Most people know that the USA is made up of fifty states. But few realise that America has lots of other little territories, such as Guam, Puerto Rico and The US Virgin Islands, scattered across the globe. That’s what led author Doug Mack to visit every one of these territories for his book, The Not-Quite States of America.
Doug says 4 million people live in these ‘not-quite’ states, and they’re filled with American flags, US post offices, and Little League baseball teams. Yet most Americans know nothing about them. I was particularly intrigued to hear about American Samoa, which Doug told me is culturally the most different from mainland USA. “People there tend to live in these traditional villages,” said Doug. “The social structure is largely unchanged for hundreds or thousands of years. You’ll still see a lot of the traditional architecture – huts called falls. And while the building materials are more modern than they were – you don’t see as many thatched roofs – you still feel that you’re very, very far from the States.”
But Doug says that even though Samoa is indeed far from America, there are still reminders of home everywhere. “You’ll be walking down the road and you’ll see these teenage boys wearing American football jerseys looking at their cellphones. So you’re not completely removed from the familiar things,” he laughed.Doug told me the islands making up American Samoa have the most stunning scenery he’s ever seen, but few of his fellow countrymen have ever visited. I asked him why that should be? “It’s a matter of distance. To get to American Samoa from the mainland, you have to fly to Hawaii, then get another five-hour flight south. It’s about half way to Australia. And once you go there, you’re there for a week because there’s only one flight!”
Doug feels that the lack of development means Samoa has remained a special place. “Because they don’t have a lot of people who go there, they don’t have all the attractions or the resorts, which means that people continue not to go there. But if anyone is really looking to escape to a quiet, tropical island, then American Samoa is a wonderful place for that,” he said.
There’s plenty to keep you active if you don’t want to just lie on the beach. Doug recommended hiking. “There are different trails with a variety of lengths and difficulties. I’m not the fittest person, but I did a hike that traces the mountains along the ridgelines above the harbour in the capital of Pago Pago. You can see all these little coves spread out before you as well as the jungle. There are a million shades of green with little flashes of flowers and tidy villages. It really is spectacular.”
The food in Samoa will be familiar to anyone who has visited America, said Doug, because most of it is imported, but there are some unique local specialities. “Some people still eat giant clam as a delicacy. I didn’t have that but I’ve heard it’s very enjoyable.” And for the true tropical island experience, Doug told me you have to rent a room on the beach. “You can stay in a little hut on the beach for $50 a night. You sit on their deck, drinking cocktails and eating wonderful food, watching waves coming into the cove. Then you go to sleep in your own little hut. It’s just a magical experience.”
To discover more about American Samoa, and the other scattered US territories, take a look at Doug’s book, The Not-Quite States of America, which is available on Amazon.