Some things pass in the blink of an eye. Perhaps a secret you’ll never know. The beams of light left behind in that fleeting instance. Were they real? Does it even matter?
Maybe it’s your own magic you see in that brief moment. If you truly open your eyes will you see what is in your heart? Will the light show you what was always meant to be?
Has anyone ever visited Iao Valley and not been moved, impressed, forced to ponder life in a new and meaningful way? Nearly vertical mountain spires, green and lush, carve a jagged outline from an impossibly blue sky. Perfectly white clouds, that appear like cotton balls, sail effortlessly from one side of the sky to the other. The peaceful sound of a gentle wind in the trees and water splashing noisily on mossy stones soothes the soul to the point whereby the quiet reflection of life’s deeper meanings seems not only effortless but somehow mandatory. I’ve been here many times over the years and it never fails to deliver at least a few hours of life-altering nourishment for my soul. With lofty expectations and camera gear firmly in heart and hand respectively I set off for a morning of enlightenment and documentation.
I fly over to Maui in the early morning from Molokai on Mokulele Airlines to visit my girlfriend and also get some photos and material for my blog. I love Mokulele because the pilots take in to consideration not only the weather and fastest/safest flight route but also which route will afford the passengers the best views of these amazing islands. The wind was lightly out of the south which seemed ideal for a flight that hugged the north coast of Molokai. I always ask the pilot which way they intend to go before I board so I can get situated on the proper side of the plane for viewing. The pilot confirmed my guess of a northerly route so off we went. Within a few minutes out of Hoolehua we were over the deep blue ocean adjacent the Kalaupapa peninsula and right off the bat I saw a large pod of Humpbacks breaching and playing. Only a few hundred feet up during our flight I saw at least 25 whales during the short 25 minute flight! I’m not math wizard but I quickly deduced that is one whale per minute which is arguably the most cetacean bang for the buck anywhere in the world! If you’ve never seen whales from the incredible viewpoint of a relatively low flying Cessna then I highly recommend it. Mother and baby whales, whole families of whales and single huge whales (which I assume were grumpy older males) seeking alone time. It was a spectacular flight but I was starting to grow concerned about the deepening vog that seemed to be collecting in the distance on the isthmus of Maui. For those of you not familiar with the term “vog” it means volcanic fog. Basically it is the exhaust emissions from the various active craters on the Big Island. When the trades become light or the winds are out of the south (called Kona Winds) then vog envelops the islands. Today was such a day. It was my intention to get lots of photos on my short weekend stay on the Valley Isle so this volcanic haze was not a welcome sight. As we neared Kahului Airport I realized this would not be a good day for photos of grand sweeping vistas so I decided to head for the Kepaniwai Heritage Park in Iao Valley to get some close in shots of the beautiful temples and art they have exhibited there.
I grab a cup of java on my way up to the Park along with a spam musubi or two. The vog is fairly significant and blankets much of Maui yet as I drive up the winding little road to Iao the sky becomes clearer and it soon becomes apparent the only part of Maui which might be considered photogenic on this day is Iao. I reach the Heritage Park and pull over and park by the Water Company’s little pumping shack and start getting my camera and tripod ready. The Kepaniwai Heritage Park honors the various ethnic groups which comprise the melting pot that is Hawaii with shrines commemorating their religious preferences and statues of the people who came here.. I love the concept of a park which brings together all these different cultures to honor their unique qualities. Perhaps it was the designers intent that if they built a park with various temples and shrines, with the religions and philosophies they represent, coexisting so peacefully and seamlessly, that it would give hope for all of us to follow suit and embrace our differences. To me this is actually one of the keys to the allure of these islands. A wide range of cultures with their beliefs, language, ethics and of course food were all thrown together. After some time, the best of each culture was adopted by the whole and a new culture sprang from this sorting and melding. You could conceivably go to a potluck and put on your plate a Portuguese patele, Filipino adobo, Hawaiian poi, Japanese sushi, Chinese noodles and a American hot dog or hamburger. Language of course is also very blended here. We speak English, Hawaiian, Japanese and Portuguese words often all in the same sentence or exchange. Some words are just so descriptive and closely associated with what they mean that regardless of their origin, they get adopted. A good example would be shishi (sheeshee) which means to pee. “I need go shishi!” After only a short time here it’s easy to pick up the local vocabulary and embrace the lack of formality and the inherent superiority and flexibility of being able to populate words in your vocabulary from many sources. By all means don’t just emulate…innovate!
There are a few people in the park. Families having picnics, a tourist group listening to a Hawaiian chant and several geeks with cameras like myself, agonizing over the perfect angle or perspective. My first stop is the Portuguese tribute. There is a replica Portuguese oven and several Catholic shrines set in a garden with many colorful flowers. A Portuguese oven is a wonderful thing. A domed structure made of stone, brick ect.. A fire is started and kept going until the stone structure is sufficiently hot. The coals and ashes are then scooped out. Portuguese bread is then set inside and baked until the oven eventually cools a bit. Then a big pot (or pots of stew) are set inside to cook for hours. I own a property on the Big Island in North Kohala which actually has a Portuguese oven. I never used it because it was kind of overgrown and dilapidated but the sellers told me it was a great way to make brick-oven pizza although quite a bit of work was required to do so.
There were several Catholic Shrines. Two of which I found particularly pleasing photographically. There is something eerie (to me) about the various Saints and Idols. Maybe my Catholic upbringing adds undo context to my interpretation of their meaning but I find the images compelling nonetheless. As I took the picture of Mother Mary the Beatles song “Let it be” starts it’s refrain in my head. “When I find myself in times of trouble, Mother Mary comes to me. Speaking words of wisdom, let it be”
Let it be indeed. I snap a few more pictures, one in particular of an angel holding a dove is so compelling to me I get down on my stomach to capture a better perspective of the 12″ statue. As I’m laying there trying to get an ideal depth of field, a couple walk up and stare disapprovingly at my prostrate form hogging the photo-op. I get up and brush off with as much dignity as I can muster and move on to the Chinese Temple. I get the feeling the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost want me to move on.
The Chinese Temple is colorful and peaceful. Set next to a reflective pond that contains many lively Koi. I gaze at the magnificent scenery all around me, the colorful temples, fish and flowers of many kinds adding to the kaleidoscope of hues that seem to be everywhere! It’s a veritable feast for the eyes as well as the soul. In a moment of metaphorical whimsy I envision all of the various colors representing the many ethnic and cultural groups as well as their qualities and religious preferences. All of these separate entities unique and alone with their own singular colors but also joined as one, as if a rainbow. Requiring not only to be held in admiration for their individual beauty but also needing a communal nurturing and bond to thrive and coexist.
Life for these early immigrants must been incredibly difficult. The long days of backbreaking labor via their indentured servitude as sugar workers combined with the fact that they were so far from their homelands must have weighed heavily on them. I wonder if they viewed this same picturesque valley back then as I do on this day? Did they feel as moved by it as I do as paradise or was it a wolf in sheep’s clothing for them? Or perhaps more appropriately a Hell wrapped in Heaven’s clothing. One thing is for sure though, no one that comes to Hawaii or Iao remains the same. No one that resides here for long remains unchanged. Although life in those early years must have been difficult and lonely, eventually the familiarity of their homeland was replaced by a new feeling of home and community in the plantation camps. For every story I have read concerning how hard life was for them there equally as many stories relating the nostalgia for the good old days in the camps. In the end i’ll choose to believe that everyone who comes to Iao and perhaps Hawaii is moved and changed in a positive way. Finding meaningful context by linking what I believe those who came before me here must have felt to how I feel today is perhaps a way for me to sort out my own life’s ambiguities and have better understanding of things that ultimately may have no understanding. Exercises in futility are my specialty!
With my poor brain literally swimming in a philosophical miasma of my own creation I retreat back to my car to pack up and head to my home in Kula. The vog again greets me as I leave the Valley reaffirming what I consider to be a wise choice in location for the day. The ghosts of yesteryear which I have conjured leave as quickly as when I summoned them and by the time I reach Queen Kaahumanu Mall I am firmly back in the present dealing with traffic. It was a great morning at Iao and I will be back. Another of those enchanted spots here in Hawaii that I am so thankful for and find great comfort in knowing they simply exist.
We awoke to a fresh wind from the south. We had planned a beach day in sunny Kīhei, but as the clouds spun in from Māʻalaea and drove them straight to our usually dry location in lower Kula, we realized an alternate plan was in order. I knew the gloom of the South Shore would be a distant memory if we headed northeast to Kaupo.
We gathered ourselves for whatever laid ahead of us that day, which meant packing everything from hiking shoes to slippers, bathing suits, jackets, and long pants. A quick supply run to the Minute Stop in Pukalani yielded a big box of fried chicken & potatoes, spam musubi, drinks, and some mango Hi-Chews which are highly coveted by all. We set off from the growing gloom of Kula and headed to sunnier shores, entertaining ourselves with the “Word Game”: a creation of mine whereby someone says one word and the next person replies with another word that shares a meaning or the meaning of a homonym. If the given word were “steel” for example, the response could be “stainless”, “sword”, or even “robbery”. It’s great fun and teaches vocabulary and meanings.
Our word game eventually dissolved into arguments over silly points with my son Bear soon replying “Sparta” and “drunk” to every word so we decided to give the game a rest and enjoy the magnificent vistas of Ulupalakua and Kaupo quietly instead. Bear’s fascination with drunk Spartans is both disturbing and highly entertaining all at once. With every mile we headed northeast the sun grew stronger and the clouds more scarce. We eventually stopped to grab a few pictures of the coastline and stretch our legs. It was such a colorful and amazing day on this side of the island. I imagine there’s some life lesson here somewhere. If you think about it there is always a sunny place somewhere on even the darkest day. I realize this bit of philosophizing works much better on an island than elsewhere in the world but there’s no need to dwell on realism when it comes to my metaphoric nonsense.
Back in the car and we’re off to St. Joseph’s Church in Kaupo. It’s Sunday so there are quite a few people on this narrow road but when we arrive at St. Joseph’s there’s not a soul in sight. The sky is super blue and there are a few of those puffy “cotton candy” clouds floating by. The Church and grounds look gorgeous against the blues of the sky and greens of the vegetation. I snap a few shots and notice some other cars pulling up. This is something you have to deal with on the more crowded islands. People will be driving along and see a car parked and immediately think this is some amazing thing going on or sight to see, so they stop. I have literally pulled over to pee and had people pull over to see what was going on. Our car parked at the Church soon had at least 5-6 other cars now parked with their occupants getting out to investigate. We had our brief private moment at the church and got a few photos so it was back on the road to our next destination.
We pile back in the car and then we’re off to St. Joseph’s Church in Kaupo. It’s Sunday so there are quite a few people on this narrow road, but when we arrive at St. Joseph’s there’s not a soul in sight. The sky is super blue and there are a few of those puffy “cotton candy” clouds floating by. The Church and grounds look gorgeous against the blues of the sky and greens of the vegetation. I snap a few shots and notice some other cars pulling up. This is something you have to deal with on the more crowded islands: people driving along see a car parked and immediately think there is some amazing thing going on or sight to see, and they stop. I have literally pulled over to pee and had people pull over to see what was going on. There were soon at least 5-6 other cars parked alongside ours, with their occupants getting out to investigate. Our private moment at the St. Joseph’s Church was gone, and with a few photos it was back on the road to our next destination.
We drove through the very heart of Kaupo past the closed Kaupo Store. We drove on to the Hui Aloha Church for our next photo opportunity. I absolutely love this little stretch of mountain and sea. Many years ago I visited the Church and as I drove down the gravel road I met a little old Hawaiian lady who stopped to talk. She asked me where I was from and what I was doing in Kaupo. At the time I was working at the Hana Medical Center, and we ended up talking about the challenges of living in a remote location especially as one gets older and needs frequent medical care. She then said something to me which I didn’t think much of at the time, yet it stuck with me: the light of Heaven falls here first and on the rest of the world after. Every chance I get I come and enjoy the beauty and solitude I find here. I have come to understand what she meant, and now believe as she did that Kaupo is about as close to Heaven as you can get without actually giving up the ghost.
After I get some great pictures of the kids, the Church, and my beautiful girlfriend Penni, I decide to set aside my camera and my blog-driven aspirations to head to a waterfall a few miles away to cool off and give the kids something more to do than stay out of the way of my photo-ops. We arrive at our destination and have a picnic. I really like Minute Stop fried chicken! We finish our food and head into the canyon to go for a swim at the waterfall. The stream bed was bone dry (which is not the best sign for a waterfall), but the canyon is stunning with it’s lush greens contrasted by black lava rocks and the deep blue sky. We arrive at the falls to find barely a trickle, but there is still a fairly deep pool of cold water at the base which looks very inviting after the hike through the heat and humidity of the valley. Eva and I head right in. She’s quite the water-child and never misses an opportunity for a dip or swim. The water is cold but so refreshing! When Bear finally comes in, the three of us realize someone is missing the fun. We politely tell her to put down her phone and sunglasses so nothing gets harmed when we throw her in. After successfully throwing Mom in, which is always the highlight of any beach or fun day, I snapped a few photos and we headed home.
We only get a few miles until we run into a wagon train of cars heading home at a blistering 8 mph. I decide it would be better to stop at the Kaupo Store and relax on their porch steps for a half hour or so than be stuck behind a bunch of cars in the dust. There’s such a timeless quality to this place. Sitting on those steps watching the kids play as the clouds scudded by I was reminded of how lucky we are to live in this amazing place. We jumped back into the car and headed home on a much emptier road. We made good time and were soon back in `Ulupalakua where the skies were quickly darkening. By the time we reach Kēōkea, it’s raining hard with the clouds are low and the visibility poor. It is such a sharp contrast to the colorful and bright district we just left, but it is also a fitting end to a day that was filled with spectacular sights and wonderful company.
Lower Kula was cold and wet when we tiredly returned home. A hot shower and dinner are going to be the perfect ending to this perfect day. Lucky we live Hawaii. We say this a lot here and usually with good reason! Aloha!