A few years ago, my wife and I went to Jamaica where we experienced a week in a resort. And that was about it. In the particular section of Jamaica, the tourists were locked behind tall, white walls while the rest of the country existed somewhere else in time and space on the other side of those walls. Had it not been for the faux jerk chicken and the neverending Bob Marley soundtrack (how about if we agree that no woman no cry and be done with it?), we could’ve easily been staying in a wing of a Disneyland hotel or a Vegas casino called Jamaica.
There are no walls in Samoa.
Earlier this week we made the cross island trek to Sinalei Reef Resort, Samoa’s most luxurious resort. After lunch at Sinalei’s waterfront bar and restaurant (where my wife gleefully chopsticked down a six dollar plate of fresh sashimi that, had it been delivered to a table at, say, Nobu, would have had a street value close to that of a fully loaded Snoop deVille), we strolled along a deserted beach and hired a local boat owner to take us a private, afternoon long free dive along the island’s reef.
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And here’s the thing. We were there with my wife’s Samoan relatives. They, like many other locals, often visit the top resorts when they have relatives or other visitors in town or just for a birthday or other special event. And to get from the airport to Sinalei, you drive though many villages, where the locals will pause a volleyball game or a machete wielding gardening effort to wave a welcome Talofa. In fact, the largest and most impressive suite at Sinalei was built in honor of a visit by “The Rock” who is lauded by everyone here because he grew up on the island, made it big, and still embraces (with a hell of a grip) his Samoan heritage. You don’t go to Sinalei or anywhere else on the island without being with Samoans or without the experience being about Samoa. And that’s the great thing about this place.
You’re not at some random island resort. This isn’t Disneyworld. It’s not a different beach, it’s a different country. This is Samoa, and when you’re here, you’re really here. And that, after all, is exactly why you came.