Posts Tagged With: Hawaii

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.

Molokai-2

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

Molokai-07

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.

Molokai-05

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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Foto Friday – 1.24.14

This Foto Friday is for all my peoples in the Midwest and East Coast USA (and most other parts of the Northern Hemisphere) freezing their cracker jacks and hams off right now. Or like the Aussie’s say, “It’s cold enough to freeze the balls off a billiard table!” That’s what I hear anyway. Here in the thick of winter in Southern California it’s been a disgusting-ly perfect 77° and I’ll be tempted to wear socks if it were to dare dip below 72°. (My inbox is open to any hate mail that may be slung in my direction right about now.) Hey, I don’t control the weather…I just happen to live in a place where it doesn’t have much shift in personality. (Though we are currently in a drought, so my “Hollywood showers” may be trimmed down to 30 minutes or less any day now.) Most importantly, please know that I’m thinking of all of you around the globe right now who may be wrapped up like a hypothermic Nicaraguan at the finish line of the Iditarod race. This is a shot from Maui’s east side taken a few months ago. I hope it acts as a mental blanket and helps get you through the day…or at least through the face-numbing walk back to your car after work 🙂 Have a great weekend all! – DJ

MauiMaui, Hawaii

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Gringo With A Green Bag – 2014 Wish List

2014

Wow, is it time to cue up “Auld Lang Sine” already?? Yes it is! A New Year is upon us…2014! This is 1 year before the “future” that Doc and Marty visited in Back to the Future Part 2. Dude…the future is NOW! Though flying skateboards & cars haven’t yet reached the market, we have seen an incredible boom in amazing technology over the past few years, much of it which now dictates how most of us operate in our daily lives (as I type this from my new wrist watch…j/k). But there are many things that I feel deserve to be reflected upon and re-focused on as we swap a new 4th digit out on the yearly calendar. Real life issues and challenges (from long before the pre- smart phone era) will always exist and there isn’t a damn thing Siri can do about them (except for give you directions to the nearest pharmacy so you can load up on more Xanax). I’ve put together a list of a few things that I hope we, the people, could all focus on more (or less) and some of my personal wishes for 2014. The goal of the Gringo With A Green Bag isn’t just about going places and taking pretty pictures. It’s about life-changing experiences. It’s about understanding the world better, thus allowing us to co-exist in a more peaceful and harmonious fashion (channeling my inner Nelson Mandela here). So please allow me to share a few thoughts with you as we get ready to wrap up 2013 and wish everyone a Feliz Año Nuevo!

Here’s the Gringo With A Green Bag’s Wish List for 2014:

1. Keep Our Heads Up – It doesn’t matter where you are these days, the all-too-familiar scene of the collective head-down and thumbs massaging the screens of our mobile devices is now the norm. It’s become an obsession, a way of life, the human communication enabler (and suppresser). I’m guilty of it too, so I’m including myself in this one (as with the rest of these). How many of you looked across the table at Christmas or Thanksgiving dinner only to notice the bald spot on the top of one of your family member’s heads? Or someone at a ball game missing a touchdown because they were too busy taking selfies with their nachos and duck face? In 2014, I hope we can all keep our heads up just a little more and pay attention to the real world that surrounds us directly, make more eye contact, put the device down for a day or two and enjoy life how it was back in the old days (no, I don’t expect anyone to pop a quarter into a pay phone at 7-11 and flip through the yellow pages while munching on a Chick-O-Stick…you know what I’m sayin’). Let’s at least try to get through an occasional meal without obsessively looking to see who liked our “check-in” at Big Mama’s Rib Shack . I understand, we love to brag about what we’re eating. I do it all the time. Enjoy the meal and focus on the company you are enjoying it with. Tweet about how awesomely delicious it was when you’re done (after licking the bbq sauce off your fingers).

2. Change of Scenery – Whether it’s seeing new part of town, taking a new route to work, trying that new restaurant you pass by every day, visiting a different state or exploring another country…change in scenery is always a refreshing thing. For me, routine = boredom. A low-flowing or stagnant river produces higher levels of bacteria. Be a well-flowing river. If things become static in your life, change course and direction and refresh your senses often. Example:  I got tired of seeing the same old faces on the same old machines at my local gym this past year and I began to dread going at a certain “routine” hour because of it. I found myself losing motivation at times to go to the gym and making excuses, so I decided to go to the gym across town a few times to break the monotony. It was a really refreshing change, and my max bench press went from 195 lbs -270 lbs overnight! Haha, of course I’m full of it…but I did feel a renewed motivation to work out longer and more often in my new surroundings, with new equipment and around fresh faces. For me, travel is the ultimate refresher. Travel stimulates the mind and enriches the soul. (It can enhance the body too if you’re motivated to get in shape to strut your stuff along that beach while on vacation.) You don’t necessarily have to go far from home though. Switch up your routine and you may find a surprising new motivation to get up and get things done.

Canada

3. Eat More Tomatoes, Avocados, Sweet Potatoes, Huevos (eggs), Pollo (chicken) (basically any food that ends in “o”…except Oreos and Cheetos) – Like I once told myself: “Never underestimate the power of V-8!” If we all ate more tomatoes and avocados we’d all have healthier hearts. Healthy hearts pump clean blood into the brain which produces healthy minds. I’m no doctor, I just like to promote a healthy lifestyle. We need to be good to our bodies and they will be good to us in return. You all know the health food pyramid from 5th grade, I don’t have to explain it. My favorite health foods are avocados, tomatoes, flax seeds, açai, and wheat grass…and plenty of good protein (fish, yogurt, etc.). I don’t plan on totally cutting out the beer, Red Vines or Thin Mints anytime soon, so I’m just gonna have to load up on more of the aforementioned health goodies to curb the guilt trip…and revert back to wish list item #2 to preserve that gym motivation.

avocados-tomatoes

4. Take Chances – Why not, right? Let’s quit saying “someday” or “I wish”. A life of regret is a life of opportunity wasted. Make a career move. Make a sacrifice to get better results. Try some brain tacos. Yes, they’re nasty. But I tried them recently and now I know from experience. While in Maui recently, I had about 10 people tell me not to go to the island of Molokai because it is “boring”. I ended up having the best time of the entire trip while in Molokai. Discover things for yourself and don’t be swayed by people’s opinions. Don’t be afraid to fail. Don’t be afraid of the unknown. Like I always say, exploring the unfamiliar always leads to fresh ink in the diary of life.

Molokai Mo Bettah

5. Pause – While on that same trip to Hawaii in November, I found myself rushing through the first 2 days of the trip to cram in as much as I could see in the limited time I had on the island of Maui. I kept a frenetic pace without really taking the time to stop and appreciate the bounty of beauty that made up my surroundings. Maui’s famous “Road to Hana” does this to many travelers. It’s an all-day journey to an “Oz-like” destination (in the minds of many visitors) to a place called Hana. Many people speed through to get to Hana only to realize that the journey along the way was the real adventure, not the town of Hana itself. As in the movie, there’s no wizard there. Just a guy behind a counter selling fresh fruit and timeshare info. It’s the journey and everything you see along the way that makes this one of the most special parts of the world to visit. A few hours in, I decided to slow it down, pull over and just pause for a bit. I took a little walk through an unmarked part of the forest. It was the most beautiful hike I would do on the island. I smelled the flowers and tropical fruits, listened to the singing of a Red-crested Cardinal and enjoyed the calming sound of the crashing waves nearby. This was the Maui I had come to see (best to be seen on foot rather than through the window of a rental car). Truth is, it’s not how much you see, but how you look at and experience the things that you see. Another example was on a trip to Canada last year. I was on an all-day solo hike through the Canadian Rockies. It got a bit lonely after about 8 hours of hiking and no one to talk to and I found myself rushing to complete the hike before sundown and return to civilization. A little butterfly flew next to me and followed me along my path for about 20 seconds. It was the only company I had all day, and it felt like my best friend at the moment. A few moments of pause with this wonderful and curious creature was among the highlights of my trip. Made me smile. I say it’s best to experience one thing in a special way than to fly through many things and leave with no lasting memories.

Leaf

6. Green Bay Packers win Super Bowl – Is that too much to ask?

GB Packers

7. Milwaukee Brewers finish above .500 – That’s definitely not too much to ask. Just give me an 82-80 season fellas. I’ll consider that a winning season.

Brewers

8. Understanding Happiness – Yes, the Green Bay Packers winning the Super Bowl would bring me great “happiness”. But that is only a temporary happiness. I truly believe that happiness comes from within. You have to be happy with yourself if you ever plan on living a happy life, or making someone else happy. It starts with you. It shouldn’t take much. I think we overanalyze the meaning of it. I’ve been really fortunate to travel to parts of the world where I believe I’ve learned the true meaning of happiness. People who are happy just because they are alive. They have everything they need, in the form of family, food, shelter, health and minimal stress. It has nothing to do with wealth, cars, iphones, luxury homes, social status, popularity, etc. I see plenty of people with all that on a daily basis who are no where near achieving the level of happiness that I have seen with people I’ve met on my travels to many “3rd World” and underprivileged countries. If you’re not happy with your situation, do your best to improve it. If you can’t improve it, do your best to change it. We’re all responsible for our own happiness, and our expectations of what it means to be happy should come from within, not by comparison to others. That reminds me…while you’re at it, peep that new Pharrell Williams song “Happy”. That’s the jam right there!

Happy Family

9. Focus On Important and Positive Things – This goes out on a personal level, but also as a message to the Media. We are done keeping up with the Kardashians, seriously. Less coverage of the Dennis Rodman bromance with Kim Jong-Un would be super. Do we really care that Lindsay Lohan has suffered her 10th relapse in 9 days when we have soldiers fighting and dying for our freedom on a daily basis? Let’s focus on people who deserve to be talked about, like our military heroes and philanthropists from around the world. If you’re gonna obsess about celebrities, please cover celebrities who are humanitarians and do a great deed for charity, like the late Paul Walker. As for us on an individual level, I hope we can all maintain a habit of focusing on the positives more than the negatives. “I hate my job” or “my job is too stressful” can also be viewed as “I’m just happy to have a job” or “It’s only temporary until I find something better”. I don’t have a new car and I sit in traffic frequently, but I have a car and the freedom to drive wherever I want. It’s a luxury we take for granted, believe me. (I’m still gonna complain about that gas price though, grrr)

10. Kill The Political Drama – We’ve witnessed a full year of complete bi-partisan bullshit in politics. Holding the country hostage for the sake of political theatre and ego is deplorable. I don’t know how it works in other countries, but ours has not been a proud example of a functional democracy here in the U.S. in recent years. Both sides of government are to blame for this. Remember that song “We’re All In The Same Gang”? Time to record a 2014 version for our government. If it can work for gangsters, it can surely work for congressmen.

11. Don’t Text And Drive – Seriously…IT CAN WAIT. I’m sure an anti-texting-while-driving app is in the works. If not, I have some ideas and you may be seeing me on Shark Tank in the near future!

12. HAVE A WONDERFUL NEW YEAR 2014!!!

Happy New Year 2014

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