Four years ago, Jo Mikarna of Australia was looking for somewhere to go in order to escape the stresses of her demanding job which had taken a toll on her.
A leap of faith and throwing caution to the wind led her to Samoa and it’s a decision that has changed her life and kept her coming back to our sunny shores over and over again.
“This is my 12th time in three years, so I come about four times a year. I have a very demanding job so I feel this place is a safe environment to be in, the locals are of course very friendly.”
“It’s nice to know that we have this island and with all the stresses and dangers of the world, it’s nice to come here and not have to worry about all that daunting other stuff.”
Most Australians like to head to Bali and Thailand but Jo wasn’t interested in following the masses and so Samoa was the next choice.
Jo knew nothing about Samoa so it was not surprising that she was apprehensive at first, but once she got to know the locals she started to grow her network to make her future travels to Samoa much easier.
“I wanted the beach that’s for sure but Hawaii was too far on limited timing and Rarotonga was too expensive to fly from Australia so my friend suggested somewhere closer so we came here instead.”
“It was very daunting at first, because I didn’t know anything about the country and the drive to Aga Reef Resort with someone who didn’t speak very much English was pretty daunting because I thought they were going to take my kidneys.”
“I had a nice holiday and while I was here I built a base of four friends and then the next time they said come I will make about 12 friends.”
Jo loves to socialize and loves the friendliness and openness of our people, it’s clear to see that she feels at ease almost as if she has been living here for years, but there is a practical side to Jo too and she saw that through her own personal trials and errors that there were better ways to maximize your travel experience while you are in Samoa
“I’ve started putting together a bulletin/brochure for my friends who I tell to come over here. It covers all the simple things like where to hire a car, where to park it, where to exchange money.”
“I’m trying to explain to people that this isn’t Thailand and this isn’t Bali, you don’t need to barter with people here and don’t be afraid to say no because people actually accept no here. And that’s the very big difference.”
The more Jo returned to visit Samoa, the more she becomes emotionally attached to her people.
“I started to bring small gifts as tokens and that’s when I started to notice the kindergartens around where I drove past. And one in particular had a terrible swing set so I’m actually trying to source a swing set but it’s so expensive here so I will look to see how much it would cost to bring one over from Australia.”
“Every time I come over here, I bring over things that I think my friends and their families might need, and this time round, another friend of mine that I introduced last time I was here eight weeks ago has come back with me and she is a kindergarten teacher and so we’ve brought over some things for the kindergarten we’ve chosen to donate too. So pretty much combined, together we have brought over 46kg of education materials, crafts, toys, and baby needs.”
Jo has brought along two of her friends on her 12th trip to Samoa and they were spending a couple of days in Apia in order to hit the night clubs and bars but Jo was most looking forward to hitting Lalomanu in the weekend where she planned to do some hiking and mountain climbing.
“I do like Lalomanu; the beaches out there are lovely. I like Saletoga to stay in. I love the tealafua waterfalls and I climb the mountains often, particularly the one visible from lalomanu beach I think it’s called Namu’a. I climb it in my bare feet!”
“I do pole dancing for fitness and one time I smacked my knee climbing the coconut tree to do a pole dance. But it doesn’t matter, it was still good and I got some time off work,” she laughs.
Like some tourists, Jo is torn between sharing Samoa with the world and keeping it her little secret.
“There’s so much you can do here. It’s nice that the government do a lot to welcome us tourists but I don’t think there’s enough advertisement for tourism, like I just bought a couple of friends over with me last time I came here and they said to me, ‘ without you we wouldn’t know what to do , where to go etc.’”
“I love to share this place with everyone but at the same time I don’t really want anyone else to know about it,” she laughs.
She added: “Because otherwise we are going to turn it into another Bali and another Thailand.”