Saturday 10 December 2016

Getting the blues about not getting the blues

Rain again this morning didn’t prevent the day’s main activity – riding a mule down 26 switchbacks from the top of the seaside cliff to the peninsula of Kalaupapa at the bottom, 518 metres below. That’s 5 kilometres of teetering down rough steps full of potholes and swimming with rainwater and orange mud, under dripping trees and large cobwebs complete with spiders at their centres. It was almost a blessing that the low cloud blotted out the view of the often sheer drop, though there was no doubting that it was there. The ride took about an hour and a half, the mules occasionally slithering but generally admirably sure-footed and hard-working. Well done, Tita!

At the bottom, Norman met us for a tour of this unique National Park, administered by the Hawaiian Department of Health and inaccessible by road. It was originally established in the 1866 as a leper colony, the poor victims of this awful scourge (now officially known as Hansen’s disease, and curable) dumped - sometimes literally - from ships in this remote area with no ceremony and little support. Until Father Damien came along, that is, eventually (and recently) earning himself a sainthood for his selfless work with the victims. There are only 14 former patients there now, well outnumbered by government workers of various sorts – but the graveyards contain the headstones of 8,000 people, victims equally of the disease and the public’s fear of it. Adding insult to injury, two tsunamis swept away many of the markers.

It was an interesting place to visit, and the scenery, as the cloud lifted and the sky cleared, was certainly dramatic – but our enjoyment was somewhat hampered by the non-arrival of our lunches because of weather-related delivery problems. In such a place, though, it felt churlish to complain – and probably the mules were glad of our empty stomachs as they toiled underneath us all the way back up to the top again.
Then began the main purpose of this visit to Hawaii: a trip with UnCruise Adventures, who operate in Alaska, on the Columbia River, and in Baja and the Caribbean too. They’re small-ship operators with the focus on local activities, and our first began before we even got to the ship. Molokai Plumerias grow what I know and love as frangipani, and we walked into an orchard to learn how they’re grown, transported and shipped, and had a go ourselves at threading a fragrant lei: 50 blooms per necklace, since you ask, up to 1500 for the fancy spiral version.
Arriving at the ship, there was a long line of smiling faces to negotiate on the way to our comfortable cabin, home for the next seven nights. The staff, all youngish, super-upbeat Americans, are friendly and full of enthusiasm. “You thought this was a vacation?” asked the unusually-named expedition manager Dai Mar at the briefing. “It’s an adventure!” Having said which, he then tried very hard to dissuade people from opting for tomorrow’s “extreme mud hike” up the Halawa Valley, with singular lack of success, despite the Baby Boomer majority amongst the passengers. It could be interesting…

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