Posts Tagged With: adventure

In the Shadows of Paradise

Molokai

The vog was thick on this day. Usually one can observe some detailed contours of this large, rugged rock in the middle of the ocean from either of the neighboring islands of Maui, Oahu, or Lanai. But my eyes struggled to focus on anything beyond the fuzzy layer of cyan-reflected atmosphere blending into the still horizon. This vog I speak of is a form of fog-like air pollution created from the sulfur dioxide emissions of an active volcano. (“Volcano” + “fog” or “smog” = “Vog”) The Big Island of Hawaii’s Kilauea volcano (located 135 miles southeast) would be the culprit of my trammelled view. I suppose the vog was synonymous with my mental approach to visiting the island of Molokai for the first time. Hazy, at best.

I had first heard about the island over a decade earlier from some locals I met on a beach on Oahu’s west side. What I learned from them that day was that all there was to do on Molokai, in their words, was “hunt, fish and smoke weed…dat’s about it brah.” Hmmm…that’s it? Unlike the way many people have a clear picture of how they envision their “Hawaiian paradise” to be, the idea of what Molokai was like was never very clear to me. It was still Hawaii, but you never heard anything about it. I had seen some images, read some pretty redundant travel reviews and had talked to a local there who described it as “insanely beautiful” with a “3rd world country vibe”, or maybe a “3.5 world country” (since it is still the USA). But my mind couldn’t paint a clear picture of the place even if I had been gifted the canvas and talents of the late Bob Ross. Information about the island is relatively scarce, as it has been over-looked ever since the Hawaii tourism boom really began to explode in the 1960’s. Almost every Hawaii guidebook that you’ll find dedicates 50-100 pages to most other islands, yet barely even gives Molokai a CliffsNotes worthy 10. Some texts even mention that you might get a healthy dose of “stink eye” there if you are any shade lighter than a koa canoe. I had a feeling this was a dubious statement. Sure, the Molokai natives have put up a successful resistance to any development leading to mass tourism, but “stink eye”?? Come on, Molokai is known as “The Friendly Isle”. How could this be true? None of that really mattered though, because I was well on my way and wasn’t set to return for another 4 days. I was determined to gain a better perspective of this island beyond the lone image that had been dwelling in my mind for the past 11 years…a vision of some tattooed bruddahs sharpening their knives to skin some wild pig and lighting up doobies on the shores of the local fishpond.

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After 90 minutes aboard the Molokai Princess, the island finally began to reveal itself in its true color and form. At close glance, there seemed to be nothing intimidating, or revealing, about this mysterious, multi-hued peak emerging out of the still Pacific. It looked like some sort of monument of nature frozen in time, untouched by modern influences (or concrete). I could barely make out any signs of development at all, or any inhabitants for that matter. It wasn’t long after we pulled into the harbor and I first set foot upon the main town of Kuanakakai that I really began to feel this infectious pulse of relaxation creeping down my spine. This place is as low-key as it gets. No traffic lights, no fancy hotels or beach bars, no buildings taller than the coconut palms. Just a small old-western style town with a few blocks of mom-and-pop shops, some eateries, a supermarket and just enough basic amenities to support its anchored population of 3500. This was definitely not the picture that Elvis painted in his Hawaii-inspired hit soundtrack of Girls! Girls! Girls! where he sang about “girls in bikinis a walkin’ and a wigglin’ by…”. Not here. This is Hawaii how it used to be…and Molokai sure seems to be set in its ways.

Molokai

After chatting with some friendly locals on my way to get my rental car at the airport, I picked up and ignited my Chevy Spark and headed towards the eastern end of the island to meet up with my local guide, Kevin, who would be my host during my 4-day island stay. I didn’t put 2 miles on the odometer before I would initiate a compulsive habit of pulling the car over every few minutes to snap a photo and fill my nostrils with the flower-and-sea scented air. My eagerness to get out and “feel the vibe” definitely got the best of me. The calming scenery and pastoral island rhythm will dictate your pace here. Like the sign posted at the airport says:  “Aloha. Slow Down…this is Moloka’i”.

The one feature that stood out above all on this island:  silence. Wow. A totally unfamiliar sensation to this city boy. This was the sound of total and true silence. What I was hearing was most likely my heartbeat, which had been truncated to a sedated-like 50 bpm under a skin-tingling breeze, simply numbing to the senses. You could hear two birds whisper to one another from across the tree tops of the island’s historic Kapuaiwa Coconut Grove. It was the calmest sea I had ever seen…flat and glossy like a layer of saran wrap over a freshly polished marble desktop. A fringe of beautifully skewed and intersecting palms lines the shore in a setting so intensely perfect you would swear it was a movie set for a Cast Away sequel. This place felt like a world away from the tourist-seducing island of Maui and it’s lively port of Lahaina, from which I had just departed less than two hours earlier. If this was the “real Hawaii” that people often speak about, why had I only been familiar with the “dreamed up” version for all these years, centered around luaus and Mai Thais? Why isn’t this advertised by travel agents worldwide? I didn’t really need the answers to these questions at this point. I was just happy to be standing there, breathing in the intoxicating air of this veiled island and peeling away layers of its mystery that had simmered in my mind for all these years.

Molokai

My directions to meet my host took me along a wonderful coastal road that runs from the main town to the east end of the island, passing ancient fish ponds, rural homes scattered along the quiet shoreline, spacious ranches with beautiful white horses and slices of beach so perfect, and surprisingly untouched, you might question whether they are open to the public or reserved as some sort of island exhibit to lure Oprah Winfrey over from her upcountry Maui mansion. Native Kukui blossoms and Plumerias line the roadside like children awaiting the start of the Christmas Light Parade (which is held in the main town every year, drawing nearly half of the entire island population). Anytime you pass another person along the road in Molokai (which isn’t often), you immediately feel an impulse to raise your hand off the wheel and exchange in a mutual waive that translates into something like “Aloha my friend, good to see another face out here.” Unlike the pineapple industry, which was once an economic mainstay for Molokai for most of the 20th century, the “aloha spirit” is very much alive and thriving on this island. There was no “stink eye” here, only curious eyes that seemed delighted to see a fresh face. I felt very welcome…and very lucky.

Molokai

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I met up with my host Kevin at his home in Ualapue and after a quick carb load of Loco Moco and Chicken Katsu, we headed out to explore further along the secluded eastern coast of Molokai. After stopping at a few seriously scenic lookouts and mapping out some inland views of the “heiaus” (ancient burial grounds), we wound our way around the island’s lush east side via a dizzying road that slithers like a copperhead all the way to the entrance to Halawa Valley. This is the original settlement on the island and one of its most sacred regions to this day. There’s a classic view of the valley from a point just off the road, but I wanted a different view from the cliché one I had seen so many times during my internet Google searches for “Molokai images”. Upon knowing this, my guide Kevin springs like a bushman hot on the trail of an axis deer onto a not-so-obvious path leading through some nasty Keawe trees towards the end of a peninsula overlooking the valley. Keawe isn’t the kind of terrain you wanna go trailblazing through in shorts and flip flops. I knew the view would be worth every scrape and drop of blood I was about to shed from these thorny shrubs as we paved a fresh path, so I followed him without hesitation. Fifteen minutes and about 25 shin-to-calf cuts later, we reached the end of the peninsula, parched and wounded, and stood over a miraculous view of the coast in all directions.

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The postcard-famous Halawa Valley inlet is a mosaic of emerald blue-green ocean and fertile valley which runs inland to patches of taro farms, native homesteads and an abundance of tropical flora that one would certainly need an expert nature guide to truly appreciate. With a perimeter of green mountains framing the valley on either side and flowing waterfalls in the distance, it’s understandable why the residents have fought so hard to protect this storied land from any development leading to mass tourism (as you must have a local guide to enter the valley). Standing above this scene, I listened to the gentle waves tap lightly across a bed of rocky shoreline, merging together with the calmness of a White House butler placing dinnerware on the President’s dining table. (Yes, I did just finish watching Lee Daniels’ The Butler about 45 minutes ago.) The ocean around Molokai is the same body of water surrounding the neighboring islands of Oahu and Maui, but you’d seriously have to convince me so if I wasn’t aware of the other islands’ close proximity. There is a calmness and silence here that one would be challenged to find in other parts of Hawaii. You can’t describe it. You have to feel it. Time begins to stand still from the moment you arrive to this island and one could easily feel teletransported to the pre-Polynesian era, long before the first boats arrived and brought the original settlers ashore. A place like this should be teeming with tourists. The fact that it’s not reinforces that special feeling you get when you first arrive. You are one of the lucky ones who have made it to see Hawaii in its truest form.

The next day, we joined some locals for a hike to a rarely visited area on the island’s west side (though most areas of Molokai can be classified as “rarely visited”). Our backpacks loaded with Spam musubi, Gatorade and lilikoi, we headed out on a trek to a “locals” beach – a place well beyond the end of the road – called Kaupoa. Along a 45 minute hike through what looked and felt like the Australian Outback, we passed several empty beaches (that would make any resort developer absolutely salivate), eventually arriving at our target destination. If you’ve ever dreamed of an oasis at the end of a long, hot and dusty road, Kaupoa is the reality of this dream. Fluffy golden sand and that tropical water a perfect shade of piercing Hawaiian blue had us all mesmerized at first sight. Bear in mind, I was witnessing this with 3 locals who have lived in Molokai for years, and their jaws were just as wide open as mine in the presence of this untainted scenery. We were like 4 kids in a Toys ‘R’ Us for the first time, not another shopper in sight…and it was all ours for the taking. We couldn’t wait to dive in and indulge. With every footstep sinking deeper into the marshmellow-like sand, I eagerly made my way to the ocean to feel this glimmering water on my heated skin and lose myself in a dreamlike setting for a day…or perhaps a month, if no one were to wake me up. I could tell that my companions had gained an even greater appreciation of their homeland upon seeing this place. We spent the day swimming and walking along the tide pools and lava rocks, enjoying the sights of a variety of marine species such as eels, crabs, opihi shellfish, bat rays, colorful butterfly fish and even an undisturbed monk seal that was basking in the sun like a retired Arctic field surveyor. It is one of those unique corner pockets of the island that Molokai seems to somehow casually keep secret.

Molokai

Kaupoa

Behind the beach there is an abandoned campground hosting a collection of retired bungalows and lonely palms that appear to have not seen a visitor for decades. This is partially true, as Kaupoa was a former tourist hot spot in the late 90’s-early 2000’s that was sadly shut down and left abandoned and is slowly becoming swallowed up by the scraggy coastal vegetation. It’s a fate difficult to wrap one’s mind around, being that this is the perfect paradise getaway for those seeking such a refuge. Pride-fueled politics and disputes between the locals and the Molokai Ranch, who own the property, have resulted in a resort ghost town (home to presumably some of the most relaxed ghosts in the world). The tipping point: the natives refusing to allow further development at La’au Point, a sacred site just south of Kaupoa, resulting in the Molokai Ranch shutting down operations. It is a paradise lost, but still able to be discovered by the curious traveler. We were such on this day, and we did just that. What people once would pay a handsome sum of dollars to enjoy, we had all to ourselves, all for the simple price of a sweaty 45 minute hike, some muddy flip flops and a little sunburn on the neck. It was the perfect escape.

There was a mutual disbelief among us that places like this can still be found in Hawaii after all the decades of mass tourism and global marketing of this island chain to the world. This site is an ironic example of how Molokai works. A once booming resort complex that feuled future commercial development ambitions couldn’t survive the forces of nature and its native voices that defy anything that threatens the traditions that this island so proudly protects. Had money won over pride, Molokai might not be too distinguishable from its neighbors. Far more important than selling its soul for cash is the Molokai community’s deep-rooted values of “aloha ‘aina and malama ‘aina” (love and care for the land). Their true wealth is measured by the extent of their generosity and the preservation of these values.

Molokai

Molokai

Molokai

It’s hard to imagine myself standing on a crowded beach like Waikiki again, surrounded by rows of sun-baked tourists courting their umbrella-dressed cocktails (with the famous golden arches of Mickey D’s just a few yards away), and feeling that I’ve arrived to experience any semblance of the real Hawaii. A trip to Molokai will change everything you’ve ever known, thought you knew, or ever imagined about the phrase “getting away”. Though I had 4 full days in Molokai, all it took was a few hours there to convince me that this was the Hawaii many people seek, but rarely find. It feels like a lost piece of time…like a classic vintage recording stuck in pause mode, just waiting for someone to come along and push the play button. For those who do, its timeless harmonies and pacifying melodies will loop in your mind long after you leave…as the dusty reels continue to spin at their own speed…as they always have, and most likely, always will.

Molokai

Molokai

Molokai

Molokai

Molokai

Molokai

Molokai

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Happy New Year from the Gringo With A Green Bag!

Happy New Year 2017

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A “Running Man” in Puerto Rico

Amigos, it is my pleasure to introduce to you a whole NEW way of travel! This is Puerto Rico…as the world has never seen before… 🙂  #GringoWithAGreenBag

 

 

 

 

 

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Gringo With A Green Bag takes on Puerto Rico

Just wrapped my latest travel video folks! Next week, get ready to see the island of Puerto Rico live you’ve NEVER seen it before! 🙂 I think the cows are still scratching their heads at what they witnessed…

GWAGB-Puerto Rico-web

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Midas Resort – BELIZE!

Some resort destinations just have that perfect touch.  I had the pleasure to experience this recently, as I filmed a promo piece for Midas Resort, located in Belize’s fascinating jungle interior in the town of San Ignacio. Any trip to Belize MUST include a journey into the Cayo District, which is the country’s most prominent nature, eco-adventure and Mayan history region. The exploration opportunities here are endless…just like the tropical serenade of the native green parrots who frequent the resort grounds. Next time you’re in Belize, be sure to pack some nature-trekking gear along with your swimsuit, crack an ice-cold Belikin and come see what the “Midas Touch” is all about!   www.midasbelize.com

 

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You Betta Belize It!!

Hey amigos, happy Spring to all my fellow Northern Hemisphere dwellers! It’s my favorite time of year, no doubt about it (post-“tax season”, of course). Baseball, great weather, extended sunshine, morning serenade out my window by the local yellow-breasted goldfinch. I believe it’s also the best time to travel in most places around the globe, at least my favorite time anyway. So, that brings me to my newest vlog series (video + blog)…and this one is a nice lil’ warm up for my upcoming trip to BELIZE. I’ll be taking my new GoPro Hero 4 Silver to the Belize Barrier Reef, and then into the jungle, in a few short weeks, so I though I’d give it a little test run…a rather “advanced” test run, if you ask me! 🙂

Enjoy! #GWAGBelize

(Please subscribe to my Youtube channel for all the Gringo’s adventures and videos!)

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Gringo With A Green Bag takes on the Travel & Adventure Show!

Here we go!! The 2016 Travel & Adventure Show is kicking off this weekend in the lovely city of San Diego, Ca. I’m stretching my hammies as we speak!

Check out my video from last year’s show…it was a wild ride! If they have those Hoverboards there this year it could get dangerous. 😉

Hope to see you there and share in the adventures!

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Happy NEW Year 2016!!

New Year 2016

I’d just like to take a minute to wish everyone a really great year ahead. I always tend to get a little introspective with the beginning of each new year. It’s a great time for that. This is a good year for me to reflect on many things. 2016 marks 20 years since I first stepped foot outside of my country, thus being 20 years since I first got bit by the travel bug and began my life’s journey. Travel has been the most continuously rewarding thing in my life. It’s been my education, my growth, my inspiration and the architect of all the perspective that I have obtained. It’s shaped my life in more ways than I could have ever imagined. I’m so grateful for the experiences and opportunities that I’ve been very fortunate to have had over the past 20 years. I’ve learned so much, and it always fills me with joy to reflect on it all. I just wanted to say “thank you” to anyone who has ever paid attention to, read, liked, shared or commented on any story, photo, video or blog that I have ever posted (even if you were searching for the “dislike” button, lol). One of the very best parts of seeing the world is the excitement I get upon sharing its story with you all. I really do. Our world is a fascinating novel that we can all benefit greatly from by taking the opportunity to read a few pages from time to time. I can never wait to see what the next chapter will bring.

I’m not sure if this year will be “better” or “bigger” than any other, and to be honest, it doesn’t have to be. I just want it to be new. New experiences, new friendships, new inspiration…a new story to be told. Perhaps just something different that I haven’t done before. I think it will seem bigger and better just by trying new things, pursuing new goals, going new places and interacting with new people…all which result in new experiences and fresh ink in the diary of life. We all have a story to tell, and it is unique to each and every one of us. It’s our experiences that make up the content of each page of our life. Those last forever. At the end of the day, that’s all you can take with you when you’re gone…not your social status, your possessions, your money, your “followers” or “popularity” on some social media website. None of that matters because anybody can have that. Not everybody can have the unique life experiences that you create for yourself…and no one can tell the same story as you can.

So, this year my goal is to reflect on the past 20 years and to share some of the most inspiring things, people, places and life lessons, etc. that I’ve been able to experience on my personal journey. I hope to continue to have opportunities to tell the World’s story, one which will continue to shape my own. I hope to connect with people in a way that will inspire them to go out and create wonderful new experiences and stories of their own.

Cheers to new experiences and many great new stories for all of us in 2016!

Damian

#GringoWithAGreenBag20

 

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Merry Christmas…Happy Holidays 2015!

Looks like I’m not the only one with a green bag this year… 🙂

Christmas-2015-GWAGB

The Gringo – and the Santa – With A Green Bag would like to wish you all a very Merry Christmas (Feliz Navidad) and a wonderful Holiday season!  Let’s all make great memories!

-Damian

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Moments in “Time”

Time(Calaveras Big Trees State Park – California)

Life goes by pretty fast. Time is the one thing we can’t control. All we can do is make the best of it. Without moments of pause and reflection, we can’t really appreciate time. Most people are allowed a lot of time in life, but we often frown upon it because we feel we don’t have enough of it or that it is passing by faster than we’d like it to. I believe time should be measured in moments, not by clocks or years on the calendar. We can’t slow time down, but when we slow down and enjoy moments in time, the less we will worry about “having” time and the more we will enjoy “living” in it.

#GringoWithAGreenBag

#FreedomTour

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