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  • All about Gertrude

    Gertrude is the name we decided to call my cancerous breast hence the title of this blog. Although I had to keep my breast through chemo and radiation due to the nature of IBC - once it 'blew up' it no longer looked like my breast and I couldn't wait to get rid of it. Calling it Gertrude was a way of seperating it from myself. This main page is where I write about the general goings on that relate to Gertrude, there is another page that are more a diary of treatments etc This blog is a public blog so although I am being very honest about my battle with Gertrude I have "changed names to protect the innocent" - because everyone can see it if you write comments on the blog pages please use the same abbreviations for other family member or friends that I do. Please feel free to ask questions if you want clarification because then other people who might have been wondering the same thing can read your question and our answers.
  • Abbreviations

    OH- Other Half (Hubby), OD- Oldest Daughter, MD- Middle Daugher, YD- Youngest Daughter, SB- soulja boi MD's fiance in the army (now ex fiance), OD's R OD's partner, BS- Breast surgeon whose initials just happen to be BS as well, BC- our GP (family doctor), Dr H- my medical oncologist, all other friends family etc will be referred to as initials etc
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    No Princess Alone button

Exasperation vs Aspiration

The last post I wrote was written in exasperation because of the daunting thought of them doing yet more  tests to check whether my latest aches and pains are another recurrence. 

 There were two other occurences this week that I found questioned my levels of exasperation vs aspiration.  I saw our GP (family doctor ) ‘BC’ on Monday for the first time in quite a few months and he heard for the first time that I was going to Uni full-time this year.  He has been my GP since I first moved to this town when I was 19 and he was just starting out in his Dads family practise as a GP so we have known each other for close to 30 years now and he has seen me through all my pregnancies and has seen me when I was my most stressed out when YD was continually sick etc when she was younger.  His attitude was one of disbelief that I wouldn’t be using this time with YD having  left home and myself being in remission to just relax.  I had exactly the same reaction to the news I was at uni from a local shopkeeper whose shop I have frequented and that I have become friendly with for about the same length of time the following day.  These two people have seen me at my most down, most stressed over the past 20-30 years and can’t believe that I want to put my energy into continuing to help others by doing a Bachelor of Social Work (majoring in Health Social Work). 

I didn’t have time to explain it to the shopkeeper as he had other customers waiting but I did go into it with more depth with ‘BC’ and he did see my point of view.  I want to do what I did with other parents on a more informal basis in the past and apply it to the wider health field especially now I have had my own health issues and have seen other people in hospital overwhelmed by the professional jargon and navigating the ‘system’ etc and I see that is where my strength lies as a Social Worker. 

 The other side of me studying is that in fact I am doing something for myself in doing it,  it gives me a focus, an aspiration, a feeling that I am doing something worthwhile instead of just sitting around waiting for the cancer to come back.  That if I get through the next few years without another recurrence I will come out of my degree with something useful that I can then go on to use in my life because if the cancer doesn’t come back in the next few years the chances of it ever coming back rapidly diminish again so I can get on with having a Social Work career.  Even if the cancer does come back and I need to have regular treatment, it doesn’t necessarily mean I am going to die of it anytime soon and I could be in and out of treatment managing cancer as a more chronic condition for 15-20 years.  I cannot spend all that time just being a ‘cancer patient’.

I have had the good news today that 3 other woman with IBC , two just out of initial treatment, one with a recurrence after 3 years have reached the land of remission (or NED as they call it in the States – No Evidence of Disease) so despite my exasperation I think I’ll stick with my aspirations.


Post-Gertrude Paranoia

It’s hard to let go of your own worries when your oncology doctors are more paranoid than you are!

I mentioned in my last post that I had a bit of an ache in my groin/hip area.  I had my 3 monthly scheduled oncology assessment this morning and as per their instructions I mentioned all my little niggling aches and pains.  The next thing I know I’m being told to go to the Greenlane Clinical Centre for an x-ray and that they are organising a CT scan to be done before my next followup which will be bought forward to 6 weeks time instead of another 3 months. 

 I told them I had debated whether to tell them it was sore but got told that I have to tell them everything that lasts more than a week or two. 

I really hate the fact this is what my life is going to be like for the foreseeable future (at least the next 3-4 years anyway).  The fact is that it is probably just arthritic changes given my weight and age but they have to check it to make sure it is not ‘Gertrude’ related.  If anything does show up on the xray they will get me to come back in before 6 weeks so here’s hoping no news is good news. 

OH said if it was something  – which it would be a very weird coincidence given that it is the anniversary week of both initial ‘blowup’  that lead to diagnosis and start of niggles that lead to diagnosis of recurrence – that next year he would put me in suspended animation or cryostorage until the danger period had passed.  Man you sure do have to have a sense of humour to get through these times.

1st week, 2nd Semester

Well its been an interesting week.

Monday started off with my first class for my Tongan Language paper.  Its going to be interesting to see how I go in this paper.  We have two assignments of 1000 words (in Tongan) that we need to do – there is no assignment due dates set yet so I am hoping that both of them are a bit later on in the semester when I have more of a grasp on the language.  We had to do a spoken introduction in Tongan and one of the things we had to say was describing ourselves as old women or men in a self derogatory manner as a mark of deference/respect towards the teacher – for me the old woman description is more accurate than for the rest of the class. LOL!!

We tried the slow cooker out for the first time on Monday and had delicious beef bourguignon for dinner when I got home from Uni – I can see this being very useful in the winter months of this semester.

Tuesday was the first of my ‘free’ days during the week – I spent it getting my haircut and doing errands and shopping as well as getting as organised as I could printing out lecture notes etc for my two Wednesday classes – made a big wokful of  pork chinese rice risotto so we can have the second half warmed up for tea on Wednesday.  I didn’t sleep well on Tuesday night partly due to getting a case of the ‘what ifs’  due to the significance of this week in the “Gertrude’ scheme of things

Wednesday was an interesting day but very long.  Our first lecture is at 8.30 in the morning – thank God I’m taking the express train.  As it was the first week we didn’t have any tutorials so we then had a 4 hour gap between lectures in which I spent a couple of hours wandering around Newmarket with a couple of Uni friends AW and JZ (JZ has just started this semester).  Usually my Wednesday schedule will go more like 8.30-10.30 ‘professional communication skills’ lecture, 11-12  ‘professional communication skills’ tutorial, 1.30-2.30 ‘Lifespan development’ tutorial, 2.30-4.30 ‘Lifespan development’ lecture.  Originally LD tutorial wasnt going to be until 4.30 to 5.30 and for half the class it is still that but I’m fortunate that mine has been changed so that I can get home at a reasonable time.  Due to the long break between classes -some people had found other ways to amuse themselves during that time and it made for an interesting diversion in the LD lecture when you have a person that is a wee bit ‘tiddly’ not behaving quite as she should. 

I had a splitting headache by the time I got home just by nature of it being such a long day and it was good that OH could just microwave his half of the risotto while I waited for the headache tablets to kick in.  I slept like a log going to bed quite early that night.

Thursday came and I kept to my  plan of trying to be more on top of organisational things.  I went into university early, catching my usual early express train and helped JZ finish organising her enrolment and guide her a little bit through CECIL our online Uni portal for getting lecture notes etc.  We had our ‘Treaty of Waitangi’ lecture and found out we don’t have any formal tutorials even though we had to register for one, this makes things a lot easier for me to keep having my herceptin treatment every three weeks on a Thursday afternoon.  I spent the rest of the afternoon accessing the readings for different courses and printing some initial ones out using the university printers – it cost the same but it is faster than printing them out at home.  I still struggle to read a lot on the computer of the readings they have scanned and put into PDF format and find it easier to print them out and read that way.  This exercise in trying to be more organised was disrupted by a fire drill in the library – where we had to leave whatever we were doing and go outside for a few minutes.  AW asked if we had been compensated by any sight of hunky fireman but unfortunately not. As OH and YD had their usual six-weekly Thursday evening haircuts we organised Thursday night’s dinner to be soup and pizza.

Friday morning was taken up with blood tests.  The fact I had to have blood tests this week and have my first oncologist visit for three months next Tuesday did play on my mind a little.  I am still having some pains on my IBC side – some twinges worse than others and I started to have aches in my hip as well – if you  haven’t had IBC or some other aggressive cancer it is hard to describe how easily your mind jumps to “bone mets?”.  There are several other possible reasons for all the pains, so although I will have to mention them to the oncologist,  I am pretty sure that I am still keeping ‘Gertrude’ at bay.

 I spent the rest of the day shopping and doing housework and organising into folder the readings I had printed out the day before.  I cooked lamb shanks in the slow cooker for tea.

I was feeling really proud of myself for keeping to at least the first week on my organisational plan and hope I can continue how I have started.  3 of us have said we should go for a walk around the block in between tutorials on Wednesday to counteract all the sitting we do that day.  I would like to think we will stick to it but only time will tell.

The only black spot on this otherwise very productive week is that I have woken up this morning (Saturday) with a very chesty cough.  I have cancelled my Sunday outing with YD that was supposed to happen  in the hopes that having a quiet weekend will get rid of it and that I will be good to go again on Monday.

Never enough holidays

My new University semester starts tomorrow and I must admit I need a bit of a holiday to get over my holiday – I wouldn’t have wanted to get back from Samoa and go straight back to Uni.   Due to the flight delay and not having sleep for 24 hours the day we came home threw me for a couple of days.  And then as I was coming right it was time for my herceptin and the next day I went to my great-aunts funeral, she’d made it to her 100th Birthday in May so she had had a great innings and indeed was more than twice as old as I am which gives you pause for thought. The weekend was taken up with having YD home and seeing MD back off home to Christchurch -she had been housesitting some of the time we were away and working at her old holiday job up here. My health has not been 100% since I got back – sinuses played up coming back to the winter temperatures- then OD had been away for a few days until last weekend and came back with some bug which I promptly caught off her – achy, fever, nausea for a couple of days – lots of fun.  I spent quite a bit of time sorting out the best photos from our holiday and writing up my travelogue blogs (from the diary I had kept while we were away). I cleaned my charm bead bracelet from all the tarnish it had accumulated due to humidity, sweat and salt air on our trip and bought myself a bead to commemorate my Samoa trip (cancer bracelet now stand at 10 beads other bracelet at 7 ) and all of a sudden its the last day of my break and I don’t know where the last 12 days have gone.

OH and I went out and bought a slow cooker today because although my health and energy levels are much better than they were, a full day at Uni still takes it out of me.  We figure with the slow cooker it will be easier to organise meals when we have the energy in the mornings and come home to a nice warm meal that we don’t need to worry too much about.  OH has been very good and done most of the cooking but he gets tired from his work too.

I also have bought myself a backpack on wheels with laptop compartment for Uni – OH actually used it as his cabin luggage for our trip.  Although I’m very fond of my large purple business bag – although it can fit my laptop and a folder,  it’s not suitable when I have more than just that and if I am carrying it for long periods of time it places undue stress on my left side – the only side I can carry more than 5kgs on.  This new bag will be especially good on Wednesdays when I have two lectures and two tutorials (day goes from 8.30am -5.30pm plus travelling time) as it means I can fit in my laptop plus folders plus any textbooks/library books etc that I might need.

In other news I have also got my results back from my last semester papers – I can’t be 100% sure of my actual marks for my exams as they have only given out our final grades – that is our exam and assignment marks added together as a grade I am pleased to announce that I got 3 “A-” for ‘Sociology’, ‘Psychology’ and ‘Social Work Environment’ and even my Friday class, ‘Culture and Diversity’  that you will recall I was most worried about as it was the class the day after chemo that I felt I hadn’t retained as much as the others I got an overall mark of a “B+” so I’m pretty pleased with those results.  My friend ‘the MRD’ (who called himself ‘the mysteriously reappearing D’ after reading this post) who lectures in social work in Melbourne joked that maybe he should write to  my lecturers and tell them to check whether any of my medications were performance-enhancing before my next exams.

As well as Uni starting again this week this time has other significance for me as well.  It was 2 years ago this week that ‘Gertrude’ first blew up and 1 year ago when I first got the ‘niggles’ which eventuated in being diagnosed with a recurrence.  It does make me wonder what the next few months will bring.  I got told 6th October last year that I had a recurrence so I think if I make it past that date this with no such news it will be cause for celebration.

Anyway I had better go and do some more organisational stuff – I start Tongan tomorrow as my general education requirement paper and although I know the tutors and systems at Epsom campus, I have to go into the city campus for this one and not knowing the tutors, rooms or the expectations for this paper will make it interesting

I have set myself a goal to be more organised and make better use of my time this semester – I will let you know how that works (or doesn’t – LOL)

Samoa holiday – Days 9 -12 – Upolu

Day 9 Lalomalava, Savaii – Salamumu, Upolu

We left Lalomalava quite early 9.30am – the ferry wasnt until 12 and headed for Salelologa – we filled up with petrol as we knew there were no petrol stations on the route we were taking to the south coast once we hopped off the ferry.  We went to the new markets on the loop road at Salelologa and bought a bowl, lavalava and a pawpaw.  We went to another shop by the wharf and bought a table runner with Samoan designed fabric. Then we lined up for the ferry – it wasn’t as clear where to do this as at Mulifanua wharf so we hoped we had parked in the right place – we still had a while to wait so we popped over the road to get a drink instead of just sitting in the car waiting.  I chose a banana flavoured soft drink just to try something different – a little bit sweet but still thirst quenching.  Although we were 3rd in line we were 1st on board again.  This time it was the driver’s side against the side of the boat but the only way I could gt out my side was for the sliding door of the van next to us being open and me opening my door into that gap and squeezing out.  I climbed back into our car by squeezing in rear passengers door on driver’s side and climbing over the seats to get back to my front passenger seat.  The swell was less than the first crossing only 1/2 to 1 metre but the ferry was rolling more so it must have been the way we caught the swell – still not seasick thank goodness!

When we hopped off ferry we headed down the west coast road – it was very pretty driving – going up over the hills between Faelatai and Savaia was particularly lovely and showed a different aspect to Samoa – it was a bit of a surprise to have to cross a reasonably deep running ford at Faleaseela.  Navigating around Samoa is quite hard because sometimes the names on the map differ from the signposts and turnoffs and road names are not marked clearly.  I was in charge of navigation for the whole trip – OH  just drove and turned or stopped when I told him to and I tried to warn him ahead of time when such a turn would be but we overshot them sometimes.

Thankfully the turnoff for Salamumu and the Sa’Moana resort was clearly marked and we arrived about 3.30pm.  Sa’moana is a very good-looking resort.  The Frangipani fales that we stayed in have showers outside with rocks walls with creepers and ferns growing on them.  We had a swim in the saltwater swimming pool and a shower before cocktails and dinner.  Dinner was Samoan buffet of whole pig, chicken, taro breadfruit and salads.  After dinner we played pool and although I havent played for close to 30 years OH was surprised how tight the games were.

Day 10

We had hoped to snorkel at high tide this morning but the sea was very choppy even inside the reef because the weather was raining and high winds – we had leisurely breakfast then decided even though the weather wasn’t great to drive down the south coast.  We managed to get breaks in the weather to see Sopoaga Falls from the gardens overlooking them. 5 Tala entry fee was worth it as it also had drum and cooking display and plant names in Samoan, English and Latin (botanical).  We also got a break in the weather at To Sua Ocean trench.  spectacular holes in the ground, see my album for pictures.  Holes joined by underwater passages to the sea – if you are adventurous (we weren’t that day) you can climb down ladder and swim between them.

Drove down to Lalomanu at far eastern end of the south coast – It was the eastern section of the south coast that bore the brunt of the tsunami in September 2009 and it was obvious that there was still a lot of rebuilding to be done. You can still see the destruction caused by the tsunami, the areas have a scoured clean look to them and even things still standing show signs of the damage caused.  There used to be beach Fales all along that stretch of coast but only 3 outfits have rebuilt with another being built at the moment – the rest of the coast is bare.  We stopped for lunch at Taufua Beach Fales’ restaurant – one of two groups of fales rebuilt at the far end of Lalomanu.

When we arrived back to Sa’moana we played another couple of games of pool – then cocktails and dinner again – a la carte menu this time.  At Sa’moana you need to be aware that they don’t like you self catering even drinks,snacks etc. You need to use their bar/restaurant for all your needs – it is quite good food though.

Day 11 Salamumu – Apia

We snorkelled before breakfast in slightly choppy lagoon – definitely calmer than yesterday though.  Unfortunately I swallowed some saltwater early on which developed a tickle in my throat which spoilt enjoyment somewhat – the coral and fish populations slightly different to the underwater scene at Fagamalo.. the tide was still incoming and there were lava rocks as you were coming into the beach – too shallow to swim over. As I went to stand up the incoming tide pushed my foot still in the flipper into a rock – unfortunately the flipper folded under and my big toenail caught on the rock and got completely folded back to the base (it was suffering dieback due to chemo to about 1/2 way but the rest was still attached prior to this incident).  I managed to hobble to shore and wait for OH to come in – trying very hard not to cry with the pain.  When OH came into shore he noticed straight away the slight graze on my knee and thought that is what I was referring to as I pointed downwards and said look what I’ve done.  When I pointed out I was actually pointing at my toe he was surprised I had waited so patiently when he saw what damage I had done.  When we got back to the fale he got out our little first aid kit and managed to push it back to flat after cutting it off about half way down and hold it in place with band-aids.  The codeine tablets I had packed came in very useful for the pain. 

We had breakfast and left after having quick chat to Sa’moana’s new onsite manager T who just happened to be ex St Stephens school boy from Bombay and NZ Steel refractories – we all thought it was very small world that on his first days on the job one of the guests would have been someone from the same locale/work as him.

We headed off up the middle Cross Island Road and stopped at Papapapai-tai falls lookout –  a very tall waterfall into a gorge – unfortunately it was raining with low cloud so we didn’t get the full effect.  Once we got to north side of island the weather was wonderful – the rain clouds had obviously stacked up along the south side of the mountains as the prevalent wind is a south-easterly.

We reached Apia and turned East along the Main East Coast  Rd stopping just out of Apia at Letogo on the side of the road in the grass by the water to eat our lunch of pawpaw, peanuts and potato chips.  We had picked up pawpaw at Salelologa markets and got T at Sa’moana to cut it up into slices for us so we could eat it for lunch easily.  ginger ale as a drink and my beach towel to sit on made for a pleasant picnic.  We carried on around to Piula Cave pool which was a little different from what I had expected – I had expected to go down into a cave to the pool but the pool starts in the open and goes into a cave.

We then drove halfway through Le Mafa Pass. The mountains at this Eastern end are quite dramatic – knife-edge jagged and rugged and look quite spectacular.  We turned up the road that leads to the Eastern side of Fagaloa Bay where T (of T&T that we had met at Savaii Lagoon Resort ) was born.  That it was a narrow winding road is understating the case – the road although marked with two lanes is in most places definitely closer to one lane clinging to the side of the mountain but we were rewarded for OH’s white-knuckled driving with spectacular views at the lookout both down into Fagaloa bay and back down the valley we had just driven up.  After stopping at Falefa Falls on the way home we drove back to Apia hoping to catch the carwash still open – but it was shut when we got back at 4pm so the rental car company is just going  to get their car back quite dusty and sandy (the roads although mostly sealed  have a few potholes and the car has got quite grubby over the time we have had it)

We arrived at Aggie Grey’s hotel and OH unloaded the car as by this time my toe was throbbing a lot.  We were on the 3rd floor of the main (front) building facing the garden and pool area.  After taking some painkillers and settling in to our room we did a little exploring and decided to watch the sunset from the cocktail lounge – yes , cocktails do work as painkillers too LOL.

Of the restaurant options at Aggies we decided the seafood buffet at the ‘Old Fale’ was the best option.  Great selection of seafood and other meats and salads although the dessert bar was a little let down by its fruit salad being mainly canned fruit. 

I went to sleep very easily due to the combination of Cocktails and painkillers but I had set OH’s alarm on his phone to wake us up at 7.30 am so we could pack our suitcases properly for the flight home but I forgot his phone was still on NZ time which was 23 hours ahead or 1 hour behind depending on how you look at things

Day 12 Apia – home?

Despite waking up later than intended packing didn’t take us as long as we thought it would,  so we were on time to have breakfast at the buffet in the ‘Old Fale’ .  We had a leisurely breakfast then a final wander around Aggies looking at the historic photos on the walls. 

After we checked out we explored a few streets of Apia that we hadn’t been down before and found Farmer Joes, a more western style supermarket than the ones we had gone to on Beach Rd and just down the road from that Marketi Fou where we picked up last-minute souvenirs for the girls and had a look around.  Half the stalls were shut with it being a Sunday morning and so was most of Apia.  Because my toe was still throbbing a lot we didn’t want to do a great deal of activity so ended up back at Aggies at the coffee lounge to kill a couple of hours – we had a couple of snacks and read and as it wasnt busy they didn’t mind us staying.  later on we drove along to the end of Mulinuu point and just sat on the seawall for a while – we saw the same kite-surfers we had seen at Lalomanu a couple of days before so spent a bit of time watching them. But we also saw a school of smaller fish being hunted by some predator fish which was quite interesting to watch – the small fish were herded into a circle and you could tell where it was and track it across the lagoon by the ‘boiling’ motion of the water – every so often the circle would get so tight the smaller fish would actually jump  out of the water.  We probably spent an hour or so just watching the sea from the seawall. 

We headed for the airport slightly early and soon after we arrived we got a call on OH’s cellphone saying our flight was delayed 4 hours – originally leaving at 8pm Samoan time it wasnt going to be leaving til after midnight.  As we had arranged to meet the car rental people at the airport at 6.15 we were sort of stuck at the airport now.  And so began what I call the comedy of errors that was our trip home. 

Unbeknownst to us another passenger on the same flight had been in touch with the rental car company to say the flight was leaving late so they had assumed we would want our car later as well – unfortunately we were already at the airport waiting for them and didn’t know this.  So after waiting til 7-15 for them to show up we rung only to be told this and that they wouldn’t be out until 8.30. (we didn’t have any option other than to stay at the airport unless we went all the way back into Apia for something to eat which is approx 40 minutes away). In the meantime we had checked our bags through – so we waited… an announcement came through that all passengers that had checked in should make their way through the departure lounge – we couldn’t until the car guy came so OH checked that we could go through when that had been sorted – no problem they said…when the rental car guy came he was amazed that we had managed to rack up 630 kms in a week – but we had basically circumnavigated both islands – he said maybe he should have left us with the black one because of all the exposure/advertising we would have given them… when that was all sorted we then went to complete our departure requirements to get to the departure lounge … went through the first desk where they stamped our boarding passes and sticker to show we had paid our departure tax and got told to wait at the next desk – the immigration desk for our passports to be stamped…..we waited for an hour at the immigration desk lucky OH found a plastic chair for me to set on so my toe didn’t start throbbing too much… one of the security guards suggested we leave our passports with him and go through to the lounge but we thought that was too risky, the immigration officer finally came to the desk when more people checked in for our flight at about 9.30pm… about 10pm or maybe a bit later OH and I were surprised to hear our names being paged – I’ve never had that happen in an airport before – they said that OH’s bag had been put aside because it needed a special tag on it to say that if it had a gun in it the gun had been inspected and made sure it was unloaded and it has to be carried separate to other luggage  The airport guy that paged us was the same guy that had checked us in and he had thought they had been mistaken (there was a shooting competition on in Samoa so some people were travelling back with gun cases) but he just wanted to recheck that we didn’t have a gun in our bags so that OHs suitcase was put back with the regular bags.  We reassured him there was no guns and he said he would sort it…the plane finally arrived, we got on 12.10am Mondayand we arrived back in New Zealand at about 3.40 am Tuesday morning (losing that day we had gained going there crossing over the international dateline)… guess whose bag didn’t appear on the carousel – OH’s was there but mine wasn’t… the baggage area guy realised that we were one of the last looking at this carousel and came over to help us.  He checked out the back and then just when we thought it had been left in Samoa, I mentioned the whole misunderstanding about the gun episode – he went off and checked and sure enough my suitcase was at the police counter where all the competition shooters were collecting their guns.  All we can think of is that when it went through the xray that someone mistook  a snorkel as a gun … finally got home and to bed at 5.20am

Holiday over – but OH and I are definitely hoping to make a return visit – Especially to Savaii

see my facebook album for these days here

Samoa holiday – Savaii – Days 4-8

Day 4 Apia – Fagamalo

We got up early and had breakfast by ourselves as the netball girls were still sleeping in.  We packed the car up and headed to the western end of Upolu to Mulifanua wharf to catch the ferry.  We got there a little early but it was a nice day so it was enjoyable just to sit and watch the scenery etc.  The car was supposed to have the underside washed but the man doing it more just sprayed in the whaeel arches – this is supposed to stop the spread of the Giant African Snail to Savaii.  We were the first car on the boat and OH was a little worried about how close they wanted us to park to the side of the ferry – I could just get my door open wide enough to get out.  The passage accross was lovely I didn’t feel seasick at all – the swell was about 1-2 metres in the middle of the straight.  The highight was passing Apolima and seeing inside the crater where there is a small village and beach surrounded by a sheer outer wall volcanic cone rim.  We arrived in Salelologa at 11.30 and picked up an adapter from the small electronics store there for me to be able to charge my camera.  We drove up the coast to lalomalava and stopped at the Savaiian Hotel for lunch that took at least an hour at their restaurant overlooking the sea – service was good food was slow but view made up for the wait somewhat – although it will be better when they have finished building up the seawall and the grass is reestablished but the view over the reef to Apolima and Manono Islands and to the other main island of Upolu was fantastic. 

 Savaii has very lush vegetation and driving up the coast through the villages was really lovely and the fales on the beach at Si’ufaga and Lanolooked just the places for an afternoon siesta.  We started to see more horses, chickens and pigs along the roadside.  We stopped at the Saleaula lava fields and walked out onto them just before the village – even though the lava flow is only 100 years old there are trees already well established in some parts of the lava field.  You understand the full force of the lava standing in the ruins of the LDS church where the lava flowed around the church and then flowed back in through the main doors that faced away from the mountain, towards the sea. there is a huge tree that has grown inside the church just in the last 100 years. 

We arrived up at Savaii Lagoon Resort and checked in.  Christoph greeted us – he and his partner Patricia manage the resort but he has also established a restaurant and Patricia does massage and reflexology that they run as their own businesses that run alongside the resort facilities.  Before dinner we went down to the beach and paddled in the water – there are little fishes right up to the waters edge.  The beach here is beautiful and I think we are going to love the 5 second stroll from our bugalow – it is the only one not on the beachfront but we have a view from our window through to the beach and a table and chairs set up outside looking straight down the path.  Oh thinks he will be able to drink plenty of Vailima and relax there.  Just before dinner we watched the sunset – it didn’t photograph as pretty as it looked. 

Met T and T over dinner and Christoph came over to talk to us as we were finishing our dinner. He has amazing respect for Samoa and its environment and had wanted to open a lodge for people travelling up Mt Silisili (the largest mountain on Savaii), but getting the agreement of all the Matai (chiefs ) concerned at the planning stages proved a little difficult so he and Patricia are here at the resort for a 5 year contract.  We didn’t finish chatting until 11pm.

Day 5

We set the alarm so we would wake up early enough to have a snorkel before breakfast.  You cant snorkel at low tide at the resort as the coral is too close to the surface then.  My breating went a little funny when I tried to snorkel – out of practise as havent done it for  a year – so I didnt snorkel as long as OH

Breakfast was fresh fruit, poached eggs on toast (with bacon for me) and lovely coffee.  I also tried a mint tea that was very refreshing.  When we came back toour room  we got talking to the cleaner, Nellie – who looks about 18 years old but is actually 27, and she will come back when she finishes work and take us to her village to visit the Peapea caves.  Rain went through in squalls all day so spent the day writing up my diary entries and reading – sometimes sitting on the beach and sometimes lying on the bed in the bungalow.  At 3 Nellie came to get us and we drove down to Letui village approx 20 mins from Fagamalo.  On the way Nellie pointed out other tourist attractions and points of interest and told us what the different trees were.  Peapea cave is a lava tube that is home to swiftlets and bats – we were surprised to learn that the swiftlets use echolocation (clicks) to find their way in the dark of the cave.  They have their tiny nests in the little nooks and crannies of the cave.

We went to Le Lagota, the resort next door, for tea as Christoph and Patricia have Sunday nights off.  They joined all the other guests on the beach to watch the sunset.  The resorts beach faces west so we get some great sunsets over the sea.  Le Lagota does a BBQ for dinner on Sundays.  Meat was a little overcooked but salads etc were very nice.  I didn’t manage to meet up with Sara  the owner of Le lagota who is N’s(my friend from Uni) relative but did have the cocktail that was named for her – it was delicious.  We had an earlier night 9.30pm and slept like a log

Day 6

Just had the tropical breakfast today – fresh fruit platter, toast etc and tried the cocoa samoa, (samoan version of hot chocolate)

We snorkelled in the morning for about an hour  or so. – I got my breathing right this time . The current goes from right to left along the beach so to conserve energy we swam out at northern end of beach and I allowed myself to drift down the beach.  Even close to the beach the coral and fish are plentiful.  There is an inner and outer reef and so far we have just snorkelled the inner reef.  Dive Savaii who are based just over the road from the resort,(run by a frenchman -quite a European enclave here -Christoph and Patricia are German), can take you out further but we havent bothered as there is plenty to see on the inner reef.

Nellie had dropped of 2 coconuts (1.50 Tala) – I managed to open the eyes of one using the corkscrew and drained 1 1/2 glasses of coconut milk- then I got Chris to crack it open and slice the flesh.  The flesh was softer than the mature coconuts we get in New Zealand.

I spent the rest of the morning reading on the beach – the rain still coming through in the odd squall.  Next door to the resort is Sekia pizza operated by an Austrian guy married to a Samoan woman. We had it for lunch – wonderful flavourful pizzas with a thin crispy base.  After a small siesta we drove  to Mata’olealelo Spring at Safune approx ten minutes down the road.  This is a fresh water spring on the edge of a lagoon with quite a large volume of water coming out of the ground.It is the locale for the Samoan legend of  how the coconut came into being.  A quite heavy rain squall come through so we decided against stopping at Dwarfs cave etc on the way back.  Despite the great nights sleep the previous night I was still very sleepy when we came back so had a small nap when we came back.  We watched the sunset again and OH tried to to take some photos of the crabs coming out to scavenge at dusk.

We liked the pizza so much we had it again for tea – this time one pizza each- and got a bottle fo wine from the resort so we could have pizza and wine in our bungalow. we knew we wouldnt eat a whole pizza each but thought it would make good leftovers for lunch the next day.

Day 7

I woke up several times during the night -but still woke feeling very refreshed but quite early (before 7 am).i got dressed and sat on the beach- not quite sunrise but got a little of the halflight of dawn and there wasn’t another soul on the beachfor a good 20 minutes. 

Snorkelled for about 1 1/2 hours then camme back and showered.  Opened second coconut and got 2 whole glasses of coconut milk out of it this time.  the young Samoan man opened it for us and the flesh inside this one was even softer and sweeter than yesterdays – it could be scooped out with a spoon.  OH decided he liked coconut this way – he’s not a big fan of mature coconut but he doesnt mind the coconut milk and flesh out of these very young coconuts.  Sat on beach to read and write diary and postcards – then had left over pizza for lunch along with coconut and pawpaw (T&T had picked up several pawpaw on the trip round the isaland the day before and gave us two which we were very grateful for.  In the afternoon we headed around to Manase to do emails and get cocktails at Raci’s Beach Club.  the same couple run both – the internet cafe by the service station and the cocktail bar on the beach.  From the bar you can look back across the bay to our resort. 

We went back to have a coffee and a snorkel just before sunset OH got out of the water before I did and managed to get the wonderful shot I posted last week.  Its my favourite photo of the whole holidays.  We did dinner at Christophs restaurant at the resort – had to different versions of the same fish – one panfried one poached in a fish pot – both were equally delicious.

Day 8 Fagamalo- Lalomalava

We were very sad to leave Savaii Lagoon Resort – its quite a magical place.  We exchanged contact details with T&T (who live in Howick).  Then I had a minor panic when I couldn’t find my new camera – was in my bag the whole time but had slipped behind other things. 

We drove west to Asau harbour and had a drink stop at the Vaisala Beach Hotel.  The hotel is a bit run down but has gorgeous views over Asau harbour and the reef.  We debated whether to go out to Falealupo – the most western aprt of the world (closest to the International dateline) but decided that the Alofa’aga blowholes were the priority for the day so drove down to the south coast of Savaii – we stopped at the bowholes and there was a large swarm of what looked like turquoise monarch butterflies going absolutely nuts over the fruit of one particular tree.  I wondered whether or not the fruit they seemed to be most attracted to, being brown, had fermented as they seemed to be quite ‘buzzed’ by whatever they were drinking.  The blowholes themselves, were very impressive and veryvery unpredictable which actual hole was going to blow at any given time so you can waste a lot of time, camera space trying to catch the big one.  As you head east from the blowholes along the souther coast there are spectacular cliffs and sea arches so we stopped to take some photos of the view along the cliffs. 

It was a very hot day and I was starting to get a headache so we decided against going to thte Puleilei Mound or the Afu A’au Falls. So we headed through Salelologa and up the coast to Lalomalava to stayat the Savaiian Hotel for the night in one of their garden fales – a bit basic but clean and comfortable, although you did need to watch the step down inot the bathroom – obviously added on out the back after the fale was built.

OH went for a wander around the garden while I had a rest before dinner and collected some frangipanni that had fallen on the ground.  and put them on the bed beside me – they smelt glorious but they started bringing on a touch of hayfever so I had to move them away from me. We had dinner at their restaurant and while we were waiting for the various courses OH amused himself by taking photos of all the geckos and spiders that were lying in wait for the insects that were drawn in by the restaurants lights.

Photos of days 4-8 can be found in my facebook album (of the same name) here


Samoa holiday – Apia – Days 1-3

Have decided I need to do this in installments other wise the blog post is going to be way too long

Day 1 – Auckland to Apia

I only slept two hours 2am – 3.45am before we headed for the airport.  We left Auckland at 7.05 am 24th June and arrived Faleolo airport 11.30am 23rd June (nothing like going backwards in time across the International date line).  It was 10° C when we left Auckland and we arrived to a very humid and sticky 31° C and the sky was quite overcast. 

Discovery Rentals (the rental car company) met us as soon as we walked out of Arrivals gate.  They greeted and introduced thiemselves and accompanied us to their office.  They were very apologetic that instead of the 2004 Hyundai Tucson they had booked us for, they had to give us the 2010 modelas the 2004 model wasnt available yet.  It didnt take us long to say it would be no problem especially as it wasn’t going to cost us anymore.  We booked into our hotel and were shown a rooom where we quickly got changed out of our wintery NZ clothes and then we decided to go out and explore central Apia , approximately a 5 minute drive from our hotel

We walked around the main streets of the centre of town which only cover a small area, and familiarised ourselves with where things like the Post Office, ATMs, restaurants (including  the only McD’s in Samoa – which YD was fixated on us taking a picture of it for her to see) and internet cafes were.  We drove up the western end of Apia harbour where the Fale Fono is (Samoan House of Parliament)and then drove to the Eastern side of the harbour and saw Aggie Greys hotel where we would be staying the last night in Samoa.  We went to the little supermarket on Beach Rd and stocked up on snack foods and bottled water and other drinks. and while OH walked back to the car with the groceries I walked down past the Samoan Tourism Authority and sat on the sea wall waiting for OH to catch up.  Unfortuntely this was when we realised that without me having a cellphone he couldnt find me.  I had said I would keep walking that way and he thought I meant I would only walk to the corner by the main roundabout so while I was sitting on the walll waiting for him he only came as far as the roundabout and  waited for me.  I ended up walking back the way I came to find him there.  We then decided we had done enough walking in the heat and headed back to the western side of the harbour and Mulinuu Point and went to Sails which is a restaurant on the seawall at the point, I had a cocktail called ‘Sails Sunset’ which I thought was very appropriately named for my first “island cocktail”  and OH had his first Vailima (Samoan beer).  We decided to stay for dinner there and catch the sunset – the sky had cleared a little during the afternoon.

Day 2  – Apia

It was raining when we woke up this morning, but cleared as we were getting ready to go down for breakfast.  Breakfast was served on an open air patio adjacent to the reception area.  We had the Samoan national netball team staying at the same hotel.  They had test matches versus South Africa while we were there.

When I walked out onto the balcony to take a picture my camera took foggy photos when it hit the humidity outside after being in air-conditioned room,  I also had the same problem with my glasses fogging up every time I got out of the airconditioned car until we turned the a/c up to 25°C and drove around with the windows open half the time.  After breakfast we went had a look around the flea market – lots of little craft stallsand bought some postcards and stamps so I could send a postcard to YD.  I had a lovely pineapple frappe at the Sydneyside Cafe and we had lunch at Roma cafe in the same little pedestrian mall by the US embassy. I bought a woven fan and lavalava and also stocked up on insect repellent and went back to the hotel for a small siesta.  I also realised that I hadn’t packed my bactroban ointment so am hoping for no infections while I’m away (can’t afford to get an infected scratch or bite on my IBC side).

The afternoon was spent driving around Vaitele, where my dad was born and grew up, trying to get lay of the land as it is no longer all plantation.  I got some nice camera shots up on the hills looking down towards the bay over Vaitele and surrounding villages.  Some cars driving past when I was taking pictures of a small coconut plantation just thought I was some silly palagi tourist taking pictures of random coconut trees but didnt realise I was trying to get a picture of what Vaitele would have looked like when my dad lived there. 

We went to Paddles for dinner -I think this is the best restaurant in Apia that we tried – owned by Italian/Samoan family.  Its on the eastern side of Apia harbour with gorgeous view of the sunset and lovely food and service – more cocktails for me of course and a gorgeously presented affogato for desert.

Day 3 – Apia

We thought we had woken up really late and almost missed breakfast as OH had misread his watch as 8.40 when it was only 7.40am.  After we had breakfast we headed for Vailima – Robert Louis Stevenson’s estate.  Our guide around the house was Margaret whose village is Vaitele, so she was interested to know why we were visiting Samoa.

I found the Robert Louis Stevenson story quite sad and wondered how many more great stories he would have written if he hadn’t died so young (he was the author of ‘Treasure Island’ and Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’ etc – who spent his last 5 years living in Samoa and died when he was 44 years old having always suffered form lung problems, possibly tuberculosis)  Villa Vailima is a beautiful house and you can wee shy RLS and his family loved it here on the slopes of Mt Vaea. 

We walked up the steep path to his tomb at the top of Mt Vaea – it was rough and slippery from rain in places but well worth the climb – on the path we saw birds, geckos, hibiscus and other tropical flowers.  We were both quite surprised how well I handled the climb as I thought I was more unfit than I actually was- although I got a little breathless a little on the way up once we got to the top my recovery time was infintessimal. The view from the top over Apia and of the other mountains to the East was spectacular- we stayed up there for about 1/2 an hour.

We then decided to take the ‘easy’ way down.  This was less steep but in some places quite big trees had blown over and taken the path with it so it presented its own set of challenges  but made it a bit more of an adventure.  We washed our shoes off in the pool at the bottom of the track – a pool they had made by damming the stream. 

My camera had stopped working just after we left the top of the mountain – we don’t think it was the humidity as my camera is supposed to be waterproof but it would no longer take pictures although it would still work in replay mode.  After going back to the hotel and showering and changing we headed back to downtown Apia to look for a replacement camera as we weren’t going to be able to get mine fixed while we were travelling and I needed to be able to take photos from my perspective.  After we had found a camera – was more expensive than we would have liked – I went and emailed the girls and OH posted the postcard that I had written the night before for YD.  We then went back to Sails for a Vailima or two before deciding to try out another restaurant Wildfire (which is just down the road from Paddles).  the food was quite good and a vast array of cocktails on their list (but no mention of ingredients) but the service let it down – they didnt bring me cutlery until we reminded them.  The food was flavourful but the presentation was definitely up with Paddles or even Sails. there was only one girl doing most ofr the service and although she was nice she wasn’t as efficient as she should have been given she was the only waitstaff.

When we got back to the hotel and went to plug in my new camera to charge onl to realise that it had an american plug so we had to borrow an adapter from the hotel owner/managers.  We got a call from the rental car agency saying they wanted to swap cars before we went to Savaii to the originally booked 2004 model. The 2010 was apparently the bosses carand they were a bit protective of it. It was a pity to see it go.

The netball team staying at the hotel lost their game to south Africa but then invited all the Teams back to the hotel. We had hoped for more of an earl night iwth heading to Savaii tomorrow but did not begrudge the girls their fun.  We packed our bags roughly as we didnt need to have everything in the suitcases as we do when flying.  I felt sorry for Lupe (owner/manager) as she had a late night with the girls then had to be up earlyfor a guest arriving and to give us breakfast as we needed to be away by 7.30 – 8 am

You will find the photos of these first three days in my facebook album here

I’m back from Samoa

Will do more in depth travel-logue blogs when I have time and have sorted the photos etc but just wanted to share with you the one photo that epitomises my holiday the most.

I had just finished snorkelling as the sun set – OH had just got out of the water a while before me.  I sat in the water to watch the sunset instead of walking up onto the beach and OH got this cool shot.