Foreign Travel: See the South Pacific. Bunk with a Chicken.

May 2, 2004
Outside Magazine
Destinations, April 1997

Foreign Travel: See the South Pacific. Bunk with a Chicken.

A new hut-to-hut system makes for memorable island overnights
By Tony Perrottet

B u l l e t i n s

Creature Features
Film directors, biologists, and animal buffs from around the globe will descend on Missoula, Montana, starting April 5 for the 20th anniversary of the International Wildlife Film Festival. (The entry judged "best of show" wins a coveted oak plaque in the shape of the Treasure State.) Call 406-728-9380 for information. Admission to individual screenings
is $7.

Hello, Mudder
Defying spring snowmelt and sloppiness, North Carolina's Nantahala Outdoor Center will host the East's first major mountain-bike race of the season, April 25-27. The Knob Scorcher Festival offers 35 classes of age-group competition, as well as a bonus raft trip down the Nantahala River for those who preregister ($25; race-day registration is $40). Call 888-662-1662 for information or an application.

Burn Rubber
If an ordinary ultramarathon is not challenge enough, the Sahara Marathon promises a total distance of 150 miles--and average daily temperatures as high as 130 degrees. During the weeklong event, which begins April 7 near Ouarzazate, Morocco, runners cover 18 to 50 miles daily, carrying their own food, camping gear, and clothing, all after paying a $2,400 entry fee. Small wonder it's billed as "the toughest footrace on Earth." For details, call 804-527-2191.

Send information for Bulletins to Outside, 400 Market St., Santa Fe, NM 87501.

Seumanutafa Gisa Tiitii fondly calls his fale in the tiny Samoan village of Falealupo a "resort," but that's an expansive definition of the term. This hut has no walls and a casually communal attitude. Every night, Gisa and his wife, children, grandchildren, second cousins, and several stray friends snore away on mats just a few feet from their paying guests' mosquito nets. Though cozier than some travelers might desire, this take on "resort" living has undeniable charms: During the night, sea breezes mimic air conditioning, and come dawn, your hosts will eagerly direct you to follow the tattooed spearfishermen striding off toward a deserted white-sand beach and a private offshore coral reef.

Fales (pronounced "FAH-lays"), a uniquely Samoan creation, have been operating as a commercial venture since the 1960s, when budget-minded paradise-seekers first descended on the Western Samoan islands in large numbers. They asked to spend the night with villagers, and the villagers, most of whom lived in the ramshackle, open-air bungalows, obliged. Not until 1995, though, did the fale circuit become an official institution. It was then that about 30 Western Samoan villages united under the banner of the government-sponsored National Ecotourism Program. Participating villages now charge a standard rate for overnight use of a fale (currently $20 per person per night), which includes a foam mattress, clean sheets, mosquito netting, guide, and meals--typically fresh fish, roasted breadfruit, and papaya. Host families usually have at least one English-speaker, plus a cook who understands that foreigners don't always share the Polynesian passion for Spam.

In return, the families get publicity for their fale in a government-printed brochure and are encouraged to put their profits to "ecologically beneficial uses," such as building gutters to collect rainwater. The fale system thus has become not only the most colorful way for foreigners to see remotest Samoa, but also among the most conscionable.

To create your own fale-a-day tour, start in the Maughamesque capital of Apia, on Upolu, the smaller of the nation's two main islands. There you can purchase a copy of the government-issued handbook, Eco-Tour Samoa ($10), which lists all available fales. You can also get the names of local hosts from the Visitor's Bureau, on Beach Road (011-685-20180). Don't worry about reservations: They're virtually impossible to attain and rarely necessary. Instead, rent a four-wheel-drive Suzuki ($300 per week from Funway Rentals, 685-22045) and just cruise from one village to the next. In the unlikely event that a fale is full, the host family will gladly point you to another nearby.

One typically paradisiacal route leads from Apia to the secluded village of Uafato. Here Fagaloa Bay laps at the doorsteps of the village's participating fales, and waterfalls gurgle from a nearby mountainside. Uafato is also trailhead for a tough four-mile hike through rainforest and along rugged, serrated beaches to the village of Tiavea.

Should such activity induce the need for beachbound sloth, consider catching the car ferry from Mulifanua, on Upolu, to the larger, more sparsely populated island of Savai'i. Here the relaxed ethos of fa'a Samoa--loosely translated, "the Samoan way"--is even more pronounced. There may be nowhere else on earth quite so soporific as Falealupo, on the island's westernmost tip. But before drifting off in Gisa Tiitii's fale there, as the pigs grunt in their sleep nearby and baby chickens scramble over your chest, be sure to check the position of your feet. There are few rules of etiquette for fale visitors. The most important: Don't point your feet at your Samoan host--it's a dreadful insult. And never raise an umbrella when walking past a chief. The fine for such an infraction can be as high as two live chickens, not a currency that most visitors to Samoa have in ready supply.

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