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Adventures in Maui
When I embarked on this Hawaiian journey I hoped it would be filled with amazing experiences and adventure, sunsets, surfing, warm evenings and the maybe even sounds of a ukulele playing in the background. Looking back, it was nothing like I expected. Yes, it was spectacular, and of course it was warm, but some aspects of adventure and companionship were more nuanced than expected. I knew some things about everyday life when camping on a remote farm were going to be wildly different from home, but I never expected three of my passions – driving, surfing and simply meeting friends would be so complex in Hana.
Our host purchased a 1998 Ford Ranger for us to use and we were all so excited for this freedom and mobility. I got a taste of the craziness that lie ahead the moment we left the airport. We drove two and a half hours home along the Hana Highway to get to our new residence. This road is world famous for its 620 curves, 59 one lane bridges, and the breathtaking views from this treacherous road. I got to experience that road 24 more times over the course of 3 months. Sometimes I would be the white-knuckled driver, other times I’d watch fearfully from the passenger seat, and every third trip from the bed of the truck – looking backwards, lolling back and forth on the verge of vomiting with unrelenting rain showers pouring down on me. Seeing that road the first time set the tone for the trip and forced me to wrap my head around the twists and turns to come. The journey quickly evolved from something cool and visually mesmerizing to a nauseating rollercoaster that seemed to never end. But by the end of the trip we had trimmed the drive to two hours and felt like masters of the jungle stock car race.
While Hana is known for its plentiful natural resources, people are few and far between, and US mainlanders even less so. We had hoped to make some local friends eventually, and after several days in a row of playing Frisbee and making diving football catches in the waves after work with a group of locals curiously looking on from afar, someone finally came up and asked to join in our game. We were so excited. Before long we were grilling out on the beach with about 20 other “woofers” (Working-On-Farm) from the Hana area. That initial connection turned our rather predictable farming and swimming routine into Frisbee Fridays, Volleyball Sundays, Soccer Wednesdays, and big wave Thursdays. It was awesome and it was a game changer for us. They were great folks loving the land the way we’d hoped to, leading us on cliff jumping expeditions deep in the rainforest or along ocean coves, searching for secret beach spots and trading farming secrets over an evening fire. Their willingness to befriend us and share their own network and adventure took us to all corners of the island.
Surfing was something we all learned to love very quickly and occupied many weekend hours. Saturday afternoons we would finish work, throw our day packs, cameras and surfboards in the truck and hit the winding road in search of waves. We would drive all over the island chasing breaks appropriate to our abilities. As our surfing skills grew so did our appetite for bigger waves. Pacing the wave or standing on a board was easy in the grand scheme of things. Our understanding of where to set up in the lineup, how to read the water, identifying consequential landmarks became critical areas of focus. Many of those tasks did not come easy, as the help from the local crowd was nonexistent, not very welcoming to outsiders and far different from the Hana “woofer” crowd. Every new break we went to posed different problems and challenges, whether it was the paddle out, navigating the crowds of surfers, finding non-deadly exit points, or avoiding the ever present reefs. One by one, through much trial and error we were able to steadily progress without getting killed and soon were catching waves beyond our wildest dreams. Some of my best memories from the trip materialized from not just surfing but the adventure of finding secluded spots, beating others to the break after a rainstorm and checking out the sights from various parts of the island.
Our host had suggested that dietary changes were coming our way upon arrival in Hana, as were eating schedules, work routines, bathroom protocols and basic daily hygiene. I will admit that all of those required some measure of adjustment, but the act of simply getting to and from the beach, meeting new friends and surfing waves ended up being far more challenging than I could have imagined. But everything we learned in that arena was worth the additional effort. I can now drive with laser focus and have perfected the hairpin turn as if driving a golf cart. I can size up a surf break and manage to navigate the water, natural obstacles and enthusiastic inhabitants like a native. And I have learned most important of all to embrace new and different people, to realize how everyone loves to play, and to keep putting myself out there in search of new relationships and experiences. The easier stuff somehow became the challenging stuff, but it made Maui a better experience and will stay with me forever.
The Importance of Being Present
For the past 8 weeks, I have been traveling through Hawaii and the West Coast on an ARCC gap semester. While I could go on and on about why the trip was so special, there is one aspect that I noticed from the beginning which made for a very impactful experience: how easy it was to be present.
On one of the last nights of the trip my instructor asked us a simple question: if you could tell yourself 2 months ago, sitting in the airport, one thing, would you? And if so, what? Without a minute of hesitation, I knew my answer. I would not.
When I think back to sitting at the airport on September 15th, looking at the top halves of the faces I’d spend the next 2 months with, I was overwhelmed to say the least. My mind was spinning with expectations, first impressions, fears, and hopes. I knew nothing for sure. I had no idea how the next 2 months would go and I had hardly read the brief itinerary I had been provided. All I knew was that I was there. So I let myself sit with that unknown and enjoyed the sandwich and coffee I had just bought myself.
Flash forward 3 weeks and I’m sitting in Hawaii after a long day of scuba diving waiting to be handed my phone (they take them for the first portion of the program), and I’m completely dreading getting it back. Spending such an extended period of time with no connection to home, to the news, or to anything besides the exact moment I was in was incredibly refreshing. I could feel myself being less stressed and more able to focus on the present. I also loved carrying around a real camera instead of my phone (I’ve attached some of my favorite moments I captured).
Because I didn’t know very much about the itinerary and had no way of knowing what the future held, I was able to spend every day focused on nothing but that day. Each day brought a new adventure, new conversations, new challenges. And I wanted to soak up as many of those as possible. I did my best to not think forward, to not worry about what we were doing tomorrow or next week. If I had told myself anything at the airport that first day, I’m not sure I would have been able to go through the program as I did. The combination of not knowing what was next and being disconnected from everything was such a gift and allowed me to really make the most of my gap semester. Now that I’m home, I hope to find ways to disconnect and be as present in my life here as I was while I was gone.
Anatomy of a Farm
Ancient Hawaiians would split up land into pie slices starting at the top of the mountain and running all the way to the ocean, and each pie slice would be a town. The slices had enough resources to support all its residences, with hunters up in the mountains, fisherman on the coast, and farming all through the middle. Upon arrival in Hana, our host, Nick, seemed to own a whole pie slice to himself. Our first morning Nick took us on a walk through the property, reciting the names of every tree, bush, fruit, and vegetable, and noting which ones he planted. He also outlined his goals and vision for the property, including where he would put each orchard, plant each crop, and eventually build his dream house. After the entire day of touring the property I came to the conclusion that it was just one big hunk of jungle. There was very little actually planted that hadn’t been there in an intertwined mess for decades if not centuries, and although Nick laid out big plans for our time on the farm I was skeptical as to what realistically could be accomplished in 10 weeks and the future of the property as a whole.
During our first month our workload consisted solely of hacking away at the jungle, clearing land and attempting to slow the rapid growth of the bamboo, cane grass, and hau brush. To be able to navigate the rainforest and do battle with its overgrowth, we needed to understand the enemy, so Nick gave us an in depth tutorial during the workday and then again around the evening fire. We would learn much about how and when species rooted and spread, where it originated from and its main purpose for use on the island. We spent many days planting, watering, and harvesting crops. Nick used a sustainable farming technique where he would only use fertilizers, compost, and mulch with ingredients from his own property. We learned that live plants carry more carbon and dead plants contain more nitrogen and learned proper balance of each in mulch. We learned the art of composting and how the quality of the production impacted the growth of plants. I was amazed and really enjoyed learning about all the science and strategy that goes into having a successful farm.
Nick’s farm was on the rainy side of the island, offering perfect ingredients for plant growth and crop prosperity. I found out early on that the perfect recipe was a double edged sword. While we enjoyed watching our newly planted crops flourish, it was incredibly deflating and challenging to see the bamboo grow back in Jurassic Park fashion right in front of our very eyes. Every plant and tree we attempted to clear for future plantings would come back with a vengeance unbelievably fast. Hau brush and African tulip trees would take root anywhere branches touched ground, and an entire tree could grow from the nutrients from a single branch no bigger than your wrist or longer than your forearm. Cane grass would swallow entire fields at a time and the homoonu could cover a garden bed in the blink of an eye. It was an uphill battle fending off the jungle, two steps forward and one step backwards daily. Working with hand saws, clippers, and shovels put us at a slight disadvantage, but each Friday our savior Makani would arrive and provide us with a distinct advantage over our opponent. Makani was our neighbor and he worked with us once a week and brought not only a wealth of island farming knowledge but also seeds and saplings for us to plant, and most importantly enough heavy machinery to arm a small industrial outpost. We would clear more land on Fridays then seven days of manual work. Without his help we would have stood zero chance of making material progress during our stay. We also loved him because he brought fresh fish to augment our normal diet of plants and energy bars.
In our last days in Kaoli I felt like the blueprint for the future started to make sense. Our efforts and manual laboring helped lay the groundwork for a successful farm. Nick’s vision for the property was starting to take shape. I look forward to returning to the farm when I am older, maybe even with my family, and seeing the land we worked on evolved into a fully functioning farm. When we arrived all I could see was complexity – and unclear destination amidst a pile of brush. But, by taking one step at a time I saw many elements fall into place and trusting Nick and Makani made it easier to attack our project. I had no idea what I was in for, but I learned so much. I may never help construct another farm again, but finding a way forward and adhering to plan and adapting to our circumstances is something that will always bear fruit.
Problem Solving in Hana
I spent the last few months with friends volunteering on a farm located about 7 miles west of the remote town of Hana on the island Maui. For perspective, while offering undeniably spectacular views, Kaoli is approximately 2 hours from the nearest grocery and hardware stores, accumulates roughly 400 inches in annual rainfall, and we lived under a tarp. Open tent camping in a lush rainforest overlooking the south pacific sounded rustic to all of us, but challenges presented themselves immediately upon arrival. After a sleepless first night battling mobile little critters, the roar of intermittent rain bursts and the sounds of creatures lurking in the background, fixing our living quarters became job number one. We had to turn our bug infested sauna of a rain shelter into something passable for daily living if we had any hope of lasting a week.
The list of projects seemed infinite, so we focused on Maslow’s most basic needs, including food, shelter, water and sleep. The first task was combatting the bugs, as we emerged from our sleeping quarters covered in what looked like early stages of smallpox, courtesy of some opportunistic mosquitos. As we compared battle wounds our host informed us that bug nets were a week out at best. We improvised and focused on generating as much air flow as possible through the tent. We grabbed machetes and hand saws and attacked the inkberry, hoe bush, and mango trees blocking the strong east-facing “Kona” winds that swept across the property. We used the newly harvested wood to construct a platform to get our sleeping bags off the jungle floor and created shelves for our belongings and built a functional, beautiful table. The next step was eliminating the ape plant (wild terro) surrounding the tent which generated many puddles of stagnant water birthing millions of mosquitoes.
The next challenge was finding more accessible water. Bathing would have been nice after being covered in dirt and brush for eight hours each day, but avoiding severe dehydration was the bigger concern. Ninety degrees under a canopy of overgrowth was crushing us. Our host had previously found a spring about a mile upstream of the property which he hoped to use to irrigate the farm eventually. By tripling the occupants on the farm connection to the water source became imperative. We mapped out a plan, trudged up and down the mountainside for days, eventually hooking up 2,000 feet of pipe from the mouth of the spring to just above our tent. After battling water pressure issues we installed water tanks halfway up the hill, and before long we had fresh drinking water. Days later we actually rigged up a shower system with lava rocks as flooring to avoid bamboo foot punctures and palm fronds tied to inkberry railings to obscure the view.
I don’t know if our efforts qualify for a “Home Improvement” episode, but necessity is the mother of invention and before we left we transformed our little slice of rainforest into a glorious one bedroom, half-bath palace, complete with closets, porch, dining room, surfboard and drying racks for our disgusting clothes. That first night was horrendous, but by week three we were sleeping like babies after adapting to jungle living at its finest.
Getting Ready To Leave
I was always the kid who would stay up all night before any kind of trip. Whether a field trip with my school or a family vacation, the idea of going somewhere has always excited me. This time around, it’s more than one night of excitement. Considering what the world and my life have looked like since March, I can’t begin to express how much I look forward to stepping on a plane in 7 short days.
In exactly a week, I will be making my way—mask and negative COVID test in hand—to spend two months exploring Hawaii, Oregon, and California. I will be camping the whole time, living with 12 others from around the country. We will be spending two weeks in quarantine on a macadamia nut farm before exploring the Big Island, getting a scuba diving certification, hiking, surfing, volunteering, and more. Then we will make our way to Oregon where we will visit national parks, take a Wilderness First Responder course, and work with many different organizations as we make our way down the coast before ending in Los Angeles.
While the itinerary makes the trip enticing, the part I am most excited about is that I will be doing it all with a completely new group of peers. It’s been hard saying goodbye to my friends from high school and watching them as they head off to college and meet new people, so I’m looking forward to doing the same. At the same time, this is also the part I am most nervous about. Going into this not knowing anybody feels like a bit of a leap of faith, though I have no doubt it will pay off.
While I spend this last week at home balancing the conflicting emotions and the struggle of packing my tent, sleeping bag, snorkel, and everything else into one duffel bag (the picture shows a fraction of what will need to fit), I still feel those same night-before-trip-jitters. I can’t wait to embark on this journey and am really grateful to have the opportunity to do so!