March 26-28, 1999

Luggage tagDuring the year the Hawaii Chapter of the Sierra Club participates in several service projects on the various Join the Sierra Club!islands. On March 26th, ten of us flew to Molokai to assist in various non-native plant eradication projects. Although Molokai is a special place in itself, our project took place on Kalaupapa; a low peninsula on the north shore of Molokai, known for many years as the location of the islands' Leprosy Settlement. It should be noted that although the term "Leprosy" is often used throughout the world, the question of terminology is widely debated and "Hansen's Disease" is the official term used in Hawaii and other places. Although the patients living on the peninsula are free to leave at any time, there are about 50 remaining who have chosen to live out their lives in this place. After spending a few days there and seeing the tranquil beauty of the place, and the relaxed atmosphere in which they live, I can certainly understand their reluctance to leave.

A little about Leprosy (taken from the National Park Service fact sheet) -
Leprosy is a chronic, infectious disease caused by a germ, Mycobacterium leprae, which usually involves the nerves, skin and eyes. There are approximately 11 million cases of leprosy in the world, about 5,000 of which are in the United States. Leprosy is transmitted by direct, person-to-person contact, usually repetitive, over a prolonged period of time. However, it is one of the least contagious of all communicable diseases and only about 4-5% of the world's population is even susceptible to it. With treatment, the infection is cured and within a few days or weeks of treatment, even the most contagious patient becomes non-infectious. Isolation is a thing of the past and all new cases are treated on an outpatient basis.

Our trip began early on the morning of the 26th when Georgia came by at 5:50 to carpool to the airport. We drove into Honolulu and picked up Betsy, who was waiting out front for our arrival, and proceded down the street to pick up Miles before heading to the airport. Once at the airport, DeHavilland Twin Otterwe met up with Bob, Wendy, John, Sanna, David, and Arlene. After a quick check-in, we hopped aboard a DeHavilland Twin Otter for the 25 minute ride to Molokai's main airport ("Topside", as it's referred to by residents of Kalaupapa). After a few minutes on the ground to pick up a couple of passengers, we were off again; this time for the 6-minute flight to Kalaupapa.

Sanna (left) with our fearless leaders for this trip - Bob and Betsy

Sanna, Bob, and Betsy

Upon arrival to Kalaupapa, we were met by Dean; the Director of the National Park Service for the Kalaupapa Settlement. The food and gear was thrown into the back of the Park Service van and then all eleven of us piled in for the 5 minute drive to the Quonset hut we would call home for the next three days. When we arrived, Dean explained the rules of our stay to those who had not been on the peninsula before - Quonset Hutwander around the settlement at will, but do not go beyond the fence separating the settlement from the east side of the peninsula - no photography of any of the settlement's patients without their permission - keep out of people's yards - etc. All good, common-sense rules. After the briefing, it was time to get to work, so off we went into the eastern portion of the peninsula where we spent the afternoon plucking clusters of thistle weed, and then clearing weeds from an ancient Hawaiian fishing site. Late in the afternoon we returned to the Quonset hut to claim our rooms (I shared with Bob - he doesn't snore!), get cleaned up, and settle in. A few of us went over to "Elaine's Bar" to enjoy beer and ice cream, and to purchase colorful t-shirts. Then it was back to the hut where Betsy had already put together a most efficient menu, Elaine's Placealong with full preparation and cooking instructions, so it was easy for the KP crew to perform their duties and we all sat down to a great meal.

Later in the evening we piled into the van again and Dean drove us around the settlement to show us the deer. He explained that there are about 1,000 deer on the peninsula (along with quite a few wild pigs); about 200 of which live on the settlement side of the fence. Everywhere we looked - the parks, the lawns, between houses - our flashlight beams lit up many pairs of radiant green eyes and the deer would scatter. On almost every square foot of the peninsula you could find deer droppings! I've been told that some of the residents are Transportation in Kalaupapaeven afraid to venture out at night for fear of being trampled in a deer stampede! But hunting them is controversial, and certainly not allowed within the settlement itself, so it would seem the people and the deer are going to have to co-exist for some time to come.

Around 9:30 or so it was time to turn in. We had all been up since quite early so there were few who decided to remain up beyond that time. Although the hut was comfortable and secure, the wind picked up during the night and all night long we could hear the buffeting of the windows and the rattling of the doors.

We awoke around 6:00am on Saturday morning and the breakfast KP crew swung into action! By the time the remainder of the group Hanging out on the front porchwandered in, the table was covered with cereal, juice, fruit, coffee, muffins, and other great treats. We enjoyed our meal, brushed our teeth, packed our backpacks, and assembled in front of the hut for the day's assignment which was delivered by Jeff, an NPS employee. Around the corner came the now-familiar grey NPS van and, with the clockwork precision that comes of experience, we once more piled in and headed eastward to a crater which lies almost in the middle of the peninsula.

Upon reaching the crater, we were issued tools to be used for clearing brush and small trees from specified areas at the mid level of the crater and then began the long, slow descent into the crater's interior. There we spent most of the day pulling large weeds and small trees and removing vines. Although the work was sometimes a little difficult, and moving through the brush uncomfortable, everyone pitched in, worked hard, and had a good time. There's always something special about the teamwork and togetherness on a service project!


Victory!!  At last! Sanna, Georgia, and Betsy delight in the thrill of victory after finally uprooting a particularly stubborn tree.  
  (L-R) Arlene, Betsy, Bob, and John take a break while the ever-elusive Wendy curses me for including her in the picture. Taking a well-deserved break
800 foot deep pond!! This is the small lake in the middle of the crater. We're told that the greenish stuff only extends down about 12 feet. Below that the water is clear and *VERY* deep!  

Late in the afternoon we took a short hike to a spot which looks down into a pit in the middle of the crater. A couple of hundred feet below us was the surface of a small lake; a lake that one of the members told me he heard was 800' deep! Then it was back to the long climb up the side of the crater - a climb made even longer by the fact that we were all tired from the day's work. Surprisingly, the tools had gained David and Betsy at the siteweight during the day and were now quite heavy to lug up the hill! After a brief rest at the top, the gang once more jumped into the van and we returned to the hut for showers and clean clothes.

While the evening KP crew readied for their task, a few of us slackers aimed our boots towards Elaine's where, once again, we ate ice-cream, drank beer, and enjoyed the relaxed atmosphere found all around the settlement. After a while a few of the patients who were sitting at an inside table invited us to come over and join them. We spent the next hour or so drinking beer, eating popcorn, and chatting with some of the most pleasant people I've met in a long time. They had many stories about the settlement, it's early water system, the NPS involvement in their lives, and other aspects of life in Kalaupapa. All too soon we realized that it was time to return "home" to the hut and a superbly crafted dinner, cooked to Betsy's exacting specifications!

After dinner we were treated to two slide shows presented by researchers who were sharing the hut with us. Their specialty was lava tubes, their formation, locations, and evolution. Following the show, they fielded questions and we all sat around chatting and drinking wine before finally heading off to bed where we once again were serenaded by the all night rattling of windows and doors in the gusty winds.

Sunday morning, and the crack KP crew moved through the kitchen like a well-oiled machine! The alluring fragrance of coffee and fresh-cooked eggs eventually brought the rest of the gang to life and, one by one, they appeared, rubbing their eyes and searching for a plate and fork. Soon breakfast was over, lunch was packed, and we gathered at the now-familiar staging area in front of the hut. At Dean's order, we deftly piled into the van for the umpteenth time, almost oblivious to his oft-heard plea of, "No, no - shut the other door first!", and headed out for a day of sightseeing in this wonderful place.

Kalaupapa LighthouseFirst stop was the Kalaupapa Lighthouse where we stood at the base and marveled at the Windy at the lighthouse!strength of the winds blowing in off the ocean. Although the wind meter that I, Gadget Guy, brought with us registered 45 mph, we were told that it was not that unusual at the lighthouse. After airing out the interior for 10 minutes or so (I believe it was to remove old mercury fumes) we ascended the stairs and gathered around the beacon at the top of the lighthouse. As we stood between the rotating light and the outer glass, we could feel the heat of the light each time it passed over us. Then the more adventurous in the group stepped out onto the catwalk and circled the outside; fighting hard to gain footing into the strong wind (my meter registered 53 mph up here), only to suddenly be blown from behind after passing the halfway point! It would have been a great photo opportunity, had the wind not blown the camera around so much.

View from the end of the roadAfter that, it was off on a drive along the outer perimeter of the peninsula, stopping to explore rocky shores, rare plants, and lava tubes, and eventually winding up at a lovely pavilion at the end of the road. Here we enjoyed lunch and then walked to the grassy edge of the cliff overlooking the north shore and the magnificent valleys that carve their way inland. After the obligatory photo session, we drove westbound until we reached the old churches and grave site of Father Damien where Dean spoke of the history of the area and told stories of the early settlers who lived, and died, at this unique place.

Finally, time to leave was drawing near, so we returned to the hut to gather our Church in Kalaupapabelongings and load into the van one final time for the ride to the airport. Once there we checked in (show your ID, and give your weight) and then lounged around while waiting for the Twin Otter to come and fetch us. It was a final time to visit with each other, enjoy that final beer, pet the dog with the strange teeth or the one with the unusually large feet, and read the brochures from the rack on the wall. Soon our flight arrived and, after a quick flight to topside to pick up a few more passengers, we were on our way back to Honolulu.

All too soon the long weekend was behind us and and we were left with only memories, photos, and dirty laundry to deal with. But there will be more trips to Kalaupapa. And to places like Aina Hou, Kamakou, Hakalau, Manuka, and Kilauea Point, to name a few. I'm scheduled for Manuka in May and Hakalau in September so, hopefully, I will be able to put a few pictures of those outings on my web page one day. Meanwhile, if you'd like to participate in a service project, give the Sierra Club, Hawaii Chapter, a call at (808)538-6616 or drop by the Sierra Club Web page at http://www.hi.sierraclub.org and check out the schedule and outing descriptions.

See you on the trail!!

The gang poses for a picture on
the last day while Wendy takes
the shot. Here we have (L-R)
Mike, Arlene, Bob, David, Dean,
Betsy, Georgia, (kneeling)
Sanna, Miles, and John
All the gang at the lookout

Drop by my home page for picture from other outings!

This page last modified on 12/17/2003