As much as I enjoyed vacation in Apia and our time in Tutuila with the other volunteers, the time came for us to return to the real world on Wednesday, considering school had started Monday and I was more than ready to be back in my own bed and have a routine again. The contract teachers had made it back to Ta’u on what ended up being the last flight out of Tutuila on Friday the 3rd before the plane broke down in Apia. Because of WorldTeach mid-service meetings we were not booked on a flight until later in the week. When flights all started getting cancelled because of mechanical issues Sasha, Chris, Matt and I hopped on the MV Sili (the boat the serves Manu’a) not wanting to risk not getting back to work another week late. We got up at 3am on the 8th, left the house at 3:30 am, were at the dock by 4, and set sail around 5:30am. Then things started to get interesting….
From plenty of previous experience I know I get sea sick and decided to try to take medication before I left solid ground, which turned out to be a great idea. I actually enjoyed a boat rode for the first time in my life. And if not puking wasn’t enough, within 30 minutes of leaving the dock in Tutuila we looked over the railing to see dolphins leaping through the water beside the boat. It was a magical moment.
We kept our eyes out for a little longer before all claiming benches on the boat to nap. For 7.5 hours straight. I woke up occasionally to roll over or check for land in the distance. Or when giant rogue waves soaked me. It’s hard to sleep through that. We had been instructed by our Filed Director to spend the ride filming the WorldTeach AmSam ‘I’m on a Boat’ music video, but no one was ever awake long enough. There is always next time. A little over seven hours later we found ourselves pulling into the wharf in Ofu, our neighboring island in Manu’a (it’s always in the pictures I take from Faleasao). We waited while the boat was unloaded hoping we would be heading onto Ta’u since there was still time for the boat to make it into the Faleasao wharf before it’s dusk deadline. But that was not in Mother Nature’s plans. The captain said the water was too rough for the boat to make it through the channel and into the wharf in Faleasao, so we would have to overnight in Ofu and continue the trip home in the morning. Many people slept the night on the boat, but the 4 of us were lucky. We had been in the boat with Karla, a previous WorldTeacher on contract in Olosega (the island connected to Ofu by a one lane bridge). She invited us to her house for the night, where she spoiled us with a real bed and actual food.
After catching a little sleep, we repeated the morning boat routine – got up at 3, got a ride at 3:30, and were at the wharf by 4. But this time our ride to the wharf was a little more interesting. We grabbed our bags and stood by the side of the road flagging down trucks asking for a ride (there is nowhere besides the wharf to be going at 3:30 am…). Most trucks were already piled high with supplies and people, but after a few minutes were flagged down 2 neighbors who had a little spare room for a new palagi friend or 2. Sasha and I ended up in a truck with a woman and 3 teenage boys who fittingly named our ride the Ofu Roller Coaster – it went up, down, twisted and turned, speed varied greatly, and at one point it rained so hard it hurt as it hit skin. But we made it to the wharf, onto the boat, and set sail around 6 am.
Around 7:30 we were approaching the Faleasao wharf with our house in sight when the boat stopped. The water was still rough and the waves were too big for us to make it safely into the harbor. I thought we were headed back to Ofu to wait it out, when the boat turned and headed towards the dock in Ta’u Village. This dock can’t accommodate the MV Sili so we were a little confused about what was going on, but one of the boat hands came and translated for us – we would be parking out at sea and using the alia boats (small fishing boats) to shuttle all passengers and cargo to land. We gathered all our cargo, put it in the pile to get unloaded, and then got into the mob of people waiting to get off the boat. When my turn came I stepped up to the edge of the boat where the alia boat had pulled aside us. It was a several foot drop in height and the alia boat was going from touching the MV Sili to being 6 feet off as the waves came and went. Two men grabbed my hands and a third shouted ‘When I say jump, you jump!’. I responded with a ‘right….’ which unintentionally got a laugh out of the deck hand, but before I could totally process the directions and assess the jump, they yelled ‘go!’, one pushed as the others pulled my hands, I jumped, and landed safely on the deck of the alia boat. Transfer = success. When we got into the dock there was a good 5 foot climb from the boat to the dock, but 2 more men grabbed my hands and before I knew it I was on the dock and on my way to wait for cargo. The alia boats came and went about a dozen times unloading cargo and people before we saw the Sili sailing back towards Faleasao. Somehow things had changed and they could now get into the wharf. We piled into trucks, went to the wharf, finished gathering our things, and then got a ride home. By this time it was 11am the following day.
What is typically a 30 minute flight was a 32 hour voyage. But I am glad we got to experience the boat ride and a rare alia unloading (it doesn’t happen often). I got to see dolphins, unexpectedly tour Ofu and Olosega, ride the Ofu Rollar Coaster, and discover the amazing effectiveness of Bonine motion sickness pills. The process of returning home from vacation was almost as eventful as our entire vacation in Apia. But now that we are back it means I have to take over all my classes again and actually write the tests they are taking tomorrow…