Finally — a Cruise Return to Apia, Samoa

Day 16, South Pacific, Australia and New Zealand Cruise

Tuesday, Oct. 18, 2022; Apia, Samoa.

I feel like I have flirted with Samoa but never visited. Today I finally made it.

We docked here in 2018 on the Grand Asia cruise, but shortly after arriving the ocean swells increased to the point that they snapped a couple of our dock lines. I wrote about it in some detail at the time.

My return to Apia today on the Westerdam marks the first cruise ship to dock here since the pandemic shutdown. It made big news locally – not my return, but the return of cruising. Island officials showed up in force to meet us. Captain Wouter van Hoogdalem and his officers represented us well as local reporters interviewed him.

Local musicians and dancers put on an entertaining show as we docked. We might have felt special, but a similar contingent entertained us in 2018, according to my previous photographs of the arrival.

My primary interest in returning to Samoa was to visit Robert Louis Stevenson’s island home. He was a Scottish novelist known for writing Treasure Island, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and Kidnapped. He suffered breathing issues – most likely tuberculosis — his entire life. He and his wife Fanny became entranced with Samoa while escaping the cold Scottish weather. Their two-story home, built in the late 1880s, now houses a museum dedicated to his time here.

Samoa was not on the itinerary for our 2020 world cruise, but nonetheless a recent book about the Stevensons and Samoa was a selection for the cruise book club. I enjoyed reading Under the Wide and Starry Sky by Nancy Horan. Despite being a fictionalized account, it gave me a good insight into exploring the South Pacific of the late 19th Century.

Today’s visit lived up to my imagination from the book. The beautiful home known as Villa Vailima is built halfway up the mountain. Stevenson is buried above the home at the top of Mount Vaea. You can hike to his grave, but the trail is long and steep. On his tomb is inscribed his famous requiem:

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 longed to be;

Home is the sailor, home from sea,

And the hunter home from the hill.

The Samoans loved him and wrote a song of grief from his requiem, which one of our tour guides sang for us with tears in her eyes. While some of the house’s furnishings are reproductions, it carries a sense of what it was like to live in a tropical paradise almost 150 years ago. The second-story bedroom windows open to the constant breezes. In addition to Stevenson’s wife, his mother, step-daughter and step-nephew lived in the house. Now it is full of various editions of his books, several of which were written while he lived here.

I wanted to view the museum at my own pace, so instead of taking a cruise line excursion I hired a taxi for the four-mile journey up the mountain from the pier. I had briefly considered walking back – all downhill — but between the humid heat and the lack of a walking path along the highway, I was glad my driver waited to bring me back.

It was only back at the pier that he said he had quoted me the fare in “dollah,” not the Samoan currency of “tala.” I thought I had confirmed it was tala before taking the taxi, but he insisted he said “dollah” to rhyme with “tala.” So a trip that the port currency exchanger said would cost no more than 65 tala cost me the equivalent of 114. Oh well, it’s part of the adventure of travel, and I will check better next time. It was still a wonderful day.