Vagobond on Molokai

Leper colony Molokai

With summer in full swing, Mink Hippie and I decided that our long talked about trip to Molokai needed to happen. We boarded an Island Air interisland flight and flew the incredibly short 20 minutes to Molokai, the island that time hasn’t quite caught up to. Mink had reserved a trailer for us at A’ahi Place , a bed and breakfast/vacation rental/ hostel near Molakai’s largest town Kaunakakai. Steve, the owner, has set up a great little place complete with an Outdoor kitchen/hangout area that was perfect for us to have friends over for a sumptuous dinner of prawns, marinated fish, and couscous. Steve was also an incredible resource in giving us insider information on great hikes, hidden roads, and navigating through local obstacles (i.e. go on the waterfall hike after 1pm and the guy that tries to force everyone to pay him for a guided trip is already through for the day.)

Our first day we drove to the west end to the incredible 3-mile long, Papohaku Beach. There aren’t any major resorts on Molokai and hopefully never will be. The one attempt at it lies in a shambles at Kalaukakai. This end of the island has quite a few vacation condominiums and a golf course. We saw a few large gated estates and some joggers that appeared to be running huge distances and were in at least their 80’s! The rest of the island has been blissfully preserved from the type of mass tourist infrastructure that has all but ruined other places in Hawaii. On Molokai, a traffic jam typically consists of two motorists stopped in the road talking story for a few minutes. It’s rare to have a car in front of you or behind you on the roads. Heaven. After figuring out what we wanted to do while we visited, we stopped by the Molokai Artist and Crafters Guild and spoke with Linda Johnson, the creative director. We ended the day with pizza in Kaunakakai.

Day 2, we considered hiring mules to ride down the trail to Kalaupapa, but decided to hike when we realized that the price was a staggering $180 each! The hike down to the famous leper colony was a workout, the hike up was moreso. We paid the $40 for a tour that lasted several hours. To find out more about Kalaupapa and Hansen’s Disease (formerly called Leprosey) you can read here. The tours are the brainchild of a patient of the village with an entrepreneurial streak. We were unable to determine if the profits benefit the community, Hansens patients, or anyone asided from the tour operator who is also the Sheriff and owner of the only bar in Kalaupapa. Below is a picture of Father Damien, the Belgian priest who dedicated his life to helping the patients at Kalaupapa and ended up contracting the disease. The picture is in one of Kalaupapa’s numerous churches.

St. Damien of Molokai

The residents are notoriously cranky and I guess having a bunch of gawking tourists come through hasn’t helped. Beleow is a palcard on the church pew. “Do not touch or steal anything from this church pew! This means you TOURIST!” You can imagine the wretch that stole some patient’s hymn book.
Molokai Leper Church

This next picture is looking from the church towards the landing where one barge a year lands with big items for the people who live there. This is a big deal on Molokai and the front page of the weekly paper featured a story about the excitement residents felt at getting their annual big items…included were a massage chair, a riding lawnmower, and several trucks. There are 19 miles of roads in Kalaupapa and every resident has a vehicle. They are not required to have drivers licenses, registration, insurance, or anything else. Many of them are nearly blind from Hansens disease.

Molokai Kalaupapa

The East side of the peninsula is where the original settlement of Kalawao existed. This is where Damien’s right hand is buried. The rest of him is now in Belgium.

Day 3, we drove up the rutted dirt roads to the Waikolu lookout which looks down the highest seacliff valley’s in the world towards Kalaupapa. On the way down we stopped at the workshop of Robin Baker. Robin’s an amazing sculptor and carver. He invited us into his house for a drink and regaled us with stories of his life. From growing up on a cattle ranch in Eastern Washington to his career as a Navy Seal, to settling on Molokai in the 60’s, to recently taking a ride in a spay plane where he saw the curvature of the Earth and a ride in a nuclear submarine where he was able to listen to a turtle breathing in a cave over thirty miles away. Robin is a great guy. Personally, I think we stumbled on the secret workshop of Santa Claus. Why would he be at the North Pole when Molokai abounds with Menehune (elves) and spotted deer (Rudolph). A Christmas tree we stumbled upon near the Halawa Valley on East Molokai later that day confirms it in my mind.

Carver on Molokai

Day 4. Our last day we woke up late and drove out dirt roads to Mo’omomi Beach. While Mink Hippie sunbathed I built a small shade structure out of driftwood. We had a picnic lunch and waded in the beautiful water. We saw no one the whole time. This is Paradise.

We flew back via Island Air at 6pm. It seemed amazing that we had only been 20 minutes from Honolulu. If you are looking for a lot of tourist activities, fancy restaurants, a great hotel, and crowded beaches, Molokai is not the place to go. For us, however, Molokai is without a doubt, both of our new favorite island. We can’t wait to go back and visit.


Vago Damitio

Damitio  (@vagodamitio) is the Editor-in-Chief for Vagobond. Life is good. You can also find him on Google+ and at Facebook

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