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Located in the middle of the South Pacific, close to the International Dateline, the independent nation of Samoa is a laid-back kind of place — even compared to other islands in the South Seas.
Formerly Western Samoa, the two main islands are Upolu and Savaii, with some smaller attendant islands virtually undeveloped except for traditional villages and the occasional tourist bungalow on the beach.
In Apia, the national capital on Upolu, a large clock tower stands in the middle of the main intersection. But the hands on the clock do not move. It's as if, having acquired some of the outward trappings of the 21st Century, Samoa chooses for time to stand still when it comes to joining the rest of the developed world in its rat race.
You can shop here, stay in four star comfort at Aggie Gray's Hotel opposite the waterfront, do some exceptional snorkeling and diving amongst the coral reefs and sunken archaeological sites, and explore the mountainous hinterland.
There are tour companies operating here, but one of the best ways to discover life outside the capital is by hire car.
There are countless villages with their open-sided, thatch-roofed huts (called fales), their roadside general stores, and beautifully maintained gardens. Samoans are very land proud, and despite any other deficiencies in their lives, the land can always be depended on to support them and their extended family groups.
Driving along the coast you can come across women washing their clothes in tidal pools in the absence of a household washing machine. But you can be sure that their family fale boasts a television set on which the family can watch one of Samoa's favorite sports — rugby.
The southwestern coast of Upolu has some beautiful white-sand beaches that can be reached by one of the three cross-island roads from Apia. Scattered along this coast are some excellent island-style resorts, where you can live a stone's throw from the surf, or in a bungalow on stilts over the lagoon itself.
For an even more Robinson Crusoe experience there are fale-style bungalows on Savaii, which offers a more traditional view of Samoan village life. Regular ferry services run between Upolu and Savaii from the main ferry terminal near the international airport.
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