Thursday, January 18, 2018

Bink Ink 2017

Getting the most out of Life - 2017!

 We accomplished our Life Plan Goal of visiting all of our country's major National Parks on September 19th with our visit to the National Park of American Samoa!

(Scroll down beyond the pix for "The rest of the Story!)

January 2017 - New Zealand - our first "Trek" of the year

 Three German students we rescued in Te Urewera National Park - North Island, New Zealand.

 The kids rolled their truck off the road on a slick gravel mountain road!

 Cable Car - Wellington, NZ

 Hydrangea Garden - Wellington botanical Garden

 Kirkwood's, Gill's and Bink's doing what they do best - sampling New Zealand's wines!

 Mitre Mountain - Milford Sound

 Greymouth sunset

 On our way to Pancake Rocks!

 Selfie-imposed tour of Christchurch

 Happy Hobbits! Hobbiton - The Shire, Middle Earth

 Rotorua sunrise!

 Copyright infringing page from our Park Guide Book - Park Stamp!

 New and expensively improved page! Park Notes

March 2017
Kolob Canyon section of Zion National Park. 

                                             April 2017 - Park Visit Number 58!

Cruz Bay, St. John Virgin Islands. 

 Turtle Bay

 Trunk Bay

 Our unit at the Concordia Eco-Lodge

 Inside our humble abode!

 Imagine what the hurricanes did to these southern exposed units!

 Caneel Bay Resort - before Irma!

After Hurricane Irma - complete devastation. 

 Plantation ruins on St. John

Clever rock cairns adorn the beach at Drunk Bay. 
Glad we got to see them prior to hurricane season!

 June 2017 - Havasupai Falls Trek

 Mountain Park Church group beginning hike to Havasupai and the Falls

 Our friends Mary Cost (far left) and Nicki Kirkeby (far right)

Transition area between Upper and  Lower Navajo Falls

Havasu Falls

A tad warm in Phoenix today! Time to head to the beach!

Building Sand Castles with the Grand Kiddos in Del Mar!

 July 2017 - Grand Canyon

Grand Canyon Railway

Train Robbery. Khai says, "take her!"

August 2017

Day trip to Kartchner Caverns and Saguaro National Park with Jaylynn

Jaylynn and Skull Rock - Joshua Tree National Park

September 2017 - Trek #59 - National Park of American Samoa!

On the trail to the top of Mt. Alava

Pola Island

November 2017

She's still got it!

December 2017

The last remaining inventory from our 2nd print run of 
Trekking the National Parks- the Board Game. 

Still a few games available at 

Bink Ink 2017 - The rest of the story

My Auntie Ester died on December 4th, which, coincidentally, is the date of my mom’s  birth and the passing of Terry’s mom.  Terry and I had planned on paying Aunt Es a visit. Sadly, she passed before we could experience her kind, gentle, loving personality one last time.

A couple of positive outcomes from her passing.

1      It reinforced in me just how precious life is and how important it is (at least to me) to stay healthy, be happy, be active and strive to experience the people and places I desire and admire.

2      The second “gift” came from her estate. My cousins David and Barbara (Esther’s children) sent me a book that must have been given to Esther from her mother (my Grandmother), Marie Binkele. I assume that to be true as there is a sticker on the inside front cover with the following address:
Marie A. Binkele
234-C Elm Avenue
Burbank, CA 91506

 The title of the book: Getting the Most out of Life. It’s a collection of stories from The Reader’s Digest published in 1946. Just the title alone is cause for the curious to dive in and discover how to extract the most out of one’s existence.

Reflecting back on my Aunt’s life, it seemed to me she took to heart the essence of this anthology for this woman exuded a happy persona that got the most out of her 92 years.  

So, for what its worth, here’s what the Binkele’s did in 2017 to get the most out of life!

1/20/17 - Our first major “trek” of the year to harvest the fruits of life was our visit to New Zealand in January. Terry booked us standby (my least favorite mode of long distance travel) to Auckland from LAX. We were fortunate to get the last two seats on the plane! I’ve got to hand it to her; she’s got a knack for pulling off these adventures. We made it to New Zealand free of charge. We landed in Auckland on January 22nd. Somewhere during our 12 hours flight, January 21st didn’t happen!

Since we were flying standby, we had not made any reservations for lodging or rental car. Cool beans…we’re now homeless and carless in a foreign country! Not to worry, Terry finds us transportation. We look at a map and decide to head south to Te Urewera National Park…one of 14 National Parks in New Zealand. The park is located about 6 hours south of the airport. It rained during most of the journey as I re-acquainted myself with driving on the wrong side of the road!

One of the reasons we booked the trip at this time of year was because it was supposed to be New Zealand’s summer! Looking at the rainfall charts, January and February are supposed to be dry months. As we were soon to discover, the Kiwi’s were experiencing the “wettest summer in years!”

We entered the northern reaches of Te Urewera on a paved road. That lasted about 3 miles. From that point on, we were traveling on a wet, slick gravel road that ascended and descended the hilly terrain.

The windshield view of the park displayed a dense rainforest jungle with a wide variety of vegetation. Not much else. No Visitor Center. No campgrounds. No facilities whatsoever. Very different than the parks here in the States.

After carefully navigating about 15 miles on the slippery gravel road, we caught a glimpse of three young men clawing their way up a steep embankment. Odd? One of the boys flagged us down and asked us if we were locals. “No, we’re tourists,” I said, wondering why he asked.

“We just rolled our truck off the road down that embankment,” the young man said, pointing over his shoulder.  We stopped the rental car, got out and peered down the slope. Sure enough, their truck was resting on its side, lodged up against a stand of trees, which kept it from rolling further down. We spent the next several hours rescuing the three German students from their dilemma.

After dropping our three German amigos off at a youth Hostel in Taupo, Terry and I decided we should probably find a place to stay for the evening. The Hilton Taupo would serve as our “campsite” for the next two days. (Nice place to stay for those interested.)

The next day, Terry and I would visit two more of NZ’s NP’s. First up - New Zealand’s oldest National Park – Tongariro NP, located about 60 miles southwest (103 km) of the Hilton Taupo. We had hoped to do a bit of tramping (in New Zealand, hiking is referred to as tramping), however, without rain gear, we were relegated to spending time in the Visitor Center and Hotel café! Yep…it rained steadily during our visit.

Our next stop - Whanganui National Park – featuring the Bridge to Nowhere. We opted out of the boat ride in the rain up the Whanganui River to the Bridge and instead took a couple of pictures of the river and left. A couple hours later the rain let up!

The following day we headed to the west coast on the wrong side of the road to New Plymouth the closest city to our next park stop – Egmont NP. The drive was pleasant and rain free. As we entered New Plymouth, we could see in the distance tomorrow’s destination – Egmont National Park and the volcanic Mt. Taranaki. We found a delightful hotel in the city, had a terrific lunch, walked along the coastline and finished off our first sundrenched day with a bottle of New Zealand Pinot and a slew of hors d’oeuvres.

Still winging it, we woke the next morning to cloudy skies and set off to visit Egmont. By the time we reached the Visitor Center, the skies had darkened. The cloud cover was so thick; it drowned out any view of the mountain. Again, it rained! While chatting it up with a couple of local ladies, I learned that this was the “wettest summer in years!” Good grief! We’ve travelled thousands of miles to experience New Zealand’s National Parks only to find ourselves pelted by perpetual precipitation!

So be it! We’re not about to let a bit of moisture keep us from getting the most out of life! So onward we go heading south to Wellington. Don’t know where we're gonna stay when we get there…yet I’m confident Terry will figure that out by the time we pull into town.

Wellington. Gotta say, this city was well worth wading through the rain. Terry booked us for two nights at the Hotel Intercontinental right in the middle of downtown. The first night was spent soaking up more NZ Pinot Noir and just relaxing. Good stuff by the way.

The following morning we awoke to partly cloudy skies. Or the optimist in me concluded, mostly sunny! After breakfast we wandered over to the world renowned Wellington Cable Car (one of Wellington’s Top 10 things to do). The Cable Car ride was ok…yet the walk down through the Wellington Botanical Garden was incredible! The Hydrangea’s were in full bloom. The variety of plant material amazing. (I’d rate the Botanical Garden a far better experience than the Cable Car.)

The tail end of the Botanical Garden found us in a Garden of Roses. Here we stopped for a bite to eat before heading down to the scenic waterfront and museums. The sights were nice; however, we were thoroughly enjoying a rain-free day exploring KiwiLand!

Off to the South Island!

We met up with our good friends John and Mary Kirkwood and Karen and Greg Gill in Queenstown. The four of them had just finished trekking about Australia. The next 10 days would find us cruising Milford Sound, tasting many fine New Zealand wines, watching youngin’s bungee jump off the Kawarau Bridge, trekking the trail to the foot of Franz-Josef Glacier, getting acquainted with Snowy Mountain (a NZ sheep), exploring Pancake Rocks, viewing earthquake devastation in Christchurch, wandering about Akaroa, floating through Glow Worm caves, dancing with the native Maori, and hopping around Hobbiton!

February 6th. We depart Auckland (pronounced Oakland by our three German friends and the locals) on another standby ticket. This time we had no problem getting aboard. The weird thing about traveling long distances east-west is that time gets warped! Whereas we never did experience January 21st on our way to New Zealand ... on the return trip, we arrived in Los Angeles 3 hours BEFORE we departed! All said, we got the most out of our trip to New Zealand! 

Side note: Once we had rescued them, I asked the German kids how they got to New Zealand from Germany. Their response: "We departed Munich and flew to Dubai. From Dubai, we flew to Oakland and here we are!" Why, I thought, would you fly from Dubai to Oakland and then to Auckland? and the same. Just goes to show what a difference pronunciation can make!  

Park Guide Book
Just prior to departing to New Zealand, we received a message from Jack Ryan. No, not the character from Tom Clancy’s novels. This Jack Ryan is affiliated with Eastern National, a non-profit organization that helps raise money to protect and preserve National Parks east of the Mississippi.

Jack informed us that our brand new Park Guide Book infringed on Eastern National’s copyright to their National Park Stamp products. You see, in my infinite wisdom, I thought it would be a terrific idea to include a space on each page of the new Guide Book where people could get the park insignia stamped into their Guide Book!

Unfortunately, our attempt to offer our customers a way to memorialize their visits to the parks had created a major faux pas. Our choices: (a) ignore Jack and continue distributing the new Guide Book, (b) lawyer up and fight the behemoth Eastern National, (c) do the right thing and reprint the book. We chose option “c.”

For the next several months, we ripped the shrink wrap off  2500 games in order to extract the illicit Guide Book and replace it with the freshly reprinted (and very expensive) new one. Then, we painfully re-shrink wrapped every stinking one of those little bastards! 

By the way, if you're looking for a cool gift idea for a park enthusiast, let us know and we'll get you a copy of our Guide Book...the new one!

The highlight of this month was our journey to SaltCon – a gamers trade show in Layton, UT (just north of Salt Lake City). Terry stayed home with the dogs, while Charlie and I peddled our goods! (Trekking and his new game PUPS)

While the show was ok, our quick visit to the Kolob Canyon section of Zion NP on the return trip was awesome!
The fickle finger of fate was favorable to us this year insomuch as we visited Virgin Islands National Park in April before Hurricane Irma devastated the island of St. John! VINP was to be #58 on our quest to visit all 59 of our country’s major National Parks.  Had we not gone when we did, there is no telling when we’d be able to return due to the damage done by Irma.

During our visit to the Virgin Islands, our first “campsite” was pitched at the Concordia Eco-Lodge located on the southeastern reaches of the island. Exactly where the hurricane slammed into this tiny isle.

Since the structures we lodged in the first couple of nights were plywood and canvas tents, we doubt there is any hope they are still standing! (I just checked their website and the facility was severely damaged.)

Nevertheless, once they rebuild the units, we highly suggest you spend a night or two at this facility if you ever find yourself on St. John! Great people. Unique lodging experience and we were introduced to Caribbean Pain Killers at this resort!

The other couple of nights were spent at the Caneel Bay Resort. (Very upscale and pricy and not nearly as people-friendly as Concordia) Even this resort constructed out of rock and mortar took a major hit from Irma and will be closed for at least a year. 

For many moons, Terry and I have longed to hike down to the waterfalls located on the Havasupai Indian Reservation in the western reaches of the Grand Canyon. We got our opportunity in June when our good friend Mary Cost invited us to join her church group for their annual trek down to the falls.

All of those pictures you may have seen of Havasupai, Navajo and Mooney Falls aren’t nearly as exhilarating as witnessing them with your own eyeballs.

Later in the month we spent a week hanging out at the beach in Del Mar! Not a bad place to be when the temperatures in Phoenix were pushing 126° and upward! Building sand castles with the Grand Kids proved to be one of the highlights of this visit!

Family vacation time! Tosh, Greg and the two munchkins (Khai and Jaylynn) met us in Williams, AZ to begin our Grand Canyon Railway experience! After spending the night in Williams, we boarded the Grand Canyon Railway and headed off to that huge hole in the ground known as the Grand Canyon!

Khai is a big fan of all things trains so he had a marvelous time boarding the Pullman Car. Both JJ and Khai got a real kick out of the Train Robber incident, willingly handing over the loot Papa John provided! 

We overnighted at the Maswik Lodge. Grammy Terry had us scheduled to take the Hermits’ West Bus Tour. On the way to the bus, Khai had a few issues and opted out of the tour. Grammy Terry and he went back to the Lodge and engaged in a raucous pillow fight!

Meanwhile, Tosh, Greg and Jaylynn joined me on the bus tour that headed out on the West Rim Road to Hermits Rest. The twilight tour was accentuated by a summer thunderstorm complete with jagged streaks of lightning, loud claps of thunder and colorful rim-to-rim rainbows.

Jaylynn had wanted to spend a week with Grammy Terry and Papa John after the Grand Canyon experience; however, she had some other commitments and had to wait until August to join us for a week of fun and adventure. First up, a visit to Kartchner Caverns for a cave tour. The cave captivated a bit of her interest; however, I think she got the biggest kick out of taking “Bat Pictures” in the Visitor Center! 

Off to Saguaro and Joshua Tree NPs to study the park’s unusual cacti and yucca’s and to collect Park Stamps in our illicit Park Guide Book! JJ’s legal Park Passport!

After dropping JJ off in Temecula, Terry and I met up with our good friends the Gill’s and Kirkwood’s in Ramona for several days of getting the most out of life playing golf, tasting wines, attending plays and the Laguna Art Festival. 

In 2009, Terry and I established a Life Plan Goal of visiting all 59 of America’s major National Parks.   As previously mentioned, we visited #58 (Virgin Islands NP) in April.  This past September, we made it to the National Park of American Samoa – the 59th and final destination on our Trek to the Parks!

The park was nice; however, the highlight of the trip was meeting the local Samoans. Delightful people! When the Park Rangers learned that our visit concluded our mission of tramping about all 59, they make up a special Certificate of Completion for us! 

On the return trip from American Samoa, we stayed at the Big Island Hawaii's Kilauea Lodge for the 2nd time. This is the lodge where we decided to visit all 59 parks. 

I briefly came out of retirement for a month to help write a Low Voltage Lighting Training Manual for Hunter Industries – the company I last worked for after they bought FX Luminaire.  It was exhilarating to reacquaint myself with the brave new world of LED lighting…and get paid to do so!

Online sales of Trekking and PUPS began to heat up in November; however, we took  time out to head to Las Vegas to see Cher perform at the Monte Carlo with our good friends Karen and Greg Gill. At 71 years old, Cher is still a fabulous entertainer.

Prior to our Vegas junket, Terry and I snuck up to Sedona to celebrate the 36th Anniversary of our First Date - November 5th!

Shipping games like crazy! We’ve got less than 200 Trekking games left in stock which means we've sold over 6400 copies since we began this project. Charlie is working on a new version of the game he hopes to Kickstart some time soon!

One of the motivations behind the creation of Trekking was to create a product that the many National Park non-profit organizations could offer in their gift shops to help them raise money for the further preservation and protection of our country’s natural treasures.

Currently, 21 different park associations are offering our little game. During 2017 our park affiliates sold 983 games; which means collectively they raised over $39,000 for their coffers by selling our game in their gift shops!

The current Administration plans on cutting the National Park Service’s annual budget. With that being said,  the Binkele family will continue to do what we can to support the parks. These special places have been set aside for all of us to enjoy. If you are interested in preserving and protecting these precious resources, we encourage you to reach out to your local congress people and let them know how important the preservation of these parks are to the benefit of all Americans. Help keep these treasures for the good of all rather than for benefit of the gas and mining industry or the rich.

If you’re rich and do not care about these places, please ignore this rant. Otherwise, we encourage you to do what you can to help protect the parks. Go visit these outdoor cathedrals. The more people who show interest in the parks, the harder it will be for the power brokers to pilfer them from the general population.

I am convinced a visit to the parks will help you get more out of life!  Go take a hike and we wish you well in the New Year.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

NP#59 - American Samoa

September 19, 2017
Park visit number 59 - the National Park of American Samoa!

Pola Island Coastline

 Pola Island from Sauma Ridge Trailhead

 Rocky coastline leading to Pola Island

 Sand beaches are in the minority on the island of Tutuila (pronounced too too EE lah)

Celebrating our 59th park visit with Pai Aukuso and a sign left behind from another couple who made the National Park of American Samoa their final destination.

Park Ranger Pua Tuaua presented Terry and me with a Certificate of Completion!

 Andry Senefili is the park's Interpretive Ranger...and very good at it!

 Hiking the Lower Sauma Ridge Trail.

 A trek to the summit...a 7-mile, moderately rated hike to the top of Mt. Alava. 

Plants in the paleotropical rainforest.

Hermit Crabs joining us on our hike to the summit!

Local color.

Stairway to heaven...actually to the summit of Mt. Alava. 

Getting closer!

View from the summit.

Summit shelter keeps us dry as it begins to rain. 

Terry munching her Almond Joy

Rope trail down from the summit!

Tutuila coastline.

Eastern side of the island of Tutuila

Sadie's by the Sea - our vacation home while visiting the NP of AmSam

Mt. Pioa - "Rainmaker Mountain" view from our room

 Misty morning on Rainmaker Mountain

 Without a doubt, the food at the Goat was as good as it gets on this island! 

Local students honored their park with the following incredible murals placed just outside the park Visitor Center

Siapo Tapestry

 Siapo Tapestry

The American Samoa version of Starbucks!

We made it to all 59!

Our 59th Park Experience – the National Park of American Samoa

In September of 2011, my wife Terry and I created a Life Plan that included a goal of visiting all 59* of America’s foremost National Parks. We’re talking about the likes of Yellowstone, Yosemite, Great Smoky Mountains and the Grand Canyon in addition to lesser-known sites such as Kobuk Valley, Guadalupe Mountain and Congaree.

On September 19, 2017, we achieved the objective with our 59th park visit to the National Park of American Samoa. While drafting the text for this blog post, it occurred to me that by far, the finest aspect of our visit to this particular national park was meeting the people of the park! Pai Aukso, Pua Tuaua and Andry Senefili were beyond a shadow of doubt, the friendliest, and most welcoming of any park staff we’ve encountered during our trek to all 59 of America’s finest outdoor cathedrals!

Pai, Pua and Andry treated us most graciously, listening attentively to our stories about our travels to America’s amazing natural resources and then thoroughly educated Terry and me about their park – its history, its key features and the culture of the Samoan people who came to these islands 3000 years ago.

* In 2009, there were only 58 major National Parks. Number 59 – Pinnacles NP – came on line in 2013, hence we updated the goal to include Pinnacles!

Here’s what we learned about American Samoa, its people and its fascinating park:

The word Samoa translated means sacred earth.

American Samoa consists of 5 major volcanic islands amounting to a total of 76 square miles above sea level. The largest of these islands is Tutuila (pronounced too too EE lah). Tutuila is a narrow, mountainous island 20-miles in length with an east to west orientation. Tutuila’s biggest village is Pago Pago (pronounced Pahng-oh Pahng- oh).  Sixty miles to the east of Tutuila are the other two other islands – Ofu and Ta’ū -  that include areas of the National Park.

The National Park of American Samoa is considered one of the country’s most remote. (From our perspective, Kobuk Valley and Gates of the Arctic in Alaska were the most remote of all the 59 parks we visited.) The islands are situated 2600 miles southwest of Hawaii and only 100 miles east of the International Date Line. The islands are one hour behind Hawaiian time and 1 day behind Samoa! (Formerly called Western Samoa)

Ninety percent (90%) of these islands are covered with a paleotropical rainforest.  A paleotropical rainforest is a mixed-species forest where no single plant or tree dominates. This forest is closely related to those found in Asia and Africa as opposed to neotropical rainforests of Central and South America.

Weather. The average daytime temperature is a humid 82°-84°. Water temperatures range from 82°-86°. Not quite as warm as our swimming pool in the summer…but close! We chose to visit American Samoa in September because that is the month where the rainfall is supposed to be its sparsest.  The guidebooks told us of the 120 inches of annual rainfall, an average of only 5 inches of rain is supposed to fall in September. I believe the island got 3 of those 5 inches the first full day we were on the island! Rain showers can last a few minutes…or all day!

Getting around. On the island of Tutulia, you have several transportation options. We opted to rent a car, which, although expensive, gave us the freedom to come and go as we pleased. The locals typically use the aiga or family busses, which operate unscheduled every day but Sunday. Fares on the aiga run from 50 cents to $2 depending on where you’re going. There are bus stops along the roadways; however, you can simply wave at these independently owned and operated busses to get them to stop.

If you venture over to Ofu or Ta’ū, you will not find rental cars, busses or taxis.

Wildlife. We had read about the “flying foxes” of American Samoa and were eager to get a glimpse of these mammals once on the island. The flying foxes are really not foxes at all. The two species of fruit bats got this moniker because of their foxlike facial features.

The fruit bats are the only native mammals found on American Samoa. We did get to see a few of them as we drove about the island.

Although they probably shouldn’t be classified as “wildlife” there are literally hundreds of dogs roaming the streets, sleeping under trees and guarding households throughout the island. Many of them appear to be wild! The three canines we encountered at the Pola Island Trailhead were downright ornery!

Besides the many different species of seabirds we saw, the only other critters of interest were the Hermit Crabs we encountered during our hike to the top of Mt. Alava. Hermit Crabs at 1600 feet above sea level? What the heck are these crustaceans doing up here? Nobody knew the answer to my question!

The Park.  The National Park of American Samoa (AmSam) is the only park located south of the equator. The park was established in 1988; however, because of Samoan tradition, the land and sea areas within the park boundaries could not be purchased by the National Park Service (NPS). This matter was resolved in 1993 when the NPS entered into a 50-year lease with the Samoan village councils.

The park consists of 9,000 land based acres and 4500 acres of coral reefs and ocean. It was established to protect and preserve the coral reefs, paleotropical rainforests, the “flying foxes” and the Samoan culture. The most popular activities within the park are hiking its trails and snorkeling the reefs.

The facilities at this park are not like those found at most parks on the mainland. We found no campgrounds, picnic areas or restrooms. The trails we hiked were adequately maintained and the beaches clean of debris. For the Eco tourist, this is as natural as it gets!

Tsunami! One evening at dinner, we couldn’t help but catch glimpses of the news about the calamity Hurricanes Irma and Maria caused Florida, Puerto Rico, and other islands in the Caribbean. With heightened awareness about the devastation these storms can inflict, we couldn’t help but notice all the Tsunami warming signs posted all along the coastal region. 

We asked Pai Aukuso about the possibility of a tsunami occurring during our stay. She told us the last major tsunami occurred on September 29, 2009 following an 8.1 magnitude earthquake epicentered about 150 miles northwest of Tutuila. 

The tsunami destroyed the park’s Visitor Center and caused substantial damage to the island with waves reaching up to 20 feet washing ashore. The new Visitor Center is located on the 2nd story and has a blue line depicting where the water level reached during the flooding. Fortunately, during our stay the largest wave we experienced was about 6 inches tall. 

Our 59th Park Experience.

Getting there. Visiting American Samoa is an adventure all by itself! There are only two scheduled flights from Honolulu each week. One on Monday. Another on Friday. That’s it!

Being a former Flight Attendant, Terry likes to take advantage of her free flight benefits. Hence, she typically schedules us to fly “standby” to our destinations. When planning this trip, she booked us on American Airlines from Phoenix (PHX) to Honolulu (HNL) – standby – assuring me there were plenty of seats available!

Note: I hate flying standby! Nevertheless, we departed PHX on September 16th for HNL and had no problem getting on board. In fact, there was a single First Class seat still available when we checked in and my lovely bride allowed me to ride up front! Ok, maybe this standby business is all right after all!

We spent a couple of days noodling around Oahu before departing for Pago Pago (PPG) on the Monday night flight. Originally, Terry had planned to book the entire trip standby!  We’re talking PHX to HNL to PPG to HNL and back to PHX. Terry decided that since there are only 2 flights per week from HNL to PPG, we should consider buying a ticket. Thank goodness she did! The flights to and from PPG were packed! The outbound flight to PPG was relatively uneventful except for the pair of knees constantly poking the back of my seat!

Getting around. We arrived on the island of Tutuila around 10:30 pm. The airport is rather modest. We deplaned via stairs and funneled into the small customs and immigration area before retrieving our bags.

Once our bags were secured, we proceeded to the Avis Rental booth. The shuttle from the airport to where Avis stores its rental cars consists of a young man and his Toyota pickup truck. Five of us await the shuttle. The driver can only handle four of us. A kind gentleman offered to stay behind and  said with a smile that he’d “catch the next shuttle!”

After pointing out all the dents and dings on our Toyota RAV, we ask the attendant how to get to Sadie’s by the Sea – the hotel we’re staying at near the park. He points in a direction that just doesn't seem right to me. But who am I to question a local’s directions?

Leaving the airport in the RAV, we quickly discovered Samoans are in no hurry to get anywhere. The top speed limit on most roads is 25 mph. In many parts of the island, the speed limit is 15 or 20 mph…and unlike drivers in the USA who take speed limit signs to mean, “Speed Suggestion,” the islanders obey the signs.

There is only one main road on Tutuila. It is referred to as the 001 and runs east-west across most of the island. We set out into the night and soon discovered that road signs are nearly extinct on this island. We thought we had found the 001, but couldn’t really determine if we were on the right track due to lack of signage! My Spidy senses were twitching. I had no idea if we were going the right way when we passed a sign indicating the turnoff for the Ili’Ili golf Course. (Yes, there is a golf course on the island. More about that later.)

We took a look at the map our Avis Counter person gave us and discovered that my Spidy senses were right! We were heading west. The Avis dude had sent us packing in the exact opposite direction of where Sadie’s is located! By the way, you might be wondering why we didn’t just pull out our iPhones and dial up Google Maps. Good luck with that if you visit this tropical island.

We eventually found the 001 and turned eastbound. Top speed on this “major thoroughfare” is 25 mph. Now don’t get me wrong. I didn’t mind crawling along at a snails pace this evening because not only are street signs and streetlights non-existent, business signs are few and far between as well!  Would we be able to find Sadie’s at night…in the dark…on an unfamiliar island…102 miles from the International Date Line? We did…at 11:45 pm!

Lodging. Terry booked us to spend four nights at Sadie’s by the Sea. As it turns out Sadie’s is one of the island’s “premier” hotels.  We’re assigned room 217. Second story with a view of a small sand beach and the Pago Pago Harbor.

Dead tired from our flight and the fiasco of finding Sadie’s in the dark, we hit the sheets and immediately fall off to sleep. I’m not sure if its jet lag or what, but I’m up at 5 am! Terry’s sound asleep. I read my book. She softly snores.

Weather. Terry gets out of the sack around 7:30 this Tuesday morning. The skies are dark and threatening. Since we didn’t have any dinner on the flight from HNL, we’re a bit hungry and in search of food. The Goat Mountain Café is adjacent to Sadie’s. As we make our way to the Goat, the skies open up. I remember the brochure saying it could rain for just a few minutes…or all day long. The clouds are looking like it could be an all-dayer!

Fortunately, the rain only lasted a half-day on Tuesday. During the rest of the trip, we encountered only sporadic rainfall.

Dining. Food is important. Good food is desired. I will admit that my expectations regarding the quality of food on this remote island were low.  The Goat Mountain Café immediately exceeded my expectations! Much to my delight, my Veggie Omelet was excellent and Terry’s Eggs Benedict superb!

At breakfast, our situation begins to sink in. Here we are on a remote tropical island visiting the final park of our quest to visit them all. The pace of life is much slower and more primitive than in the USA. And that’s quite ok with us. What’s the hurry?

We would dine at the Goat each day and found every meal to be delightful! Our server Ruta, was friendly and quite charming! We asked for her each evening. She helped us learn the language. As mentioned earlier, Pago Pago is actually pronounced Pahng-oh Pahng- oh. The “g” is mostly silent.  And the locals pronounce Sāmoa as SAY moah. Strong emphasis on the SAY part of the word.

The Park. With the weather looking rather inclement, we hop in the RAV and set off to explore the island. Our first stop is to find the National Park of American Samoa sign and take pictures with our “59“ flag in hand! At the summit of road 006, we find the sign, snap our pix and continue on to the Lower Sauma Ridge Trail.

The view across Vatia Bay to Pola Island, nesting grounds for sea birds, is hampered by the cloud cover. Since all of our park visits included hiking, we set out to trek the short Ridge Trail. Very easy 0.4 mile round trip hike although a bit slippery due to the rain.

From the Lower Sauma Ridge, the RAV winds its way down the steeps of road 006 to Vatia Village where we are greeted by Chief Dave who is wheel barrowing his trash down the center of the road. Dave repeatedly welcomes us to his village. The glazed and very bloodshot look of his eyes along with his slurred speech tell us Dave is pretty much stoned out of his gourd. Nice enough guy, however after the 10th “welcome to our village,” Terry and I chose to bid Dave adieu and venture on to the Vai’ava Straight Natural Landmark.

At the entrance to the Landmark, a trio of loudly barking, very angry looking dogs greets us. In fact, there are dogs everywhere you go on this island. Dogs lying under trees. Dogs roaming the streets. Dogs guarding landmarks. Not excited about dealing with dogs at this particular moment, we chose to turn around and get some lunch.

Back to the Goat for a late lunch. Terry’s Rueben and my NZ Burger were delightful. Two meals at the Goat…all four thumbs up! As it would turn out, there was no need for us to eat anywhere else. After lunch, we decided to retrace our steps from last night…only this time in daylight. We’d head back toward the airport and see what we missed.

We quickly learned that heading eastbound at 4 pm on the 001 is a very bad idea. If you think the max speed of 25 mph is annoying, traffic on the 001 at this time of day resembles the 405 in Los Angeles at rush hour.   The map Avis gave us shows a multitude of cities or towns or villages along 001. Yet we soon discovered that if there are signs indicating the location of these villages, they are very well camouflaged!

We drove west as far as Auma, then turned back to check out the Ili’Ili Golf course just off route 014. Upon inspection, we chose to pass on playing the Ili. The price was more than fair; however, the rental clubs were a mixed bag of ragtag sticks and the practice putting green appeared to be rolling about a 0.5 on the Stimpmeter. A tad shaggy to say the least. From there, we headed back to Sadie’s and the Goat for dinner.

9/20/17 – Slept in until 6:30 this morning. Cloudy skies again today. A fellow tourist told us that the weather forecast for the remainder of the week called for rain! At 6:30, it appeared this forecast might prove to be accurate!

Once Terry awoke and freshened up, we wandered back to the Goat for more food. We discovered early on that the serving portions were very generous. Hence, we began splitting meals…and still had plenty to eat. By the way, if you ever do find yourself in Pago Pago, go to the Goat and order their Chicken Quesadilla. Best we’ve ever had!

After breakfast, the sun poked out from behind the grey skies and provided us with some photo opportunities. We hustled back up to Sauma Ridge and then back down to Vatia Village. This time, Dave was not there to greet us and the three ornery dogs had gone off to terrorize others.

Now that we’ve actually set foot in Park #59, we needed to pay a visit to the park’s Visitor Center to purchase our Park Pin, a commemorative Hat and Teeshirt and learn more about this area. As I mentioned earlier, the highlight of Trek 59 was the people we met at the Visitor Center.

The first person we encountered was Pai, who was stationed at the reception desk. She welcomed us to the park and asked us about our travels. When we mentioned that AmSam was our 59th and final park on our quest to trek them all, she went and got Pua Tuaua, the Park Ranger on Duty. Pua and Pai gave us perhaps the warmest welcome we’ve ever experienced at any of the 59 parks we’ve been to. When they learned that AmSam was the final chapter in our quest, they created a personalized “Certificate of Completion” and ceremoniously presented it to us!

Following the presentation ceremony, we hopped back in the RAV and proceeded to venture eastbound on Highway 001. We drove along at the blistering pace of 27 mph passing through Alega, Faga’itua, and Tula. We almost stopped at Tisa’s Barefoot Bar; however, there didn’t appear to be anybody working there when we passed by.

On our return trip from the east coast, we stopped back by the Visitor Center and had the pleasure of meeting Andrey Senefili – the park’s Interpretive Ranger. Andry is a delightful young man who enlightened us about the cultural ways of the Samoan people.  He explained the making of the Siapo – one of the oldest cultural art forms of the Samoan people.

The process involved in creating the Siapo tapa is to first cultivate the bark from a Paper Mulberry tree, stripping the bark from the tree, repeatedly beating and scraping it until its thin enough and wide enough to apply the patterns thus creating an artistic tapestry like those shown in pictures #37 and 38. When Andrey learned we had created a game about the National Parks and had written a Park Guide Book, he was eager to have his picture taken with us so he could prove to his friends that he met the “authors” of the game and Guide Book!

We learn the park gets about 42,000 visitors each year. That’s about the same number of people who visit Great Smokey Mountain National Park in a day and a half. Many of these visitors arrive by cruise ship. Lucky for us, the cruisers typically don’t arrive until October.

After leaving Andry and the Visitor Center, we drove up to Fagasa Pass to check out the trailhead for tomorrow’s scheduled hike – weather permitting. Our destination will be the summit of Mt. Alava. The 7-mile round trip Mt. Alava Trail is rated “challenging” which means it is most likely easy to moderate for anybody who is in decent shape.

9/21/17 -  After a hearty breakfast, we drove back up to Fasama Pass to begin our hike to the top of Mt. Alava. The trail is actually a rugged road that once led up to a banana and coconut plantation. It would take a strong effort by a burly 4-wheel drive vehicle to navigate this deeply rutted roadway up to the summit; however, those of us with 2-foot drive and a sturdy set of hiking boots did just fine.  Unlike many of the more crowded trails in other parks, here we were the only ones hiking Mt. Alava.

The ridgeline trail leads you through a paleotropical rainforest – the only one of its kind in the National Park system. Most of the trail is sheltered from direct sun by the rainforests canopy. About halfway to the summit, we encountered a troupe of Hermit Crabs scurrying about the trail. I was under the impression Hermit Crabs hung out by the seashore…and not at 1000 feet above sea level. Yet, here they are.

This hike is divided into three sections. The first section includes a steady incline with an occasional segment of the steeps. The middle section is the reverse of the first. You will find yourself losing all the altitude you’ve gained during the first section. The final third is uphill culminating with a climb up a 69-step metal stairway leading to the towers and shelter.

If you choose to trek to the top of Mt Alava, be sure to take plenty of water, some snacks and expect to get wet!  The elevation at the summit of Mt Alava is 1610’ – the same height as Rainmaker Mountain. And like Rainmaker, this peak creates its own weather. It did not rain a drop until we reached the summit shelter. Just as we sat down to eat our snacks, the sky opened up and it rained steadily for 15 minutes.

On our way back down the mountain, we stopped at Starstruck for a cappuccino! As you may gather by its name, Starstruck is the Starbucks of American Samoa. If you’re looking for a good cup of coffee in Pago Pago, Starstruck is the place to go!

At dinner that evening, we reviewed our visit to American Samoa. Hands down, the most gratifying experience we encountered were the three people we met at the Visitor Center. Pua, Pai and Andry made our lengthy journey well worthwhile.  Terry and I are thankful that we were able to end our quest of visiting all 59 parks with meeting these three delightful people.

Our National Parks are truly “samoa” - sacred earth. They represent treasured landscapes that people from all over the world come to experience and enjoy. It is our hope that you too will become inspired to visit these extraordinary recreational resources. And we hope and encourage  our nation’s leaders to have the presence of mind to preserve and protect the integrity of the parks now and for all future generations.

Happy trails everyone.

For those of you who’ve asked us “What’s next?” we’re happy to report that our next Life Plan Goal is to visit all the parks in the Four Corners States. We’re talking the monuments, historical sites, recreational areas as well as revisiting the National Parks!