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June 07 , 2009

Samoan Islands


Enchanting, mysterious, romantic. These are the islands where Margaret Mead, Somerset Maugham, Robert Louis Stevenson and Gary Cooper lived for part of their lives. The only US Territory south of the Equator, American Samoa lies 2,300 miles south of Hawaii, 4,200 miles south of San Francisco. It is a mere 77 square miles and Tutuila, the largest island, has 53 of them. Not much land is left for the other six. Total population of the seven islands, one of which (Swain's Island) is uninhabited, is 36,000. And about 6,000 live in and around the capital, Pago Pago (pronounced Pahngo Pahngo) which, with Fagatogo, is called the Bay Area. The Samoans, about as Polynesian as they come, claim their islands as the cradle of Polynesia. Cultural evidence does indeed point to their presence there as far back as 600 B.C. There aren't many ports in the South Pacific more beautiful than Pago Pago Harbor. And the combined town of Pago Pago-Fagatogo, with its substantial public and private buildings on either side of a pretty square, complement the setting. In the Independent State of Samoa, compared to American Samoa, the tropics and Polynesia are at their most intense. It's a land of luxuriant greenness and, in the dozens of villages along the coastal way, visitors see Samoan life at its traditional best. Thatched roof fales are everywhere here. Each neatly landscaped village has its church, village green, and shop or two. Nearly all the inhabitants are dressed Polynesian style - men in lavalavas, women in the long mumu-style dresses. The Independent State of Samoa claims the largest proportion of full-blooded Polynesians in the world -162,000 of them live on two large islands and a pair of small ones. Upolu (430 square miles), with Apia as its main town, claims 130,000 people. Savai'i, the largest island at 600 square miles, is less developed. It has a population of 30,000. The two tiny islands of Manono and Apolima have only a handful of people. For quite a few Samoans the basis of happiness continues to be a healthy wife, plenty of children, a fale for living, one for cooking, some coconut trees, bananas, taro, a canoe, and a few pigs. This is a guide to everything you need to know about these islands - how to get there, how to get around, where to stay, where to eat, what to see and do. The author has visited the islands dozens of times.

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