Are you fit enough?

How visiting the grave of R.L. Stevenson is about health as well as honoring the author.

“Congratulations! You have made it to the top of the “Road of Loving Hearts” the informative S.T.A. sign tells me. I am grateful for the compliment because I really didn’t think I would make it up to the top or even half way. I would argue with the name though, as really it was more like the “Road of Aching Knees” or the “Path to Puffing Profusely” but who am I to argue with an S.T.A. sign? So where exactly am I? I am at the top of Mt Vaea and I am grateful to be alive!

The view is lovely from up here and behind me lies the peaceful and understated grave of author Robert Louis Stevenson, famous world-wide for writing Treasure Island, Kidnapped, and The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. And famous in Samoa for being the reward at the end of a decent workout on a steep climb. That’s right, we enjoy visiting R.L.S.’s grave, but not because we love him as much as we love knowing that it’s all down-hill from there! He is known as the Tusitala (story teller) by history, but for local health nuts, he’s better known as Uma lava (finished!).

There are two paths to reach the R.L.S. grave, the older path which winds around the mountain and is 2.4km long and the shorter steeper path which is .8km. The long walk is shaded and tranquil, allowing you to slowly meander. Don’t get me wrong, you are still headed up the entire way and if you don’t have good walking shoes and the knees of a 20 year old, it will be a challenge, but you do feel like you are retreating back in time. The sounds of Apia disappear and you fall into a state of serenity which does your body and your mind a world of good.

The short path is a very different experience. It lacks access to scenic vistas and babbling brooks and is all about getting up to R.L.S. It has become a favorite for locals wanting to get fit as it is a sharp climb with rocks, tree roots and stairs all waiting to challenge your heart rate. It is also much more popular, so you may spend half your time greeting all your friends and associates as you collectively huff and puff your way up. If you’re looking for a quiet retreat, avoid taking this route. If you’re looking to drip with sweat as you pass half of Apia, then this is the way for you!

In 2010, a study done by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign confirmed that walking is good for your health and your imagination. Research found that walking for forty minutes three times a week enhanced the connectivity of important brain circuits, reduced declines in brain function associated with aging, and increased performance on cognitive tasks. Another study the same year found that brain power was actually increased while walking, suggesting that the activity itself is a way to boost your ability to think through a problem. Either way up to R.L.S .will benefit you mentally and physically while you experience the beauty of Samoa that he loved.

If you know any Avele School graduates, ask them to sing to you the song created using RLS’s epitaph. It is a reminder that his words inspired other art forms as well as a connection to generations of Samoans. Not just those seeking a better body, but a better mind.

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 the sea,

And the hunter home from the hill

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