On December 11, 2017 I got on a plane and flew to Hawai’i. I lived and worked on an organic farm for two months on the island of Kaua’i, enjoying fresh tropical fruit and turquoise blue water. However, despite the astounding beauty of this island, living there wasn’t necessarily a vacation.
Visiting Hawai’i was something I had been considering for a while, so the year before I bought my plane ticket, I saved up and quit my job in search of something completely different. With a flight layover on Oahu and the final destination being the Lihue Airport on the island of Kaua’i, I felt as if I were watching a movie out of the plane’s small window. With Willzer by my side, we sat in awe, the bright blue water and rich green trees contrasting so vividly, my polarized sunglasses gave everything an iridescent rainbow sheen, it looked magical.
When we arrived we were stunned by the beauty of the island. We had landed in another world, somewhere so completely new where each plant and mountain, every bird and insect resembled nothing we recognized. Having little frame of reference for all of the life around us, I found myself very humbled and welcomed each new breath of air.
We put our backpacks in our cabin and made our way around the property. We were living on a 3 acre organic farm cultivating a variety of fruits and vegetables. After settling in we gorged on tropical fruit and listened to the roosters crow all night long.
The fresh fruit was truly the most impressive: papayas, pineapples, apple bananas, coconuts, breadfruit, lilikoi, citrus, star fruit, soursop, strawberry guavas, surinam cherries, and noni. Not to mention the nearby rambutan, longan, jabong, kumquats, egg fruit, sapodilla, cacao, and chocolate sapote that when ripe tastes exactly like chocolate pudding!
Our favorite foods however were the endless avocados and rich macadamia nuts. The farm we lived on had 8 varieties of avocados. Our refrigerator was always well-stocked, and I’m pretty sure we ate a year’s worth of avocados during our two month stay on the island.
We worked on the farm 25 hours a week in exchange for fruit, vegetables, and our cabin. Staples in Hawai’i were expensive, and we didn’t have a car, but we figured everything out as it was needed. We worked on projects during the day like planting seed starts and thousands of beets, amending beds, weeding Hila Hila, transplanting pineapples, weed whacking, harvesting produce and roots like ginger, turmeric, and yacon, and running the booth at the farmer’s market.
When we weren’t working we’d hitch hike into town or go to Kahili or Kealia beach with our friends. Some rides were better than others, we had one guy pick us up and tell us, “God is everything that didn’t give me what I asked for.” that stayed with me for a moment until he asked if we wanted to drop acid…we declined and made it safely down the street from our farm.
One of our more straight forward rides was from a wealthy man who owned an aquarium business. He listened to the Sound of Music sound track as he drove and expressed his dismay that BMW’s wouldn’t hold up in island weather. We both appreciated his air conditioning. We also met a woman who at one point told us about her solution to feeling under the weather, “A Dos Equis fast!” I found the idea a bit eccentric but she was a very ingenious person overall, we discerned this from her ability to form a back seat in her Jeep out of a lawn chair in her trunk. Cigarette in hand, she assured us that she’d done this before.
During our stay we made friends with our fellow Wwoofers, we learned how to cook potato borch, pizza crust, muffins, and french fries out of ulu (breadfruit). We fried green bananas, made vegan cheese from macadamia nuts, blended smoothies with lilikoi, and drank warm chai on rainy days. It was beautiful in Hawai’i, but in many ways it wasn’t easy.
There was a lot of discord during our time there, anxiety was turned on high, and endless humidity kept us cold and damp for two months. Though we learned to admire the 8 inch centipedes and keep peace with the 3 inch cockroaches, the cane spiders larger than my hand, that liked to pop up in our cabin caused me to live in a state of terror I never knew was possible. I was diagnosed with arachnophobia, and my sleep suffered tremendously. I’m not a squeamish person by any means, and I’ve spent a decent amount of time backpacking, camping, and building houses in the woods. However, there are some fears which our rational mind can not dispel and soon one large arachnid surprise after another left me feeling extremely debilitated, frustrated, and exhausted.
January 13th 8:07 a.m. we had just finished harvest and all our phones were buzzing “BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL.” We froze. Some nervously laughed. For approximately 40 minutes we had no way of knowing that this was a mistake. No way of knowing where a missile would land. Pearl Harbor? The Big Island? Our tiny garden island of Kaua’i? Three days before this we heard a bomb go off, I was weed whacking the south field and the chickens froze, all their heads turned towards the ocean. I waited a few minutes for a cloud, then turned the gas back on. Military activity was common here, so a nuclear missile wasn’t the furthest thing from our minds. I realized as I sat on the bed with Willzer next to me, tears in my eyes, that I did not want to die on this island. I was ready to readjust my itinerary and start looking for a plane ticket home.
The anxiety never truly left but I soon got the flu and my body reset. I learned to push myself each day to do something new. I took pictures of fruit, flowers, and insects, and somehow every time I became sad once more, a bright red cardinal would appear. The red cardinal is a bird I have wanted to see ever since I was a child growing up in California. I recognized them from snowy Christmas cards, so it truly felt like a gift to see both the northern cardinal and red-crested cardinal in such a tropical climate. Lizards and geckos also brought us joy. A tiny lizard we called “Monkey” slept by our bed every night, and the nocturnal albino geckos soon covered our windows and outdoor kitchen when we’d turn out the lights.
The first big adventure I wanted to do with my remaining time was visit the shores of Anini Beach, Wailua Falls, and have a delicious vegan dinner at Our Place. We borrowed the car and had an amazing time! At Anini beach we watched the waves crash on the old lighthouse, and when we found Wailua Falls we walked and slid down the jungle path leading to the pool below. Covered in mud and panting with the humidity, we made our way to the base of the falls. Sweating and exhilarated I jumped in, it was the most gorgeous experience during my trip. I felt extremely refreshed and invigorated. After our swim we went out to dinner. We were greeted by the owners and seated to a beautiful meal with all the ingredients sourced right from Kaua’i.
During our time there we had other small adventures, one day I spent a few hours during an afternoon and walked to Ka’aka’aniu beach. Sometimes all of our friends would go there together and go for a swim. Willzer and I also spent a day in Hanalei, we visited the beach where Willzer had the fortune of swimming with a shark. We also went to town, the rock shop, and watched a magnificent storm roll in.
Queens Bath was another favorite spot, we went at low tide and the waves were extremely tumultuous. We saw crabs and fish, not to mention one man who went for a swim!
Between these excursions I spent Saturday’s selling produce and tea at the local farmer’s market and when I’d come home Willzer and I would work on puzzles. The farm was more peaceful during this time as the owners were away and communication between Wwoofers became effortless. We spent a lot of time with our favorite farm cat Kiki. He’d sleep in our bed every night, purr in our ear, and let us carry him everywhere. Kiki would help us plant, “protect” us from the sweet neighbor dog, and never leave our side.
Our last week on the island we drove northwest to the Nāpali Coast and hiked the Kalalau trail to Hanakapi’ai Beach. The hike was beautiful yet melancholy. We saw turquoise waters, and even a manta ray while looking out from the cliffs. We crossed rivers and muddy paths, met stray cats, and took in all of the tropical vegetation.
Leaving the island was something we both felt ready for. We sorted our few belongings and felt the excitement bubbling. We spent our last night on the island in the ER, then boarded our plane the next morning for the Oakland Airport. With both of us physically well, we all but skipped on board our plane.
The island of Kaua’i was extremely beautiful, lush, and wild. Living there was also emotionally turbulent yet profound. Many times I had conversations with people who had moved to the island, they always said they just “fell in love with the place.” I understood the gratitude but never for one moment felt like the island was mine, because it wasn’t, it couldn’t be. It had my respect and appreciation, but I knew I was a visitor and I was very at peace with that. Living on Kaua’i for two months was one of the most spontaneous decisions I ever made, it was truly a unique experience, but in the end I also knew when I was ready to fly home.