Molokai - Oct 10
Oct 10, 2011
|October 10, 2011
Today was the main reason we had come to Molokai. A while back, we’d purchased a US National Parks passport book and at each national park you could get a stamp to show you had visited it. In Hawai’i we had visited all of the national parks and got stamps except one so once we knew we were coming back to Hawai’i we thought we would try and visit the final one.
We once again met with Cheryl for breakfast and once again were spoilt with lovely fruit and more home-cooked delights, this time a cottage cheese pancake with yoghurt and bananas. This gave us a good filling before heading off for our tour to Kalaupapa.
In 1866, the Kingdom of Hawai’i chose Kalaupapa as the place where leprosy sufferers would be shipped off to for the remainder of their lives. At the time leprosy was considered to be highly contagious and the social outcasting of lepers was common place. The peninsula, actually called the Makanalua Peninsula, was chosen because of its isolation and the natural barriers of the ocean and sea cliffs which would prevent people from “escaping”. As a result of this isolation, a visit to Kalaupapa can only be undertaken on an organized tour and transport into the area is quite restrictive.
The choices to reach and leave the peninsula used to be a little more varied but now we had to choose between three – hike in and out, mule ride in and out, or fly in and out. We quite fancied hiking in and then flying out to get some scenic views of the peninsula but as this option was not offered, we decided to fly in and out. The first reason for picking this over the mules was the fact it was the same price. The second reason was that flying in is quicker and more comfortable than sitting on a bloody donkey going down a hill. The third and final, and most important, reason is that I don’t think it is fair on the mules. I appreciate that mules are bred to carry stuff but why should they have to carry over-weight and lazy tourists down a steep and treacherous path? Sure, I’m not full on animal rights or anything and won’t turn down a nice juicy steak, but when there is another option I certainly wouldn’t deliberately choose something which could harm an animal. It also reminded me of being in Petra when we hiked to the top monastery and saw lots of fat tourists precariously balanced on over-worked mules. It’s no way to treat an animal.
As it turned out, on arrival at the airport, our plane had been needed elsewhere and as there were only two of us we got to fly down to Kalaupapa in a helicopter. The views to begin with were the same as we’d seen flying in and consisted of little else but flat, dry fields of red dirt but as we reached the cliffs the views were stunning and the peninsula was clearly visible ahead of us. We also got a view of the walking/mule trail going down the hillside and we were glad we chose this option rather than any of the others! Once we landed at the airport we saw that there were quite a few other people taking the tour but many of these had flown in from other islands. It is only a half hour flight from Oahu so many people take this option rather than coming to stay in Molokai. Two old style school buses turned up and the first driver asked who was on a specific plane. A number of people got on and off that bus went. The second bus, and the group who were supposed to be on it, didn’t go anywhere and after 45 minutes of sitting around I asked one of the pilots what was going on. As it turned out, we were supposed to be on the first bus but the driver hadn’t realized. The airport manager got us to hop into his van and he drove us to meet up with everyone else. Thankfully, they hadn’t gone very far and were just at the bottom of the trail meeting the mule riders and hikers. The driver wasn’t exactly apologetic for leaving us behind but we were just glad we hadn’t missed anything on the tour.
Father Damien had arrived in Kalaupapa in 1873 and ministered the victims of leprosy, or Hansen’s disease, and he ultimately caught the disease himself and died because of it. One of the other people who was responsible in helping Father Damien was Mother Marianne and it was at her grave that we made our first stop. Our driver was also our tour guide and he told us some history about the settlement and about how a few former patients still live here. The settlement was still used for leprosy sufferers as recently as the 1960s and many of the sufferers were forcibly removed from their families. As a result, the former patients have found it hard to move back to regular society and have decided to remain in their new home, surrounded by like-minded people in their own community. The stigma surrounding the disease may no longer exist but these sufferers still feel that their lives have moved on from who and where they were when they first arrived here and they don’t want to go back. As a result, there are around 20 former patients who call the settlement home although half of these spend most of their time in Oahu as they still need medical care. The hospital in Kalaupapa is not setup to provide intensive medical care and only has a physician visit from Oahu once a month. The current patient number in the hospital is zero as the only recent incumbent passed away a month or so ago. The guide also pointed out to us some rubble in front of the current hospital. This is the remains of one of the old hospitals and had been used to house records and store supplies once the newer one had been built. Unfortunately, amongst the supplies was fuel and gasoline and a fire in this building destroyed records and photos which had been kept since the beginning of the settlement.
With regard to Mother Marianne herself, she was in charge of more of the female sufferers as the men and boys were housed separately from the women and girls. It was quite special to see the grave of Mother Marianne at this time as the current pope has recently announced that she is also to be sainted.
We drove around the settlement of Kalaupapa and there we saw many of the more recent buildings including the homes of former patients, the general store and the post office. Most of these places are off limits to tourists as the former patients use them as meeting places and don’t want to feel uncomfortable with tourists around. We stopped at a small building which housed a museum of sorts and here there were some photographs of the settlement as it used to look as well as a number of implements such as cutlery and can openers which have been modified for use by leprosy patients. At a small store, called Fuesaina’s Bar, we were shown a picture of the other side of the peninsula from the beginning of the last century. The number of buildings here was surprising and the town looked like almost any other thriving harbourside town from that era. We also visited the main church in Kalaupapa although the most interesting thing here was the church hall which housed a number of photographs from the old settlement as well as some pictures of sufferers of Hansen’s disease.
From there we drove to the other side of peninsula, to the original settlement called Kalawao. We stopped briefly at the crest of the hill to get some lovely ocean and cliff views along the northern shoreline. Also here is the remains of a heiau, a sacred Hawaiian temple, although the remains now resemble a pile of black lava rocks. The settlement had originally been set up in Kalawao as the harbour was better for anchoring to allow patients to come ashore but once Father Damien arrived he moved many of the facilities and patients across to Kalaupapa as the western side of the peninsula is more sheltered from the harsh winds and rains which affect the eastern side. Here in the remaining settlement, little remains other than some foundations and a stunning view along the northern shoreline. It is horrible to think that around a hundred years ago, leprosy sufferers were forced into coming here and were loaded onto boats against their will. In fact, some patients refused to leave the ships and were often thrown overboard. As the nearest landmass other than the peninsula was hundreds of miles away, the patients had no option other than to swim to their new home, isolated from their family, friends and almost all of civilization. The work of Father Damien to make them feel more like normal people and to listen to their problems, concerns and needs whilst at the same time risking his own health is just one of the many reasons why he was ultimately canonized. We stopped on this part of the peninsula for lunch and whilst the views were lovely (and our homemade sandwiches were pretty good, too) it was hard to get away from the fact of what happened here.
After lunch, and on the way back to the airport, we stopped at St Philomena’s Church. This is where Father Damien was originally buried before his body was exhumed and moved back to his home country, Belgium, very much against his wish to remain here after his death. The grave site still remains next to the church, though, along with some of the others who continued his work after he passed away, including Brother Joseph Dutton. Inside the church itself we saw a curious thing. In the floor of the oldest part of the church were a number of holes. One of the side effects of leprosy is a large build-up of phlegm and Father Damien specifically cut these holes in the floor so that his congregation could cough and spit throughout his sermons. It was interesting to see them, but very gross at the same time. There was also a film crew who were touring the island at the same time as us. It turns out that it is one of the big anniversaries to do with Father Damien’s life and they were recording a news article to be aired on the public TV channels over the coming days.
That was our final stop on the tour and we crossed the peninsula back to Kalaupapa and dropped the hikers and mule riders off at the trail head. It was a really hot and bright day and I was glad we weren’t going to have to sit on a beast or clamber up the steep path to get back to our car! On the drive to the airport, we passed a small area of beach and here we saw a Hawaiian monk seal rolling around on the sand. Considering these are very rare and we assumed the only place we’d see one was at the Waikiki Aquarium, it was amazing to see one on the wild and reasonably close, too. We’d only this morning been talking to Cheryl about them and she had said the numbers were increasing around the inhabited islands but that you still hardly saw them. Well, we did today!
The tour was really interesting and the settlement is certainly pretty unique. It is a bit of a shame that our guidebook mentions that the views and mule rides are the main attractions of the day as I think this is missing the point. I’m not going to pretend I didn’t enjoy our flights either way but the things I learnt today and in the past few days reading about this peninsula are really eye opening in a way which a mule ride really isn’t.
Our flight back to the main airport was in a small, light aircraft and as it was only us flying we asked if the pilot could fly us over the peninsula to see the crater and past the cliffs to see the hiking trail. He seemed happy to display his flying skills and almost went above and beyond with his mini-aerobatics! He joked at the end that he hoped he hadn’t scared us but he said he liked flying on his own so he could practice some “moves” and thought we wouldn’t mind. I told I liked flying and it didn’t bother me. However, I did find sitting in the front seat and watching the runway zooming towards you a little disconcerting especially in such a small plane where you could see the ground moving beneath your feet!
On the way back to the apartment we stopped at the drive-in for blueberry milkshakes and even though it was only mid-afternoon, we were glad of the chance to be back early and have some down time. Just before 6pm we drove out to the nearby park to watch the sunset although it was slightly obscured by some horizon-level clouds but nevertheless the sky still looked amazing and even the moon came out for a while! For dinner we had the leftover spaghetti bolognese and leftover sweet bread from last night and relaxed in front of the TV.