Trust a canny Scotsman, one wracked by consumption at that, to be buried at the top of a 472 metre high hill. And not just any hill, because Mount Vaea is a bit more than a pile of coconuts when you have to climb it in a tropical heat.
Stupidly, I’d waited until early afternoon before setting off on the rocky muddy track that led up. Forty minutes later, perspiring bucketfuls and my heart beating like a jackhammer, I emerged from the bush gradient onto a sunlit crown of pasture. A sweeping view of the ocean and the dotlike houses of Vailima below. More importantly, like a block of ice-cream, the tomb of the great writer to whom I’d come to pay homage.
He was known as Tusitala or Story-Teller, and so loved by the Samoan people that they cut the path up here and called it the ‘Road of Loving Hearts’.
There was nobody else at the summit. I could catch my breath, then address the tomb directly without feeling self-conscious.
‘How’s it going Robbie?’ I said, or something like it. A black skink ran across my feet. A bird sang in the trees.
‘You there, Louis,’ I said, thinking maybe he went by his middle name now.
Next I tried ‘RLS’, pronouncing each syllable distinctly in the still air.
Still nothing. Not a peep from his wife Fanny either, whose ashes were buried here too.
I was sure they could hear me. They couldn’t have popped out to do the shopping, or attend a book launch. It was over a century since they’d both died.
Someone appeared over the brow of the tomb. No avatar Jim Hawkins come to bring his creator back to life. But a lone jogger who clutched his water bottle, then dumped it into the bin located up here especially for that purpose. When RLS chose this spot for his final resting place, I guess he never imagined he’d share it with a recycling post for plastic bottles. Treasure Island probably has plastic bags and MacDonald’s straws washing up on its shores too.
Earlier Kate and I had visited Robert Louis’s wonderful house further down at Vailima. A beautiful place, well preserved, and still furnished with many of RLS’s belongings: his safe – with a ghost inside to protect the valuables; a reproduction fireplace (but no chimney) to remind him of colder nights in Edinburgh; a sick bed for when his TB was particularly bad; and of course his desk, at which he wrote the last thirteen of his books.
I tried his chair for size but it was way too big for me. No doubt, I can borrow some of his novels from Apia’s Nelson library, another literary building we visited even earlier still.