The Book: Moloka’i by Alan Brennert
My Rating: 4/5
Blurb from Amazon.com:
This richly imagined novel, set in Hawai’i more than a century ago, is an extraordinary epic of a little-known time and place—and a deeply moving testament to the resiliency of the human spirit.
Rachel Kalama, a spirited seven-year-old Hawaiian girl, dreams of visiting far-off lands like her father, a merchant seaman. Then one day a rose-colored mark appears on her skin, and those dreams are stolen from her. Taken from her home and family, Rachel is sent to Kalaupapa, the quarantined leprosy settlement on the island of Moloka’i. Here her life is supposed to end—but instead she discovers it is only just beginning.
With a vibrant cast of vividly realized characters, Moloka’i is the true-to-life chronicle of a people who embraced life in the face of death. Such is the warmth, humor, and compassion of this novel that “few readers will remain unchanged by Rachel’s story” (mostlyfiction.com).
This historical fiction is a good companion on a trip to Hawaii, especially if you have any interest in the islands in the late 1800s. It offers a detailed imagining of the lives of the leprous outcasts on Moloka’i and the people who helped care for them.
Photo of Father Damien with Moloka’i Kalawao Girls Choir, credit Henry L. Chase circa 1878 via Wikimedia,
The misfortunes piled on Rachel and her companions are exhausting. But the book’s emphasis on the whole triumph-of-the-human-spirit-over-adversity theme keeps it from being too depressing (just barely).
Also, I learned so much about Hansen’s disease and the nerve-damaging bacteria that causes it. For instance, did you know that it’s only mildly contagious and 95% of the population has a natural immunity? It’s terrifying how our fears can trample others’ lives.
If you are intrigued by Hansen’s disease, I also recommend the Japanese movie Sweet Bean.
The Place: Pihea Trail, Kauai
My Rating: 3/5
This trail starts at Pu‘u o Kila Lookout, at the very end of Kokee road on the western side of Kauai. Make sure to take a pitstop at Waimea Canyon on the drive there!
This hike offers multiple views of the Nā Pali coast’s jagged cliffs. If you feel like a dinosaur is going to jump out of the trees and attack you, you’re just having flashbacks from Jurassic Park. Dinosaurs are extinct.
Eventually, you will head left onto the Alaka’i Swamp Trail. The boardwalks over the marshy land will be a merciful relief if you’ve been slogging through mud (see next section). This otherworldly alpine bog is often shrouded in mist, tucked away in one of the wettest parts of the planet.
The trail dead-ends at Kilohana Lookout, which on a clear day is even better than the lookout at the trailhead.
Total distance: 8 miles
Guide: Details on Hawaii-guide.com
Before you ever do this hike, I recommend you hike the 11 miles to Kalalau valley itself, or at the very least try out a section of the world-famous Kalalau Trail (which starts at the dead end of the road that goes around the eastern side of the island). If you don’t want to deal with the hassle of permitting and gear, then the side trail to swim under the 300-foot-tall Hanakapi’ai falls makes for a spectacular day hike.
I hiked part of the Kalalau Trail with my mom on the previous trip – go Mom!
Book + Place Pairing
My Rating: 1/5
Why the poor rating? It’s honestly not the fault of either the place or the book.
It’s this wave’s fault:
Or, more accurately, it’s my fault. (I was the one filming.)
Three days earlier, we had “played” in the waves on Maui’s Kaanapali Beach by letting them crush us over and over in spectacular ways.
This wave picked me up sideways and hurled me earthward. The world dissolved into that familiar chaotic swirl of sand and salt water that rushed into my nose and mouth as I surrendered to the tumble. This time, however, I landed badly.
My back arched until my spine felt like it was about to snap in two. Whelp, there goes my lower back.
But I wasn’t about to let that spoil my fun, and I wasn’t about to return to Kauai without a new hike under my belt.
I was optimistic when Nash and I crept out to the car before sunrise, leaving my family sleeping. “It’s going to be fine!” I told myself.
I still think it would have been fine, had it not rained recently and turned the trail into a sludgepile of mud.
This wasn’t normal mud. It was like someone had stirred up oil and soap and greasy banana peels into a deadly red-orange gloop.
Imagine this turned into an ice skating rink. Also, that’s my dad pretending to go on a hike.
Without my lower back muscles to stabilize me, I whoomphed onto my butt over and over again. It only jarred my back further, until I was practically in tears. But once I start something, I get in my head that giving up would reveal what a wimpy failure I am.
I paused several times to read and distract my mind while Nash urged me to turn back.
“Rachel’s suffering is much worse than a tweaked-out back,” I thought delusionally. “I can keep going!”
Never mind the fact that the hike was an arbitrary goal I set for myself…
So when I finally made it to the end of the Alakai Swamp Trail, I was ready to read in silence for a good long while. But not twenty minutes passed before two guys showed up at the lookout, talking loudly.
“Let’s go,” Nash whispered.
“No!” I snapped at him. “I didn’t get the picture I wanted because you were standing in the way!”
It was one of the bitchiest moments of my life. I wished I could inhale the words back in – I didn’t even know what I meant by them!
I fumbled with my cell phone to snap the usual reading photo, fuming at myself, before I clambered painfully to my mud-soaked feet to hike the four miles back out.
When I look at this photo now, I can still see the beauty of Hawaii’s Garden Isle and recall the poignancy of the lepers’ situation.
But mostly, I’m reminded of how my stubbornness turned me into a monster. On that day, my human spirit did not triumph.
“No land is more beautiful, and therefore more powerful. That is what I believe in, Aouli. I believe in Hawai’i. I believe in the land.”
– Alan Brennert, *Moloka’i*