The Island of Moloka’i: Compassion, ominous waves

It is dark when our ferry arrives into Moloka’i harbour. Patricia and I are happy to find our friend’s uncle Scotty, who has been living on the small island for years. He has arranged for us to stay on his sailboat in the harbour during our visit. Like the Island of Moloka’i, the harbour is tiny and it’s a short walk across the dock from the ferry to his boat, the Mata Hari.  

Beside the Mata Hari sits a bigger sailboat with two Egyptian eyes painted on it’s bow. After a brief tour of our accommodations, Scotty introduces us to the owner of this old storybook vessel that neighbours us. Appearing from the cabin is a salty American sailor in his seventies named Stretch. Our conversation leads me to feel safe enough with this captain guarding the night next to us. We bid him good night and make our way into the belly of our boat. It’s quiet except for the sound of the water lapping against the hull and we can’t help but feel a little uneasy as we rock gently to sleep. A violent wind howls outside busting into the cabin and sucking back out. I find an old dagger next to a pile of books on navigation and the South Pacific and place it under my pillow. It provides me with a little comfort as we drift in and out of sleep to the sound of the ominous wind. 

We wake just before the sunlight bleeds into the sky and sit on the deck watching the fleeting spectacle of colours. Eager to begin our explorations we pack a small bag and walk into the main town. It feels like we are the only tourists here as we stroll along the main street and board a bus to Papohaku beach. It is an endless stretch of white sand with no shelter against the strong stinging wind that blows today. Regardless, I lay down determined to read only to end up sleeping while Patricia continues her walk along the shore. 

When she returns I am one with the beach. Covered from head to toe in sand. It’s funny for a moment until I remember that I can’t run into the sea as the waves are dangerously big. I know better than to risk being swept away for ‘a little’ sand in my hair. I brush off the best I can and we make our way back to the harbour. It’s dry season here in Molokai’i and the brittle dusty landscape is a stark contrast to the lush rainforests of Maui. As we drive past local farms I notice signs in protest of GM crops, proof of the long battle the people of Molokai’i have been facing against the multinational agricultural biotechnology company that is Monsanto. The thought depresses me.  

 

Powerful experience 

After spending the evening on the boat singing songs and hearing the adventure stories of Stretch, we wake to another breathtaking sunrise and hitch a ride inland. Kalaupapa, the infamous leper colony turned national park, is our desired destination. To get there it’s approximately a three mile hike down a steep cliff to the settlement. After over an hour of hiking to the bottom we join a small group and begin a guided tour of the village. In the 1800s the Kingdom of Hawai’i banished patients with Hansen’s disease to Kalaupapa in an attempt to control leprosy.  

It was an island prison until 1969 when the law was abolished and today only a few senior patients remain. Exploring the small peninsula encircled by the wild pacific and sea cliffs up to 4,000 feet high we discover the history of Father Damien, a Belgian priest who devoted his life to helping the people of Kalaupapa, and the dark history left behind. By the end of the tour our hearts weigh heavy and I feel emotionally exhausted. Staring up at the sea cliff, our only way out of Kalaupapa, I feel completely defeated. 

In silence we start walking to the bottom of the trail and I think about the thousands of exiled souls of Kalaupapa, the great compassion and sacrifice of Father Damien and our experience of this beautiful island. Tears build in my eyes and I feel completely overwhelmed and humbled by the suffering heroes that lived here and the stories of this haunting place. 

Before the great ascent, Patricia and I kick off our shoes and like two children, run as fast as we can into the sea. We don’t talk to each other but I know we’re both praying. I close my eyes letting the water wash over me, taking with it my judgements and expectations. With one final plunge I emerge with a grateful heart and renewed energy for the climb ahead. Aloha.  

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