Chronic ill health led Robert Louis Stevenson, famous author of Kidnapped and Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, to embark on a series of voyages around the South Seas. He finally settled along with his family in Western Samoa, where he became a well-loved figure, striding around like a “demented stork” according to one observer. He died in 1894 at the age of 44. It is still possible to visit his house, Vailima, and if you are fit and willing, to labour up the rough hewn path built by devoted Samoans to carry him to rest at the top of an extremely steep hill. When I was there I was alone in that uniquely peaceful spot, with a wonderful view down over the coastal town of Apia.
Robert Louis Stevenson, famous author of Kidnapped and Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, was living in America in 1888 when his chronic ill health led he and his entire family to voyage around the south seas. This book describes how he came to settle in Western Samoa, build a home there, Vailima, and finally die there in 1894 at the age of 44. Years after reading it I struggled alone up the rough hewn path which devoted Samoans had built to the top of a steep hill to lay him to rest. I was alone with a wonderful view down over the coastal town of Apia, reading the inscription on his grave:
Under the wide and starry sky
Dig the grave and let me lie:
Glad did I live and gladly die,
And I laid me down with a will.
This be the verse you 'grave for me:
Here he lies where he long'd to be;
Home is the sailor, home from the sea,
And the hunter home from the hill.
Vailima Letters of Robert Louis Stevenson ed. Methuen
Samoa maybe little known as a tourist destination, at least in comparison to its neighbour Fiji, but it has stunning scenery and prices are some of the lowest in the South Pacific making it perfect for anyone on their gap year. Taufua Beach Fales is as close to paradise as you can get on a gap year budget. Sleeping in traditional open Samoan fales (wooden platforms on the beach) you wake up to the turqoise sea lapping metres from your fale. Food at Taufua is excellent with meals varying daily and including some excellent fresh fish. Don't forget to sample the excellent cocktails during happy hour! The vibe here is really relaxed and everyone is friendly. It is full of backpackers from all parts of the world and everyone is here to relax, do some snorkelling and have a good time.
Some people on their gap year come to the Lalomanu area to help reconstruct it after the devastating tsunami in 2009. The whole of Taufua Beach Fales was wiped out. Construction work continues and people wishing to give something back to the community are most welcome there.
Take the public bus (around £1) for the three hour trip from the airport to the beach fales. These buses are old Bedford trucks with no windows and wooden benches. It is definitely an experience and really get's you settled in to 'Samoan Time'.
The site of Robert Louis Stevenson’s grave on Mount Vaea, Samoa, is a uniquely still and tranquil place, well worth a detour or even a pilgrimage. Stevenson, author of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, Kidnapped and Treasure Island, lived for five years at nearby Vailima - now a museum - until he died at the premature age of 44. Sorrowing Samoans carried his body up the steep, rocky path to his final resting place, where his tomb is engraved with the epitaph: “Under the wide and starry sky, Dig the grave and let me lie.” Where better to meet your muse than this remote and lonely spot with its sweeping views down to the coast and extraordinary atmosphere of peace.
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