Saturday, September 24, 2016

Charon's Hawaiian Adventure, September 2016: Molokai

There are only two Hawaiian islands I’ve never visited: Niihau and Kahoolawe.

Niihau is privately owned by the Robinson family, and a group of native Hawaiians who speak the Hawaiian language live there. The residents venture away from their island for medical care, and have the option of moving away (commuting back and forth is discouraged) – they’re not slaves, more like hereditary participants in a living history pageant. Yes, it is controversial.  You can technically visit for supervised snorkel, beach or hunting tours (I think I’d pick the beach) but you can’t tour the island or meet the locals. 

Kahoolawe is a tiny island which lacks fresh water. The American military used to use it as a bombing target, and it’s still dangerously covered with live ordnance. Around the turn of the century the federal government turned it over to the state and it is now designated solely for noncommercial use by native Hawaiians.

As for the islands I have visited:

Oahu has big cities and historical glamor (and the best beaches in my humble opinion); I lived there ages three to ten, in Wahiawa and Mililani. 
Hawai’i (the “Big Island”) is a huge California-like island with cowboys, freshly grown coffee and a live volcano. 
Maui is my birthplace, a gorgeous not-too-developed island that was a workaday sugar plantation for many years before being reborn as a hotbed of introductory ecotourism.
Kauai is small, green and rainy. When I visited it as a kid, I thought it would be a good island for old people. I’ll have to check it out again now that I’m old. 
Lana’i has an awesome cat sanctuary.

This is the story of my very first visit to Molokai.

I knew that Molokai was famous for the Kalaupapa leper colony, where Father Damien earned his sainthood caring for lepers and eventually becoming infected with Hansen’s disease himself. I didn’t intend to go there, because it requires a full day’s tour and either a mule ride or a helicopter ride, neither of which seemed like they’d be any fun in the rain. Kalaupapa isn’t a fun place at all in fact, although it is starkly beautiful. 
Trail to Kalaupapa overlook

Kalaupapa on a rainy day

Instead of the Kalaupapa tour I rented a car on Molokai. First I had to take a ferry across some rough water. From the sea I could see more rain getting dumped on soggy Maui.

A weather!

I had my handy rain poncho with me and I plasticwrapped myself for the journey, because I insisted on sitting on the open top deck. So I could see better. The ferry bounced its way close to the island of Molokai, then the captain took a sharp turn to port and suddenly the sailing was smooth and flat.

The Alamo van met me at Kaunakakai Harbor, and drove me to the airport, where they keep the rental cars. We passed many churches, the pizza place, the Monsanto plant where most of the island’s population works and the coconut grove. 

(As a writer of bioengineering-based science fiction, a layperson fascinated by CRISPR, a supporter of socialized medicine that wants to extend CRISPR to people on all sides of the income gap as well as an enthusiastic applauder of the Zuckerberg Chan Initiative and a resident of a hippie Northern California society which regards genetic tampering to be positively Satanic, I’ll just keep my mouth shut with regards to my sentiments about Monsanto and GMO and bioengineering as they are complex; see my novels for extrapolation.)

At the airport I got a nice car with a very cool camera array that gives you a video display of your car’s undercarriage and it’s orientation relative to your parking place whenever you commence parking.  I immediately drove it to the Kalaupapa overlook because that seemed like a reverent thing to do first, and along the way I found a hitchhiker.

Normally I wouldn’t pick up a hitchhiker, but the rain was starting to pour again, and it was a woman, and I was on Molokai. I picked up Annalise, a German tourist staying in Maunaloa. I have a little rudimentary German, Annalise had some basic English and we both spoke “whoa, look at that!”  Together we drove up to the Kalaupapa overlook, and went down a short hike through trees which seemed extra solemn in the foggy mist. Visibility wasn’t the greatest but we did get our pictures of Kalaupapa. And we stayed out of the rain, which qualified as deluge at several points during the journey.

On the way back I decided to go to a little museum, and Annalise said goodbye and stayed on the highway to hitch a ride somewhere else. The museum was small and featured photos of Kalaupapa residents, and a restored sugar mill. 

While I was poking around in the museum, someone said something to me that I didn’t quite catch. When I turned around I found a local tourguide. “Oh, excuse me, I thought you were Karen.”

“I’m Charon.”

“She’s a lawyer.”

“I work with lawyers.”

The tourguide laughed, and told me Karen Holt was an attorney in Kaunakakai, and we slightly resemble each other from the back. I slipped into a brief fantasy in which we discover we are long-lost cousins, leading to a wacky comedic situation where I move to Molokai and adjust to eccentric island life, pounding out trial documents from a plastic-covered laptop while floating on an air mattress and drinking orange passion from a buoyant sports bottle. That’s one thing about the islands – they are extremely conducive to creative fantasies. If you’re reading this, Ms. Holt, aloha, and let me know if you ever need any law stuff in San Francisco. 

The sugar cane mill was an exquisite example of a weathered old South Pacific building (the kind that used to intrigue me as a small child since I figured they were probably full of pirate treasure and ghosts and secrets). After I explored it I headed to Maunaloa, checking for Annalise along the way and concluding she had found a ride.

Maunaloa General Store
Maunaloa is an adorable picturesque town, with an old-fashioned movie theater and a general store and a post office where you can mail coconuts. I was tempted to mail one to the mailroom at work, just so they’d have to stamp it “received.” 

Movie theater
I intended to look at the west coast of Molokai but I got turned around, and found myself back in Kaunakakai, and hungry. There are probably less than ten restaurants on the island, most of them in Kaunakakai, plus a grocery store and an amazing library.

Hawai’i has some great libraries, in fact. There’s a nice one in Lahaina, right next to the Pioneer Inn.  There’s a good one in Wailuku, and there’s an especially nice one on Molokai, surrounded by palm trees.

Someday, one or more of my books will be available in all these Hawaiian libraries.

I poked around in a nice big souvenir shop that also sold things like cargo shorts, purchasing an official Molokai t-shirt and a prayer card for the patron saint of outcasts. I headed into the grocery store where I finally found Maebo One-Ton Chips, a favorite island delicacy. Annalise was there; we waved.

I decided to eat lunch at Kanemitsu bakery, which is known for its bread. As I write this, I have just consumed the last of the utterly delectable pineapple-coconut loaf I bought and lovingly transported back to the mainland in my carryon bag. It has been my breakfast ever since my return. At the restaurant there I had some killer fried rice.

Om nom nom, fried rice
Hawai'i fried rice is a little different from mainland fried rice. On the mainland it typically has carrots and peas, while in Hawai’i it has green and white onions, plus it’s sauteed a little lighter and has more spice to it. The egg goes on top, usually fried, or cut in scrambled strips sushi-bar style. Usually it has char siu (Chinese BBQ pork, the red kind) or Portuguese sausage or spam in it.  It’s mostly a breakfast food, although you can eat it as a side starch with lunch or dinner.

Fortified by carbs, I drove to the east coast of Molokai. I passed the Hotel Molokai, and an area with signs cautioning me to watch out for deaf children.  There were cozy looking houses and glimpses of lovely beach, in some areas rising nearly to the road. There were one-lane bridges and a place called Manae Goods and Grinds where I stopped for some cold juice, it had a cool trail made of cement footprints leading to their public restroom.

It was kind of like the road up the windward shore of Oahu, and kind of like the road to Hana, but less developed, and not crowded at all.
Molokai coast

More Molokai coast

I finally made my way to a perfect tiny beach. I can’t quite place it on a map but it was all the way on the east coast, a very small stretch of glistening white sand, with some nearby palm trees. Just enough room for me to sit around thinking deep thoughts for a while. I didn’t swim (all alone on some unfamiliar beach, nope nope nope), but I let the waves break over my feet a few times. No runoff here, just extremely clear blue Pacific water.
Facing east
Facing down
Facing west
I really liked Molokai. I think I need to go back and spend some time at their hotel. It would be a great place for a writer to avoid distractions and get busy. 

On the boat back, the sailors warned us that the conditions were going to be severe, with rain and thirty mile an hour winds. Barf bags were distributed. Sure enough, after we turned toward Maui and got into the rough part, the boat developed some serious lateral sideways motion. I didn’t get seasick, but I was exhausted and very glad to see the lights of Lahaina.

For dinner I went to a place called No. 1 BBQ.  I couldn’t resist, having recently visited Kansas City. It was a fast-food counter place which formerly was called Local Foods, but now it serves mainly Chinese food. Meat jun is actually Korean, and I nearly got into a heated discussion regarding that with the lady at the counter. I backed away, no point in ruining a perfect vacation.

Meat jun, ideally, is meat pounded extra thin, then battered and fried, so it’s sort of like a crepe. The meat shouldn’t be chewy or gristly. I’m not sure if the batter contains egg, but it’s rich and egglike. You eat it dipped in hoisin-soy sauce, and the meat jun at No.1 BBQ was exquisite.
Meat jun from No 1 BBQ

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