Sunday, December 10, 2006

Molokai, My Favorite Isle (Part 1)

As soon as I arrive at the airport, I know I'm in a Hawaii set in a time warp. In this paranoid, post-9/11 world, the airport has no security at all. No metal detectors or x-ray machines exist. An outdated, faded, and dog-eared cardboard sign ubsequiously reminds passengers to advise the crew if they are carrying firearms. The genial check-in staff behind the airline counter consist of the pilot and his rookie co-pilot. Family members walk with their loved ones to the tarmac to say good-bye.

I grab my backpack and head to the curb. Being the pennypincher, I opted for a local outfit to rent a car. A kind, tanned, portly, barefoot gentleman steps out of a non-descript minivan and heads straight for me. As a single, pale-skinned traveler with very "casual" attire (read: dressed like a bum), he must have known I was the guy who made a reservation with his rental car company.

I ride shotgun and we head for Kaunakakai. The entire island is devoid of traffic lights. In a residential neighborhood a few blocks from "downtown" is a single family home with about half a dozen late model compacts outside being washed by a couple of kids. This must be the rental car lot.

I step into the living room. A make shift office, complete with credit card machine, computer, black leather office chair, and an ashtray full of Marlboro Reds, welcomes me. After the transaction, I step into my five year old Escort with more dents than I cared to count. It ran like a top for my entire stay.

I check into Hotel Molokai. It is a collection of two-story tiki huts. A hotel designed (and never renovated) in the 1940s/50s. My room is dark and dingy. It would take a team of feng shui experts over a year to re-do the whole complex. The staff was kind enough to leave a Costco-sized can of bug spray in my bathroom.

After dropping off my bag in my room, I head out to Halawa Valley on the eastern edge of the island. Along the way, I am mesmerized by Maui to my right. I climb out of my Escort and climb onto a rock wall on the edge of the channel to snap some pictures. A man is there fishing with a net.
He tells me that the rock wall I am standing on is actually part of a fish pond built by the Hawaiians centuries ago. Dozens of these ponds dotted the southeastern quadrant of the island. He is slowly repairing them, one by one, and restoring them into working ponds. The one I am standing on is done. I focus my eyes on the milky water and see little fish everywhere. I am handed the net and urged to give it a try. I fail miserably. It's like watching an 80 year old trying to download music onto an iPod. We talk at length about the state of Hawaiian people and overdevelopment. He invites me back later to "talk story" with his friends and family.

I spend the rest of the day exploring the road between Kaunakakai and Halawa Valley. Rather than describing what I saw and experienced, I will remain silent. It's best to go there as I did, without a clue as to what to expect. You'll thank me for it.


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