas in Doug & Geraldine’s new outdoor pizza kitchen [that Doug made with wood from the trees on their property] followed up with Eric’s fruit tarts also baked in the wood-burning pizza oven.  Some of us skied, most of us imbibed on a little something, the dogs ran around, everyone enjoyed themselves… it was a quintessential wonderfully-awesome winter day in the great state of Vermont!

Here are some little photo sets of our adventures in Vermont.  If you click on a photo, you can see a larger version of it.  You can also use the arrows at the bottom (click on the photo if they disappear on you) to scroll through all the photos in an album.  To close the album, click on the ‘X’ in the top right corner.

Barnard General Store

 

Pam & Laura’s snow hike to a Sugar House on a friend’s property — it is in places like this that maple syrup gets made

 

Spaghetti Supper at the Barnard Town Hall sponsored by the Barnard Volunteer Fire Department and First Responders with proceeds going towards a new department station

 

Stan & Fred checking out the snowmobile trails

 

Doug & Geraldine’s pizza party 

 

Afternoon cross-country skiing

 

Snow hike to Luce’s Lookout on the Appalachian Trail

If it weren’t for the accidental friendship we developed with two nice strangers along the tow path of the Delaware River a year-and-a-half ago, Vermont would be just another checked-off state on our list.  But gratefully it’s so much more than that to us now!  Thanks to the loving kindness of Pam and Stan and their oh-so-very generous hospitality, the spirit of Vermont has now permeated our hearts and souls.  Their friends have become our friends and we are forever grateful to all of them for making our winter trip to their state such a special, special one!  From the bottoms of our hearts, we thank all of you!  Until next time….

Welcome to Vermont!

January 21st — After a very early morning that began with a 3:30 a.m. wake-up call, and a long day of flying from Los Angeles to Philadelphia to Burlington, we finally arrived at our destination in northern Vermont.  As we approached the airport in our little regional jet, we were treated with views of the quiet serenity of Lake Champlain and the snowy beauty of the Green Mountains on a clear, crisp Thursday evening.  Our dear friends Pam and Stan met us at the airport with big smiles and even bigger hugs and so now we begin several days of wintertime fun with them.


Sweet Pammy pulled out all the stops, and the champagne cork, too, and while the boys drove in the front seat, we girls began our catch-up over a bottle of champagne.  The last time we saw them was back in November in Santa Fe [see So Long, Santa Fe post] when they flew out to New Mexico and joined us for a week of exploring the Southwest.  We’re now all in the Northeast together awaiting the snowstorms that are heading this way!


As if the champagne welcome wasn’t enough, we took the scenic route down one of Vermont’s Scenic Byways, Hwy 100, though fabulous little towns as night fell upon us — it was enchanting.  In the most idyllic hamlet of Waitsfield, Vermont, houses and barns and trees and other structures were decorated with white lighted stars — it was simply magical in the moonlight.  They chose a restaurant for us on a classic old farm property, The Lareau Farm, that operates an inn and a fabulous pizza restaurant, American Flatbread.  It features all natural pizzas baked in a primitive earthen oven.  Over a couple of glasses of wine we enjoyed the casual elegance of dining on our rustic pizzas straight out of the wood-burning oven that warms the entire restaurant.
Lareau Farm in Waitsfield Hearth

Friendships renewed, hearts warmed, and bellies full, we drove the rest of the way home to their quiet mountaintop home outside of Barnard.  Let the snowstorm begin….

A new girlfriend in Galveston

K,A,L&FThis past weekend we traveled down to Galveston to visit our nephew Kyle who’s serving in the U.S. Coast Guard.  After spending about a year and a half at a duty station in south Florida, he’s been stationed in Galveston for nearly four years and he recently put in for another year there.  The reason:  Alyssa.

You may think us biased because he is our nephew, but Kyle is a really wonderful young man, and now he’s got a cute, sweet girlfriend.  Alyssa finished culinary school recently, worked in a bakery as her first job after school, and is now part of a team opening a new restaurant in a hotel a bit north of Houston next month.  According to Kyle, she’s a great pastry chef!  We shared five meals with Kyle & Alyssa during our 2-1/2 day stay there, and lots of delicious Gulf [of Mexico] seafood was enjoyed by all!  Yummy deserts, too!!

We are pleased to report back to the family that Alyssa is a really terrific young lady.  It’s clear she and Kyle are very happy together and we’re all very happy for both of them.

K & A — We hope you can join us on the road in the near future – there’s always room in Charley for you!  xoxo –AL&F

Lunch in Little Rock

Fred and I with Caroline LLunch at Flying FishJanuary 2 — As we are making our way back down to Charley in San Antonio, we were able to visit another friend along the way, which we always enjoy.

Caroline L. was daughter Claire’s college roommate; she is now living in and working in Little Rock.  How great it was to see her!  She chose a fabulous restaurant, Flying Fish, where we enjoyed an awesome lunch and a terrific catch-up with her.  Following our lunch we walked around the riverfront area a little bit before getting back on the road.  What a great little town this is!  Neither of us had been in Little Rock before but we were both quite impressed — great food, friendly people, and a nice little downtown all along the Arkansas River.

Thanks, Caroline, for taking the time to meet up with us, and hello, Dan and Kandy!  We understand you’re following along on our Out There adventures.  We are looking forward to seeing all of you again at the happy wedding festivities coming up in just a few months!

A Holly Jolly Christmas Down on the Farm

Our massive Cards Against Humanity gameSnacking around the kitchen tableDecember 25th was, indeed, a holly, Jolly Christmas — pun certainly intended!  As has been the tradition for the Jolly family since, well, forever, the four Jolly sons and their families have gotten together down on the farm in Chenoa where they grew up to celebrate Christmas as the big, happy family that they/we all are.  As in all the years past, there was plenty of love, laughter, food, drink, and this year a new item was introduced to the party — Jello shots!  As all the “kids” are now 20- and 30-somethings (there are 9 in that generation), the social activities have definitely changed over the years.  It’s been great fun to watch this younger generation grow and mature, and through weddings and engagements a couple of new family members have been added to the party.

 

Another new tradition was started this year: a present exchange that involved rolling dice to determine what you did with the present in front of you — i.e. exchange with the person on your left, trade with someone wearing Christmas socks, trade with someone older than you, everybody pass to the right — and as an added dimension, many included ‘and take a drink.’  A role of 12 on the dice indicated that everybody had to do a Jello shot and shout “Have a Holly Jolly Christmas!” — it was a loud, raucous game that was a lot of fun.  Another game was that crazy one involving eating Jelly Bellys, but not the good flavors — this game features flavors like smelly socks, toothpaste, boogers, and dog food!  Thanks to Debbie for organizing all of the family fun!

 

The annual Christmas cheeseballOne tradition that is not new is the big reveal of the annual Jolly cheeseball.  Tim crafts these gems each year, and they’ve ranged, as you can see from the photos, from snowmen to Christmas trees to ears of corn, and two years ago, a wedding ring which was accompanied by a real diamond ring offered to Kara from Kyle.  Our regular readers may recall that a year ago we were all in Florida for Kara and Kyle’s wedding, and to think, it all started with a diamond ring in the shape of the annual cheeseball!

 

Indeed it was another Holly Jolly Christmas…!

Our Thankful Thanksgiving

The Thanksgiving meal is prepared!
Fred, Kyle, Daryl, Jennie, Jackie, Kristen and Rachael – ready for our Thanksgiving feast

What a blessing it has been to be with Jackie, Daryl, Jennie, Rachael, Kristen, and our nephew (my sister’s oldest son) Kyle to celebrate Thanksgiving!  Indeed, we all have so much and are so grateful for our many blessings!  We missed being with other members of our family who weren’t with us, but we toasted them, prayed for them, then proceeded to enjoy our traditional Thanksgiving dinner!

We Wisconsinites were really looking forward to the Packers / Bears game.  Unfortunately only one of us was happy with the outcome — that would be my husband, the Bears fan.  But we did all enjoy seeing Bart Starr make an appearance to celebrate the retirement of #4 at Lambeau Field and Brett Favre’s induction into the Football Hall of Fame this year.