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Cruise Diary: Second Sunday at Pago Pago, American Samoa

HAL blogger Gary Frink currently is sailing on board Oosterdam and will be sending in posts from his voyage.

I had one duty to perform on my second April 21, and first day ever in Pago Pago, American Samoa.

Jeanne and I live within a mortar drop of the Shenandoah National Park Headquarters, located east of the Town of Luray, Virginia. Further, Jeanne is the Commonwealth of Virginia Commissioner on the Cedar Creek And Belle Grove National Historic Park Federal Advisory Commission. The two national parks were recently combined and the National Park Service sent in a new superintendent … Hang with me! I promise you this is going to make sense.

Jim Northup is the new Super of the Shenandoah and Cedar Creek/Belle Grove parks. I accompanied Jeanne to a recent meeting of the aforementioned federal advisory commission. In the course of general bonhomie and chit-chat after the meeting, I described our South Pacific voyage to Northup. “Do you know that American Somoa has a national park?” asked Northup. I didn’t reply with: “How the hell would I know that?” I probably babbled something more innocuous and a little smoother, like: “Why no, Jim, but how interesting — way out there.” “Well, if you should get to the Park, would you give my greetings to the superintendent?” I assured him I would do just that.

When Jeanne and I disembarked the Oosterdam and exited the dock on the morning of our Second Samoan Sunday, we first passed a gargantuan, white-shirted (with neatly-knotted tie and wearing a lava lava) Samoan sitting imperiously on a seemingly-too-small plastic chair. He was still there, in the same chair, when we returned. “What do you do here?” I asked. “I’m chief of port security,” he replied. No further questions.

Ten feet behind the chief of security was a National Park Service welcome table, containing brochures pumping the park and a general map of Tutuila Island, on which Pago Pago sits. Behind the table was an alert, uniformed (complete with a lava lava instead of trousers) young man. “Young man,” I began. “I have come to Pago Pago on a mission.” “Yes, sir. How may I help?” He carefully wrote down the information on Jim Northup, after learning of my mission, and promised to deliver it Monday to the superintendent of the National Park of American Samoa.

Nameless young park ranger/hotshot-forest-fire-fighter.

Nameless young park ranger/hotshot-forest-fire-fighter.

“Are you a full-time Park employee?” I asked the young man. “No, I have a couple of part time jobs. One is here, with the park.” “What is the other one?” I inquired. “During fire season (summer) I’m a ‘hotshot’ national forest firefighter.” “You mean you jump out of planes?” “No, the ‘jumpers’ go in first, then we — it is usually a unit of 20 or so — go up the mountain toward them. We build fire-lines to try to contain the fire.” “Whoa,” say I, never ever-ever having dreamed of acquiring such an occupation. “How do you split your time between Samoa and California. “Well, I leave for California tomorrow. It takes a week for drug and other testing, then I’ll be ready for work. I usually get back to Samoa in October.” Another young man, who had been listening to our conversation, chimed in: “Yeah, Hawaiian Airlines. From here to Hawaii, then on to California.” Before we left his park welcome table, I asked the park ranger/fire-fighter hotshot to write his name for me on a park brochure; he did so.

At this point in today’s essay, I must bust the narrative: A couple of days ago, setting up to write this piece, I sorted through printed pamphlets and brochures that escaped Pago Pago with us, when we set sail for Hawaii (of course, no sails were set; the men in the engine room simply revved-up the engines.) I had two copies of the National Park Service brochure. “I don’t need two of these,” I said to myself. I pitched one in the trash can, ever-ready next to my right foot, as I write on a small desk in our tiny cabin. I didn’t remember the importance of one of the brochures; I didn’t review them. As a result, I trashed the brochure on which the young man had written his name.

Young park ranger/hotshot-forest-fire-fighter: I told you that I would write about you for my website; however my negligence has assured that you will remain therein nameless. I apologize; however, I did take a good photo of you, which will appear in That ends the narrative break.

As our two Fiji port calls experiences were in dramatic contrast to each other: urban Suva and virtual 18th Century Dravuni Island, to a limited sense were our stops in Apia on Pago Pago. In Apia, we for force-marched ourselves, dehydrated, through a closed town.


  • Brenda

    It is a shame that you did not get the National Park stamp in a National Park passport. My bucket list is to visit there for my stamp. Thank you for you infor.

  • Michael

    Talofa (Hello)! The nameless park ranger is Charles Ve’ave’a.

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