Scenes around Vaoto Lodge: Ofu Photo Journal

Scenes around Vaoto Lodge: Ofu Photo Journal

Welcome to Scenes around Vaoto Lodge – a photo journal that depicts my experience at Vaoto Lodge.

Vaoto Lodge was, up until recently, the only establishment that offered accommodations in the tiny island of Ofu, American Samoa.  There is now one other spot, but we opted for Vaoto Lodge because of word of mouth and it’s ideal location right across the Ofu Airport runway, next to the NPS Ranger Station, and just a few minutes from (my favorite beach ever) the To’aga lagoon.

Right: NPS Ofu Ranger Station

Left: Vaoto Lodge

The Ofu Airport runway is literally a stone throw’s away from the Lodge and within earshot of the NPS Ranger Station – not a bad thing at all because there’s only one flight a week and the hubbub lasts a total of half an hour (which is actually an exciting time for the otherwise quiet village).

One of my favorite visual aspects of Vaoto Lodge is the herbage that surrounds the property, especially after a bout of rain.

You can tell that lot of thought, diligence, and patience was involved in making the landscape what it is.

The rooms are simple but have everything you need and more (yesss to comfy beds and hot showers!). This was our room, and right across we had a garden vignette of the ocean.

This bookcase is filled with history, nature, and pieces of people who travel.

This particular evening was really cool. Deborah and Ben, who own and manage the Lodge, had some leftover fish and tied it to a rock to see what would eat it. Over the next couple of hours, we watched six black tip reef sharks swim into the shallows, but only two actually took a bite. It was interesting to observe their behavior.

Alice and Marley (Deb and Ben’s dog).

We sat in the little drifter’s fale, on the beachfront of Vaoto Lodge, and watched the sky desaturate and darken.

Here, another soft evening glow surrounds us at Vaoto Lodge. Ian biked around the runway, and I hung out by the beach to snap photos of Olosega and Ta’ū in the distance; the sun hiding behind the clouds not wanting to say goodnight.

There is so much more to Vaoto Lodge… I didn’t originally plan on blogging about the place so I didn’t get photos of the main house/interior rooms, the spacious utilitarian kitchen, and oh man the mozzies! This is just a compilation of bits and pieces from my two weeks at Vaoto Lodge.

Between family, friends, and strangers, Vaoto Lodge is a home away from home.


Check out their website here:

A Technicolor Camp Night

A Technicolor Camp Night

The night lit by campfire, glow sticks, head lamps, milky way, moonbeams and the light in our eyes.

The night fueled by full bellies, coconut crabs, sandy toes, music playlists, and dancing children.

The night ending in cozy tents, hammocks, and rising tides.

Beach camping American Samoa |
Beach camping American Samoa |
Beach camping American Samoa |
Beach camping American Samoa |
Beach camping American Samoa |
Beach camping American Samoa |
Beach camping American Samoa |
Beach camping American Samoa |
Beach camping American Samoa |
Beach camping American Samoa |
Beach camping American Samoa |
Beach camping American Samoa |
Beach camping American Samoa |
Beach camping American Samoa |
Beach camping American Samoa |
Beach camping American Samoa |
Beach camping American Samoa |
Beach camping American Samoa |
Beach camping American Samoa |
Beach camping American Samoa |
Beach camping American Samoa |
Beach camping American Samoa |
Beach camping American Samoa |
Beach camping American Samoa |
Beach camping American Samoa |
Beach camping American Samoa |
Beach camping American Samoa |
Beach camping American Samoa |
Beach camping American Samoa |

How I got American Samoa on the map for World Cleanup Day 2018

How I got American Samoa on the map for World Cleanup Day 2018

Happy World Cleanup Day everyone!

That’s today (September 15) in case you didn’t already know, and I don’t blame you because I literally just learned about it on Thursday morning! I emailed the 2 contact folks for World Cleanup Day in the USA to see how I could get involved, and after a flurry of emails, I had unknowingly signed up to be Team Leader for American Samoa’s participation in World Cleanup Day!

What is World Cleanup Day?

Essentially, World Cleanup Day is one day of clean up efforts around the world. It started in Estonia 10 years ago when just 4% of the country’s population made one major mission: to clean up the whole country in 1 day… yes, that’s 24 hours!!! This sparked World Cleanup Day as a recognized civic holiday, now in its 2nd year, and with support worldwide! From Fiji to New Zealand, to India, to the UAE, Argentina, USA, and now American Samoa. Millions of people around the world took a pledge to do their part, big and small, on this particular day to address the issue of trash and waste in our environments.

On top of these initiatives, there is a huge media movement that follows cleanups from 150+ participating countries. A live feed was broadcasted online, tracking the cleanup progress around the world on September 15 at the start of the International Date line in New Zealand… and because of my outreach, American Samoa was officially dubbed the final destination for the 2018 World Cleanup Day! WOOHOO! You can find a screencap of the Live video broadcast here.

Cool! Now what?

I was actually really excited to get such great feedback from Jim Sharman and Steve Jewett, the representatives for Let’s Do It! World and National Cleanup Day. But because I had just found out about the whole movement only 12 hours before it was to begin on the other side of the International Dateline, I really only had a day to make plans.

*Warning: Long Post ahead!*

A Community, A Cleanup

Bluesky Cleanup / Laufou Shopping Center

I was doing all of this — sending emails back and forth, gathering information on World Cleanup Day, and telling my friends about the Coconut Point beach clean up — all during an off-site video shoot for work, and when I told my coworker Lauren, she suggested I ask our company to get involved. That was a great idea! I emailed my HR and Marketing managers and they said that if I could arrange it outside of working hours on such short notice, the company would sponsor trash bags, gloves, and a light breakfast. I was stoked! Soon after, I sent out the email asking for volunteers to show up an hour before work the next morning so we could clean up around our building. I knew not a lot of people could make it because it was outside of work hours, and a few of the departments were extra busy. But thankfully, we got a good group together and collected 100 gallons of trash; mostly cigarette butts, small plastics, and styrofoam.

Photos from our Friday, September 14 / Laufou Shopping Center cleanup at 7:30am

Capstone Cleanup / Lion’s Park

This incredible group of citizen scientists are members of Capstone AOG church. They already do monthly cleanups (working with the AS Coral Reef Advisory Group as volunteers to collect waste and extract data from what they gather), but when they learned about #WorldCleanupDay just 2 days ago (I told Ian, Ian told his coworker, and his coworker told her church group), they decided to do an extra one this month at the Lion’s Park!! We joined them this morning at 7am this morning and found a LOT of soda cans, water bottles, styrofoam cups and plates, plastic cutlery, chip bags—you name it!—just littered everywhere, ESPECIALLY on the shoreline! But I just wanna shout out this awesome group who made it fun, and made a big impact in just a couple of hours! Big thanks to Pa’i from the NPS Green Team for setting this up, and to Bluesky American Samoa for providing trash bags and gloves!

Photos from Saturday, September 15 / Lion’s Park cleanup at 7:00am

A Live Intermission

With an hour between the 7am cleanup at Lion’s Park and our 9:30am Coconut Point beach cleanup, I got a call from Jim Sharman, the Let’s Do It! World coordinator. He wanted to share information about American Samoa on the international live broadcast, and officially dub us the final destination for the 2018 World Cleanup Day! I was soooo excited to see them raise our flag, set it on the map, and then see the producer run in and write out ‘AMERICAN SAMOA’ next to our speck of an island, because people were getting us confused with our sister island, the independent country of Samoa. It was awesome, and it honestly felt so good to know that I played the part in making that happen.

Beach Cleanup / Coconut Point

Now THIS is the beach that I call home! This community is diverse, changing, and impactful. As soon as I learned about WCD, I immediately started a group chat about a beach cleanup, and everyone jumped on it! This morning, we started at 9:30am and in just a short amount of time, collected a lot of single use plastic and styrofoam, cans and water bottles, electrical wires, and old clothes that probably got left behind on the beach. It was a great feeling to see our beautiful beach for what it is, without the rubbish, and an even better feeling to be surrounded by a rad group of friends!

Photos from Saturday, September 15 / Coconut Point beach cleanup at 9:30am

From what I’ve learned in the last few days, it’s that people are interested and want to take part in effecting change. It’s just a matter of reaching out and getting stoked! And every bit of effort counts! Of course, this was only possible because of everyone who participated. Ya’ll are amazing! If you’re still reading, WOW. And fa’afetai tele lava from American Samoa, your final destination of the 2018 World Cleanup Day!

Sailing Sea Casa with friends

Sailing Sea Casa with friends

Weekend Day Sail with SV Sea Casa

Connor Jackson is a friend of a friend crossed the South Pacific on a 31′ Hunter named Sea Casa. Our mutual friend Michele, who used to live here in American Samoa and worked with Ian at the National Park, told us he was coming in and we were stoked to hang out with him and a few friends this weekend for a day sail on the southern Tutuila coast.

It was dumping rain most of the morning but we motored out of the harbor anyway and our good attitudes were rewarded with a little wind and a lot of sun for a glorious arvo.

Needless to say, I got seasick and prepared myself for this with a thumb of ginger I bought just before we hopped on the boat. I was just gnawing away at it and burped a bunch, and then puked my perfect bacon and egg open sammich breakfast not once but thrice in the 5 hours we were out. It was still a blast!

Connor and Ian had the good sense to jump off the boat when we got over the shallow part of the Taema banks, and we all quickly followed in. It felt so so so good to get off the rocking boat for a bit. It was a super calm day and the water was the perfect temperature. I wish I felt well enough to take more photos, but no complaints because Ian took most of these pics and it turned out to be an awesome day!

Adventures with Shivaun: Part 1

Adventures with Shivaun: Part 1

After last weekend’s clothing swap, our friend Shivaun (who is leaving the island soon) spontaneously decided to take a drive around the island in the back of the truck… because if you know American Samoa at all, you’d know that riding in the back of the truck with friends is one of those special little things about this place.

None of us really had any plans for the rest of the day so we all jumped in the back of Ryan’s truck and took off. We drove east first towards Samu’s for homemade ice cream goodness.

Then went west, because we don’t go to the west side nearly enough. Made a pit stop at a local market stand for a quick coconut drive through.

Got to Amanave and pulled over the side of the road to enjoy our cold coconuts (we brought our own metal and bamboo straws!), and took some silly photos.

“Sometimes you gotta just feel your feelings…” that’s what this light of a human told me yesterday at her tofa.

It’s a weird thing when it’s time to go and the past 2 years feel like a blur. But we’re all travelers on the road of rediscovery and I hope you never stop searching for your dharma Shivvy! Love you my girl and I’ll see ya in Sconsin or absolutely anywhere I can

See Adventures with Shivaun: Part 2, where we hang out in Aoloau.

Also, our Clothing Swap that morning was a lot of fun.

Rainbow moments with Shivaun

Rainbow moments with Shivaun

Last weekend in the treehouse with this golden gal, Shivaun.

Talking stories and laughing with rainbows, then running from dark squalls and eating homemade chocolate truffles.

She’s one of my faves.


Aunty Files: Merbaby and Friends

Aunty Files: Merbaby and Friends

I think it’s important to gift my niece and nephew with things that are meaningful and memorable. My niece just turned 1 last month, and I have no idea what toys or clothes she already has. As her only aunt (read favorite aunt) I want to get her cute things!So when I saw that Lexi Lizama from reopened her Etsy shop, I messaged her right away for a custom order.

Lexi is a Pacific Islander like myself and–inspired by her adventures with her sweet daughter Aaliyah–she makes the most adorable merbaby dolls and sea friends from soft colorful felt and hand stitched detailing.

Lexi is super sweet. She was super helpful and sent me a custom Etsy link for my order. At only $30 for both the custom merbaby and seahorse, and the fact that she was able to make and ship my order within just a few days, it was all so worth it! I placed the order while I was on a trip to the Dominican Republic and was so excited when I got to Arizona and found that the order had arrived! Just in time too since I only had a couple of days with my niece before I was to return to American Samoa.

My order was wrapped in white tissue paper and twine. She also included my message “To my sweet little merbabe Rachel”.

My nephew helped his baby sister open her present and let her rip off the tissue to reveal her merbaby.

I requested a merbaby with light brown skin (for my little asian pacific islander niece) and braided black hair. I wanted this merbaby to have a friend and asked for the seahorse plush in complementing colors.

My sister noticed the special details right away, like the twinkle of the merbaby’s eye, and the secured stitching at the end of her braided hair to prevent from unbraiding and flyaways.

My niece is an observer, so she held it skeptically at first. I imagine her thinking to herself: what is this… it’s soft but it doesn’t smell like mom… oh but it looks like her… ok I like it!

I really like the size of these plush merbabies too. It was larger than I expected, which is nice so Rachel can hug them for warmth and comfort while she’s still tiny, and she can still hug them as she gets older.

This merbaby and seahorse plush was the perfect gift for Rachel’s belated birthday. It has all the elements of what makes a gift from an aunt so special, and it felt great to support a small business and artsy friend! I hope my niece goes on many adventures with her merbaby friends.

Check out @MeandMyMerbaby on their website, instagram, and etsy!

*This is not a sponsored post!

Travel Diary: New Years in Samoa

Travel Diary: New Years in Samoa

Adulting is hard. I only got Christmas Day and New Years Day off, and I sorely miss the days when winter holidays meant 3 weeks of vacation. So to maximize the feel of vacation this time around, I started my New Year 2018 with…

A trip to Samoa

It was really my day 24 advent Christmas gift to Ian. Booked our tickets and planned it with our friends, Paolo and Mareike. It would be a surf trip for the boys, and a girls trip for the ladies.

30 DEC 2017


Landed at Fagali’i Airport and met up with Mareike and Paolo who were already there waiting for us. There’s nothing quite like seeing familiar faces when you’re traveling. We filled up on brunch at Home Cafè, topped up the gas on the Rav4 rental, and headed for the eastern coast to scout waves and find a beach fale to stay the night. We kept driving south until we found a spot that met our basic needs. A cheap beach fale accommodation called Sina PJs and nearby, waves for days.

High five brotha man!

The air was warm wet and completely still… great conditions for surf. The spot was called Salas (or Jaws – I’m not sure which is which). Ian and Paolo started paddling out from the beach and got lucky. A boat came out to pick them up and took them right up to the waves. A couple of hours later the tide receded into the evening and they stayed out just a little longer hoping for more waves. They were grinning ear to ear when they got back, even after the long paddle in, talking stories of getting tubed.

We grabbed a few beers at the shanty store down the road and hung out at the fale reading and swatting at mosquitoes. The book I’m reading is called “Jaguars Ripped My Flesh: Adventure is a Risky Business” by Tim Cahill, a founding editor of Outside Magazine. It seemed like an appropriate title for the trip.

Our hosts made us a delicious curry dinner which I devoured. Mareike wasn’t feeling too great, so the boys made another run to the store to pick up good ol’ Pepto Bismol. And we called it a night.

Remember that rainbow earlier on? It tricked us a little because later in the evening, the clouds got darker and we saw streaks of lightning in the cumulonimbus in the distance.

It rained hard that night, and our thatched roofs must have not been in use for a while because we woke up in the middle of the night to water droplets leaking all over. We had to move our mats and mosquito net to find a dry patch, and lightning and thunder were going off like crazy less than a mile away. It was a quite a wake up call. So needless to say we were pretty restless and slept in the next morning.

31 dec 2017


We woke up slow and enjoyed an egg on toast and koko rice breakfast from our hosts. It was New Years Eve so we decided to settle in at Matareva Beach Fales to ring in the New Year. The place was likely named after the fictional island of Matareva from the 1953 Return to Paradise film (my favorite oldie movie!!!). We swam and played cards. Drank piña coladas. The bartender convinced the guys to paddle out in the waves right there at Matareva. It was a short paddle but wasn’t that good since it was onshore and kept closing out before anyone could even take off on one. The name ‘Boneyard’ is suitable. The guys were bummed but being the awesome girlfriends that Mareike and I are, we fired their stoke and pushed them to try again back at Salas/Jaws which was a 20 minute drive away, and you’ll be happy to know it was worth it. The guys surfed until their arms gave out and Mareike and I went over to Coconuts for a little girl time and fancy drinks. The Tokelau Teaser drink was the perfect cool down.

Teaching them how to play Sweepie

We got back to Matareva just in time for a late dinner and I stuffed my face silly. Then the night began. It was New Years Eve after all. The host family invited their extended family and put on a traditional Fiafia Night, full of siva ma le pese.  My favorite was the siva afi, or fire dancing. They prefaced the performance with a lesson on making fires in a dried coconut husk, and explained how important it was for them to pass down this knowledge to their children. And then a little boy about 8 years old came out and gave a show stopping performance. It was so cool.

This kid’s face takes the cake!

The older guy shows the kid how it’s done, blue flames and all

who did it better?


The night closed off on a very grateful note. We gathered together in a “Circle of Love” and went around saying a few words to reflect back on the year and thank our hosts Tavita and Fia for their Samoan hospitality. And before we knew it, it was 10 seconds on the countdown! HAPPY NEW YEAR! We cheered, kissed and greeted each other. The moon was full and all were in good spirits. It was a good way to end the day. I took my first shower of 2018 and crawled under the mosquito net in our beach fale, and had the best sleep I’ve had in recent memory.

1 jan 2018


In the morning, music was blaring from an aiga bus that arrived chock full of day visitors. I was already awake, reading in bed while Ian snoozed on. We headed to the main fale for breakfast and played several rounds of cards. We decided that Matareva is the new Taufua so we were staying another night. The only problem was that with so many day visitors they planned to rent out the fales for the day, so we decided to pack our stuff back into the car and venture out for the day until the tide came in. 

Taking photos while Ian is passed out sleeping

Me – hanging out in the fale before breakfast

We barely spent any money except on our accommodations and a few Vailimas, so we went on a little spending spree (not really) and chowed down on some good food and ginger mojitos at Sinalei. We realized we were actually low on cash and were relieved to find out that Matareva accepted credit cards. There were no ATMs on Upolu south so this was really great news. We toasted – manuia– to good company and proceeded down to the pier. I’m not a big ‘jumper’ so I hung back (also because my bikini was back at the car; read as ‘excuse’) for a bit while everyone else kawabunga’d off over and over. We all read and napped for a bit and Ian finally got me to get up and jump off. I saw a video of myself jumping, and not gonna lie, I look like my 2 year old nephew does when he jumps into the pool. Kinda stoked but kinda terrified, hahah.

The tide was coming in so we went over to Coconuts next door and got chased out of the pool since we weren’t technically guests. Ian and Paolo went back to Salas/Jaws (can someone please clarify what the name is?!) and Mareike and I relished in another round of fancy drinks – no straw please. Tokelau Teaser again for me and Tahiti Tickler for Mareike. It’s so fun to gab about our lives over these pretty names for drinks. We lost track of time, and surprisingly the guys came back a little early. We drove back to Matareva, took photos on the beach with new friends, enjoyed dinner… and what did we do the rest of the night? We played cards like we hadn’t been playing all weekend long.

These taro fries were killaaaa

The smiling lady at the Coconuts bar. I was mostly eyeing the bananas.

New Year dips and kisses

^ Always a good idea to get jumpin’
And little Bill being the diva/rockstar he is >

2 JAN 2018


I woke up way too early. My alarm went off at 5am thinking it was a work day. Not yet. It’s our last day of vacation before we’re back to the grind tomorrow. But I didn’t go back to sleep. I meditated in the Samoan sunrise. Journaled for half an hour in the hammock under the coconut trees. And read while Ian snoozed on till breakfast. We settled our bill, packed the car back up for the last time, and said our ‘not goodbye, but see you laters’ to our hosts Tavita, Fia, and the boys Tom, Walter and Bill. On the way out, we took some film photos as souvenirs.

After about an hour of driving, we were back in town. We wanted to stop by the market and visit a couple of shops, but everything was closed. Apparently, lucky Samoa gets Jan 2 off. Only The Edge by the marina was open so we chilled out there, ordered lattes, lunch and milkshakes, and played sweepie for the last couple hours of our trip. Then it was back to the airport, crossed the international date line, and we were back at January 1 in American Samoa. Home sweet home.