Tuesday, November 4, 2014

The Aloha Spirit

Many years ago, we visited Hawaii for the first time. I worked for a year and saved every extra cent to pay for the eighteen-day trip. As a surfer, Larry had always wanted to go. So we contacted a travel agent (remember those?) and planned our dream trip: five islands, eight plane flights, and thirteen hotels. We wanted to see everything.

Our sense of the Hawaiian began as soon as we boarded the plane. We flew Continental Airlines. At the time, the upholstery on the seats featured a floral print, and the flight attendants wore long Hawaiian-print dresses or shirts. Ukulele music wafted from the speakers. We were greeted with, "Aloha," and thanked with, "Mahalo." Before ever reaching the islands, we were surrounded by aloha spirit.
We arrived in the Hilo airport. As soon as the doors opened, the scents of flowers and fruit assaulted us. I will always remember this as the fragrance of Hawaii.

As we walked through the open-air facility, we heard the gentle sound of tricking water and realized it ran down chains suspended from the eaves into rock-lined pools at the ground. We liked it so much that we now have a chain to channel rainwater from our gutters to the ground. Unfortunately, we rarely have enough rain to hear the lovely sound.

Everywhere we went, all the service people used "Aloha" and "Mahalo." Most wore Hawaiian resort wear: fitted muumuus, and Hawaiian-print shirts. For the most part, everyone we met was friendly and welcoming.

At that time, you could drive all the way around the Big Island, and we did. We went to places which no longer exist, like the Queen's Bath and the big Black Sand Beach.

During that trip, we made our first visit to Kalaupapa, the 'leper colony' on Molokai. (A treatment for what is now called Hansen's disease was discovered in the 1940s. It doesn't cure the disease but it stops the progression. People today who contract it simply undertake a regimen of medications for the rest of their lives. They can now live normally within society.)

When the treatment was begun, those patients who lived at Kalaupapa were allowed to move away if they chose. However, since many of them were deformed and had family and friends on the small peninsula, they were allowed to remain for their lifetime. When we first visited, about 150 patients resided there.

A couple of years later, we went back with our daughter. Several people we had met on the first trip had died, but many were still there, including the same patient/tour guide we'd had on our first visit, 'Primo' Pete. The population at that time was about 125.

Several years after that, we returned with friends. The hospital had burned down, and Pete was dying. The population today is about 90, as of last year.

Richard Marks, a former patient (who called his disease 'leprosy') ran Damien Tours, the group through which we visited. We flew to the peninsula every time rather than taking the mule ride down the pali. On our last visit, he was lobbying the US government to make Kaluapapa a national park. We, along with many of those who loved the place and believed it should be preserved, wrote our congressional representatives in his support.

In 1980, the National Park Service took over the management of the place, guaranteeing lifetime residency to all the remaining patients and forever preserving the historical town and its surroundings from development for future generations.
Even in this isolated area of Hawaii, aloha spirit prevailed. We were welcomed and shown terrific hospitality. On our last visit, we helped harvest papayas from one of the yards and were given four to take back to our hotel with us. These were the sweetest and best-tasting papaya I have ever eaten.

From the Big Island to Molokai to Kauai to Maui to Oahu, wherever we went, people were friendly. The pace slowed down, the fresh fruit tasted amazing, and the days seemed much longer, ending in glorious sunsets.

Sitting in the Honolulu airport waiting for our flight back to California, I started to cry. I wanted to stay there, far away from the fast-paced work world I would find at home.

We have returned many times since, including this week. I have invited a friend to guest blog next week, but the following week, I will describe our latest adventure in Paradise, and it isn't the same as our first.

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