Post 32 — Life is a Beach (Not)

Pua Tree-MAlthough the family was delighted with their new house and their friendly neighbors, they were slightly disappointed that they wouldn’t be living near the ocean. If you are going to commit to two years on a tropical island, you might assume that you’d get a beach with that. There was a lagoon across the road with an active mosquito population that tested the strength of those preventative shots they had received, but no real swimming. The bushes along the water were full of frangipani blossoms, a pale yellow trumpet flower that grew wild around the island and had a sweet smell that floated across the street. The pavement itself was frequently spotted with the remains of large toads whose eyes and tongues had exploded out of their heads after being paralyzed by headlights and run over —the wildlife on the island was still getting used to the paved roads. But no ocean.

There were only a few actual sandy beaches that were accessible for swimming. The island of Tutuila is the top of a volcano and much of the coastline appears jagged as if the ocean had pounded against it until the edge dropped off. The tallest mountain, Matafao Peak, is half a mile high, but the rest of the mountain goes down into the ocean for another two miles. A coral reef has grown around the visible portion of the volcano, and this sustains marine life and protects the island. The entire island is lava rock, so it didn’t really make sense that Tafuna was mostly sand.

“The sand actually came from over by the airport, “ said Pat, one of their closest neighbors. “This area was a bit swampy after they cleared the jungle to build the houses, so they dredged the sand up from an area right next to the runway and trucked over tons of it. That’s now one of the best places around here to swim, although technically it’s illegal because people kept getting drunk over there and breaking beer bottles on the asphalt. Apparently the pilots didn’t like that.”

We’ve had a gigantic full moon for the past several days. As a result, the tides have been very high and very low. Yesterday, I took the girls over by the airport at extremely low tide and we walked out on the reef, which was exposed. We all wore our tennis shoes because the reef is all coral and very sharp. We explored and got some coral samples, watched fish of every color imaginable swimming in the tide pools, and observed several Samoans fishing. One native had a long string of beautifully colored fish, including an eel and two octopi. He laid them out on the reef for the kids to examine, and even offered us some. We declined. The octopi were about 2 1/2 feet long, slimy, and ugly as sin. I always thought they were dark brown or black, but these were a very light beige color.


We have been going swimming at a spot near town and last Sunday the place looked like Belle Isle on the fourth of July. White and brown bodies all over the place. Those stories of all the bare women are just stories. Every one is getting pretty modern, and some of the racier girls of the town have taken to wearing shorts, which I understand is quite daring. Anyhow, back to the beach. The kids were all splashing around having a good time when in comes this darling little brown Samoan boy, age 4, completely bare. He hadn’t heard of the modern trends. Running around with his little weenie waggin’ and having a ball. The older girls didn’t pay too much attention and Karen didn’t see him at first. She had been taking running leaps and jumping into the ocean. When she saw him she stopped in midair and did the biggest double take. When we first got here, she was very amused and silly about the fact that “they don’t wear any pants under the lavalava”. We have also seen them walking down the highway holding their lavalavas above their heads to keep the sun off.


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2 Comments to “Post 32 — Life is a Beach (Not)”

  1. Frangipani. Also called plumeria. And their fragrance, as they are often strung into decorative leis or ulas, in Samoan, transports me instantly to Pago Pago or Honolulu. An incredible sense memory.


  2. Chicago has an annual flower show where you can buy sticks that are from the plumeria tree. You put them in water to root (like an avocado pit) and the thing actually grows leaves and starts to look like a tree. I kept one alive for a few years once and got a single bloom out of it – but it smelled divine!


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