For two Samoas, a singular beauty
Stopping for water along a mountain trail on the South Pacific island of Tutuila, I listened to a cheerful birdcall pierce the leafy tangle of rain forest surrounding me.
"That's the tiotala," said Pua Tuaua, a ranger working for the American Samoa National Park and my guide for the morning. "When a group of them come together and give a certain cry, rain is coming."
Tuaua said this small, blue and white kingfisher was just one of many native birds vital to the Samoan people, who first traveled by sea to the volcanic archipelago 3,000 years ago.
"Even today, we still listen for the tiotala to tell us what kind of day it's going to be," he said.
Although still in its infancy, American Samoa tourism is growing, welcoming more than 15,000 travelers from the 50 U.S. states in 2012, 4.5% more than in 2011, according to the territory's tourism bureau. One of the main attractions is certainly the national park land that travelers can explore across three islands.
My hike with Tuaua over the saddle of one of Tutuila's verdant mountain ranges was relatively short and passed first through pristine rain forest before reaching a remote beach on the park's northern boundary, occupied only by seabirds; warm, blue water; and jaw-dropping vistas of the rocky coastline.
"It's that untouched quality, I think, that makes this place so appealing from a tourism standpoint," Russ Cox, a boat captain working for Pago Pago Marine Charters, told me the next day. "Hiking, fishing, diving, snorkeling, there's just so much to do and see."