The Last Day on Molokai and a Return to Halawa Valley

Tom really is a hero. He agreed to drive the steep, winding, one-lane road back to Halawa Valley so that we could visit the beach there and maybe hike to the waterfalls. He surprised me–and this is after 43 years of marriage.

The drive was spectacular, and we stopped to take photos of things we remembered, but hadn’t stopped for the first time because of unfamiliarity with the road. For instance, there’s this sign:

Nene crossing sign.

Nene crossing sign.

Nene (pronounced nay-nay) are the native Hawaiian geese, and they are endangered. Sadly, we didn’t see any geese, just the sign. We also saw this, which we think is a roadside memorial, but it’s a bit different than the usual. In addition to the sun made of white coral, there were offerings:

Roadside memorial.

Roadside memorial.

There was no one waiting at the bottom of the road this time. We parked and walked down the dirt road to the beach. There is a river flowing into the sea here, and it’s  picturesque:

River at Halawa Valley.

River at Halawa Valley.

 

Beach at Halawa Valley.

Beach at Halawa Valley.

 

We picked our way along the beach, and I saw what I expected; lots of small pieces of plastic in the sand, white and blue, black and gray, yellow and red–the detritus of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, collecting on this remote beach. I began picking up the larger pieces and putting them in my pocket. by the time we left, both pockets were bulging, and my arms were full of still larger chunks, bottles, and a small section of plastic fence. Tom gently makes fun of my plastic policing, but I regard it as the little that I can do to make it better. Worth nothing in the face of the magnitude of the problem, I agree. And many of the pieces were so small as to be impossible to retrieve, reminding me of “Rumplestiltskin,” where the poor girl has to count all the grains of sand or spin straw into gold.

Some of my plastic finds. Pockets are bulging with smaller bits.

Some of my plastic finds. Pockets are bulging with smaller bits.

A Hawaiian family was picnicking on the beach. A young woman named Noni (noh-nee, means “beautiful”) was sitting on the sand, while her sister, husband and nephew were on the rocky point under the cliffs, fishing. We chatted for a while, and then her husband came back with a net bag full of ‘opihi (oh-pee-hee, limpets). We asked what they were going to do with them, and he said they were best barbecued, but could be eaten right out of the shell. Did we want to try one?

Yes, we did. He had lost his knife while prying ‘opihi off the rocks, but he used one limpet shell to dislodge the resident of another shell, and offered us some. They were rubbery, and the primary taste was a mild saltiness, but I’m sure they are delicious barbecued. This inside of the shell had a lovely iridescence, tinged with green. I washed mine out and brought it home with me.

Snack time!

Snack time!

We asked about the hike to the falls. Noni said it was really difficult, and she hadn’t done it in 20 years, so we decided to give it a miss. (Later, I learned that it takes two hours just to get there. I probably made the right decision.) After dumping my collected plastic in the trash bins provided, we got into our car and drove slowly back, taking pictures as we went.

Rainforest stream.

Rainforest stream.

Once we were back in two-lane country again, we stopped to take a picture of this:

Chicken condos.

Chicken condos.

I called it “chicken condos,” as they appear to be individual shelters for chickens or roosters. As I was taking the picture, a pack of dogs ran up to the fence and barked their heads off. A very large Hawaiian came down the drive, looking rather menacing. I waved and said I was just taking a picture of his chickens. He didn’t smile, but waved more or less amicably and went back down the drive. My guess is that he’s raising fighting cocks, which is abhorrent, but I don’t know.

The only real proof we saw that there are deer on Moloka'i.

The only real proof we saw that there are deer on Moloka’i.

We also stopped at a grove of coconut palms, right outside of Kaunakakai. This used to be a much larger grove called “the Queen’s Grove,” because it was planted for the wife of King Kamehameha V. It’s right by the beach, and the trees must be 100 feet tall, each with a cluster of coconuts clinging to the top under its fronds. There are piles of coconuts on the ground, both fresh, green ones and old, hairy ones. The top of my head began to feel peculiarly vulnerable as I imagined what a coconut would do to it after a drop of 100 feet, so I left.

The Queen's Grove.

The Queen’s Grove.

Then back to the condo. I was very behind in my journaling, so spent most of the late afternoon writing, listening to the waves crashing on the rocks nearby, and enjoying the trade winds. When we went to bed, another three-inch centipede was occupying the hallway upstairs, and I gave him the same treatment I gave Jesse the Centipede a few nights ago–a beating with my flip-flop. Neither centipede put up a fight, making me think they were unwell to begin with.

And so the journey came to an end, as all journeys must do–which is the beginning of another journey for me; writing a new novel. The entire experience was amazing. People were so helpful and kind, so willing to bring me into their lives a little bit. It was extremely touching, and I will never forget the experiences I had here. As a parting wave, here are the signs that greet new arrivals to Moloka’i, and bid departing travellers farewell:

Aloha!

Aloha!

 

Snorkeling off Molokai, Followed by Not Much

Day 14: Molokai

This was our snorkeling day, so we set our alarm. We had to be at the Kaunakakai Wharf by 6:45. We ate a quick breakfast and set out in the dark. We could see the bright lights at the tiny Molokai airport as well as the wharf as we came down the rise from the west end of the island; Molokai is only 38 miles long from the west end to the east.

I thought Tom should leave his camera in the car. It is large (especially the lenses) and heavy, and I was afraid it might get damaged or get water in it. So no pictures, but I’ll post a few photos of the kinds of fish we saw, even if they aren’t the actual fish we met.

We drove straight out onto the wharf and parked near our boat, the Coral Queen. A young Hawaiian man told us nicely not to park there or we would get a ticket. This turned out to be Gabe, the boat’s one crewman. He would take the divers down while the captain kept an eye on the snorkelers.

This was a surprise. Diving implied deep water, so I asked about it. The captain (whose name I failed to remember) said they had more than 40 different places to take people, depending on whether they had a mixed group (snorkelers and divers), or just one or the other, and of course depending on tides, currents and weather.

There were about a dozen of us. They waited a while for some latecomers who never showed, then set out along the eastern shore in the dawn light. On our way out, they pointed out a handsome white yacht moored offshore and said it was Larry Ellison’s.

The Molokaiians are very hopeful about Mr. Ellison, the fifth wealthiest man in the world, and the founder and former CEO of Oracle Corporation. As you may know, he bought the entire island of Lanai a little while ago (98% of it, anyway). The people of Lanai have been very happy with the changes he has brought to that island, and the Molokaiians are hopeful that he will buy up the now-idle holdings of the Molokai Ranch. This would certainly make a huge difference; it remains to be seen if it’s a difference the people of Molokai will like. They have a slogan here: “Don’t change Molokai, let Molokai change you.”

It was calm, quite unlike the first few days we were here. It was interesting to try to locate landmarks on shore that we had earlier seen from the road, but we never got as far as Leimana’s fishpond.

Someone asked about sharks. Gabe said they tended to see black-tipped reef sharks, white-tipped reef sharks, hammerheads, scalloped hammerheads, and tiger sharks.

Tiger shark. I mean, come on. Is this something you want to go swimming with?

Tiger shark. I mean, come on. Is this something you want to go swimming with?

I said, “I don’t mind black tips, and I have swum with them, but the others…tell me that there won’t be any sharks out there today.”

Gabe struggled with his conscience for a moment, then looked straight at me and said, “There won’t be any sharks out here today.”

Bless the boy. I am sure I would have to change my bathing suit if I saw a hammerhead. Or any other shark, for that matter.

We saw humpback whales as we chugged along. They never came very close, but we did see them spouting and breaching a little ways off.

This is a picture of a humpback whale Tom took when we went whale watching in Monterey Bay.

This is a picture of a humpback whale Tom took when we went whale watching in Monterey Bay.

Eventually, we anchored (using a special anchor to avoid damaging the coral) and the captain pointed out the area the divers would explore, and further toward shore, the snorkelers’ area. As we were preparing to go in, a manta ray swam slowly next to the boat–the first I have ever seen.

As I flapped my way to the stern in my fins, a woman in a shortie wetsuit said with surprise, “No wetsuit?” I was surprised by the question. This was Hawaii, right? Who needs a wetsuit? They had them aboard the Coral Queen, but it hadn’t occurred to me to don one. I penguined onto the platform that had been lowered from the stern and fell backward into the water. It felt fine, neither warm nor especially cool. Tom joined me and we headed out.

Molokai is surrounded by a fringe reef that extends outward from the island a long way. You could walk out a mile in some places and still be in water up to your knees. We were probably a mile and a half from shore, in water that was about 12 feet deep. There were lots of fish to gawk at–schools of goatfish and convict tangs, triggerfish, butterflyfish of several varieties, bird  and rainbow wrasses, pink and silver juvenile parrotfish, mature rainbow parrotfish (a blaze of different colors), and one humu-humu-nuku-nuku-a’pu’a’a. I am never quite content snorkeling until I see this dapper little fish with his colorful suit and enormously long name.

School of convict tangs. This really looks like what we saw.

School of convict tangs. This really looks like what we saw.

Humu-humu-nuku-nuku-apu'a'a.

Humu-humu-nuku-nuku-apu’a’a.

Longnose butterflyfish.

Longnose butterflyfish.

To my surprise, my hands began to get numb and they turned white (whiter than they usually are, that is). That had never happened before while snorkeling. I didn’t think we had been out more than a half an hour, but I told Tom I wanted to go in. He agreed and we headed back to the boat–to find that we had been out an hour and fifteen minutes, and it was time to go anyway.

It appeared that we were going to go to another spot to explore. I felt quite chilled and decided not to get back in.

I struck up a conversation with Gabe. Tom had discovered that Gabe was a third cousin to Leimana, so I mentioned this and said we had enjoyed our time with Leimana at the fishpond.

“Yeah, he’s really something, isn’t he, with his thing…” Gabe indicated the swimsuit zone.

“Malo,” I said helpfully.

“…malo, and you can see his whole butt hanging out,” said Gabe.

“Well, to give credit where credit is due,” I said, “It’s a nice butt.”

Gabe looked profoundly shocked. I guess he thought pudgy old ladies were past appreciating these things, or perhaps he had never viewed his third cousin in that light.

I went forward to sit in the sun and get warm. This felt great, and my hands got warm again. However, after a bit, I felt my Irish skin had had as much solar exposure as was wise, and went back under cover. While I was sunning, though, I saw a huge turtle swim by under the deep turquoise water. He swam slowly, balletically, and I watched him until he disappeared into the depths.

While we were waiting for the others, we chatted with the captain. He had been a “bean-counter,” his words, in Minnesota. He used to come to Hawaii on vacation, and finally realized he didn’t have to live in Minnesota.

“Why Molokai?” we asked.

“It was the last island I visited,” he said.

He bought Molokai Fish and Dive, then bought the gas station next door. (Giving us the opportunity to buy gasoline at a filling station called Fish and Dive.) We commented on the high prices in the islands. Gas in our area is now close to $2 a gallon, but in Hawaii, it is more than $4. He told us that their prices were dependent on the last tanker, and they didn’t change until the next one arrived. I noticed that Fish & Dive gas prices were identical to the one other station on Molokai, a Chevron.

The divers and snorkelers came back raving about the wonders they had seen–turtles, mantas, even a sleeping white-tipped reef shark. Someone said that the water seemed warmer at this spot, and the captain said, “Yes, it is. There are freshwater springs back at the other place that make it colder.”

I said, “It would’ve been nice of you to have mentioned that an hour ago.”

But I think staying out of the water at the second location was the right decision. After we came back, Tom and I were exhausted. We had lunch at the Kualapu’u Cookhouse, and I could hardly keep my eyes open. I had fried saimin with vegetables, which proved to also have Spam and fake crab in it. Spam, in case you aren’t aware, is a favorite here in the islands. If you are eating in an establishment frequented by locals, you will find it on the menu.

I fell asleep on the ride home, and as soon as we rinsed ourselves and our equipment, we both fell into bed and slept the sleep of the truly depleted. We awoke in the early evening, forced ourselves to cook dinner (we had purchased grass-fed beef from the Molokai Meat Cooperative), ate it, and went gratefully to bed without doing the dishes.